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How to… dive with marine wildlife


There are many wonders of nature to discover under water. Scuba diving trainer Neil van Niekerk, based in the Cayman Islands, explains how to prepare for encountering residents of the ocean in their natural habitat

Preparing for a dive begins long before you hit the water. Much preparation is needed to ensure you are mentally and physically fit for a particular dive.

Inspect your diving equipment and, if needed, send it to your local dive shop for service. Regulators and BCDs (buoyancy control devices) need a service at least once a year. Corrosion is a tremendous problem with dive gear in storage.

If your last dive was a long time ago – generally considered 18 months to two years – then you will need a refresher course with a divemaster or instructor. If your last dive was two to seven years ago, a full Scuba Review is required before you can dive in open water.

The best times to dive: for photography the morning dives are better, at about 11am for the best light. To see wildlife, the early morning and dusk dives are best when marine life is most active.

It’s a common misconception that chasing marine life will get you closer. It doesn’t. Chasing it just scares it off. Around the Cayman Islands, sharks, turtles and eagle rays will approach you cautiously, so be calm in the water and let them investigate you.

Much of the best marine life is very small and it takes good buoyancy to investigate it closely and exceptional buoyancy to photograph it. Do spend time with an instructor to develop these important buoyancy skills.

Don’t lay or stand on the coral to take a better picture. Corals have a protective slimy coating covering them to prevent infections from pathogens. By touching them with your hands or feet, you remove this extremely important outer coating, thereby exposing the entire organism to disease.


Moving through the water slowly not only conserves air consumption, but allows you to see details that otherwise may be missed or overlooked. Try to understand what it is that you are looking at, as many of these interesting animals rely heavily on camouflage; you will be rewarded for your efforts.

Neil is the manager and diving instructor of the Southern Cross Club www.southerncrossclub.com

The Caymans are blessed with outstanding underwater scenery and wildlife. To find out more visit www.caymanislands.ky/divecayman