A coral oasis off Grand Cayman's Seven Mile Beach Seven Mile Beach is Grand Cayman's principal playground for sun worshippers, swimmers, snorkelers and parasailing fans, so you would hardly think there would be very much quality diving in this area. Quite to the contrary, the West Wall off Seven Mile Beach offers some of the finest drop-off diving in the Caribbean. Dozens of wall sites are marked with dive boat moorings and afford endless hours of enjoyment for scuba visitors. Yet, one of my favorite dive sites is not a wall dive at all. It is a small patch of coral thicket appropriately named Mesa Reef. Lying just a half mile beyond Seven Mile Beach, and just to the south of the Oro Verde wreck, this unique structure serves as a coral oasis in a sprawling undersea sand desert. Abruptly rising up from a 60- to 70-foot-deep flat sand bottom, this flat-topped coral reef comes to within 50 feet of the surface - an ideal depth for all divers and particularly underwater photographers. Measuring about 200 feet in diameter, the reef structure drops off vertically on the north side, with a slight undercut. The south and west sides of the dive site taper off gradually into 70 feet of water. Underwater visibility is a spectacular 100 feet plus because the reef structure is constantly washed by a slight oceanic current - not enough to be threatening but sufficient to clear away any sand or silt debris. This remarkable clarity on a shallow reef is one of the main reasons that photographers find it to be a favorite site. What makes Mesa so special is that the top of the reef is covered with a solid forest of hard corals, sea fans and soft gorgonians. The reef is rich with marine life and densely populated because of the nutrients that flow past this special spot. As you float above the coral formations, you begin to notice the local residents. Spiny lobsters peek out from under coral ledges and small crevices. Scorpionfish sit proudly on coral clumps, remaining motionless and patiently waiting for small fish to pass by. Octopus are tucked into crevices between coral heads waiting for the sun to set so they can begin their nocturnal hunt for prey. Everywhere you glance, there are arrowcrabs, coral shrimp, flamingo tongues, Christmas tree worms and dozens of other small creatures. Mesa is a densely populated coral city. What visitors notice the most is the abundance of fish life. Mesa is one of the few dive sites where you are guaranteed to see groups of schooling blue striped grunts, swimming together with schools of mahogany snappers and schoolmaster snappers. Most of the time the schooling fish remain close to the edges of the Mesa, hugging the sea fans, sea plums and branching hard corals. When approached by divers, the schools will slowly scatter, often breaking into smaller groups. Within a few minutes, the fish come back to the same spot and regroup as a larger school. Mesa is also famous for another type of schooling fish. About 50 to 100 feet north of the mini drop-off, visitors will often find a school of 100 to 200 horse eye jacks. This pelagic species tends to remain in open water, above the flat sand bottom, where they can maneuver and feed at will. Although the schooling fish are the first to attract the visitor's attention, Mesa is loaded with singular reef fish species. Smooth trunkfish with black and white spots can be seen all over the coral reef, usually down between the coral heads. Cowfish with tiny horns above their eyes also inhabit this region. Trumpetfish cruise a little higher above the reef, often sidling up to a sea plume or soft gorgonian, with their head hung down so they blend in with the surrounding marine life. Colorful blackbar soldierfish, squirrelfish and hamlets are also plentiful. And located at the base of the mini drop-off is a small cleaning station frequented by a tiger grouper. All of this can be seen in just a short swim from the dive boat -- a fish watcher's perfect dive profile. Go With ExperienceMesa reef is a favorite for customers diving with Don Foster's Dive Cayman, one of Grand Cayman's longest established dive operations. With dive centers at downtown George Town and the Comfort Suites Hotel, Don Foster's offers daily dive excursions aboard their three custom dive vessels: Cayman Star, Cayman Sun and Cayman Wall. They have two more vessels that offer daily snorkel and scuba trips to Stingray City, located in the North Sound. Their friendly service and devotion to safety has made Don Foster's a favorite for decades.
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