Dive and Travel Turks and Caicos Islands



This is our next eBook, which will be released next year. Check out The ThunderDome, a fascinating dive site you can enjoy when Diving in the Turks and Caicos

The ThunderDome

How often do you get to dive a site that got its name because it used to be the set for a television show. Diving in the Turks and Caicos features a popular dive site called “ThunderDome” that was once part of a French TV Show. The site is located in the Northwest Point Marine National Park, off the west end of Providenciales.

This Dive Site started as part of a TV Show. The ThunderDome, also called the “Dome,” is in the shallows, on the shore side of the vertical wall. The main feature of this site is the “ThunderDome,” which was originally constructed as the focal point of a French television game show called “Le Tresor de Pago Pago” or The Treasure of Pago Pago. This show was filmed in the Turks and Caicos Islands in 1992 and was Broadcast on French TV in 1993 and 1994.

The show was based upon a  story about a small fishing village named Pago Pago that for hundreds of years was supposed to have guarded an underwater temple, which contained a fountain that spit out pearls. According to the story, the underwater fountain was protected by mermaids. The setting of the show was  “supposedly” in the South Pacific; but it was actually filmed in the  Turks and Caicos Islands.

Divers explore the ‘intact” ThunderDome. ©Steve Rosenberg 1999

The Dome was constructed as the site of the Magic Fountain.   When it was  constructed in the Turks and Caicos Islands, the top of the original dome was at a depth of about 15 feet and the base of the dome sat on a flat sandy bottom in about 30 to 35 feet of water. On the TV show, contestants had to free dive through a rectangular opening in the top of the dome and gather pearls that were scattered about inside the dome. The ‘pearls’ were projected into the water by a man-made, metal stove pipe sponge in the center of the dome. During the course of each contest segment, the contestants would grab as many pearls as possible while holding their breath.

Free Diving for Pearls. When  contestants ran out of air, they would look for one of five mermaids, who were positioned near the windows built into the outside perimeter of the dome. The mermaids were equipped with scuba tanks and an octopus regulator. The contestants would trade a pearl for air from the octopus, and then continue to try to gather more pearls. If a contestant asked the wrong mermaid for air, he or she would receive only a single breath and the contestant would have to swim like mad for the surface.

The show was canceled after several contestants suffered air embolisms or similar DCS medical issues and had to receive treatment at the local recompression chamber to recover. The contestants that successfully made it back to the surface received 250 Francs for each pearl they were able to collect.

A dive encounters a large Nassau Grouper under a section of the ThunderDome. ©Steve Rosenberg

Underwater Photo and Video Oportunities. The dome itself was originally a large, heavy, steel-mesh dome-shaped structure, with a circular base. The ThunderDome collapsed during hurricane Francis in 2004.  Today there are several pieces of the dome scattered about the bottom. This site offers endless photo and video opportunities.  The surfaces of the many broken sections of the Dome are covered with sponges, encrusting corals, and a variety of tube worms and blennies. Beneath one section of the dome, the man-made stove-pipe sponge that used to spit out pearls lies on its side, giving shelter to spotted eels, banded shrimp and a variety of other invertebrates. In various protected areas beneath the pieces of wreckage, divers will encounter schools of grunts, goatfish, schoolmasters and snapper that take refuge there. There are a lot of friendly tropical fish, including angelfish, Nassau grouper, graysby and squirrelfish that wander in and out of the protected areas of The Dome.

A spotted moray eel emerges from the stove pipe sponge at the ThunderDome. ©Steve Rosenberg

Great Night Diving in the Turks and Caicos. The Dome is also considered by most divers to be Northwest Point’s best night dive. Macro subjects include neck crabs, octopuses, slipper lobster, nudibranchs, flamingo tongue snails, fingerprint cyphomas, rough file clams and tube worms. Divers will occasionally encounter turtle that take refuge under pieces of the wreckage.

The entire back reef area near the Dome is made up of a series of low-profile spur-and-groove coral ridges with sand channels.

Social Featherdusters can be found on the ThunderDome at night. ©Steve Rosenberg

ThunderDome offers many options for photographers and videographers. Photographs and video of fish, divers with marine life inside pieces of the wreckage, and of course, close-up and macro subjects are among the many favorites. It should be noted that it is futile to look for any pearls that were left behind. The mermaids took them all when they left, as payment for their assistance to the contestants and missed wages. This is just one of many Dive Sites to visit while diving in the Turks and Caicos Islands.


New eBook Guide. Look for the new eBook dive guide, Dive and Travel Turks and Caicos Islands, which will be released in the Fall of 2022.


The Cozumel Splendid Toadfish

The Splendid Toadfish. © Steve Rosenberg 2019

The Cozumel Splendid Toadfish

By Steve Rosenberg

The Island of Cozumel is a popular Caribbean dive destination located just off the eastern edge of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. Divers will find many unique and beautiful reef fishes. No other reef fish is so closely identified with Cozumel scuba diving than the Splendid Toadfish. This fish has many other common names, such as the Cozumel Catfish or the Cozumel Toadfish. The Splendid Toadfish, Sanopus splendidus, is a very colorful species of toadfish. It is “almost” entirely endemic to the shallow waters around the island of Cozumel. It is occasionally seen on a few near shore reefs of the Yucatan peninsula near Playa Del Carmen.

