Look at a photo of Midway Atoll taken from space, and you’ll see a ring-shaped barrier reef and numerous sand islets extending from the end of the Hawaii-Emperor chain, which is a line of volcanic islands, seamounts, and atolls that begins way up north at the tip of the Aleutian Islands and extends all the way down south through Hawaii. Formed about 28 million years ago and once a shield volcano that was believed to be about the size of the island of Lanai, Midway Island is a diver’s dream come true. While there is no shortage of easy sightseeing reef dives, there are also a few sites where underwater caves and tunnels showcase the island’s ancient geologic roots while sheltering an abundance of spectacular marine life. Let’s take a peek!
The Chub House
Named in honor of the vast schools of chubs that frequent the area, The Chub House dive site is a stretch of reef where numerous tunnels and ledges invite endless exploration. Less challenging than other sites as it is only occasionally subject to powerful currents, this site is an excellent one for encountering masked angelfish, lined coris, and huge schools of Bluefin trevally as well as the many smaller fish these larger ones prey upon. Watch for blue-lined and rainbow chubs as well as Hawaiian chubs called Triple Nenue, which are sacred in Hawaiian culture and which are nicknamed “The Queen’s Fish.” In addition, keep a sharp eye out for larger animals like sharks and sea turtles. Depths here vary from 25 to 60 feet, and visibility is typically excellent.
A huge shallow reef with canyons that rise up from the white, sandy sea bed, Peek-A-Boo is named for the numerous arches and swimthroughs found here. Though the site features relatively shallow depths ranging from 30 to 60 feet, it can be challenging due to currents, which are nearly always present and which can sometimes be strong. A variety of chubs can be seen in this area, along with goatfish, squirrelfish, knifejaws, and huge big-eye trevallies. Colorful sponges and corals create a fantastic backdrop for photos; when currents are light, be sure to spend a little time searching for the colorful and abundant macro life this splendid site shelters.
A more challenging site featuring depths between 75 and 100 feet, Deep Pocket is often washed by strong currents. The deep reef here is about eight feet high and is cut through with caves and tunnels that hide all kinds of creatures including plenty of crustaceans and numerous fishes. Some to watch for include Boarfish, Hawaiian Longfinned Anthias, Maze Tobies, and Whitescaled Squirrelfish. On rare occasions when conditions are calm, you’re also likely to encounter sharks and sea turtles at this site.
Reef Hotel Cavern Complex
Though this site features maximum depth at just 35 feet, it is designated for divers certified to dive in overhead environments. A spectacular interconnected labyrinth of caverns and caves that punctuate the reef front for a length of about 350 feet, the Reef Hotel Cavern Complex is accessed via the reef front, with the main entryway being at a depth of 30 feet. After making your way through this incredible underwater maze, you’ll emerge from a hole in the reef, in just a few inches of water on the shoreward side of the surf zone. While marine life is of course abundant here, the main attraction is the site’s geology!
At Phoenix, you’ll find the entrance to a massive dome near the mooring; once inside, you’ll find yourself in the company of rare black trevally, spotted burrfish, and even strange, nearly transparent Deetsie’s Cardinalfish, as well as moray eels and a splendid array of crustaceans and colorful nudibranchs and other invertebrates. To the west of the dome sits a big mushroom-shaped bommie, and to the east, you’ll find a canyon where crosshatch triggerfish, masked angelfish, and many other species thrive. Turtles, sharks, and the occasional ray can be encountered here too, making this a site not to be missed. Though depths are far from challenging at 35 to 80 feet, the site is sometimes subject to currents.
Midway Island was closed to visitors for many years and re-opened in 2008. The atoll is now a US National Wildlife Reserve and access is tightly controlled – only 100 people may visit the island at any given time. As you might imagine, there is normally a long waiting list for travelling to Midway Island, so plan well in advance if you hope to experience these magnificent natural dive sites.