Lea Lea's Leap/Coconut Walk
These are my favorite dive sites on Little Cayman, bar none. I could dive these sites hundreds of times more than I already have and still not feel like I know them well. There is more interesting topography and more species diversity here within an extremely compact area than any place on Little Cayman. Not only that, but these are some of the easiest sites to reach from shore on the island. Truly, you can't afford to pass up these sites.
To reach the entry point, start at the intersection of Spot Bay Road and North Coast Road. This is the road intersection just to the east of McCoy's Lodge at the "pizza man's house". From that intersection, go exactly 0.4 miles east on North Coast Road. At that point, there is a rocky drive going off to your left. Currently, there is a Coldwell Banker "for sale" sign just before the driveway, but there is no telling how long that sign will stay up. When you turn onto the driveway, have no fear of getting stuck. The bed here is coarse gravel, and you can drive right up to the point at which the ground drops away to the shoreline only 25' or so away. One of the really nice aspects of this shore entry is that you can come back and not have your feet covered with sand. That depends on how close to the drop-off you park, of course. There's even enough room to turn a car around here, so you can back right up to the edge.
When you look out to sea, you will see one small mooring ball slightly to your left and a larger ball slightly to your right. The one on the left is the Coconut Walk ball, and the one on the right is Lea Lea's Leap. I could ramble for pages describing each of these sites, so will have to restrain myself.
The walk down to the waterline is a bit tedious, since you are climbing over rocks which are unsteady and perhaps 1' in diameter. But it's not a long way, so feel your way down the hill carefully. I have found that the best way to go out is to walk towards the east as I go down the hill. You will see a sandy are at the water's edge about 75' to the east, and I think the bottom is most negotiable at that point. As you start out, the water will quickly become knee deep, then stay that way for a couple hundred feet. The bottom is "crunchy" and so not exactly pleasant walking. When the water depth gets to 4' or so, there are scattered coral heads which come up close to the surface. It's not hard to pick your way through these coral heads when the water is calm, but if the seas are rough and the froth is obscuring your view of the bottom it might be best to save this one for a calmer day.
A heading of 330 should take you right to the Coconut Walk ball, and if you go due north you will head towards Lea Lea's
1. Lea Lea's Leap
There is just so much here I scarcely know where to start my description. Following is a freehand sketch of the dive site which will have to serve as a basis for discussion purposes:
You should treat this sketch as a schematic; since I drew this, I have noted that the two canyons are anything but straight, and in fact they are much further apart where they open in to the deep than would appear in this drawing.
As you approach the mooring pin from the bottom of this drawing, you will first note the two large sand pits on either side of the mooring pin anchor. These are worth checking out, so drop down as soon as you get to the south edge of these pits. Occasionally you will find a nurse shark in here. Hiding under a ledge at the bottom right of the right sand pit (the one on the east) there is often a very large Moray Eel. When I say "very large", this fellow is the biggest one I have ever seen--about 8' long and nearly a foot in diameter. Also, check out any sea fans you see broken off and lying in the sand. They often have Flamingo Tongues on the bottom side, so pick up the fan and turn it over. Recently I found one fan with 10 Flamingo Tongues on it. (By the way, these aren't nudibranchs; Flimingo Tongues are Class Gastropoda--snails.)
After looking for the Moray on the right hand sand pit, go up and over the small stretch of hardpan separating it from the canyon on the right. You will drop down to about 50' at the southern end of that canyon, and the bottom slopes down from there. If you have a light, shine it on the canyon walls and expect to see a blaze of color. As you continue down the canyon (which is about 150' long), you will see an opening off to your right. We call this the "Meditation Chamber", since going in there can give you the calming sensation of being in a chapel. There is a very small opening at the top of it which admits some light, but you should not try to enter or exit through that opening. Again, shine a light around the sides and ceiling of the chamber and note the brilliant hues of purple, pink, red, yellow, etc. On the back wall, slightly off to the left and about 4' up from the floor, is the largest Green Tube Tunicate I have ever seen. This guy looks to be a foot long, though I actually measured it at 9". It is completely exposed, so you can study both the intake and the exhalant siphons.
