BASED ON A DIET of Indo-Pacific coral reefs and UK diving, I wasn’t sure what to expect from diving in Grenada. This was my first experience of the Caribbean.
I knew from other people’s experiences and liveaboard yarns (and, of course, DIVER) that the reefs would differ from those on my previous trips and that the Caribbean faces challenges different to those of the other seas I have visited.
Grenada is one of the more southerly Caribbean islands, about 90 miles off Venezuela and part of the Windward Isles, a chain named after the sailing ships that relied on the east-west flow of the trade winds. These ships allowed the Atlantic slave trade to prosper, and the islands to become a major source of sugar, spices and later rum for the French and then British empires.
The island remains a major producer of nutmeg and rum, and the population is largely descended from slaves brought over to work the plantations, though it gained independence from the UK in 1974. The original Carib and Arawak tribes are long gone, but their artefacts and much else can be found in the fascinating museum in the capital St Georges, which also hosts an exhibition about that most famous of Caribbean wrecks, the liner Bianca C.
I wouldn’t be diving the big C, however, or the underwater sculpture park that features on just about any web search for “Grenada” and “diving”.
The plan was to explore the reefs and learn how diving can support conservation efforts. So when I arrived for my first dive with Phil Saye at Dive Grenada and he said we were diving a wreck, I was a bit surprised.
Dive Grenada, situated on Grand Anse Beach on the island’s south-west coast is, like the other operators and hotels based along this gorgeous stretch of sand, well-placed to dive the many wrecks and reefs that lie in the lee of those trade winds, and which brought the empire-builders to the island.
It is also sheltered by the hills north of St Georges from the worst of the rainfall. I was there in the rainy season but the weather was quite good, with just the occasional downpour forcing divers to find a bar and relax – not the worst outcome.
Phil had chosen the wreck of the Veronica L, a small cargo vessel in around 16m with fairly good visibility that was much improved by the strong tropical light streaming down onto its superstructure.
Looking forward to the reefs, I wasn’t too excited at first about a shallow wreck – but I was wrong. It dripped with life, from the frogfish by the winch on the foredeck to the moray that had set up home in a piece of superstructure covered in bright pink polyps that when open revealed themselves to be a dazzling yellow colour.
It might have been the colours that surprised me the most. Sponges, polyps and gorgonians were growing on every piece of superstructure, and I have never seen a deck crane that looked so pretty. The Veronica L was a fine introduction to Grenada diving.

I WOULD MEET PHIL AGAIN later in the week, but first I had an appointment with Eco Dive at its well-located dive shop on the beach front. I sat on the deck and chatted with the staff about my desire to explore some of the best reefs.
The following morning, after a 20-minute trip north, I was kitting up at a site within the Marine Protected Area north of St Georges. MPAs are seen by many as a key measure to protect fish stocks by banning or limiting fishing, though plenty of people were fishing from the shore when we arrived.
The first thing you notice about these reefs is the sheer amount of movement. Gently moving sea-fans, sea-whips and sea-plumes are anchored to the rock and, like seaweeds in temperate oceans, they sway in response to the swell and also give you a great indication of the strength and direction of current.
Among these plant-like animals are a huge number of sponges, from the half-metre-wide barrel sponges through yellow polyped encrusting varieties to the seemingly luminous vase sponges.
This was an unfamiliar landscape to me but one of the most colourful I had come across, with its patches of vibrant red, yellow and orange.
The complicated ecology can also hide an occasional turtle, always a welcome sight in a region in which turtle nests are still excavated for food.
I had fitted a macro lens for the day’s diving, and after ensuring that all was well with my camera – I have been known to leave lens-caps on – I set about hunting for critters and fish.
I spent a long while stalking filefish and trumpetfish lurking in the sea-plumes, and on even closer inspection found a huge number of arrow crabs and tiny gobies. From time to time I would look up at my dive-guide and he’d shrug with a well-practised yet another photographer look in his eyes.
I was sure he’d prod me if a reef shark came past, otherwise I was happy as Larry shooting Christmas-tree worms, shrimps and flamingo tongues – gastropods that eat sea-plumes and have a very boring shell inside their colourful mantles – a favourite of macro photographers.
A massive amount of algae was growing over the reef and I was reminded of the multiple factors that are damaging the reefs here, from the overfishing of algae-eating parrotfish (what were those guys I’d seen a few minutes earlier catching) to the massive die-off of sea urchins that do likewise, and the hurricane and bleaching damage that contribute on a more local scale to the significant loss of hard corals such as elkhorn and staghorn.

WHILE THESE REEFS ARE FASCINATING, I’m not sure they look as they should. However, there is a great deal of life here – fewer fish such as butterflyfish that eat only coral polyps, I suspect, but still vast numbers.
Fish such as the violet-coloured creole wrasse that appear to descend from above (leading to one site being called Purple Rain), snapper and green and spotted morays are still numerous.
Many divers may be glad to hear that the urchins have died off, but when you do come across one sitting in a patch of algae-free reef you appreciate their value, especially as it’s this bare rock on which coral needs to establish itself.
I had several more dives in this MPA area and enjoyed the varied nature of the reefs, from sites covered with sea-plumes and sea-whips to other sandy areas that played host to jawfish that live in holes in the sand they’ve excavated and lined with bits of broken-up coral.
The male incubates eggs in his capacious mouth – hard to approach and photograph, but very charming.
The reefs of this region may have suffered but there are signs of coral regrowth in many areas, if slow and not helped by the lack of grazers.
So I was pleased when I met Phil again to see his own modest but worthwhile contribution to reef conservation.
I had seen the 1.5m-high concrete pyramids resting on plywood sheets earlier and wondered if they were something of the kind, but what I hadn’t expected was their manner of deployment. “We’ve got a patch of rubble with nothing growing on it out there,” said Phil, gesturing to some buoys. “We’ll drag these out and then move them with lift-bags.”
I offered to help by not getting in the way and videoing the whole business, so when the team hooked up the first artificial reef (now resting on bamboo runners) to the back of the boat and floored the throttle I did a bit of swearing in surprise as several hundred kilos of concrete “water-skied” across the shallows before the throttle was cut and the soon-to-be reef was dropped in place.
The team attaches two 200kg lift-bags to each structure and moves them into their final resting places on the sand. We positioned four that day to join 12 that had been sited over the past 12 months, each one full of life, from sea urchins and squat lobsters to shoals of snapper.
It shows what you can achieve with limited resources and should inspire policy-makers keen to keep the fishing community happy as well as the divers.

