St. Barthelemy is a French island, situated in the Caribbean Sea among the Northern Antilles, close to the Saint Martin, Saba and Anguilla islands. It has been French since the 17th century, except for less than a century between 1785 and 1878 when it belonged to Sweden. The main town on Saint Barthelemy is still called Gustavia after King Gustav III of Sweden. Saint Barthelemy is often referred to as simply Saint Barth or Saint Barths. Since it is French territory, the Euro is the official currency but U.S. dollars are widely accepted. The same is true when it comes to language issues; French is the official language but speaking English works just fine in most situations. St. Barths offers great tropical scuba diving, but the coral reefs are sometimes damaged during hurricane season, which is from July to November each year. The cost of accommodation on St. Barth rises considerably if you choose to visit the island from mid-December until mid-April, which is the busiest tourist season. If choose to go scuba diving here during the summer instead, you will end up spending a lot less on finding a place to sleep.
St. Barths experience minimal rainfall and steady easterly trade winds that are strongest during the winter months. The water temperatures vary from 77°F (25°C) from January to April, to around 82°F (28°C) in September. Most scuba divers at St. Barths prefer to use a 3 mm shorty wetsuit. When sea conditions are calm the visibility can exceed 120 feet (36 meters).
St. Barths have several excellent dive sites and great diving conditions. Despite this, the dive sites are surprisingly un-crowded, especially during the summer moths since it is considered off-season. St. Barths is a volcanic island surrounded by coral reefs and their multicolored inhabitants. There are also a lot of small islets providing good wall and cave diving. The reefs are covered in soft and hard corals, gigantic six feet high barrel sponges and there’s an abundance of tropical fish. Earlier, over fishing had become a problem threatening the marine life around St. Barth, but with new regulations the fauna is recovering. Common species include turtles, rays and large barracuda. In 1996 the decree of creation of St. Barths' Marine Reserve was signed in Paris. The marine turtles were protected 5 years earlier and have fortunately enough rapidly reappeared in their old habitats around the island, especially at Colombier and Fourchue.
When you dive in waters belonging to the Marine Park you will be asked to contribute one Euro per dive to sponsor the park. If you dive a lot at St. Barths you might want to buy a one year pass instead, costing 15 Euro. You can buy this at the marine park office in Gustavia. The most highly regarded dive sites at St. Barths are found around a small cape off Colombier bay called l'Ane Rouge and around an islet outside the Gustavia harbor called Pain de Sucre.
If you like wreck diving, St. Barths offer a somewhat different experience since the most popular wreck outside this fashionable island is not a mundane freighter or a military ship, but a 200 ft luxury motor yacht named Nonstop. She sank during hurricane Hugo in 1989 and after a few unsuccessful salvage attempts she was left upside down at the sandy bottom east of La Baleine. Many different kinds of hard and soft corals are now growing on the steel hull, and the wreck is filled with tropical reef fish. Since 1997 it is not considered safe to penetrate the wreck.