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Diving Guide to Roatan’s West End – Sandy Bay Marine Reserve

Roatan’s fringing coral reef is still one of the most beautiful and unique in the world, and at just a short swim from the shore, easily accessible. There are 38 dive sites within the West End Marine Reserve, all within 15 minutes boat ride, and they are all different. Take a look before you dive!

There are lots of very shallow snorkeling areas and the coral reef is perfect for everyone, as the top is about 40ft, allowing snorklers and novice divers to glide along in shallow water. While the more advanced are down below, all visible to each other because of the wonderful clarity of the water. With deep drop-offs, caverns, swim throughs, canyons and an abundance of marine life, Roatan offers something for everyone. The West End is on the leeward side of the island, so the water is always calm.

A very different dive, dive through a deep channel that links the lagoon with the outer reef. The channel begins shallow but reaches a maximum depth of 90 feet, and is about 50 feet across at the widest point, but if you look up you will discover what makes this dive so famous. The walls of the channel slowly converge above you, and when they are only a few feet from the surface, the walls are only six feet apart. You can make out a beautiful ribbon of light 80 feet above you. “Spooky” due to the low level of light entering, and the reason for an unusual prominence of low light corals normally found in the very deep. Fascinating rock structures, swim-throughs, lobster and starfish, a truly unforgettable dive.

So called because of the round patch of white sand that greets you at first in 35ft of water. Head to the wall where it drops off and down to the sand slope at 100 ft and then beyond. Nothing too crazy, just a chilled out dive.

Interested in caverns? Then this is the dive for you. At 50ft begin with a beautiful tunnel swim-through, opening out into the blue, and then down and along the wall. A big Plate and Sheet Coral outcrop provides home to many fish, sometimes a group of Squid. Make an ascent to the top of the wall and the entrance to the huge beautiful cavern, Bear’s Den, in only 25feet.

Look closely at the rocks while approaching the entrance for the tiny Lettuce Leaf Sea Slugs and other Nudibranchs, even a Spotted Drum. Swim over forty feet into “cathedral-like” Bear’s Den, where sunbeams scatter shafts of light that dance around on the sandy bottom. Lie on the sand and relax while watching Glassy Sweepers swim back and forth amongst the light beams. Then it’s time to head back for yet still more swim-throughs and canyons just past the mooring, keeping a close look at the Gorgonian Soft Corals as they provide shelter for rare Seahorses and Neck Crabs, usually only visible to the trained eye. The cavern is best seen in the mornings, as the sun’s angle is perfect for the light beams in full effect.

The place for BIG Groupers, a beautiful wall, teeming with Creole Wrasse and always at least four BIG groupers and sometimes even bigger Dog Snapper. Perfect for close-up photography of these gentle giants. The reef offers interesting formations and sandy patches around about 45ft and on the wall there are canyons and over hangs. Free swimming Moray Eel and Eagle Rays may be seen.

Very similar to Peter’s Place.

A huge sandy area at 60ft this is the reason A.K.R use this site for their dolphin dive. Surrounded by a sloping collection of Plate Corals.

Another Roatan classic, this ship was an old beached cargo vessel, 287ft long, bought by Anthony’s Key Resort to create an artificial reef. Originally sunk in 1993 only to be smashed into 3 pieces by the mighty Hurricane Mitch in 1998. The Wreck was thoroughly cleaned before it was sunk so there was no environmental impact on the reef, and is perfect for penetration, as there are no obstacles to worry about.

We begin by dropping 110ft straight down to the stern and onto the sand where a field of Garden Eels sways back and forth from their little holes. Big Groupers sometimes come right up to your face while laid down watching the Eels. The propeller shaft and stern are raised out of the sand as we plunge head first through a window and into the wheelhouse, causing disorientation as the angle of the boat is twisted. Pockets of air trapped on the ceiling look like pools of liquid mercury as we exit through a beautiful rectangular opening out into the deep blue and toward the middle section.

The middle section is not really enclosed but offers a variety of swim-throughs while looking up at the mast piercing the water above. Then it’s off towards the bow where you can swim through a doorway, then exit through a large hatch on the bow. Look over the edge and down to a coral patch at the base of the bow that is home to the famous Green Moray Eel that is not afraid of divers. He often comes right up to you looking for food. A pair of Translucent Blue Parrot fish feast on the algae growing on the bow. Groupers and Dog Snapper follow the divers around. Oysters and Clams are prolific all over the boat but sneak up on them or they close too quickly!

