Manta Ray diving can be an unforgettable experience. These gentle giants are both graceful and magnificent reminders of the wonders in our oceans. Come dive with us off the coast of Hawaii and enjoy these magnificent creatures.
This Manta Ray video was shot off the coast of Kona in Hawaii. It was a marvelous dive. We saw 54 Manta Rays on two dives. 17 on a later afternoon dive and another 37 on the night dive. It was quite an experience. [jwplayer mediaid=”3837″]
Manta Ray diving can be an awesome experience. The magnificent Giant Oceanic Manta Ray, Manta birostris, is something special to experience. The largest recorded Oceanic Manta Rays was more than 25 ft (7.6m) across from wing-tip to wing-tip and weighed over 5,300 pounds (2,400 kg). Manta Rays have a short tail and no stinging spine.
Manta Rays are very acrobatic and on this dive you will be able to see them perform aerobatic flips and rolls as they glide through the water all about you.
Manta Rays were first described by Dondorff in 1798 and named Manta birostris. Other synonyms for Manta Rays include Cephalopterus vampyrus Mithchell 1824, Cepahalopterus manta Bancroft 1829, Manta americana Bancroft 1829, Ceratoptera johnii Müller & Henle 1841, Ceratoptera alfredi Krefft 1868, Brachioptilon hamiltoni Hamilton & Newman 1849, Raja manatia Bloch & Schneider 1801, Manta hamiltoni Hamilton & Newman 1849, and Manta alfredi Krefft 1868.
The Manta Ray is one of the largest fishes, and has been know to reach 9 m (29.5 ft) and weigh as much as 1,350 k (3,000 lb). The Manta Ray’s lifespan is thought to be about 20 years. They are close relatives of sharks, which are also one of their main predators along with certain types of whales. They are a close relative to the stingray, but they do not have a stinging tail.
Molokini Crater is one of the best dives if not the best dive on Maui. This scuba diving site is only accessible via boat and is at the remnants of an extinct volcano. The crescent of the volcano “cone” rises above the sea some 165 feet. The small island lies in the Alalakeiki Channel between the islands of Kahoolawe and Maui. The opening side of the crater faces the northwest and only a short boat ride from the Wailea side of Maui. If you are interested in some of the history around Molokini Crater there is a short article written by Edward L Caum, Geology of Molokini and published in 1930. There are a couple of “plate” photographs included in the article and it is interesting to compare to the crater today. Molokini Crater has been a Marine Preserve(MLCD) since the summer of 1977 and features one of the most pristine hard coral reefs in Hawaii.
The ride from the Lahina side of the island takes about 45 minutes and if you tend to get sea sick, I would recommend driving about 45 minutes or an hour to the Wailea area where you can take a very easy boat ride to the crater.
I prefer scuba diving with Lahina Divers but you must take about a 45 minute boat ride to the Molokini crater. If you want you can use a scuba diving operator that leaves from the Wailea side of Maui. If you are staying in Wailea I would certainly recommend this, although the boats tend to be smaller and there is one operator on that side that I simply refer to as the “Scuba Nazi”. So be careful of the operator that you choose. Make sure you check out the reviews and the equipment used by each of the dive operators. The v-hull boats that leave the Wailea area can be quite cramped if the number of divers is more than 10 on the boat and on many of these there is little if any room to move around.
Access – Moderate to Moderately Difficult to reach the site; boat only (You should not take a boat from Lahaina if you get seasick – 45 minute boat ride); Much easier ride from Wailea side.
Depth to 125+ft
Visibility – good to excellent
Current – mild to extremely strong at the edges of the crater
Marine Species variety – good; normally White-tip Reef Sharks at about 110 feet on the far eastern edge of the crescent
Reef health – good to very good
Scuba Diving Molokini Crater is certainly the best boat dive on the island of Maui. You have to go to Lanai or Molokai to find better deep water scuba diving sites. The clarity of the water is usually quite good at Molokini and there are a several dive sites on the volcano on the outside of the crescent shape crater and on the inside of the crater.
Enenue – Inside eastern tip of the crescent
Middle Reef – Inside just to the east of the middle of the crescent and closer to the cone
Tako Flats – Inside on the western side of the crescent
Reef’s End – Far western end of the crescent
The Back Side – Outside or on the back of the crescent
For inside the crater I like the Eastern edge – Enenue. At about 120 feet there is a series of overhangs that tend to house several White-tip Reef Sharks. As you are swimming down and back up after visiting the “condos” there is a good variety of marine species. You will find typical butterflyfishes, wrasses, damselfishes, eels, and crustaceans all around the crater. You will also find sea turtles on a regular basis and on a very rare occasion humpback whales have been seen by scuba divers at Molokini crater.
