The Tobago Underwater Carnival 2012
Trinbagonians and diving experts know it: Tobago’s beaches and surrounding bodies of water (the Caribbean to the west, the Atlantic to the east) are perfect not just for casual beach-goers and snorkellers, but hard core diving enthusiasts and everyone in between! It’s no surprise then that the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) in collaboration with the Association of Tobago Dive Operators (ATDO) – has run the Tobago Underwater Carnival the last few years, and it returns once more this 22–29 July, 2012.Tobago’s aquamarine and cobalt blue waters are home to a spectacular and tremendously diverse ecosystem. For anyone looking to explore this incredible underwater world, the Underwater Carnival provides an unparalleled opportunity.
According to the THA, it’s easy to understand what makes Tobago’s underwater world so magnificent. The Guyana Current flows over the island’s reefs, providing nourishment to its diverse oceanic eco system. Massive hard corals – including what has been called the world’s largest brain coral – and fields of huge barrel sponges twisted and sculpted by the constant press of moving water rest peacefully on the ocean’s floor. Every niche is crowded with both predators and prey. Manta rays inhabit the reefs year round, while tarpon, eagle rays, hammerhead and even nurse sharks can also be seen.
From novice to expert, underwater explorers at Tobago’s Underwater Carnival can look forward to catching a glimpse of tarpon, turtles, sharks, manta rays, unique coral formations and over 400 species of dazzling tropical marine life. Diving opportunities are complemented by seminars and sessions for beginners.
Over the years, certain sites have become particularly popular and rewarding for diving enthusiasts. According the the THA and Sport Diver Magazine, they include:
- The Southwest: home to the Flying Reef near the airport – look out for nurse sharks relaxing under ledges and barracuda and tarpon hunting in the flow – and Diver’s Dream, appropriately named for its fields of barrel sponges and eagle rays
- Leeward/Caribbean Coast: near Mt. Irvine, divers love the MV Maverick wreck, once a car ferry, that has been played home to an ever-increasing host of marine life since 1997, including snappers and rainbow runners. Not too far away is Arnos Vale, a shallow reef inhabited by eels and shrimp.
- Sisters Rocks (Caribbean coast/northern tip): a series of five exposed rocky islets are the star of the dive scene in this area. Steep walls, canyons and drop-offs with seafans and gorgonians create a spectacular diving experience, and in the colder months, lucky divers spot passing hammerhead sharks. Closer to the shore, the fringing reefs of Castara and Scotch on the Rocks, on the northeastern Caribbean/Leeward coast, provide protected access to some of the best macro diving sites
- Speyside & environs (northern tip/Atlantic or Windward coast): split between the Caribbean and the Atlantic, diving off the northern tip of the islands often means a free ride, as strong currents sweep through this area. London Bridge and the St. Giles islands offer spectacular encounters with turtles, sharks and tarpon on the Atlantic side. Also visit the waters off Speyside, where a swift drift through Bookends showcases the richness of Caribbean marine life.
Headlining the week of activities at the Tobago Underwater Carnival are an amateur underwater photography competition hosted by photographer Ty Sawyer; a presentation by David Jones of the Plastic Ocean Foundation; seminars on topics including life saving techniques and the “Try Dive” event designed with non-divers who want to learn to dive in mind. This popular event, which takes place at the YMCA in Turtle Beach on Wednesday 25th, 3:00–5:30 pm, allows non-divers to familiarise themselves with the equipment.
Registration for the Tobago Underwater Carnival is US$75, and includes access to event seminars, discounts on select land-based tours and restaurants, free snorkeling equipment rental, free entry into the amateur underwater photography contest and dive package specials.
More about Try Dive from the ATDO’s Alice Darwent
For the adventurers with a desire to learn, ATDO President, Alice Darwent, took the time to answer some frequently asked questions.
Q: I cannot swim, can I learn to dive?
A: Yes, as a non swimmer you can learn to dive, but you must be comfortable in water too deep to stand up in. A non-swimmer can participate in the “Discover Scuba Diving” experience or Try Dive. The program takes 1/2 a day and entails a short video, instructor reinforcement of what was on the video, shallow water skills, and a dive. This is not a certification course but you can dive accompanied by a dive master, with limitations. This beginners programme can be credited towards your full scuba certification, at which time you will have to learn to swim.
Q: How long is the certification course?
A: The certification course takes 3–5 days, depending on your how quickly you can grasp the academic information in the PADI Open Water Diver Manual, as well as your water skills capability. It is a five-part modular course which consists of reading and exams, mastering shallow water skills and completing open water dives.
Q: I am not certified, can I be part of the events?
A: If you are not a certified diver but would like to attend the seminars, this is available for a small attendance fee.
Q: Do I have to participate for the entire week?
A: No, you can choose the programs and activities you would like to participate in.
Q: Is there a fee or requirement for the Try Dive event?
A: There is no fee, but you have to be in good health with no ailments or health issues, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, pregnancy etc.
Q: Can I become certified in Tobago?
A: Yes you can become certified in Tobago. There are several PADI facilities on the island that can take you through the course. F or your safety and enjoyment, we recommend that you get trained by a member of the ATDO. You can find a list of these operators at www.tobagoscubadiving.com.
For a sample of what you can expect at the Carnival, check out our complete gallery. All photo courtesy the THA.
For more information on hotel partners and the schedule of activities, visit www.tobagounderwatercarnival.com