Often an Eagle Ray comes gliding along the wall as we head to shallower water after about 20mins on the boat. The wall has nice canyon formations and a cavern in 15ft with a roof exit in 5ft that gives shelter to Bristle Worms and Glassy Sweepers. Drift along at 30ft towards Pillar Coral dive site where many fish like Sergeant Majors, Grunts, Blue Tang, Chub and Parrot Fish dance on the top of the wall.

Yes, Pillar Coral is what you will find here. There is a mysterious kind of sea mound pillar that looms up and out of the blue, and a beautiful swim-through cavern next to the mooring that opens up in 5ft of water. A perfect end to the Wreck Dive.

Named purely because there used to be a green outhouse on the shore opposite the site in Sandy Bay (thankfully not too close!).This is one of the favorites, as it has lots to offer for all levels, from snorkelers, first time divers to advanced divers. The mooring is attached to coral in just 20ft. Head out down to a 50ft sandy area surrounded with healthy corals and plant life and then to the wall, an impressive drop-off indeed. Usually a current flows north bending one of the biggest Gorgonians in West End and keeps the many types of fish, animals, and plant-life bathed in fresh nutrients. Again head towards the shallows where you will find canyon after canyon. A great place for Green Morays, Greater Soap Fish and Turtles.

The usual wall and reef, good area for Neck Crabs and little critters. Named many years ago when there was only one dive operation in Sandy Bay, and their boat engine would always overheat at this point.

Wall and reef and some canyons in the shallows.

Very much like Melissa’s Reef, a very good spot for Eagle Rays.

A wonderful mound of coral in the middle of a horseshoe canyon is where the mooring lies. We begin in just 10ft of water where hundreds of fish gather. Sgt. Majors, Grunts and Damsels all jostle back and forth. Follow the rubble canyon towards the big blue and in front is a huge belly slope dropping down deep. Left takes you towards an impressive mountain wall filled with Barrel, Tube and Elephant Ear Sponges. This is a good area for the tiny Neck Crabs and Seahorses as there are plenty of Gorgonians. Wonderful topography on the wall and in the shallows provides plenty to do exploring as you wind back to the boat.

Yes! This dive is all about canyons, so if you like just pottering on the wall stay above the group and follow their bubbles, because this is another fun packed lesson in buoyancy control. There is a beautiful order one can do the canyons, starting in the middle, with the entrance of the first in 10ft. Plunge head first into a slim smooth sided canyon that opens out and down to 60 ft and out into the blue, along a while and then up the next one, and down the next one, and up the next one, and down, and back, and up, and down and round and round! Drifting then up to Fish Den is a nice ending.

Welcome to one of Roatan’s classics, you can’t leave without doing this dive! This has something for everyone. We begin in 40ft. of water on a sand chute, home to the shy Yellowhead Jawfish, that takes us down through the “hole in the wall” opening out at 100ft. Novices can ascend a little and enjoy the spectacular wall on the right while the more advanced can descend down the sand slope, leveling out above “the abyss” that drops down to 1000’s of feet. Take a right, slowly making your ascent up and along the wall where shoals of Creole Wrasse, Blue Tang thrive.

Look out for eagle rays and turtles, and it’s not over yet! After swimming for 10mins and upon reaching the top of the wall it’s time to head towards the shallows where the ‘swiss-cheese’ rock formations provide another fabulous journey down, round, up and over swim-throughs, caverns, and canyons while “off-gassing” in 20ft of water.

Keep an eye out for marble-eyed Spotted Scorpion Fish lying amongst the rocks on the bottom, and finish off with a visit in the last canyon where Glassy Sweepers and Silversides (seasonal) jostle for the spotlight as the sunbeams through the cracks. For the adrenalin seekers there is a dark and silty cavern at the end of this canyon, which has several passages that one could quite easily get lost in, so of course do not do this without an experienced guide. The view coming out of the canyon is an amazing gradient of greens and blues with silhouetted rock formations. A perfect dive and a perfect profile.

