Azores tourism created a new website dedicated to scuba diving in this amazing Archipelago: http://dive.visitazores.com/
Diving in the Azores
Lying in the heart of the Atlantic Ocean, the Azores Archipelago features nine islands and a sea of emotions that are waiting to be discovered. The most remote islands of the North Atlantic are just a few hours away from mainland Europe and North America, offering a huge variety of dive sites and a rich and abundant marine life. From diving with the world’s largest fish (whale shark) in crystalline waters to finding yourself surrounded by dozens of graceful devil rays and agile blue sharks, everything is possible in this oasis of marine life.
The archipelago’s location in the North Atlantic Ocean, in a transition zone between the nutrient-rich currents from the north and the warm waters of the Gulf Stream, turns this group of islands into a true sanctuary for a large and varied number of marine species. Featuring a rich and unique marine biodiversity, the Azorean waters host five species of sea turtles, over 24 different species of cetaceans, and about 600 species of fish, including large schools of pelagic fish, several species of sharks, graceful manta and devil rays, and friendly dusky groupers.
Despite the Azores being considered one of the world’s top locations for whale watching and the sperm whale being the region’s most iconic image, there is an increasing number of divers who venture themselves down here and find out that this group of islands, which features mild waters with an amazing visibility, hides some of the best underwater experiences in Europe and in the world. Above water, the volcanic landscapes of the archipelago – green hillsides cut out by cliffs, fajãs (flat, low-lying strips of land by the sea), lakes and waterfalls where tranquillity, harmony, peace and quietness reign supreme – turn a visit to these islands, which National Geographic Traveler considered one of the best summer destinations in 2011, into a unique experience.
You can dive on all the islands of the archipelago, which offer experiences as diverse as coastal dives, wreck dives, cave diving, diving with sharks, and the most intense diving experience that the Azores have to offer – diving in remote seamounts, where you will often find dozens of devil rays and large schools of pelagic fish. Under water, the islands are as different as on land, with whale sharks on an island and blue sharks on another, or with a World War II shipwreck on an island and the remains of 15th and 16th century shipwrecks on another. Coastal dives have, however, some elements in common. Witnesses of the volcanic origin of the archipelago, the Azores Islands feature a coastline with a very diverse seafloor relief, giving the dive sites an added geological interest with impressive arches formed by ancient lava flows and deep caves, often formed by several interconnecting chambers.
Coastal marine life is characterised by the presence of friendly dusky groupers, curious schools of grey triggerfish, as well as several species of small, colourful nudibranchs, octopuses and moray eels that hide between rocks. Small fish give colour to the black rock seafloor, such as the Mediterranean rainbow wrasse, the ornate wrasse, the Azores chromis, the Mediterranean parrotfish and many others. At greater depths, the red scorpionfish, the barred hogfish and reef fish can be found often along large stretches of black coral. But don’t be distracted by the species that roam the seafloor, because the water column is often filled by schools of yellowmouth barracudas, Almaco jacks, white trevallies and, for the more fortunate, a majestic devil ray, turtle or ocean sunfish. However, the seamounts far from the coast are undoubtedly the best places to spot large pelagic fishes, with schools of sometimes thousands of beautiful, large Almaco jacks patrolling the seafloor and hundreds of large yellowmouth barracudas still in the water column observing the divers. It is in this Atlantic depth that the Azores stand out and become a unique destination for diving.
Thanks to the volcanic origin of islands, which lie along the chain of submarine volcanoes of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, there are underwater elevations in the Azores sea that rise from the great depths of the ocean floor (sometimes greater than 1,000 metres) up until just a few metres from the surface; these elevations are called seamounts. Some of them once were islands that were swallowed by the sea, and many others are either too far from the islands or too deep to be visited. But there are seamounts that can be reached by divers, including the Princess Alice Bank, the Dom João de Castro Bank, the Formigas Islets, and the Dollabarat Reef. They feature a unique variety of marine ecosystems ranging from the abundant number of the most common species of the Azorean seafloor to large schools of pelagic fish, dozens of graceful devil rays and even some species of cetaceans.