SEVENSEAS Marine Conservation & Travel Issue 17, October 2016 - Page 129

The southern side of Curacao seemed to be continual reef from tip to tip. We bought a dive book about the island but could have saved some money by just going to any beach on the island and swimming west! I will admit, it was helpful to get an idea of which way the reefs ran underwater and we probably would not have ended up at the abandoned Shining-esque resort with a sunken Cessna in the bay on our own. In my thirteen years of diving, Curacao has some of the healthiest reefs I have seen, with fish filled formations that stretch out north to south following the coast of the island. Now, you won’t likely see outstandingly large sea creatures like sharks or whales, but the seas are abundant with sea turtles and countless fish of all sorts; my favorite on any reef are the balloon puffer fish which skittishly swim across the reefs and hide in nooks and crannies when spotted only to turn around and stare at you with big curious eyes. We also hunted down seahorses, tons of inquisitive squid, colorful “lettuce” nudibranchs, flamingo tongues, spotted trunkfish, trumpet fish, and a few shy octopuses.

The weather is great year round. We heard people complain about the heat in the summer, but if you stay by the coast there was always a breeze and the water was the perfect temperature for a summer dive trip. On our July trip we didn’t even feel the need to wear wetsuits because the water was great; the visibility was also 60-100 feet at all the dive sites on our summer trip. Visibility in December was great too, but summer seemed to be even clearer, though it could have been a random week of luck.

How we did it:

The first trip we took was city style. We stayed at the Floris Hotel which is in the Piscadera area, a short ride from both the airport and the main town called Willemstad which is home to the brightly colored port town that shows up with a Google image search of Curacao. I highly recommend taking an evening to explore Williamstad whether or not you stay nearby or on the northern, more remote side of the island. Piscadera is a nice walkable town with a handful of medium sized hotels and resorts, including the Marriot which has a nice little beachfront which I’m fairly certain is open to the public, if not, the fee charged is most likely nominal. The Floris hotel did not have direct beach access but it was close enough to walk to the Marriott beach or the popular Moomba Beach. The beaches were pretty but honestly we came to the island to dive so we didn’t explore the sand too much other than underwater looking for the shy jaw fish that hovers above a hole in the sand and retreats if you approach too quickly—the same goes for the abundant garden eels.

When we stayed in Piscadera, we chartered the Dive Bus to pick us up every morning and take us on a double dive each day. Their customer service is outstanding and on the first trip to the island it was nice to have a local guide. We had our reservations about paying someone to take us shore diving, since we are both experienced divers, but after the first dive we felt like it was money well spent. They provided lunch in between each dive and hung on to our gear overnight to let it dry, which is a major plus if you're staying in a place without sufficient drying racks, plus the convenience of just being done with the gear after the second dive helps you enjoy the rest of the afternoon. The first dive of the trip is usually at their house reef which has a nice sandy pit to start with where you can look for jaw fish and garden eels and then it slopes down to the reef which has an abundance of hard coral and fish to call it home. The house reef is where we saw the biggest ball of bait fish I have ever seen. Think the fish in Finding Nemo that swarm together and play charades with Dory, except this fish ball was about 100 feet dense in both height and width; a wall of fish if there ever was one. We swam underneath and they almost blocked out the sun. The Dive Bus picked us up at our hotel every morning and it was a great introduction to the island.

The second time we went to the island we decided to take an Air BnB on the north western tip of the island at a dive resort called Marazul in Westpunt. The northern side of the island is more secluded but it’s just a 40 or so minute ride into town. There are small grocery stores and restaurants nearby that will tide you over for your stay, as well, so you don’t need to go into town but I recommend checking it out if you have the time. The resort wasn’t over the top fancy, but was perfect for what we were looking for: a place with a gorgeous view, pool, and room for six at a fair price. There was a dive shop in the complex next door where we paid 35 dollars a day for unlimited air and we took full advantage by doing three to four dives a day. We rented a 9 passenger van and filled it with the dive team and twelve to sixteen tanks at a time as my parents limit was three dives. The north western side of the island is dotted with beach after beach and where you could pull up and swim straight out until you hit the reef and follow it north and south as you please.

My parents’ favorite dive site was Playa Piskado. We saw at least 3 sea turtles every time we went diving here. It is a beautiful beach were locals usually take their fishing boats out in the morning and then clean their haul on the dock before it gets to hot. I’ve heard it’s best to do this dive after 10 am as the fishermen are mostly back and cleaning their fish by then so you wont have to worry about boat traffic, not that this ever seemed to be a problem when we were diving. Because there are so many “free meals” as the fishermen clean their catch, there we always an abundance of fish and pelicans grabbing what they could around the dock. On both of our vacations we found one or two seahorses at this beach too. Patiently inspect the ropes near the dock the buoy lines and you should be able to find one yourself as well! There is also a cool statue of Poseidon out at about 30 feet if you swim out straight from the dock and then swim to the right when you hit the reef. He was also our usual marker of when we would start swimming towards shore.

There are over 40 dive sites on the island and we were not disappointed by any of the ones we tried!

Author Bio:

Patrick has been dabbling in art from an early age, entering his first photo competition at age 12 and winning in the point and shoot category. He grew up under the influence of his mother's art who has practiced in acrylic and pastel for most of his childhood. The two of them started exploring encaustics in the summer of 2012 under the direction of Kat Fitzpatrick in Waveland, Mississippi. Patrick started working in a professional capacity in Okinawa, Japan in 2006, creating prints of underwater collages he created from pictures taken in the East China Sea. He continued his art education in 2013 in the Wynwood studio, The Art Place, under Danilo Gonzalez. Patrick was featured in the Art Basel satellite event, In the Mix, at the Warehouse Project for his encaustic work. He enjoys scuba diving on the weekends and turning his diving experiences into art.