Underwater in Guadeloupe: Diving with Jacques Cousteau
Although the legendary underwater pioneer Jacques-Yves Cousteau died in the late twentieth century, his influences in the diving world are ongoing and he significantly shaped the scuba scene in Guadeloupe. The famous oceanographer discovered the remarkable beauty of this French archipelago in the late 1950s while testing a small exploration submarine. The vessel was damaged during a trial dive and while waiting for repairs, the research team dived the area around the Ilets Pigeon off the west coast of Basse-Terre. Cousteau was so enamored with Guadeloupe that he later filmed a documentary there and urged the government to establish a protected marine reserve.
Some of the best diving in the Caribbean is within the National Park of Guadeloupe, also known as the Cousteau Marine Reserve. Because of its abundance of sea life and ease of access, it can get very crowded during peak dive season. There are several options for all ability levels within the park located just off the coastal village of Bouillante, on Basse-Terre.
After his death, a bronze statue of Captain Cousteau was commissioned and in 2004, to honor his contributions to oceanographic exploration, it was submerged in one of the most approachable sites, the Coral Garden. Just ten feet below the surface, a variety of colorful coral heads introduce the diver to a gentle slope down to Cousteau’s statue at about 40 feet. After swimming past the likeness of this storied diver, another 20 feet down a plethora of fish school along the wall in the moderate currents.
Another picturesque dive site around the Ilets Pigeon is The Pool, likely named because of the bright white sandy bottom and clear turquoise waters of this lagoon. The reef is teeming with sea life and at about 90 feet down, black coral lines an underwater valley which is home to barracudas and lion fish. As you ascend, keep a sharp eye out for a variety of colored seahorses. Just across the Ilet to the north is The Aquarium dive site with multiple levels of reefs hiding spiny lobsters and large spider crabs. More advanced divers can swim past enormous barrel sponges at about 150 feet below the surface.
There are also several additional dive sites in the Cousteau Marine Reserve located closer to the coastline. At the northern end of the reserve off of its black sand beaches, Pointe Malendure is a shallow dive between 15 to 45 feet deep with large rock formations and an abundance of reef fish. The Japanese Garden, averaging 35 feet deep, is a picturesque dive featuring sponges, sea fans and soft corals while Pointe Mahaut, close to Pointe Noir, is home to an abundance of brightly colored reef fish. Yet another option in this area is Pointe Lézarde, slowly sloping down to 120 feet and then dropping off sharply. The evidence of the geothermal activity that creates the hot springs in this area are very notable here.
For an alternative to reef diving, just off of the Ilets Pigeon there are three shipwreck diving sites. The Gustavia, an abandoned ship that was destroyed during Hurricane Hugo, is located in about 120 feet of water and provides shelter to several garden eels. For less advanced wreck divers, the Franjack is a former sand transporter that was intentionally sunk in about 70 feet of water. This wreck is home to many varieties of sponges and fish as well as green sea turtles. The third wreck, the Augustin Fresnel II, requires advanced reservations and advanced certification to access. Once stationed just off Pointe à Pitre, this lighthouse ship was sunk as a safety precaution during hurricane season off of the Ilets Pigeon in about 80 feet of water with the goal of developing an artificial reef research area. Divers are able to penetrate this wreck and swim throughout its interior rooms.
While the waters in the National Park of Guadeloupe provide the largest concentration of scuba diving, there are also less crowded and still spectacular dive sites off of other islands in Guadeloupe. For example, off the northern coast of Grande-Terre, near Port-Louis in about 70 feet of water, The Plane site is an enjoyable dive aptly named because it is a sunken airplane formerly used to transport bananas to and from Guadeloupe. The flora and fauna that have developed around this wreck are both scenic and plentiful. Also in this area, The Arches, affords divers a labyrinth of rock arches, swim-throughs, and caves at about 80 feet below the surface.
Notable dive sites off the coast of Marie-Galante Island include Le Petit Cable, Tâche à Cat, and Les Zélingues. Petit Cable, named because it requires mooring to a small electric cable that is no longer in use, is a 40 to 60 foot decent to a beautiful plateau scattered with sandy spots off of Saint-Louis, while Tâche à Cat is closer to the south-eastern shore and divers can explore coral heads, sandy areas, and patches of seagrass. North of the Bay Saint-Louis, Les Zélingues is a long unspoiled coral garden with plentiful marine life.
One of the premiere off-shore diving locations in the Caribbean, Le Sec Pâté lies between 50 to over 900 feet deep in the waters between the Ile des Saintes and Grande-Terre providing a variety of settings in a single location. In spite of the currents and swells, this area of coral reefs, walls, and pinnacles is one of the best dive sites in the Caribbean Sea.
After touring some of the many dive sites in Guadeloupe, it is evident why Captain Jacques Cousteau was mesmerized with this island archipelago. The variety of scuba diving available for all skill levels is both remarkable and abundant. Guadeloupe is a top destination for sailors because it offers some of the most scenic vistas in the Lesser Antilles both above and below its clear aqua waters.