Superb Shore Diving
The area may be limited, but it's still easily among the Caribbean's best.
Anse Chastanet Reef
With everyone's eyes locked skyward on the pitons for so many years, divers have only recently realized that some of the Caribbean's best shore diving is near these same pitons in the Anse Chastanet Marine Reserve located in front of the Anse Chastanet Hotel.
Not even Bonaire can compare with the variety of corals, sea fans, bright sponges, schooling fish, caves, ledges and colorful gorgonians that grow profusely less close to St. Lucia 's south coast near Soufriere.
Swimming out from Anse Chastanet's black sand beach (a reminder of St. Lucia's volcanic origins), the bottom gradually slopes off, then drops sharply to reveal a plateau of plate and star corals loaded with bright sponges.
Clouds of brown chromis hover just above the reef top but anywhere along the way you might spot frogfish, glass minnows, squirrelfish, bigeye, butterfly fish, eels, orange anemones or seahorses; 150 species of fish in all.
Deep red gorgonians shaped like irregular swatches of netting begin appearing around 50 feet, as do giant orange sponge that look big and soft enough to curl up in. The plateau eventually bottoms out at 130 feet.
A favorite nighttime dive spot is a big cavern encrusted with corals and sponges in only 15-20 feet of water. You can usually find a small school of squid nearby.
If you're lucky, on a night dive you may encounter “The Thing,” a huge segmented worm that may reach as much as 14 feet in length and 1.5-feet in diameter. Scientists have yet to positively identify the shy creature.
What nourishes so much healthy marine life is a moderately strong current that sometimes appears without warning. Its appearance has no predictable pattern, and you should factor it into your dive plan as soon as you feel it because it can pick up speed quickly; and you may need to swim against it back to shore.
The easiest way to shore dive either night or dive is by staying at the 49-room Anse Chastanet Hotel, considered on the of the Caribbean 's best small hotels. Its PADI Gold 5-star scuba center, Scuba St. Lucia, offers complete equipment rentals, dive training and boat dives. For information, call 800/228-110 or visit the Anse Chastanet website.