The current can be quite strong on the outside edges of the crater, so do not go outside the crater for any reason if your group is scuba diving the “inside”. The current at the edges can take a diver quite a distance in a very short period of time. For this reason you must take a safety sausage with you on this dive and know how to use it. If you are scuba diving the inside of the crater you will rarely have much if any current and even if the seas are choppy the cone of the volcano protects the inner dive sites quite well.
In the sand flats of the crater you will often find Freckled Snake Eels, so take your time on this dive and also make sure you “look” into the distance often as you can see various types of sharks and on especially amazing dives you may even see a Humpback Whale. If you are diving in whale season (December to April/May) make sure you listen for the whale song. In February to early April I have heard literally dozens of whales singing to each other. It certainly makes the dive a lot more interesting.
First Cathedral is one of the most visited scuba diving sites on Lanai and in Maui County. It is a dual pinnacle site and is also one of the largest scuba diving sites in Maui County.
The mooring at the pinnacle is about 35 feet deep on the shallow portion and has a large arch on the west side. The northern side of the site has a wall with lava caves, crevices to explore and a swim through arch. A sand channel separates this from the wash rock pinnacle that comprises First Cathedral. The large cavern, of the Cathedral, has a maximum depth of 45’-50’ deep and a ceiling overhead which is approximately 20’ high. It has a lace work of openings in the lava on the east wall that allows light to flow inside. These openings seem very much like stained glass windows within a church or cathedral.
When you enter the water on the mooring you you will swim first toward the Pinnacle containing the lava tube known as First Cathedral. Then after exploring the “Chapel” as I like to call it, you exit rather quickly, or as some like to say, you are flushed from inside First Cathedral to reef outside. There is an opening on the inside of the Cathedral which has water rushing in and out with the actions of the waves. You swim to the exit “portal” and then hold on as the water rushes into First Cathedral and then when the flow reverses you enter the portal and are rather quickly deposited on the outside of the reef. This is not as intimidating as it might first seem as the opening is fairly large and you only travel a short distance before exiting on the reef. That said, if you have a camera, please bring the strobes in before entering the portal and you should not have any trouble. If this is too much excitement you can exit the Cathedral the same way you entered and simply swim around to the other side.
First Cathedral is an ancient lava tube that has several openings on the upper portion and side of the cavern. These openings allow light to pass through them and provide some great opportunities for underwater photography. I especially like black and white images of the cathedral as they seem to provide the most dramatic effects with the light. The ceiling “window” provides very good lighting (assuming sunny skies) on a rocky outcrop in the middle of the room and you can see “rays of light” shining in from the top of the dome making for some interesting underwater photography. The opening to enter the cathedral is very large and should not cause anyone concern. First Cathedral can hold many scuba divers at one time but I find it best, especially when trying to take photographs, to be in a small group or be first. Having a larger number of divers will stir up a good bit of sediment making it especially difficult to take good shots. It is also better to be in “group 1” verses “group 2” if you have a large number of divers on the boat as the silt in the Cathedral will tend to get stirred up as more divers are going through the cavern.
Once inside First Cathedral, you will find a number of different fish species and more than likely a school of Brick Soldierfish up towards the ceiling. When you exit the cavern you will be on a portion of the reef that usually has a nice diversity of marine life. You will head towards a swim through where you will find a number of different butterflyfishes, moray eels, frogfishes, nudibranches, goatfishes, and much more.
There are several archways to swim thru and the coral gardens are great places to look for eels, shrimps, and small crustaceans. So take your time on this site and you will be well rewarded.
Some of the most interesting types of shipwrecks for scuba diving are the purpose sunk ships that have been scuttled to create artificial reefs. After adequate preparation, this is a wonderful way for older ships to give not only a benefit to scuba divers but also a shelter to a variety of marine organisms (see National Geographic article “Artificial Reefs: Trash to Treasure” February 5, 2001).
Along with true shipwrecks, there have been and continue to be a large number of ships sunk to create artificial reefs (Wikipedia provides a list of some wrecks that have been reefed over the last twenty years including the HMAS Adelaide and the USS Kittiwake which were just sunk in 2011). These wrecks have come to be an important part of the local ecosystems*. In fact, these wrecks may also offer an opportunity to help improve the condition of reefs
globally. Studies from the Red Sea and other locations tend to show that there is little difference between developments of an artificial reef as compared to natural reefs. Artificial reefs made from steel vessels offers long-term development for the reef and immediate space for organisms to inhabit.
