The Roatan Reef
by Monish Welcome
A glistening island treasure of the Caribbean, Roatan offers numerous activities such as boating, fishing and undersea exploration of the Mesoamerican Reef. The reef, a main attraction for divers and snorkelers, is divided into a north side and south side in Roatan, as well as its island neighbors, Utila and Guanaja.
In the north side of Roatan, the reef is separated at shore by a shallow lagoon, less than a kilometer wide, usually. The crest can sometimes be easy to find; on occasion, it breaks or almost breaks the water’s surface; from this point on the reef slopes down to a plateau, which is followed by the reef wall.
Sponges, elkhorn coral and sea fans are the beginning of the vast marine life that thrives on the north side of the reef. The south side slopes out smoothly until it reaches the edge of the wall, anywhere from 10-30 meters, from which it drops to a sandy bottom decorated by a rich growth of colorful, soft corals.
For those seeking the best of both worlds, the western end of the island, where the north and south side meet, is the place to go; here the reef shows characteristics of both formations.
Popular dive sites in Roatan are found in the Sandy Bay Marine Reserve, a protected reserve between Sandy Bay and West Bay on the west end of the island.
Reefs on the northern, eastern and southern side of Roatan also have many infrequently visited sites with amazing marine life. For suggestions, just stay at a resort along the way and ask locals and dive shops.
A famous dive is Hole in the Wall, just around the bend from Half Moon Bay on the way to Sandy Bay. On the upper reef there is a steep sand chute where you can cruise down through a cleft to the hole; it pops out on the reef wall around 40 meters. This is one of the places where the Cayman Trench comes closest to Roatan, and very dark water—depth around 800 meters—is seen below. Although the highlight of the dive is the wall, time should be made to explore around the sand chutes on the upper reef—you may spot a barracuda or eagle ray.
Blue Channel, out front of West End, is a canyon with a narrow opening that widens and deepens as you swim away from shore. This is the perfect spot for an afternoon dive. This mellow dive includes channel swim-throughs, beautiful rock and coral formations and many colorful fish.
Off the southwest point of Roatan is West End Wall, where divers should plan drift dives because of the strong currents. Whether you go to see the wall (which is worth seeing) or just to let the current zip you across the reef fields above the wall, it is a must for divers. West End Wall is the place to see hawksbill turtles, spotted eagle rays and colorful, dazzling fish.
A visit to Roatan for any diver is a unique experience, every time!
More diving destinations next month: Sandy Bay, Bear’s Den and Spooky Channel, to name a few!