Splendid Toadfish have vibrant, bright yellow fins and distinctive patterning, unlike other toadfish that exhibit a typically drab coloration.  This very distinctive fish has a wide compressed head with whisker like appendages called barbels growing from its lower jaw. It has horizontal charcoal gray striping over white on most of its body. All of the primary fins have a bright yellow border.

The toadfish has a flattened head, with wide powerful jaws. © Steve Rosenberg 2019

The two large rounded pectoral fins, which resemble ears, can be found protruding from either side of its flattened head. The midline of the upper body has a long flowing yellow dorsal fin. There are two small  yellow pelvic fins on the undside, just in front of the pectoral fins. When you look at the fish from the front, the toadfish appears to perch on these two fins.

The Splendid toadfish grows to a maximum length of about 12 inches (31cm). Like most species of fishes that dwell close to the sand, the splendid toadfish has eyes located on the top of its head which look directly upwards, allowing it to find potential prey.  They possess small, sharp teeth that line their wide, powerful jaws.

Toadfish are usually found peering from the entrance of low crevices. © Steve Rosenberg 2019
These toadfish are commonly found inside crevices or cracks at the base of coral heads, under coral outcroppings or along the bottom of long sloping sand ridges. Their dens will usually extend a long way back into the coral structures giving the toadfish room to retreat to safety if threatened. These crevices are most likely to be located low on sand and rubble bottoms along the sides of shallow and medium-deep strip reefs, or under coral heads closer to shore.

Toadfish can often be heard long before they are seen. This is because the males frequently emit a low guttural mating call reverberating through the water. To attract a mate, the toadfish emits a series of repeated grunts that almost sounds like a honking goose. This grunting noise is the reason for the name ‘toadfish.’ When you hear this sound, it lets you know that one or more of these fish are close by.

Images of Splendid Toadfish outside their dens are highly prized by photographers. © Steve Rosenberg 2019

Very few reef fish in Cozumel are as highly sought after as photographic and video subjects. The toadfish is commonly seen peering from the entrance of the low crevices, perched on its pectoral or ventral (caudal) fins. Divers need to get very close to the bottom to get a close-up look. If you approach too quickly, toadfish will often withdraw further into their dens. As most divers will attest, these subjects are very difficult to entice out into the open. Some dive masters will dangle a plastic squid lure in front of them to try to coax them to come forward and investigate what they may perceive as food.

Ambushers. Toadfish usually feed by ambush, remaining still until their prey comes within range, before making a quick lunge and engulfing the animal in its large jaws. This species’ diet consists mainly of small fish, mollusks, crustaceans and polychaete worms.

The splendid toadfish has a limited ability to extend their range. This is because both the eggs and larvae remain attached to something on the seabed, rather than drifting in currents in the water column. This explains in part why their numbers have not spread to other areas of the Caribbean. During the development of the eggs, they are guarded by the male. Once hatched the larvae stay attached to the substrate until most of the yolk reserves have been absorbed. , at which point they measure around 1.2 to 1.6 centimeters in length.

Splendid Toadfish are nocturnal and can frequently be seen roaming shallow reefs at night. @ Steve Rosenberg

The best places to look for splendid toadfish in Cozumel is on the outer sides of shallow, low profile strip reefs like Tormentos Reef, Punta Tunich, Paso Del Cedral, Yucab and Paradise Reef. It is difficult to find these illusive fish, unless you get low to the sea floor so you can explore low lying crevices. Most divers new to the area may not discover one unless a dive guide points it out.

Take your time in the shallows away from the edges of shallow strip reefs.  Listen for the distinctive croaking sound emitted by toadfish. Adjust your buoyancy and settle down close to the sandy bottom. Swim slowly and look for fish peeking from the shadowy area just inside caves and crevices near the bottom. They are pretty difficult to coax from their dens during the day. At night when they are more active they can frequently be seen hunting out in the open. Since these fish are nocturnal predators, night dives are a good time to spot a  toadfish prowling the reef in search of food. Let your dive guides know that you’re interested in observing or photographing toadfish.  They will do their best to help you find subjects and provide opportunities for photographs.

Splendid Toadfish are usually heard before they are seen. © Steve Rosenberg 2019

When the males are being very vocal, they are trying to attract mates.  Place  a mirror or the reflective surface of your dome port just in front of the opening. The males will sometimes emerge from their dens to see if there is another toadfish on their doorstep.  It is important to move slowly and let them emerge from their dens on their terms. If they don’t perceive you as a threat, they will sometime sit in the open on the sand and rubble bottom. Just in case,  be ready to take the shot. In any event, don’t touch them or try to impede their movements. They are truly one of Cozumel’s many underwater treasures.

Splendid Toadfish, indigenous to Cozumel, have an unusual pattern lined in yellow. © Steve Rosenberg 2019

For more information about Splendid Toadfish and other interesting and colorful reef fish, download a copy of the eBook, Dive and Travel Cozumel, which will be available from iTunes, Google Play Store and Amazon (Kindle) in August of 2019.

You can also find a link to these sites from our website at http://www.rosenbergebooks.com/