6 Places You Didn’t Know You Could Scuba DiveSimon Vetterli
6 Places You Didn’t Know You Could Scuba Dive
Everyone knows about the coral reefs, shipwrecks and sheer walls of the Caribbean and Pacific. But what about the lesser-known sites that divers can explore? Believe it or not, you can strap on a tank and survey the Great Wall of China, an abandoned strip club and more.
The Great Wall of China
“You can’t dive the Pyramids, but you can dive the Great Wall,” says Steven Schwankert, founder of SinoScuba, a dive center located in Beijing.
True, and if you’re keen on diving one of history’s most iconic structures — even if it means sacrificing prime conditions with 15 to 30 feet of visibility and a lack of the biodiversity you might see in other parts of the world — then this is a bucket-list opportunity.
“Diving the Great Wall is eerie and intimate,” says Schwankert. “It’s a giant, sleeping dragon on the bottom that requires the diver to swim up close for a good look.”
About 400 yards of the wall are submerged in the Hebei province’s Panjiakou Reservoir, about a three-and-a-half-hour drive from China’s capital, Beijing. The site — which is best experienced from mid-August to October and tough to find without a guide — was created when a dam was constructed in 1977 to accommodate the nearby city of Tangshan.
An Underwater Strip Club
A decade ago, when photographer and marine biologist Gil Koplovitz first dived the reefs off Eilat, Israel, his aim was to study sea squirts. He often found himself swimming within view of diners at the underwater eatery known then as the Red Star Underwater Restaurant, Bar and Observatory.
“At the time, a bunch of people from my research lab would moonlight getting hired to hold up ‘Will you marry me?’ signs while scuba diving outside the restaurant,” Koplovitz recalls. “These guys all thought they were very original, but a lot of people did that.”
The restaurant closed briefly, then reopened as the Nymphas Show Bar, an underwater strip club — most likely ending its run as a common site for marriage proposals. It’s unclear how long the underwater site was used for more lecherous activities while fish swam about and corals were rehabilitated outside, but Koplovitz says the joint was accessed via a 200-foot-long staircase from land.
The site has since been abandoned, with nothing but the metallic floor-to-ceiling poles left behind.
Meanwhile, visitations on the other side of the plexiglass windows are on the rise; researchers keep returning to tend to the coral nursery they have established among the quiet reef.
“Israel has just 10 or so miles of coastline [on the Red Sea], and Israel’s most exciting reefs are to the south, so most people go there,” says Koplovitz.
Perhaps the lack of fin, er, foot traffic comes as bad news for business owners trying to make a go in this unique location, but the corals seem OK with the lack of disruption.
Says Koplovitz, “I’ve always liked this reef, and since the club closed, it’s never been healthier.”
The Neptune Memorial Reef
For those who wish to be laid to rest at sea, there is a green — or should we say blue — alternative to a traditional burial. The Neptune Memorial Reef is designed after the legendary city of Atlantis and consists of man-made structures to commemorate the dearly departed. Located off the coast of Key Biscayne, Florida, this site is the world’s largest man-made reef and also doubles as a sanctuary for marine life.
Since its creation in 2007, thousands of fish and some corals have made the area home. Divers place the cremated remains of loved ones inside a molded sculpture, such as a starfish, statue or column structure, with a commemorative plaque. Families and visitors can dive the site at any time to visit the graves and view the majestic sculptures.
An Underwater Graveyard/Movie Set
Remember the 1972 film Deliverance? The year before South Carolina’s Jocassee Valley was flooded to create a reservoir for a nuclear power plant, a scene in the movie was filmed at the Mount Carmel Baptist Church Cemetery. (Lake Jocassee was also one of the filming locations for the 2012 movie The Hunger Games.)
Today, you can dive at a site called the Graveyard. “This is still a place of reverence,” says Bill Routh, owner of Lake Jocassee Dive Shop. “It’s like swimming through a graveyard at twilight; a pretty surreal feeling. The top of the hill is a clearing surrounded by trees without their leaves; backlighted just enough to give you the sense of a moonlit autumn night — the only thing that is missing is the moon. Headstones, scattered around the hill, not very far apart, are proof that this is still a place of reverence. Open graves mark the place loved ones have been moved to higher ground, as the waters of Lake Jocassee rose. Others stayed behind; a rock on end is all that says they are still here. The water is a cold 56 degrees, but very clear. Your bottom time at 138 feet is short, but the experience will last a lifetime.”
An Underwater Restaurant
Since it opened in March, the Pearl — a dining experience in Nemo 33, a deepwater training pool in Brussels — has been solidly booked. But its visitors aren’t at all who its creators expected.
“In the beginning, we thought we would have divers who wanted to make this experience, but it turns out it’s mostly people who aren’t dive certified,” says Anne Claessens. A scuba instructor escorts guests to the Pearl, she says, so no training is necessary to reach the floating orb, which sits tethered to a section of the pool floor at 15 feet.
“Sometimes it’s lovers, sometimes it’s old friends, sometimes it’s people who are just in Brussels for a couple of days who want to try this,” she says.
The diners, up to four at a time, arrive to find a small bottle of champagne. Shortly thereafter, a scuba diving waitress brings courses of lobster and foie gras, transported in little jars toted down in a special dry box.
Says Claessens: “It’s a surprise. It’s a chic picnic where you are alone in the world, having an experience nobody else is having in that moment.”
A Train Graveyard
Archeologists do not know how two 1850s locomotives ended up on the seafloor 5 miles off New Jersey’s coast because there are no records of them being lost. In fact, there are no records of them being built. Experts believe they either fell off the barge that was carrying them during a storm or were deliberately pushed off to prevent the ship from going down in rough seas. The two engines are Planet Class 2-2-2 T models. “2-2-2” refers to a locomotive’s wheel configuration. They were already an obsolete design when they were made.
They were originally found in 1985 by Capt. Paul Hepler, aboard his charter boat the Venture III, then rediscovered during a NOAA survey in 1991, and finally re-rediscovered by NJHDA in the 2000s.
Though they are encrusted in 160 years’ worth of rust and barnacles, they are remarkably well-preserved, in 90 feet of water, though the wood engineer’s cabins have long-ago rotted away, along with most of the smokestacks and cow-catchers, leaving just the barrel of the boiler and the wheels. “You could imagine them on tracks at a station with steam coming out of the valves, and people and luggage on the platform,” Dan Lieb told The Philadelphia Inquirer, recounting the first time he saw them.
In 2004, the locomotives were the subject of an episode of History Channel’s Deep Sea Detectives.
Read more from Sport Diver’s special Bizarre Issue.