Jacques-Yves Cousteau’s Top 10 Dive Sites
[Jacques Cousteau](http://scubadiverlife.com/2015/04/24/legends-of-scuba-diving-jacques-yves-cousteau/), often referred to as the father of scuba diving, spent a lifetime exploring the underwater world, and although his scuba career isn’t without controversy, he was an undeniable trailblazer. Many of the places Cousteau loved most have since become popular dive sites, ranking high on many a bucket list. Here are Cousteau’s very own top 10 favorite dive sites (in no particular order).** **
A Malaysian island located off Borneo’s east coast, Sipadan became famous following Cousteau’s early ‘80s film “Ghost of the Sea Turtles.” Cousteau himself said of the area, “I have seen other places like Sipadan 45 years ago, but now no more. Now we have found an untouched piece of art.” Since then it has often landed atop lists of the world’s best dive sites, with more than 3,000 marine species and corals; it’s particularly noted for its large number of turtles. Sipadan has been protected since 2002, so there are no resorts on the island and divers can only visit via day boat. Since 2013 only 120 divers are allowed on Sipadan daily between the hours of 8:00am and 3:00pm. Most dives here are drift dives, with some very strong currents in some places. An Advanced Open Water certification or minimum of 20 logged dives is required.
Poor Knights Islands, New Zealand
A group of islands 15 miles off the coast of New Zealand’s North Island might not intuitively seem to offer good diving, but the clarity of the water and the abundant marine life were enough for Cousteau to rate these islands in his top 10. The Poor Knights are the remains of volcanoes that formed part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, and which now form a marine reserve with over 50 recognized dive sites, including the world’s largest sea cave. The underwater diversity runs the gamut from kelp forests to walls, sandy areas, coral and caverns. Divers can also visit two purpose-sunk wrecks. Marine life is abundant with larger marine mammals like dolphins and various whale species appearing from time to time.
Aliwal Shoal, South Africa
South Africa is synonymous with two things for most divers — the sardine run and great whites off Cape Town — but there’s much more to see here. Three miles off the coast of the small KwaZulu-Natal town of Umkomaas, Aliwal Shoal is a rocky reef named after the sailing vessel_ Aliwal_, which almost crashed on the rocks in 1849. The shoal is a large, rocky area with many caves and overhangs in the middle of a vast, sandy plain. It attracts marine life from all around by offering shelter to smaller fish, which naturally attracts the larger fish looking for a meal. The warm, plankton-rich Agulhas current also feeds the marine life with nutrients. Divers here can spot everything from tiny nudis to massive whales, but the real treats for divers are the seasonal visits of migratory ragged-tooth sharks (locally known as raggies) between June and November and tiger sharks in the African summer months from November onwards. Two wrecks are also worth a visit, the_ Produce_, which sank in 1974, and the _Nebo_, which sank on its maiden voyage in 1884. The former is a 15,000-ton Norwegian bulk carrier, whose rusted remains form a now-established reef, and the latter now lies hull side up.
Sha’b Rumi, Sudan
Red Sea diving is not just restricted to Egypt; further south you’ll find some amazing diving off the coast of Sudan. Sha’b Rumi, a reef about 30 miles from Port Sudan, features lots of jacks and barracuda. Out in the blue there are also opportunities to spot sharks. In the middle of the reef is a lagoon that can be entered via a narrow route blasted by Cousteau himself — this kind of destruction nowadays would, of course, cause a massive uproar. The channel’s not the only mark Cousteau left here; the site is also home to a number of experiments in underwater living. In 1963, Cousteau began the second [of his Conshelf experiments](http://scubadiverlife.com/2015/06/04/diving-history-jacques-cousteaus-conshelf-missions/) with the building of Precontinent II, an underwater living structure where the team lived for a month. The structures were removed afterwards, but a submersible hanger can still be seen.