PADI and NAUI offer specialty shipwrecks diving courses to train divers in “safety, hazards and cautions, special risks of overhead environments, entanglement, limited visibility, deep diving, equipment, site of wrecks, sources of information, search methods, underwater navigation, legal aspects, artifacts, treasure, salvage, archaeology, and much more”. Wreck diving can be a wonderful experience for any diver. However, before penetrating any ship the diver should have adequate training according to the state of the ship being explored. Deep water wrecks, “natural” shipwrecks, etc., should only be explored by experienced and trained divers using appropriate safety gear and precautions.
Unlike true shipwrecks many reefed ships such as the USS Kittiwake in Grand Cayman, have been extensively prepared for reefing to make entry, exploration and exiting the ship relatively safe and easy. However, many older reefed ships should be approached cautiously and if the diver is not “wreck” certified penetration of the wreck should not be attempted. They key is to understand the condition of the wreck and what the diver is likely to encounter before entering the water. Use of a high quality scuba diving operation will greatly add to the safety and enjoyment of the diving experience.
As an underwater photographer, shipwrecks hold a special fascination to me. To be able to capture the mystery and character of the ship in a photo is a special challenge. However, there are those moments when you are able to get everything just right and the photo seems to come alive. The ability of a photo to transport the viewer into the image and experience the wonder of the moment is the real test of a truly amazing photo.
*Note: While there continues to be some debate about the benefits of creating artificial reefs, the benefit of these reefs can be clearly seen from many long-term – 20 year plus artificial reefs in the Atlantic, Pacific, Mediterranean and other locations. You can read more about reefing of ships at www.natgeo.com and many other websites and review “National Guidance: Best Management Practices for Preparing Vessels Intended to Create Artificial Reefs” which was developed by the USEPA and the US Maritime Administration.
Come explore my shipwreck diving photos in the following galleries on my website and remember “the pool is open”.
View the complete USS Kittiwake shipwreck photo gallery here or click on each photo to go to the gallery.
The USS Kittiwake shipwreck is a Chanticleer Class Submarine Rescue Ship. Its keel was laid down, January 5, 1945, at the Savannah Machinery and Foundry, Company shipyard in Savannah, GA. It was launched on July 10, 1945 and commissioned as the USS Kittiwake (ASR-013). She was decommissioned September 30, 1994 and struck from the Naval Register September 30, 1994. She was initially transferred to MARAD for lay up in the National Defense Reserve Fleet and then withdrawn from the fleet February 18, 2010 and prepared for reefing in the Cayman Islands.
The Chanticleer Class ships were designated specifically for submarine rescue. Each ship in this class was equipped with powerful pumps, heavy air compressors, and special mooring equipment. The Chanticleer Class ASRs support air and helium-oxygen diving operations to a depth of 300 feet of sea water (fsw) and use the McCann Rescue Chamber for submarine personnel rescue operations. The ASR design provided a large deck working area.
The USS Kittiwake shipwreck finished a distinguished service career spanning almost 50 years when she was decommissioned from the U.S. Navy in 1994. Following her retirement, the ship became part of America’s National Defense Reserve Fleet under the control of MARAD, or the Maritime Administration, part of the U.S. Department of Transportation. The ship ended her career as the first MARAD ship sold to a foreign government for artificial reefing.
USS Kittiwake Shipwreck Overview
That a patch of sand off the north end of Seven Mile Beach has become the final “port-of-call” of the USS Kittiwake shipwreck is the result of a long and determined effort by a partnership consisting of the Cayman
Islands government and the Cayman Islands Tourism Association (CITA). Negotiations had to be conducted and funds raised to purchase the ship from the U.S. government and prepare it for sinking as a dive site, including removing hazardous contaminants and cutting openings in the hull and bulkheads to give divers greater access to the vessel’s interior.
After years of delays and concerns that the plan might never come to fruition, the Kittiwake began the first stage of its last voyage in February, when it was towed from its Reserve Fleet mooring at Newport News, Virginia, to the facilities of private contractor Dominion Marine. There, all the final preparations for the sinking were completed. The ship was sunk January 5, 2011 off the north end of Seven Mile Beach in Grand Cayman.
There are 5 decks on the 47 foot tall USS Kittiwake shipwreck. Externally, the crow’s nest, mast and large stern a-frame have been cut down and remounted to make her height suitable for Cayman waters. The upper decks accommodate the 2 bridges (both an external and internal bridge to allow operations in heavy seas) along with the radio and navigation room. The sonar has been removed. The Captain and XO’s quarters are also on the upper decks.
On the main deck of the USS Kittiwake shipwreck, starting at the bow, you will find the rec room, mess hall, ironing room, small tool workshop and recompression chambers. You will also see a large a-frame structure on the stern that supported submarines and hard hat divers. This also supported the diving bell where divers would enter to return to the ship from the ocean and then be placed in the chambers for decompression.
