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Down Under in Guam

Whether you enjoy a leisurely afternoon snorkel with the family or go deep into one of the famous dive sites, there’s plenty to explore beneath Micronesia’s ‘Big Island.’

Clear, blue and deep, Blue Hole, located off central Guam, is the island’s most popular dive site. Divers float down a buoy line to a depth of 60 feet where a giant hole in the upper reef appears.

Drop into the hole and an eerie blue light glows beneath you as you float in a vertical shaft to a depth of more than 100 feet. Suddenly a huge natural window appears. Divers dip under this archway, and there it is, the open reef. Whale sharks and sailfish often cruise by, along with big dogtooth tuna.

The wall is full of golden and square spot anthias. It is quite a thrill to come to the edge of narcosis and then swim back up the wall into the shallows again. One can easily see why this dive is one of the western Pacific’s top novelty dives.

Guam has the richest coral reef marine environment of any United States territory or state. More than 700 fish species and nearly 400 kinds of corals thrive, creating great biodiversity. The island, located in western Microsia, has a historic past that includes shipwrecks and other remnants of WWI, WWII and even the gold bearing Manila Galleon trading days.

Guam’s topography features volcanic regions in the south and limestone forest to the north. This geologic combination extends undersea providing steep, dramatic dropoffs and even a barrier reef island in the south called Cocos Island. The coastal areas are pocked with protected bays and coves divers don’t even need a boat to enjoy. The north provides coral reef flats, caves and swim-throughs.

Spoiled with consistently warm and clear water, Guam divers  enjoy easy year-round diving. Easily the largest island in Micronesia, Guam is also the most developed, and it offers something for everyone. Major hotels, great restaurants, trendy beach bars and beautiful natural attractions such as waterfalls and secluded beaches all make it a great destination for everyone, whether you are a diver or just looking for a beach holiday.

Guam is by far one of the safest dive destinations in the world as well. It has U.S. Coast Guard and Navy-patrolled waters, and dive boats are all certified through the Coast Guard. The boats carry oxygen and safety equipment and there are Navy and civilian recompression chambers for treatment of any possible diving accident on island.

Orote Peninsula and Agat Bay

The Orote Peninsula is one of the most popular dive regions on Guam, as it offers a protected bay accessible to divers most of the year. In addition, the area is known for its water clarity. Facing the open Philippine Sea, the reefs here drop off abruptly to great depths.

The dive site is great for all levels. The variety of fish and healthy coral gardens make it a popular place to do photography and marine observation. There are also good reefs for night diving. The Blue Hole, also in this area, has flashlight fish that light up the walls at night like fireflies.

Just down the peninsula from the Blue Hole is the Shark Pit. This is the site of WWII military dumping. The dive site is actually a big natural stone coral-covered pinnacle that comes to within 10 to 15 feet of the surface. Divers enter at the top of the pinnacle and descend along its sides.

Many war artifacts, such as tracked vehicles, can be found here. But the fish life is also prolific with pyramid butterfly schools and even the occasional ornate ghost pipefish in the sea fans.

The military debris is still recognizable and not too overgrown. The remnants of vehicles have become home to fish and invertebrates. Below the large rock, in deeper water, are current-fed sea whips that are bright red when lit by a light.

At the top of the Pit it is shallow enough to decompress. Look for hawkfish in the small table corals that thrive here.     

Then there’s Hap’s Reef. Hap’s has long been the favored reef of Guam fish watchers. Just right for a third dive, this 25-to-50-foot deep, loaf-shaped reef supports a large variety of Micronesian fish species.

Sea anemones can be found on the top of the reef, and there are different clownfish species in the various anemones. Look for stonefish and some cryptic feeders to be camouflaged on the reeftop and in its many cracks. There are some very large lionfish at Hap’s that also make good photo subjects.

Investigating the sand and reef flats can also turn up nudibranchs, anemone crabs and lots of other colorful subjects. Whitetip reef sharks sometimes sleep on the west side. There are sometimes spinner dolphins in the vicinity as well.

Snorkelers’ Delight

Very few islands can boast a marine preserve right off a main tourist beach. Yet the Fish Eye Marine Park in Piti Village is incredibly accessible and offers guided snorkeling tours. This walk-in site is one of Guam’s marine preserves and has more than 200 fish species as it is an incubator for fish and invertebrates.

Divers can see the healthy reef on the south side of the undersea observatory, feed the fish and even snorkel around the observatory itself. There are also intro dives here, and it is great for experienced photographers who want to “shoot” fish.

Another marine preserve with lots of fish is at Ypao Beach, one of Guam’s favorite beach parks, at the south end of Tumon Bay. The walk-in snorkel spot features clear waters, brilliant white sand and many corals and fishes found in shallow water. It is set next to one of Guam’s nicest public parks where you can enjoy a beachside lunch before or after snorkeling.

There is an inshore current here and, if the current is strong, snorkelers can do a drift along the reeftop and then just walk back up the beach when finished with this free ride from nature.

Further adrift, Guam also has war shipwrecks in the harbor, cascading reefs on the outer slopes and even some offshore deep reefs for adventurous divers. It is one of the Pacific’s best dive holiday destinations and is just a few hours from Japan so reasonable packages are easy to find.

Diving Practicalities

Diving on Guam is super easy. There are  many walk-in reef dives, a wide choice of boat dive sites and virtually no swells except after storms. The seas are perfect about 95 percent of the time for diving. Most dive sites are a 10-to-20-minute ride by boat. The calmer months are May through October as trade winds normally start in November or early December and run through April.

Divers can travel light, since Guam has everything a diver needs for rental. There are also some very good scuba equipment deals to be had at various Guam dive shops.

Guam also offers all levels of instruction, from beginning Open Water and one-day Resort Experience courses through advanced instructor training. Technical diving is also taught on Guam with deep wreck venues for in-water training on scuba and rebreather.

Guam is tropical and almost always sunny, so bring protective clothing and brimmed hat and lots of sunscreen.

The Dolphins

There are many daily iruka tours to Guam’s bays to see dolphins. Guam’s coastal waters are the home of pods of dolphins called spinners who use the island’s shallow bays for a number of reasons. Lucky locals have even established a rapore with the animals and have had regular snorkeling sessions with them in the southern end of the island.

The spinner dolphins cruise at speeds between five-to-seven miles an hour, with a maximum speed of up to 22 mph. So, if the dolphins slow down long enough to play with you, it is because they want to.

It is this fact, among others, that makes a dolphin encounter on Guam a special experience. Unlike some Caribbean destinations, there are no trained dolphins on Guam with which to swim. All dolphin encounters are in-the-wild happenings.

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