Ascension Island has been rated by a diving expert as one of the best places on the planet for underwater thrills.
In the first published guide to diving around the island, Paul Colley OBE has enthused about waters teeming with a rare abundance of marine life. The water is so clear it is like diving in gin, he says – and he might have added, just as intoxicating.
That is despite having to prepare and manhandle heavy air cylinders, and then risk indignity and injury loading boats in the wild Georgetown swell. “If people are not careful,” he writes in Sidetracked magazine, “boats can be thrown onto the jetty, air cylinders and dive equipment can be tossed into open ocean and divers can be pitched into the water.”
And it gets worse: “It can be a bone-shattering ride when heading into stiff winds and big waves. The boats crest and fall with big thumps. But the moment you get into the lee of Boatswain Bird Island, spirits rise and nervous banter begins with the anticipation of diving at one of the most remote locations in the world.
“Boatswain Bird Island is a natural refuge, where thousands of exquisite sea birds wheel around vertical cliffs. Face muscles tense up suddenly as eddies of wind waft an acrid stench of guano towards unprepared nostrils.”
The only way to get away from the smell is to don facemask, and submerge. And then comes the reward.
“You will find few places on Earth with such huge aggregations of fish. Species normally plundered by man – large crayfish, groupers and eels – live here untouched and in large numbers.
“One species, the black durgeon triggerfish, is so abundant around this remote sea mount that it can turn the water from bright blue to black as the inquisitive creatures mill around neoprene-clad visitors. All black except for small white lines that underscore the bases of their caudal and dorsal fins, durgeons can change their diamond-shaped scales into a riot of electric blue, yellow and orange.
“My favourite here is the juvenile horse eye jack, which huddles for safety into dense shimmering schools that hurry around in perfect nervous formation as though they are lost or late for something.”
The tens of thousands of creatures swimming by can include turtles, dolphins, manta rays and Galapagos sharks.
“Ascension does not compete with the easier access and lower cost of diving in the Red Sea, the far East or the Caribbean. And it will never have the abundance of eye-catching soft corals that adorn so many popular dive sites elsewhere. But Ascension surpasses many for its sheer abundance of marine life and I rate it as one of the best places in the world to dive.”
Paul Colley’s book, Diving and Snorkelling Ascension Island – Guide to a Marine Life Paradise – has been chosen by the British Sub Aqua Club as its title of the month. Joss Woolf, chairman of the British Society of Underwater Photographers, says: “For the adventurous diver who likes to get off the beaten track, this is an absolute must.”
It is available through the Amazon website.
Click on a thumbnail to see full-size images by Paul Colley:
Underwater Ascension – picture gallery
Why Dr Judith can only just see the seashells on the sea shore