Clear, warm waters, wrecks and fascinating marine life make St Helena Island an enticing snorkelling and scuba diving destination. Dive site habitats vary from rocky reefs with caves and areas of boulders to cobbles and sand, all teeming with marine life and all within easy reach of the wharf in Jamestown. The wrecks dotted around the coast present popular dive and snorkelling sites.
Sea temperatures vary from 66 to 75°F (19 to 25°C) and visibility can range from 16 to 130 feet (5 to 40m) with peak visibility being from December to May. Dives vary between 40 and 130 feet (5 to 30m+) and oﬀer a range of diving opportunities. There are a number of local laws for divers to abide by, including no wreck penetration and rules for swimming and interacting with whalesharks.
Some of the popular dive sites are Buttermilk Point, Cat Island, Cat Island Main, Cavalley Point, Egg Island, Ladies Chair, Long Ledge, Robinsons and Thompson’s Valley Island.
Most of the dive sites are located on the leeward side of the Island where divers can experience a bit of surge from the ocean swells, but there are no strong currents. These dives are suitable for both beginners and advanced divers.
If a visitor is planning to scuba dive they should bring their certiﬁcation and log book.
There are two dive operators on St Helena and both oﬀer PADI diving courses, dive excursions and marine tours.
The St Helena Dive Club is a thriving group on the Island. Many divers are trained through the club each year.
There are snorkelling nature trails at the wharf steps in Jamestown and also at Lemon Valley which can be done at one’s leisure. Snorkelling tours are available for those unqualiﬁed in scuba.
Divers and snorkelers will encounter a vast array of marine life including ﬁsh (of which 16 species are endemic) and various invertebrates including sea slugs and anemones (about 40 of which are endemic). Green and Hawksbill turtles are often seen and visits from devil rays are not uncommon. The island also has resident populations of Pantropical Spotted, Bottlenose and Rough-toothed dolphin and is seasonally visited by a number of transient species, including Humpback whales which can be spotted from June to December.
St Helena has excellent and well preserved coral ecosystems, which are very diverse and contain many endemic and non-endemic fish species.
The following 10 fish are found only on the island of Saint Helena:
- Bastard cavalley pilot (Stegastes sanctaehelenae)
- Bastard fivefinger (Chromis sanctaehelenae)
- Deepwater jack (Pontinus nigropunctatus)
- Deepwater gurnard (Scorpaena mellissii)
- Deepwater greenfish (Holanthias fronticinctus)
- Silver eel (Ariosoma mellissii)
- Greenfish (Thalassoma sanctaehelenae)
- Skulpin (Physiculus helenaenis)
- Springer’s blenny (Scartella springeri)
- St Helena dragonet (Callionymus santaehelenae)
- St Helena offers a unique opportunity to view cetaceans using small boats. Pan-tropical spotted dolphins (Stenella attenuata) are the most numerous species followed by bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) and rough-toothed dolphins (Steno bredanensis).
- Humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) have been sighted but interviews with local fishermen suggest that this species regularly occurs in the waters around St Helena in small numbers during the austral winter.
January and February are the hottest months on the island, which correlates with ﬁsh spawning patterns and the appearance of whalesharks. Reaching lengths of up to 40 feet (12m) or more, they scoop up plankton and small ﬁsh with their colossal gaping mouths while swimming close to the water’s surface. Seeing the whalesharks during their seasonal visit is not to be missed. Although massive, whalesharks are docile creatures and it is possible to swim with them. Whaleshark interaction is strictly regulated on the island and is only oﬀered by accredited local marine tour operators.