SNORKELING IN TOBAGO
This article is compliments of Tracy Kearns.
Tobago’s fringing coral reefs are some of the best in the region, and because of its nutrient-rich coastal waters, they are also home to an impressive abundance of marine life, ranging from the microscopic to the huge. Located close to the South American Continent, Tobago is washed from the south by the Guyana Current which carries nutrients from the Orinoco River. These nutrients produce an abundance of plankton which often gives a green or brown tint to the surface waters during the rainy season (June to December). This plankton is the primary food for a thriving food chain of marine life of all shapes and sizes. Not surprisingly, Tobago is a snorkelling paradise, the shallow reefs are ideal for visitors who want to experience Tobago’s magical underwater landscape while peering from the surface.
Tobago offers the snorkeler the opportunity to see the development of many of the fish life from the juveniles that hang out around the South West end of the island where they are sheltered in the protected waters of Buccoo Reef and the abundant Turtle Grass, to the adults enjoying the nutrient rich open waters further up the North West coast.
Although many of the sites are in sheltered areas at certain times of the year and in certain weather conditions there is the possibility of strong surface currents and ground swells therefore caution is advised. Seek out the local fishermen, dive shops or tour boat operators for advise about current sea conditions or listen to the local radio for the daily weather update from the Metrological centre.
Best Snorkeling Sites
South West, Crown Point Area
Kariwak Reef – Store Bay – This is a very popular site situated at the South West tip of the island. It is visited by divers and snorkelers alike and offers an abundance of fish life, from schooling bait fish, grunts and blue tangs and to the occasional turtle or stingray gliding past. It is also currently home to one of the biggest green moray eels ever seen in these waters. The start of the reef is in approximately 4ms and reaches to 12ms but most of the life can been seen between 5 and 6ms. The reef is to the left of the bay and is accessed by a short swim from the shore.
Cable Beach – just round the corner from Store Bay is a rapidly-developing artificial reef forming on the rock barrier built to protect the beach at the Coco Reef Resort. The maximum depth is only 2ms but there is plenty to see. French Angels, moray eels and numerous crustaceans have made the breakwater their home. Access is from the shore and care should be taken when going past the entrance to the private bay for the hotel, as boats do come in and out on a regular basis, a dive flag should be used for proper safety.
Buccoo Reef – Coral Gardens – Buccoo Reef is the largest coral reef in Tobago and was designated a marine park in 1973. Its massive proportions contain a reef system of five reef flats that are separated by deep channels. In the deeper Coral Gardens, which is the best area for snorkelling, the coral communities are large colonies of Brain Coral, Starlet Coral and Star Coral, with many soft corals that sway in the current. Here is where you will be able to see the many different juvenile fish and listen to the parrot fish crunching on the coral. You may also see Sting Rays and turtles resting in the calmer water as well as a glimpse of long silver shadow as a barracuda passes by. Coral Gardens can only be accessed by boat and it is from 4 to 6ms in depth.
Mt Irvine Bay – There are two good areas to snorkel in Mt Irvine Bay. To the right is what is known as the Hotel Beach and right off the beach are many rock formations with encrusting soft corals that is an ideal habitat for many of the marine creatures that inhabit the waters around Tobago including the occasional Grouper looking for his next meal. The depth can range from 1-2ms close to shore to about 5ms as you venture further to the right.
To the left is the main beach and at the end of the bay is an ideal area known as Rockley Point, it’s a bit of a swim from the beach but there is plenty to see on the way out. Just be aware of surfers as this is the main surf spot on the island and sometimes it’s best just to let the surfers have their waves.
Grafton Beach – To the left of this popular beach is a group of rocks under water. An easy swim from the beach this is a great place to spot see shoals of bait fish and you might even have a chance to see their predators coming in for a quick feed.
Arnos Vale – Arnos Vale is considered by many to be the best snorkelling spot on the whole island. It can be accessed from the beach through Arnos Vale Hotel but most of the boat tours stop here as it is a spot not to be missed. There is an abundance of marine life from the very delicate feathery Sea Lettuce, tiny octopi peeping out from their even smaller hiding holes, shoals of juvenile squid to the majestic Barracuda and truly wonderful turtles. Look out for the Golden Hamlet a little fish not commonly found in the Caribbean but a true local in Tobagonian waters. As this is a fairly sheltered bay there is chance to have a good look at the fish getting their daily wash and brush up at the mainly cleaning stations established here.
Cotton Bay – This secluded bay is only accessible by boat and has a small reef system to the right. Also in the middle of the bay is a rock just under the surface that reaches from about 4ms to just fewer than 2ms. This is home to many snappers and sometimes a turtle or two. This bay is also home to a couple of friendly stingrays that come in to feed on the fish scraps from a Barbequing Tour Boat.
Castara Bay – To the right of this golden sandy beach is a reef teaming with life.
Look out for the Stingrays that like to glide up and down the bay.
Emeralds Cove – Just around the corner from Castara Bay but only accessible by boat is Emeralds Cove. Due to the unique contours of this bay that creates a range of peaks and valleys, there is an amazing amount of marine life to be discovered in this hidden cove. The pelages are encouraged by the bait fish that hang out among the slowly waving soft corals, turtles like to come in and feed on the abundant sponges and recently it has become the hiding place for the very unusual African Pompano. The depth can range from a couple of meters to less than 10ms.
Englishman’s Bay – This picturesque beach has hidden wonders both from the beach and by boat. At both ends of the bay there are some easy accessible shallow hard coral reefs that are home to all sorts of interesting marine creatures. If you are on a boat trip you will be further out in the bay and will be able to experience the beauty of the soft coral but keep a look out for that curious barracuda that may be hanging out with you.
Bloody Bay – Just a couple of minutes further up the coast is the sandy bay known as Bloody Bay; ask any local the reason for the name. The centre of the bay is covered in Turtle Grass so look out for its name sake and the juveniles that like to make this type of environment their home. If you are luckily enough to get there by boat check out the rocky formation to the left of the bay to see what’s around.
Man O’War Bay – The best way to get to the more interesting snorkelling sites in this bay is to ask one of the local fishermen to take you. Cardinal Rock, Booby Island and Long Rock are worth a visit to discover the shoals of Blue Tangs, curious French Angel Fish and you might just be able to spot a moral eel or two peeking out from the coral heads. If you want to make a day of it ask to be dropped of on Lovers Beach and arrange to be collected after you have snorkelled over the very shallow reef that is right there in front of you. Pack a lunch and lots of drinking water and make a wonderful adventure of this day.
Pirates Bay – This bay is a 15 minute walk from the fishing village of Charlotteville or hire one of the many fishing boat shuttle services to get you too this sheltered bay and group of underwater rock formations that has an amazing array of marine life. It’s a gentle swim from shore and the maximum depth is about 8ms.Tobago has over 300 different varieties of fish and you have a good chance of seeing a quite a few of these around these rocks.
Angel Reef – This shallow reef is in front of Goat Island off shore from the village of Speyside. Access is either by a local friendly boat owner or by glass bottom boat. Drift along on the current while gazing at the glorious colours of the coral and watch the local inhabitants which may include turtles, parrotfish, angel fish, trumpet fish, barracudas and much, much more. This is a shallow reef only about 5ms deep so take your time and enjoy.
This article was compliments of Tracy Kearns.