So named because it lies opposite the iron shore where Seagrape Plantation Resort is situated. The wreck is in fact just a dive boat (only the hull and engine remain) that sunk when it went out in a storm and got washed onto the rocks. There is usually a big green moray hiding under pieces of the scattered wreckage. Nice sandy patches.

This dive is really just an extension of the Half Moon Bay dive, with all the same ingredients.

Still one of the prettiest dives, with healthy supplies of coral and wall formations, like colossal mountains the reef stands as shallow as 30ft plunging down to 150ft and then beyond. Black Coral and Black Gorgonians fan out up and down the wall while shoals of Creole Wrasse and Blue Chromis swap positions with each other as the Groupers chill on the wall basking in the soft current that usually flows north. The sand patches and coral heads scattered everywhere provide home to all the reef creatures such as Moray Eels and Turtles. Further up the reef is a wonderful tunnel beginning in 60ft and opening out onto the wall at 70ft greeted by the deep blue and the varieties of sponges like Green Vase, Rope, Elephant Ear and Tube. This is the best site to see Eagle Rays.

Very much an introduction into Half Moon Bay, this dive has all the same ingredients.

Famous for it’s popularity with every single dive shop to take all open water students there because of it’s 20ft sand patch close to the channel and the wall. Not really recommended for recreational divers.

Famous for its perfect profile for snorkelers and divers, it is in fact a channel that starts from the inner part of the reef and flows out towards the coral ridge, starting at 10ft and then to 45ft at the top of the wall. Start on the wall, barrel sponges, interesting tiny coral heads cover the deep sandy slope that look like an army of strange mushrooms. Then head yet again toward the shallow water where a series of canyons in 20ft of water provide home to a large Porcupine Fish, Glassy Sweepers, Moray Eels and in mid-June to early August shoals of Silversides fill the canyons sometimes making it impossible to see which way one is going. After exiting the last swim-through, dancing with, and scattering the tiny fish, it’s time to follow the channel. Either side goes right up the surface guiding you to the outside of the reef and turtle grass in 10 ft where the boat can meet you, another perfect dive profile.

The sand patch in 20ft at the mooring looks like someone took a big bite out of the coral, hence the name. It’s about a 10-minute swim to the wall gradually getting deeper as you go and upon arrival you’ll find a very interesting and healthy ridge and wall. A wonderful afternoon dive, this area is outstanding for its coral structures.

Named by Kaj and Tony, instructor divemasters from West End, this site is great for a relaxing time and especially good for Night Dives, as there is usually an abundance of Octopi in and around the plentiful supply of sand patches.

Also named by Kaj and Tony this site has all the same ingredients as Octopus Acre. Funnily enough though there always seems to be a Turtle crossing!

A great dive site for beginners and photographers, a huge sandy area littered with coral heads. Just meander around, keeping one eye on the sand in front of you, as it could be home to a hidden Southern Sting Ray. Also, if your eyes are sharp enough, lookout for rare Pipe Fish, Pipe Horses and Peacock Flounders.

Great afternoon dive in search of Turtles and Rays, this area boasts some great shaped coral formations and sandy areas as you glide along at just 45ft.

Named after a dive group from Minnesota who just loved that area, this dive is very much like Ocean Spirit.

This mooring was put in so that a cruise ship “Ocean Spirit” could tie off here. Great afternoon dive looking for Turtles and Rays down on the 80ft sand or on the 45ft sand as you cruise north.

So named by Dennis Smythe, an instructor at A.K.R, because of the variety of sponges here. This is a wonderful sandy slope dive dotted with coral heads and quite an interesting ridge that forms kind of a huge curve. Southern Stingrays can be found hiding under the sand and sometimes a Nurse Shark underneath a coral outcrop. See if you can find the old Singer sewing machine, and the old anchor encrusted with coral. A great area for turtles (sponges are Hawksbill Turtles favorite food), Furry Sea Cucumbers and huge Hermit Crabs, wonderful afternoons dive.

Magical formations of corals and sponges and sloping white sand give this place a dream-like quality like no other site on Roatan. Like the name says there is a Garden of Eels down at about 65ft. Huge white shallow sand patches make it ideal for students on their first dive and it’s perfect for snorkeling as the top of the wall is only 20ft.

