Merge & Al's Excellent Adventures

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Underwater magic at Grand Turk Island

The Turks and Caicos (T&C) Islands are a British Overseas Territory located in the Atlantic Ocean, east of Cuba, and north of the Dominican Republic.  The archipelago consists of 40 different islands and cays, of which only a few are inhabited.  In January 2024, the MS Eurodam stopped at Grand Turk, the capital island of T&C, and I got my very first chance to visit this Atlantic gem.  Grand Turk is a small island, measuring just 7 miles long and 1.5 miles wide, but it is steeped in history.  Most notably, it is where Christopher Columbus first landed on his maiden voyage to the New World.  It was also a key player in the salt industry during the colonial era.  Today though, it is known for its pristine beaches, crystal-clear waters, and excellent diving, including the famous Grand Turk Wall.  The Grand Turk Wall is so famous that it is known simply as the “Wall”, or more commonly as the “Amazing Wall”.  As one of the most renowned dive sites in the world, it is a dramatic coral reef drop-off where the sea floor plunges 7,000 feet steeply into the deep blue of the Atlantic Ocean.  Located just off the west coast of Grand Turk Island, it is highly prized by both divers and snorkelers.  The visibility around the wall can exceed 100 feet on a clear day, and given that the depths in the area are as shallow as 25-20 feet, it is highly visible to snorkelers and very accessible to novice divers.  This abrupt change in depth to 7,000 feet creates a stunning visual contrast that is both awe-inspiring and a bit daunting.  As an avid snorkeler I was really looking forward to this visiting here.

I had pre-booked a small group tour with Exclusive Supreme Snorkeling in Grand Turk.  Our ship docked at the Grand Turk cruise port which is on the southwest corner of the island.  As you come off the ship, Playa de Elizabeth Gerhard beach is right there, and it was just a short walk to their shopfront on the beach.  As I made my way there, JJ, one of their friendly staff members was waiting to escort me for about the last 200 metres.  Exclusive Supreme Snorkeling is a husband-and-wife run business and the husband Ed was checking in guests at the desk.  His wife Faithanne came in a little later.  I was signed in, given my equipment, and then within 20 minutes we were making our way down to the beach.  The small but comfortable boat we set out on was crewed by Captain Mackie, and his mate, none other than the friendly JJ who I had met earlier.

A view of the MS Eurodam from Playa de Elizabeth Gerhard beach
A view of Playa de Elizabeth Gerhard beach from our boat

Our first stop was the Wall, about 4 km north of the cruise port, and only about 500 m west of the shoreline.  As a snorkeler I was really looking forward to this stop because I knew that on good days, you could see 100 ft deep.  Alas, as our boat sped out towards the spot, JJ told me that because of bad weather, this was the first day in several that they were actually running this tour.  Right way I guessed that visibility would be poor, and sadly, I was correct.  I could only see about 30-40 feet down, but I was glad that I could at least see where the steep drop-off began.  Even though depth visibility was poor, I was able to see some spectacular fish that very obligingly swam closer to the surface.

The Amazing Grand Turk Wall. Visibility isn’t the greatest …
But lots of fish obligingly came up to visit me

After about 45 minutes of snorkeling, I clambered back into the boat and we made our way to Gibbs Caye, a deserted island where, when we arrived, we were the only visitors.  On our way there, the boat slowed down a couple of times, and JJ free-dove about 25 feet to harvest several live conch, our snack for a little later that morning!  He also brought up a couple of starfish for us to get a closer look at.

With super fun and friendly JJ
JJ free-diving about 25 feet for live conch
He got one!
This is what they look like up close
You can actually see the live conch in this one
These starfish were pretty big!
And incredibly beautiful!

When we got to Gibbs Caye, we were in for a treat – sting rays.  These are Southern stingrays, characterized by diamond-shaped, flat bodies with a long, whip-like tail.   Bottom dwellers, they often bury themselves in the sand to camouflage and ambush prey.  Their coloration typically ranges from a grey to a brownish hue on top, helping them blend in with the ocean floor, while their underside is predominantly white.  Turns out they love hanging out at Gibbs Caye because they have learned over the years that conch scraps inevitably make their way to them. 

Southern stingrays came to visit

As we played with the sting rays, Captain Mackie unloaded a cooler and started chopping up vegetables and squeezing lemon juice.  Then a little later, JJ showed us how to harvest the conch from the shells.  Mackie then chopped them up and made the most delicious fresh-tasting conch salad.  Interestingly, the conch did not taste fishy at all, actually slight sweet, similar I would say to the taste of fresh scallops.  Along with a cool beverage, this was a spectacular wrap-up to a very fun excursion.

Captain Mackie making conch salad. It doesn’t get any fresher than this!
Incredibly light and fresh tasting!

But we weren’t done yet.  I happened to mention to JJ that the underside of the conch shell was incredibly beautiful with its shades of pink and peach.  He asked if I wanted a souvenir to take home, I said yes!  Using a wire brush, a cleaned off the crusted grungy conch shell at the edge of the water, and gave me a wonderful memory to take home!  It now sits proudly on a shelf in my living room!

After JJ cleaned the empty conch shell
Compare this to the photos from earlier

I plan to return to the Turks and Caicos, specifically to see if I can snorkel at the Wall when there is better visibility.  And when I come here, I will be reaching out to this company once again.

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