Diving Utila’s Reef
Utila’s south-side fringing reef starts relatively close to shore, with tongue-and-groove formations of hard corals in a few meters of water sloping down to the bottom of the reef wall at around 20 meters. Farther south from Utila are numerous sea mounts ringed with reef, known for some of the finest soft corals found in the Bay Islands.
Similar to Roatán and Guanaja, Utila’s north-side reef is separated from the shore by a lagoon of varying size. The sandy bottom gradually begins to fill in with coral until the reef wall is reached, almost breaking the water surface in places.
On the north side, with particularly good dive sites around Turtle Harbour, the wall plunges hundreds of meters over the edge of the continental shelf. Giant sponges and pillar coral are common. Off the east side of Utila are long ridges of elkhorn coral.
Most of Utila’s divers frequent sites on the south side of the island, simply because they are quicker and easier to get to from East Harbour than the north side, and also the waters are more protected and tend to be calmer. Ask around for dive shops going to north-side sites, as well as to sea mounts south of the island. Captain Morgan’s Dive Shop on Jewel Cay tends to get to the north side more often, by virtue of its location.
Jack Neil Point and Jack Neil Beach are both great long, shallow dives along the tongue-and-groove formations of hard and soft corals. At the western end of the reef here, sightings of hawksbill and green turtles are common.
Among the many similar dives along the southern wall, each starting in around 4 meters of water and dropping to about 30 meters at the base of the reef, Pretty Bush and Black Coral Wall are two good ones. Despite the name of the latter dive, young black coral is found all along the wall here, as are elkhorn and pillar coral, sea fans, and frequent spotted eagle rays cruising at the deeper sections along the reef wall.
Near the Old Airport
Right off the point by the old Airport, Ron’s Wreck isn’t all that impressive as wrecks go, but the real attraction is the thriving sea life in the vicinity. A few hundred meters west is another, larger wreck, the Halliburton, sunk in 1998 by the local dive association, where careful divers can explore the pilot house and some of the decks.
Farther offshore from the airport, in fact not always easily found by the dive-boat captains, is one of Utila’s most popular sites, Black Hills, a luscious and varied patch of coral crowning a sea mount. Sharks are common, attracted by the schools of fish that frequent the sea mount.
CJ’s Drop Off, at the western end of the reef in front of Turtle Harbour, is famed among divers for the vertigo-inducing coral cliffs plunging straight down into the blue depths. As you descend along the wall, watch for sting rays, moray eels, and hawksbill turtles, and the profusion of giant sponges and hard corals. Be sure to also keep a close eye on that depth gauge as it’s easy to lose track with no bottom in sight.
Another popular dive a bit farther east along the same stretch of reef is Willie’s Hole, a dramatic open cave in the coral wall at around 25 meters, with plenty of pillar and star corals to admire, along with sponges. Don’t be surprised to see schools of snapper, jack, and spade fish cruising right past you.
Near the entrance to the old cross-island canal, at the western end of Rock Harbour, is Blackish Point, a system of caverns and passages in the reef wall at around 20 meters, with encrusted overhangs to check out. The gentle current makes this a good drift dive.
© Chris Humphrey and Amy E. Robertson from Moon Honduras, 5th Edition