Bermuda is well known as one of the best scuba diving destinations in the world. The warm waters of the Gulf Stream have enabled the reefs to flourish, even though they are the most northern in the Atlantic.
Over the years over 300 ships are thought to have sunk on these shallow reefs. Today, many of these shipwrecks are mapped and accessible to visiting divers. A handful of reputable and regulated dive centres offer diving trips for all levels of ability, recognised certifications, and introductory lessons for complete novices.
The formation of Bermuda began around 110 million years ago when a volcano just west of the Mid Atlantic Ridge erupted. The resulting flows of lava formed a seamount that rose to a level just below the surface of the ocean. Over time the seamount moved west with the North American tectonic plate. Around 35 million years ago a second eruption resulted in the formation of the Bermuda Seamount.
The Bermuda Seamont is comprised of three peaks; the Bermuda Pedestal, Argus Bank, and Challenger Bank. The island is situated on the Bermuda Pedestal and is the only peak that is now above sea level. At one point it would have stood around a kilometre above the surface. Over time coastal erosion reduced it to the low-lying island of today, while reefs began to form around it.
There are a variety of reef systems around the island offering a multitude of options for divers. The rim reefs are perhaps the best known and most visited. They encircle the island and lie at depths of between 3 and 45 feet. On the southern side of the island they are quite close to the shore, but to the north they lie around 10 miles out. Cup reefs, known locally as boilers are found along the south shore and are shaped like a wine glass.
Despite being frequently referred to as coral reefs, corals are not the only organisms that have built Bermuda’s reefs. Equally important are crustose coralline algae. They grow in a sheet-like form over rock surfaces and have the appearance of spilled red paint.
Cooler water temperatures mean that the island doesn’t have the variety of corals found in the Caribbean. However, those found in Bermuda rank amongst the healthiest in the world. The island is isolated and completely free of heavy industries. It also has no rivers to carry pollutants into the ocean.
Water Temperature and Underwater Visibility
Bermuda lies well north of the tropics but its waters are warmed by the Gulf Stream, the warm Atlantic current that originates in the Gulf of Mexico.
The water temperature in the summer season (May to October) averages 26°C (79°F), reaching a peak of 28°C (82°F) in August. Divers need only a 2 or 3 mm shorty wetsuit.
The ocean is at its coldest between December and April, with an average water temperature of 20°C (68°F). To be comfortable you’ll need a full 5mm wetsuit. Diving in the winter season has a couple of benefits though; visibility is at its highest and hotel rates are considerably cheaper.
Water temperature and underwater visibility in Bermuda throughout the year are shown in the graphs below.
The current water temperature in Bermuda can be found here.
For much of the time since the island was colonised, fish were harvested using fish pots. These mesh traps were not selective and caught many fish that were not required, resulting in the decline of many species. Fishing regulations now prohibit the use of fish pots. They also impose a minimum catch size on certain species (including hogfish, black grouper, yellowtail snapper, blue marlin, and swordfish) and completely prohibit fishing of others (including red grouper and Nassau grouper). There are also strict controls on spearfishing and catching lobsters.
Though the situation is far from perfect, these regulations have ensured Bermuda has fared better than many Caribbean islands where fish stocks have plummeted to extremely low levels. Over 400 species of marine life have been recorded in the waters around the island.
Some of the more common fish include sergeant majors, grunts, squirrelfish, grey snappers, parrotfish, wrasses, moray eels, chubs, and bream. Sharks are quite rare.
Bermuda’s shallow reefs haven’t always been well marked and the island’s first lighthouse wasn’t built until 1844. Over the years these treacherous reefs have sealed the fate of many vessels. Indeed, the island was first colonised as a direct result of the Sea Venture floundering off the coast near St Catherine’s Beach.
There are thought to be more than 300 shipwrecks lying in the island’s waters, though not all are mapped and documented. Those that are include everything from Civil War blockade runners to 19th century French frigates. Most are easily accessible and lie in depths of less than 60 feet.
The list is growing all the time, not as the result of tragedy, but thanks to a government program to create new dive sites. Recent additions include the Sea Venture (a former public ferry) and the Xing Da (a ship caught attempting to smuggle illegal immigrants into the United States).
There are several centres in Bermuda offering visitors the chance to experience the island’s waters. They are located throughout the island and each has its own favourite dive spots.
All offer two-tank dives for certified divers; usually visiting a wreck and a reef. They also provide certification courses, and introductory lessons for those that have never dived before.
Dive prices are higher than in the US but comparable to destinations such as the Cayman Islands. Expect to pay around $130 for a two-tank dive and $90 for a one-tank dive, plus additional fees to rent equipment.
Fantasea is a PADI Dive Resort based at the Royal Naval Dockyard catering mainly to passengers from the cruise ships docked at Kings Wharf and Heritage Wharf. They offer daily two-tank dives for qualified divers, plus the PADI Discover Scuba Diving experience for beginners.
Blue Water Divers was established in 1985 and is situated at Robinson’s Marina in Sandys Parish.
Dive Bermuda is another operation that has been around for a while. They have two locations; one at the Fairmont Southampton, the largest resort on the island, and another at Grotto Bay.
If diving isn’t for you the island offers a multitude of other water-based activities like helmet diving, snorkelling, kayaking, and sailing.