NEXT DAY PHIL AND I VISITED the Shakem, a deeper wreck that sits on the 30m plateau surrounding the island. Less sulky, now that I knew what to expect, I became fairly sure that this wreck had become one of the most colonised pieces of steel in the ocean.
Every inch seems to be covered in sea-fans, each one extending vast numbers of white-tentacled feeding polyps into the water.
Visibility was limited, not only by the sediment load in the water washed down from the recent rains but also by a threatening sky that would hurl several inches of rain on top of us as we dekitted. Fine – it rinsed my kit nicely, and I had enjoyed a remarkable dive.
In the morning I made the two-hour ferry crossing to a smaller island to the north, Carriacou. The ride was enjoyable, though a little lumpy when the boat took a detour to avoid an area where volcanic gas bubbles up from the seabed. This is a geologically active region, and the twin volcanoes of Kickem Jenny and Kickem Jack have the potential to rumble into life once more.
Carriacou has been described as the Caribbean of 50 years ago, and it has charm. The ferry dock and harbour are best described as operating in good-natured chaos, and I fell in love with the place immediately.
I was collected by a taxi-driver called Linky who believes in beeping his horn at everyone he knows, which on an island of some 5000 people is everyone.
He was however insistent that I should not slam his car-door, as he didn’t want to make too much noise.

AFTER A SUPERB MEAL cooked by a French chef called JB, who owns the Moringa Café, I was chatting with the team at Deefer Diving about the research they supported and about their projects to provide diver training along with conservation and monitoring, in the hope of convincing the government to go on funding and enforcing the MPAs.
My final dive with Matt and Gary at Deefer was one of the best I’ve ever had. After a short trip on Gary’s catamaran, an ideal platform for kitting-up and faffing with cameras, we arrived in the lee of a pair of islands called the Sisters, an outcropping of a complicated underwater structure that owed its formation to the area’s volcanic past.
When we dropped in and spooked a nurse shark from its hideaway I was already impressed. The reef was covered in sponges, soft corals and sea-plumes and gorgonians, and as we followed a ridge at around 12m we were shadowed by a dozen giant barracuda before dropping onto a sandy area to meet one of the cutest wrecks I’ve ever seen.
I can tell that Matt has posed in the “Tuglet”, as the team knows it, without his mask before. Wesley, the local lad being trained up, looked on, resting on his spear.
Many divers in the region carry six-pointed elastic-propelled spears to catch and kill the alien lionfish that without natural predators are consuming fish from here up to the Carolinas.
I spotted that Matt had caught a big one and I was looking forward to it being cooked for me later by JB, though I took no pleasure in the death of a fish there through no fault of its own.
As we left the Tuglet I saw a huge sting ray stirring up the sand. Wary Matt wasn’t keen to get too close for a photo.
We returned to the reef and watched volcanic gas bubbling up from the rock. The current was picking up and we decided to go with it towards a broken-up jumble of rocks.
Here the character of the reef changed dramatically, and for the first time I saw elkhorn corals of a decent size. They had presumably been spared from hurricane damage and bleaching and all around long-spined urchins sat in the middle of their algae-free territory – wonderful!
The current was picking up, however, and as we tried to swim between the Sisters I realised that I was making no progress with my bulky camera housing.
Matt was finning hard while trimming the venomous spines from my dinner. He looked across, and I assume he said to himself: “Let’s not bother! Laughing, I followed him back to the boat.

THE FISH WAS DELICIOUS that evening, and I felt happy that I’d seen the best of what Grenada could offer.
Yes, I’d seen the issues it faced and I’d even been on TV talking about how divers bring lots of cash with them and how we like to look at lots of fishes, but I’d also seen wonderful examples of how diving and divers can put something back and how diving can be
a force for good.
Yep, as I downed another Carib beer I was quite content.

FACTFILE
GETTING THERE British Airways from London Gatwick, ba.com. Osprey Ferry from Grenada to Carriacou, www.ospreylines.com
DIVING Eco Dive, www.ecodiveandtrek.com. Dive Grenada, www.divegrenada.com. Deefer Diving Carriacou, www.deeferdiving.com
ACCOMMODATION Coyaba Beach Resort 4* on Grand Anse, www.coyaba.com. Carriacou Grand View Hotel, www.carriacougrandview.com
WHEN TO GO Year round, but Nov-June is best.
CURRENCY East Caribbean dollar.
PRICES ba.com/grenada offers seven nights all-inclusive at the Coyaba Beach Resort with flights from £1216pp. Return flights only start from £570pp. Blue Horizons offers room-only 300m from Grand Anse from £51pp a night (two sharing), www.grenadabluehorizons.com. Carriacou Grand View Hotel from £25pp a night (two sharing). The Osprey ferry costs £19pp.
VISITOR INFORMATION www.puregrenada.com, www.grenadadiveshops.com