Bonaire’s Town Pier and Salt Pier are ‘signature’ dives, but Mark Evans reckons that the Cement Pier on Barbados beats them both hands down.
A dive under the pier of a working cement factory might sound like an odd location for a popular dive site, but anyone who has dived under the likes of Swanage Pier or Trefor Pier (when it still existed!) in the UK, or the Town Pier or Salt Pier in Bonaire, will know that these are hotspots for diving.
The Cement Pier dive lies up towards the northern end of the west side of Barbados, and is one of the regular sites for more-northerly dive centres, including Reefers and Wreckers and Hightide. We dived the Cement Pier with Reefers and Wreckers, based in Speightstown, which made them the most-northerly dive centre on the island and perfectly positioned to access the Cement Pier. The company’s semi-covered dive boat Conqueror I, with its twin 225hp engines, made short work of the blast up the coast to the giant structure, which – it has to be said – rather spoils the beautiful natural scenery in the area.
The pier itself forms a giant ‘T’ protruding out into the sea, and the dive boat moored up just off the left-hand side of the structure. The briefing explained that the entire dive would be below the pier, starting with the ‘T’ and then taking in some of the main stretch that runs in towards the shore. After rolling in, we found ourselves in no more than 8m-10m of water, and headed straight off for the nearest pier struts.
The legs of the pier are more than a metre and a half thick, but it is hard to see any metal as they are absolutely caked in marine growth, forming a kaleidoscope of colour right up to the surface. Sponges, corals, algae and anemones smother the structure, providing homes for a variety of arrow crabs, shrimps and blennies.
At the bottom of one of the struts I found not one, but two, small octopus sheltering behind some clumps of broken coral, but they were not in the mood to be hassled by paparazzi and ‘shut the door’ when I tried to get a photograph of them.
In and around the struts large barracuda stalked their prey, and various reef fish – angelfish, parrotfish, damselfish and chromis – darted from one piece of cover to another in order to avoid detection. The seabed played host to sea moths, several species of nudibranch and even a couple of seahorses. Apparently, frogfish are also seen regularly, but they avoided us on this occasion.
Once we reached the middle of the ‘T’ and turned on to the long stretch towards shore, a massive shoal of silver baitfish enveloped us. It was so thick, you could only see a metre or so, and for a moment everyone lost their buddies. It was so mesmerising watching this mass of fish life undulate beneath the pier, I floated transfixed for several minutes and just watched this wildlife spectacle. Every once in a while, a large jack, barracuda or some other predator would make a charge into the shoal, and it would break, twist and swirl as if it was one giant living mass as opposed to thousands of individual fish. Absolutely unreal.
It was difficult to tear myself away from the baitfish, but I had reached that point in the dive where I had to make my way back to the dive boat, but I took my time on the swim back, soaking up the colours and the sheer spectacle provided by the richly decorated pier struts.
Back on the boat, everyone was buzzing from the dive. Thanks to the shallow depth, it is suitable for even raw novices, but experienced divers and underwater photographers in particular will relish a dive or two under the pier. Bonaire’s two pier dives are rightly seen as diving highlights on their island, but I reckon the Cement Pier on Barbados beats both of them hands down. If you are into your macro critters, or just want a dive with a difference, make sure you schedule a trip to this site.
They are absolutely caked in marine growth, forming a kaleidoscope of colour right up to the surface
If you are into your macro critters, or just want a dive with a difference, make sure you schedule a trip to this site
Photographs by Mark Evans