Saint Martin (St. Maarten) is a tropical island situated in the northeast Caribbean, not far from other Caribbean islands such as St. Barths and Anguilla. The island is known worldwide under many different name variations. According to legend, Columbus reached the island on the feast day of Saint Martin of Tours and accordingly gave the island its Spanish name – San Martin. Today the island is divided between France and the Netherlands and the southern part is therefore called by its Dutch name Sint Maartin, while the northern part is called Saint-Martin in French. Collectively, the Dutch and the French parts are referred to as St. Martin, St. Maarten or St. Martions. “SXM” is a popular nickname for the island and is simply the IATA identifier for the islands main airport.
The Dutch part St. Martin is a part of the Netherlands Antilles and therefore a part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, but it is however not a part of the European Union. It is therefore the Antillean Guilder that is the official currency and not the Euro. U.S. dollars are commonly accepted. In the French part of St. Martin Euro is the official currency, since Saint-Martin is included in the European Union, but U.S. dollars are well received on this part of the island as well.
Water temperatures average 77° F (25° C) and the visibility is usually around 60 feet (18 meters). Late summer and early fall is hurricane season and most tourists avoid the island, which means that a lot of shops, restaurant and businesses will be closed. Heavy storms can of course get in the way of you scuba diving plans.
Most scuba diving sites around St. Martin are fairly shallow, with a typical depth around 60 feet (18 meters) or less. There is however several scuba diving sites available for a little deeper scuba diving too, at least down to 95 feet (29 meters). The scuba diving sites combine encrusted rocks and more than 10 wrecks of varying age with old coral reefs and artificial ones. Some of the wrecks were intentionally sunk to form coral reefs, but the rest were demolished by hurricanes (especially the particularly menacing hurricanes known as Luis and Bertha). One of the most popular dive sites, the Proselyte Reef, was formed by hot lava from the Earths inside. A majority of the larges stones and rocks found in the waters around St. Martin are covered in coral, sponges and hydroids and north of the island you can find extraordinary layered rock formations. Many wrecks and rocks around St. Martin covered in a multitude of different sponges; creating purple, orange, ruby-red and even pastel pink patterns with rope sponges forming long lines across the surface. All dive sites around St. Martin have a rich plant and animal life, and the most common year round residents include trunkfish, blue tangs, sergeant majors, surgeon fish, trumpetfish, filefish and blue and brown chromis.
As mentioned above, one of the most popular scuba diving sites is the Proselyte Reef outside Philipsburg. The reef is made up by five ridges formed by lava flows. Depth varies from 15 to 45 feet (4.6 to 14 meters) and there are several buoys available for scuba divers along the entire reef. This scuba diving site got its name from H.M.S. Proselyte, a British 17-foot frigate. The crew of the ship knew about the reef but didn’t comprehend how the currents worked around St. Martin and was therefore unable to pass around the shoal instead of hitting it. The remains of the ship is today scattered over the reef and some parts can be almost indistinguishable if you don’t know what you are looking for. There are several cleaning stations around the reef attracting large fish like barracudas and colorful reef fish such as the parrotfish.