When you come out the bottom of the canyon, you're likely to be near 100'. I like to angle upwards gently at this point and slowly cruise to the west up to about 80'. If you're only going to explore Lea Lea's, you may want to head down the wall to the east for a ways and check out all the caves along the way. Going west, there are a couple of canyons along the way and numerous deep overhangs. I've found lots of Green Tube Tunicates along here as well, though none so large as the one in the Meditation Chamber. After perhaps 200', you will see a second canyon cut into the hardpan. But before you head into the west canyon, you will notice a large island off to your right, with reef tops at about 60'. Again, lots of Schoolmaster, Yellow Goatfish, Mahogany Snapper, etc., like to school here. As shown in the drawing, there is another canyon on the other side of this island. I like to cruise in the cut on the east side of the island, go up on top of the island, then cruise on out the cut on the west side of the island and head on down toward Coconut Walk. However, you may want to follow this west canyon all the way in, then come up on the hardpan and explore the coral heads on top of the hardpan. The basic loop of checking out the east sand pit, then going down the east canyon, into the meditation chamber, then out the east canyon to the open sea, a little bit along the wall to the east and then back, following the wall to the west canyon, exploring Fish Island in the canyon mouth, then coming in the west canyon and finally checking out the west sand pit is normally a good 50-60 minute dive.
Or, if you have the air, you may want to head on west toward Coconut Walk...
2. Coconut Walk
This is at least as complex a dive site as Lea Lea's, perhaps more so. There is enormous variety here at whatever depth interests you, so you can tailor your dive profile to suit your needs. On the hardpan at 30'-35' there is the most abundant display of large soft corals I have seen at any of the sites. Interspersed among the soft corals are several large coral heads which are cleaning stations. And the most dramatic feature is the stand of Pillar Coral, the only stand I have seen anywhere on Little Cayman.
At the very eastern edge of this site, by the west canyon at Lea Lea's (above) there is one drop-off, and in fact the wall is very nearly shear just to the west of that canyon. But as you continue west from Lea Lea's towards the Coconut Walk ball the wall begins first to slope, then it breaks into a double wall. There is a drop from 35' down to about 50', then another drop down for several hundred feet. As you continue west, you begin to see large fingers sticking out into the deep, with canyons in between those fingers. Finally, about the time you get to the mooring ball, there is another canyon which runs parallel to the shoreline just at the bottom of the first drop-off. Thus there is lots to explore at the 50'-60' range. About 100' west of the mooring ball you will see a very wide, shallow canyon come in from the deep toward the hardpan, and at the end of that canyon stands the Pillar Coral. Please treat this formation with the respect it deserves. We have calculated that it is several thousand years old, based on the rate at which Pillar Coral grows. Unlike most corals, which feed only at night, Pillar Coral feeds 24/7, so the polyps are always extended. Here is a photo of just one small section of this impressive formation:
|While you are admiring the Pillar Coral, please look but do
not touch, and take a moment to delight in the masses of juvenile
Surgeonfish taking shelter among the coral stalks. Also, please be
very careful to watch your fins. There are several smaller stands of
Pillar Coral which are growing around the base of the main stand, and they
can easily be overlooked (i.e., stepped on).
This stand of coral is perhaps 6' tall, rising up from the hardpan, and since it is at the mouth of a broad, gentle canyon it is very much a landmark. Whether cruising east or cruising west, and usually not paying attention to where I am or how long I've been enjoying things, I always mark my location when I spot this stand of Pillar Coral. Truly, you can't miss it.
My favorite way of diving Coconut walk is to go out the west canyon at Lea Lea's, then cruise west at 60' or so. Sometimes I follow the contours of the fingers as they stick out, and sometimes I follow the canyon at the bottom of the first drop-off. After I've gone west for a while, checking out the numerous tunnels, caves, canyons, and fingers, I come back toward the east a little shallower and go check out the Pillar Coral. Then I continue heading east on top of the hardpan, going from coral head to coral head as I drift through the forest of soft corals. Finally, I get to the ledge overlooking the west canyon at Lea Lea's. There is very some interesting stuff there, by the way. Recently I found a large adult Spotted Drum in one of those coral heads at 35' or so, but haven't been able to find him again! When the tank pressure gets down to 800 psi or so, it's time to head inland. Proceed due south and follow the channels and grooves in the hardpan. There is some fascinating stuff to watch on the way in, particularly in the holes you will find. There are always lots of juvenile reef fish in those miniature nurseries. In between the holes, look on the stalks of soft corals and sponges for Flamingo Tongues. And finally, don't overlook the colonies of Social Feather Dusters attached to scattered small coral heads on the bottom. You should break the surface in 6' of water or so with about 500 psi left, even after a long safety stop. It always amazes me how much faster the trip goes by on the way in than on the way out!
back to Shore Diving index page