A deep mooring (about 60feet), which makes an exciting and beautiful descent through clear blue water. Lovely wall.

A shear wall, healthy coral, a lot of fish and good chances of seeing Eagle Rays. A really beautiful dive, usually with a nice current, so just drift along and enjoy the ride.

Why? Because ” everything is so huge ” said Mickey, an instructor at West End Divers and well the name just stuck. This is UNSPOILT BEAUTY at it’s best. Huge Barrel Sponges, some big enough to hide inside are scattered everywhere across the plains of Texas and glorious corals housing every type of Caribbean reef fish like the Queen Triggerfish and Black Durgon. Rare fish like the Atlantic Spade Fish and the Sargassum Triggerfish can be found amongst these coral patches, but be discreet because they are shy fish that dart back into their holes if they see you coming. Usually there is a wonderful current that runs east to west making it perfect to glide across the plains at ease at 50 ft. The actual wall top at Texas is quite deep at 100ft and beyond, and then it’s sometimes difficult to work your way shallower against the current. Anyone can enjoy the plains of Texas but right out on the wall calls for a little more experience.

The Gateway to Texas. The end of the wall that comes from the south side and meets the mighty belly of Texas. This wall is one of the healthiest and most beautiful areas on the whole island. Orange Elephant Ears, Rope Sponges that crawl out into the blue, Sea Whips, Tube sponges, Tunicates. Forests of Sea Fan Gorgonians and Black Coral are stacked together in a myriad of color and variety. The top of the wall is 50ft and then drops down to 100’s of feet. Here are some of the most impressive overhangs full of life while shoals of Creole Wrasse and Boga stream back and forth. Black Durgons, Ocean Triggerfish, Dog Snapper, Grouper, Barracuda, Horse-Eyed Jack and a free swimming Green Moray can be seen. There almost seem to be too many fish; it can be hard to know which way to look!

So called because there are fields and fields of Rod, Plume and Whip Gorgonians swaying back and forth in the surge as we glide over them.

Named after a divemaster at A.K.R this place offers a sheer wall drop like Pablo’s and many Gorgonian Soft Corals.

This dive is much better in the mornings as the sun is more around the south side illuminating the impressive wall and overhangs that make this dive unforgettable. Like all the dives on the South Side you be amazed at the abundance of soft corals that sway back and forth, enchanting you.

Much the same as Pablo’s and Herbie’s Place but with more sandy slopes.

Wicked sheer wall drop down to 100’s of feet, with the top coming right up to just 15ft below the surface. Usually dived in the rainy season.


Originally Mary’s Crack, a divemaster at Brick Bay Resort discovered and named it after his wife, but had to change it for an article in Scuba Diver magazine a long time ago. This has got to be one of Roatan’s most famous dives because of its amazing structure forming this crack inhabited by every type of coral, and sponge. Impressive overhangs teem with colour and life and lots of Seahorses.

Right in front of Coco View Dive Resort this site has all the same ingredients as Half Moon Bay combined with Pablo’s Place. Very beautiful.

This is a sea mound that rises up out of the open ocean just a mile off shore opposite the airport. It covers quite a large area and Las Palmas Dive Shop on the South side organizes their Shark Dive on part of this reef. The Sharks are baited to attract them.

Two days after Full Moon, and for another 10 nights, Night Dives are an absolute MUST here in Roatan. Explain it if you will, but there is magic in the water every month, inspired by the Luna cycle. After every full moon a special phenomenon occurs we call “The Strings of Pearls”, well it’s actually Microscopic Pelagic Shrimps that leave trails of phosphorescence. Drop onto a sand patch and switch your lights off and wait, be patient and you will see a glowing star system starting to appear all around you, constantly moving, forming new strings and fading out and forming more and so on, amazing.

But that’s not all, no, wait until you switch your light back on and you will be in for a surprise. There are thousands and thousands of tiny pink worms that are attracted to the light, so stay still and watch them swarm. Move slowly over to a patch of perhaps Brain Coral where if you put the light about a foot away from it, the worms will collide, and then caught by the open polyps, which excrete a protein that causes the red worms to explode!!!

Other night time creatures such as Basket Stars, Tigertail Sea Cucumbers, Brittle Stars, and Lobster are plentiful. And, of course, there are plenty of Octopi to watch hunting.

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