Below the main deck, 2 decks exist that include the crews quarter, medic/hospital station, engine and propulsion rooms, air bank storage and compressors, as well as the steering gear, shaft, gyro, ammunition lockers, cold storage and barber shop to name a few areas. While the USS Kittiwake shipwreck has been opened up with large access holes both vertically and horizontally, every space on the ship was used while in service.
LT L. H. COLLIER 1946 – 1948
LTT. C. HURST 1948- 1950
LT W. K. WILSON 1950 – 1952
LTP. P. ROGERS 1952- 1954
LT T. E. COLBURNE 1954 – 1954
LCDRW.H.HIBBS 1956- 1958
LCDR W. M. SCOTT 1958 – 1960
LCDR P.O. POWELL 1960 – 1962
LCDR R. E. KUTZLEB 1962 – 1964
LCDR G. R. LANGFORD 1964 – 1966
LCDR H. H. SCRANTON 1966 – 1968
LCDR R. F. JAMES 1968 – 1970
LCDR W. J. MULLALY 1970 – 1971
LCDR S. MCNEASE 1971 – 1974
CDR F. K. DUFFY 1974 – 1977
CDR F. M. SCHERY 1977 – 1979
CDRP. F. FAWCETT 1979- 1981
CDR R. J. NORRIS 1983 – 1985
CDR J. S. TROTTER 1988 – 1991
CDR S. N. ZEHNER 1993 – 1994
Largest Boom Capacity 11 t.
two single 3″/50 cal dual purpose gun mounts
two single 40mm AA gun mounts
eight single 20mm AA gun mounts
four depth charge tracks
Diesel 1,785 Bbls
four G.M. 12-278A Diesel-electric engines
single Fairbanks Morse Main Reduction Gears
Ship’s Service Generators
two Diesel-drive 200Kw 120V/240V D.C.
one Diesel-drive 100Kw 120V/240V D.C.
single propeller, 3,000hp
Babylon, just the name alone brings a smile to those that know diving in the Caymans. Remote, lightly touched by regular tourists and yet noted as one of the Top 10 wall dives in the Caribbean. Just mention the word Babylon to any Cayman Dive master and you will notice a sparkle in their eye.
A trip to Babylon from one of the dive operators catering to the seven mile beach divers may cost you a case of the captain’s favorite beverage or other sorts of inducement. This is the kind of dive is saved for the local staff’s day off or to really impress experienced divers. It definitely pays to tip your captain well.
Babylon is one of the most remote dive sites on Grand Cayman. It is on the North Wall, half way between Rum Point and East End and it is about an hour drive from the west side hotels. It is usually visited by diver operators on the North End or by dive boats on 3 Tank Safaris around the island or by live-a-board vessels. However, don’t let all the hype about the beauty of this dive site and its remote location make you afraid. It is not an advanced dive. Once you get there, Babylon is a very easy dive, with the top of the Cayman wall starting between 35-45 feet. There are large sand patches on top of the wall and excellent shallow reefs for those scuba divers that do not want to venture too deep. However, for those scuba divers who want a true vertical experience, they will find it on the wall at Babylon. The drop off is fantastic.
The wall topography changes from a sheer plunging wall face to cascading sheets of plate coral and large pinnacles jutting into the crystal clear waters of the Cayman Trench. You can regularly see large pelagic fish, turtles and rays swimming along the wall. While you are captivated by the pure vistas of Babylon do not forget to witness the Cayman reef inhabitants. The wall teems with schools of Chromis, often interrupted by Barracuda, Stop-Light Parrot fish or Queen Angels. The wall is decorated with thick outcroppings of Black Coral, Purple Sea Fans, Barrel sponges and a great variety of other tropical marine life. So if you have the time, the inclination and the required tip for the captain, make sure your next trip to Cayman includes a stop at Babylon.
Completing a dive site rating can be a tricky and very subject exercise. Depending upon who is providing the rating they may give a dive sit rating that is very high and someone else may rate the same site as average or even poor. Giving a dive site rating is highly influenced by the experience of the individual diver. If someone has only been diving in warm, tropical waters and then they go dive in Hawaii. They may say the reef is “dead” because there are not any colorful soft corals to be seen. This would be an inaccurate description as the coral reefs around Hawaii are vibrant, but they are hard corals, not soft corals. With the Dive Site Rating Matrix I have attempted to provide objective criteria to rate individual aspects of a dive. For instance a dive may be awesome but if it is difficult to access then the overall rating of the dive would be lower compared to an awesome dive that is relatively easy to access.
Please review the dive site rating matrix and rate your own favorite dive sites.
I would love your feedback and experience on how the rating matrix performs for the dive sites you are visiting.
You can go to the bottom of the table to scroll to the right and see additional rating categories.
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