Posted by JJ Wright on 27th Mar 2014

What makes a great dive locale?

SCUBA diving is a sport that can be enjoyed by almost anyone. Old and young. Big and little. Men and women. Even the disabled. All it takes is the training, the preparation, the equipment, and a healthy love of adventure. Oh, yeah...it takes one more thing: a place to dive.

Search the world over and you'll find amazing dive locales in just about every country. Some places are definitely better than others, but there are several factors that the best sites in the world have in common. In no particular order, here are the most important ones:

1. Wildlife. There's nothing quite like swimming underwater with a giant but docile whale shark. Or an intelligent manta ray. Or a majestic sea turtle. The opportunites for wildlife photographers are endless. And if hunting is your thing, spearfishing, crabbing, or scallop harvesting (just to name a few) are must-do activities. It's amazing how many different species are down there, and if a diver is patient and careful, he or she can find a managerie.

2. Wrecks. Ask any diver and they will tell you the most interesting sites almost invariably have a wreck of some kind. Sunken ships literally litter the ocean floor, and many of them are of tremendous historical significance. Some of the best ones are from World War II, like the SS Thistlegrom off the coast of Egypt. In 1941, the ship was sunk by Germany on route to Alexandria loaded with supplies. Divers can still seethe intact deck mounted machine guns and even check out vehicles in the cargo hold like trucks and motorcycles. Just remember, wreck diving can be dangerous and some require advanced-open-water certification.

3. Good Visibility. It seems like a no brainer, but being able to see is important underwater. The farther you can see, the more you can see, and therefore the more enjoyable your dive will be. Duh. Divers call it Vis, and there are some places in the world where the Vis is way better than others. In the PacNW, the diving is great, but sometimes the Vis is four feet--not exactly perfect. And considering you are now at the bottom of the food chain, not being able to spot an apex predator swimming your direction can be a tad disconcerting. Places like Palau and Silfra in Iceland and Dos Ojos in Mexico have almost unlimited vis.

4. Plant Life. Like wildlife, the more exotic, colorful, and abundant plant life you encoutner the better. Gorgian Sea Fans are spectaular, and can be found in just about every ocean, but are especially plentiful in the tropics or subtropics. Of course all divers love coral for the wonderful varieties and colors (but we have to be very careful with coral). Around these parts (PacNW) we have copious kelp beds that resemble vast undersea forests and provide homes for ling cod and other wildlife.

5. Geologic Formations. Probably ranking second among divers as the most interesting things to encounter underwater are naturally occuring formations. Caves are especially intriguing, and the Oregon/Washington Coasts offer all kinds of cave diving. Of course special care and certification is required if you want to traverse a vast cave complex. Steep vertical rock walls are also full of interesting places to explore. Sometimes you might be lucky enough to find a nice ledge to sit and watch the fish go by. Other examples of exciting formations include overhangs, slopes, and crevaces.

6. Clean water. This relates to visibility, but differs in that clean water means unpolluted water, which is essential for healthy plant and marine life. In places where the water has been protected from environmental poisons and pollutions the sea life can grow to almost unbelievable proportions. And of course the variety and numbers of fish and other creatures is directly related to how pure the water is. It goes without saying that divers want the water to be as clean as possible.

7. Bizzare and Unsual. Ever seen a plastic alligator underwater with a Barbie Doll in it's mouth? How about a wasteland of toilets? Or bathtubs? Undersea manmade oddities are more abundant than you might think, and they give divers the opportunity to feed their hunger for the strange. Decommissioned Atlas nuclear missiles. Underwater cemeteries. Underwater statues. The list is nearly endless.