Vancouver Island, Canada
As with New Zealand, Canada might not pop to mind when it comes to scuba diving. Vancouver Island on Canada’s west coast, however, boasts not only the country’s mildest climate, but is also the largest island in the Pacific east of New Zealand, with over 17,000 miles of coast line. Cousteau said of the area that it’s “the best temperate-water diving in the world and second only to the Red Sea.” Vancouver diving still today ranks among the best in North America, and as such, you can expect some pretty spectacular temperate dives. Marine life includes prehistoric looking wolf eels, bluntnose sixgill sharks, seals, sea lions, giant Pacific octopus and the ever-adorable sea otters. If you love wrecks, check out the nonprofit [Artificial Reef Society of British Columbia](http://www.artificialreef.bc.ca/) , which has been sinking diver-safe ex-warships and one Boeing 737.
Cocos Island, Costa Rica
Though it takes some doing to get here — this national-park island is 36 hours by boat from the west coast of Costa Rica — it’s well worth the journey. The only inhabitants are park rangers, and, because of its remoteness, the only way to visit is via liveaboard. The island, formed from volcanic activity, is the first point of contact for the northern equatorial counter-current, which brings in nutrient-rich waters and, famously, large pelagic species like whale sharks and schools of hundreds of scalloped hammerheads. Dive sites vary from shallow reefs to the deep, deep blue and plenty in between, including deep volcanic pinnacles. As mentioned, large pelagics are the undoubted highlight here. Other than hammers and whale sharks, you may encounter blacktip, whitetip, silvertip and tiger sharks. Rays of all types, including mantas, are common. Due to the nature of the environment, Cocos is best suited to only the most experienced divers. Very strong currents are common, and even though the water can be between 75 and 86F (24 to 30C), because of the deep currents, thermoclines can suddenly drop the temperature to as low as 43F (6C).
Blue Hole, Belize
Even though there are many blue holes, and Cousteau has been associated with a number of them, the most famous is in Belize. Even more spectacular from the air, the perfectly round limestone sinkhole is 984 feet (300 m) across and 407 feet (124 m) deep. Divers typically descend to around 130 to 140 feet to view (40 to 43 m) massive stalactites which angle backwards and allow for diving underneath these large overhangs. Although visibility often exceeds 100 feet (30 m), there’s not much marine life to speak of save for the occasional Caribbean reef shark.
This small island off Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula is a Mecca for dive vacations, though happily it still retains some Mexican charm. There are two main reef systems, known as Colombia and Palancar, which are protected from fishing in many areas. Nearly all of the dive sites here are located on the west side, although there are some sites on the windward side that require favorable weather conditions and an advanced certification. Drift diving is the name of the game in Cozumel, with steady currents sweeping the reefs at a typical 2 to 3 knots. Currents also keep the viz good, and divers can expect stunning coral, walls, lots of fish, lobsters, turtles and rays.
Heron Island, Australia
A coral cay near the Tropic of Capricorn in the southern Great Barrier Reef, roughly 55 miles (89 km) off the coast of Queensland, Heron Island checks all the boxes you would expect from the stunning Great Barrier Reef. There’s even a small resort and research station on the small island, which is only 2,600 feet (800 m) long and 980 feet (300 m) wide at its widest. As you would expect from the GBR, the diving is spectacular with over 20 dive sites around the island, most in clear, shallow waters. Along with the stunning corals, divers of all levels can expect to see a variety of sharks, green and hawksbill turtles — which lay their eggs on the island — barracuda, lobsters, grouper, trevally and many types of ray including mantas.
Richelieu Rock, Thailand
This horseshoe-shaped reef, discovered by Cousteau, is in what’s now known as the Mu Koh Surin National Park in the Andaman Sea off Thailand, though it is closer to Burma. This most-famous site in Thailand is known for its red-to-purple corals, which some say lead Cousteau to name it Richelieu after the eponymous French cardinal’s robes. This claim is disputed, however, with some believing it’s named after a Danish naval officer who lead the Siamese Navy around the turn of the 20th century. Naming aside, the rock itself is a limestone pinnacle rising up from around 164 feet (50 m) deep to just below the water’s surface. Every part of this formation is teeming with marine growth and reef fish. Mantas, sharks and barracuda, as well as schools of tuna and trevallies and occasional whale shark are all strong draws for divers. Because of the distance from land most trips are via liveaboard, although daily speedboat trips also depart from Khao Lak but can suffer from cancellations in bad weather. The dive season here runs from October to May, and with sometimes strong and changeable currents, this site is best suited to advanced divers.