Over the years, we’ve always loved periodically visiting the Cayman Islands (Grand, Brac and Little Cayman) for the vast underwater vistas, as well as the sedate and warm water diving with a good diversity of reef life. In 2013, we decided that it was time for a trip back to the Caymans. We planned a week in Grand Cayman where I had scheduled 2 days of underwater photography training with reknowned photographer Cathy Church located at the Sunset Divers operation. From there, we headed over to Cayman Brac for another glorious week of diving. The conditions while we were there were absolutely stupendous with the best water clarity that I have ever experienced. Just for reference, we dived the Captain Keith Tibbetts wreck, a Russian frigate intentionally sank to create an artificial wreck, which in and of itself is 330 feet long. As we were descending, from a good 100 feet from the wreck, we looked over to see the Tibbetts in all of its glory. The water was so amazingly clear that we could see the entire wreck from as far away as we were- amounting to a spectacular 400-500 foot visibility!
Besides diving the wreck, we saw an abundance of other fishlife and beautiful corals, including this amazing pillar coral (probably 6 feet tall) as well as several stands of staghorn corals. I’m sure that you’ve read about how these sightings are becoming more and more infrequent in the Carribbean, so we were delighted to see these healthy corals.
We also saw plenty of the usual creatures and fish, and delighted in seeing the healthy reef life.
In the summer of 2019, we decided it was time to revisit the Brac, reminiscing about our fantastic dive trip 6 years prior. We stayed at the same resort, Cayman Brac Beach Resort. They had done some nice renovations and upgrades over those 6 years, including a much expanded bar area with an overhead deck and pergola, on which you can go up and view some fantastic sunsets. Or, enjoy some early morning yoga in the tropical breezes. The pool area is also new and expanded; a lovely place to unwind with an icy drink. It was nice to see that the rooms have also been updated and are plenty comfy, with ocean view patios or balconies.
The food is reliably very good, with lots of delicious buffet offerings served at breakfast and lunch. Delicious dinners are served with different themes each night, keeping the menus fresh. And too many fabulous desserts to choose between! There is also a new restaurant on-site, called Island Prime, which supposedly offers some fine seafood and steaks. Ahead of our stay, I made a reservation there for one of our dinners. But when we showed up for our reservation, they apologized and indicated they did not have a record of our reservation and were unable to accommodate us (they weren’t even open). Well, that was disappointing, but we really came for the diving so it was no big deal.
The Reef Divers’ Divemasters lead a large group of 12-16 divers and complete their “tour” of the reef in a fast 35minutes. The operation rigidly adheres to a 60min maximum bottom time, leaving the divers to cruise around on their own in the shallows underneathe the boat for the remaining time. This meant that we didn’t spend as much time as I would have liked in the deeper parts of the reef where the corals actually appeared healthier. As a photographer, I like to swim slowly during a dive, searching for little critters while watching and photographing the interesting behaviors of reef life. That being said, we still had lots of great sightings, much like we saw during our visit in 2013, including the ubiquitous groupers, snappers, schoolmasters, grunts, trunkfish, filefish, hamlets, chubs, drumfish, and more!
We were even so fortunate to spot some nurse sharks, rays, turtles, and even a pair (male and female) of flying gurnards!
But we noticed a change in the appearance of the hard corals in 2019 from what we saw in 2013. There seemed to be the presence of a lot of algae suffocating the hard corals, especially in shallower waters, dulling the underwater colors and scenery.
We also noticed this time that there was a lot of sargassum washing into the shoreline where the boat docks are. In this area 6 years ago, we always saw spotted eagle rays, including their young, coming in for an evening feeding under the dock lights. Not now. This sargassum, according to the staff there, is omnipresent and thick at shoreline.
During the week of our visit, Cayman Brac Beach Resort and the Reef Divers operation hosted a group of divers from Craig Hospital’s Adaptive Scuba Divers program for the week. These are divers who have sustained spinal cord and other extremely serious injuries. The freedom of being underwater allows these divers the movement they otherwise don’t have on land. They have individual support from their buddy teams, and Reef Divers accommodate their needs on the dive boats. It was amazing to see them and the smiles on their faces. This was truly impressive to witness and highly commendable to Reef Divers for helping to make this amazing experience happen for them.
All-in-all, we had an enjoyable week back at the Brac. The resort is very nice, and they are beginning to work with some local tour operators to offer other types of excursions for those who don’t dive or for divers wanting to take a break from diving. And we thoroughly enjoyed seeing some of our favorite critters underwater. But while Reef Divers do provide valet dive service, the dive groups are too big for my taste, and the dives are too short. And, it was hard to see evidence of what appears to be a decline in the health of the reefs there. The Caymans have been a great dive destination for many decades. Is it time to allow these dive sites to rest and recover? What do you think?