It will not have gone unnoticed by diving and snorkeling aficionados that – with a few exceptions – there is precious little clarity or life to be had in most of the East China Sea. The overfished, overpopulated, under-conserved waters are often dismissed, but Taiwan, where the cold waters give way to that South China Sea magic, has some very respectable dive options that rival much of the more widely lauded Southeast Asian getaways.
A combination of natural parks, wrecks, and soft and hard coral make Taiwan an unusual but reliable tropical diving destination.
Green Island is by far the most popular dive site in Taiwan, just off of Taitung Forest Park on the nation’s east. Landing at Lyudao Airport or arriving by ferry, the island itself is worth a visit for its hot springs, history, and volcanic scenery.
Casual divers will find easily accessible areas just off the island’s east and west, where with luck there will be spottings of – among the usual small fish sightings – batfish, giant coconut crabs, and large spotted rays.
However, the biggest draw for Green Island for advanced divers isn’t a pleasant snorkel among the tiny fishes, but amongst one of the most terrifying fish in the ocean: the hammerhead shark.
Each year, from January to March, the waters around a dive site known as Gun Swei Bi, or Shark Point, swarm with hammerheads. One of the more difficult dives in Taiwan, this one goes down as much as 37 meters with a strong current.
For less adventurous divers, Green Island also has artificial reef areas, where tires and steel are given new life in the form of reef-laden ecosystems.
Kenting and Orchid Island
Kenting features dozens dive sites worth visiting, including many suitable for shore diving. Kenting National Park, situated at the very south of Taiwan, has dives for beginners and experts, with fairly decent visibility – though obviously best in the dry season.
During the coming winter travelers might be able to spot humpback and sperm whales (above the water), and perhaps a few dolphins.
Seven Stars is probably the most holistic dive site in Kenting – though by no means for beginners – with 35-meter drop offs. Divers will find large gamefish and the ubiquitous parrot fish throughout. The reason, however, for this bounty is the current, an extremely dangerous current. Divers should go with caution.
A little further afield is Orchid Island, found east of the southern tip of Kenting, which has some of the best year-round visibility of any Taiwan dive site. Turtle fans will be happy to know that hawksbill and green turtles are a common sight, along with groupers and barracuda. The extremely lucky might even spot a whale shark. All manner of nudibranch can be found just off Kai Yuan harbor, and soft and hard corals are everywhere, along with sea snakes swimming in and out of the crevices.
However, the biggest draw for regular divers is a fairly accessible wreck dive just 20 meters down – though it extends down 35 meters. Ba Dai wreck is a Korean freighter capsized during a typhoon , and it features large, deep wildlife species shooting in and out of their underwater shelter.
As a vacation destination, Orchid Island is more off-the-beaten-track than Green Island, with a unique island culture and picturesque local boats – and occasionally a humpback whale on its migratory journey.
Penghu and More
When the mainland Chinese look across the Straits from Xiamen, it’s Penghu at which they stare. The diving culture in Penghu is very limited, but drift diving is popular here thanks to the currents running between the People’s Republic of China and Taiwan.
There are plenty of shallow areas in Penghu for some decent soft coral diving. Just east of Shan Shui beach in Penghu’s far south and Jiangjun island are the best places to snorkel off-shore. For diving, intrepid divers will need to rely on local boats to get them where they want to go. But, again, drift diving is for advanced divers.
Southeast from that location and not far from Kenting is Xiao Liu Qiu. And if you want to see turtles, then Xiao Liu Qiu is where you need to be.
It’s not the most beautiful island, nor is it a national park like Kenting, but a number of fairly easy dives can be had around the island, with a practical guarantee of seeing green turtles. Occasionally, even from above the water, green turtles can be seen swimming by. As Taiwan’s only large coral island, the area abounds with interesting sights, most famous of which is perhaps Vase Rock.
There are even more diving and snorkeling locations in Taiwan’s north and east, including Turtle Island and the north coast. Indeed, the entire nation of Taiwan is surrounded by interesting dive sites – and regular, conscientious visitors will hopefully bring more protection.