Grand Case Bay Area
There are a number of places to snorkel in the Grand Case Bay area that range from offshore rocks and reefs to sandy and seagrass areas accessible from the beach. Below is a map of the area showing the five primary snorkeling areas and related landmarks.
Grand Case Bay from the Beach
Snorkeling the Grand Case Bay from the beach primarily consists of sandy and seagrass areas. The area bordering the beach is sand for about 100 feet in most areas. Beyond this is a mix of sand and seagrass patches that can be clearly seen from the shore as darker areas when the visibility is good. Although the density of sea life is relatively low compared to reef areas, it can make a rewarding snorkel if you are patient.
In the sandy areas, there are often schools of small fish, needle-nose fish, starfish and crabs. Look for rocks, moorings or manmade debris which attract juvenile fish and small lobsters. Southern stingrays can also commonly be seen in the sandy areas. At the border between the sand and seagrass areas, there are often patches of unattached seaweed and debris on the bottom that also serve as shelter for juvenile fish.
If you continue out to the seagrass areas, you may see spotted eagle rays, trunkfish and cowfish. Unless you are free diving to the bottom, it is probably difficult to see many of the smaller fish that are well-camouflaged in the grass.
In this area, be conscious of boat traffic. For a detailed view of this area, click on the map below.
To reach the Bell Point area, enter the water at the north (far right) end of Grand Case beach (or from Petite Plage if you are staying at the Grand Case Beach Club). After swimming past GCBC and Petite Plage, there will be a small outcropping, beyond which is a shallow area with undersea boulders bordering a rocky beach.
The primary area of interest is near the shoreline, where underwater rocks form a substrate for coral and a series of small coves provide shelter from any inbound currents. A wide variety of reef fish can be seen in this area, as well as sponges and coral. Some large boulders lie further out on the sandy bottom, beyond which is seagrass where spotted eagle rays may be seen. Keep an eye out for pelagic tunicates in the water column as well, which look like a small transparent cylinder with organs visible inside.
In this area, be aware of boat traffic between Bell Point and Creole Rock and the potential for currents and surf, particularly near the end of the point. It is also a good 30 minute swim out from Grand Case Beach, so take it easy getting out there. The beach is rocky and difficult to navigate barefoot, but is also littered with coral skeletons, sponges and shells. If you do go on the beach, identify a good place to exit the water and return via the same path to avoid stepping on urchins or other hazards. A map of this location is below.
Additional information and photos about Bell Point: Bell Point Exploration.
Molly Smith Point
The Point Molly Smith area is accessible from the far south end of the beach on Grand Case Bay. Walking, it can be reached either by the beach, or by taking the main road towards Marigot and turning off on the last street before the post office, following it to the graveyard at the end and crossing the graveyard to the bay. It is best to enter the water near the wreck of a small sailboat at the very end of the beach, where there is a sandy entrance. Beware of rocks and sea urchins when entering here.
The primary snorkeling area is along the coastline, where there are rock and coral formations in three to fifteen feet of water. It is similar to snorkeling near Bell Point, but easier to access. If the swell is going into the bay (North or North-northwest), then this area is probably too rough for snorkeling. When the bay is calm, caution should still be exercised when close to the shore or in very shallow areas. If water conditions and your skills permit, it is possible to snorkel around the tip of Point Molly Smith, or to enter from Happy Beach and snorkel around to Grand Case Bay. A map is below.
Additional information and photos about Molly Smith Point: Snorkeling Molly Smith Point.
Creole Rock is the most popular, and in many ways, the most varied and rewarding snorkeling site in the Grand Case area. In theory, it could be accessed by swimming from the beach, but in practice the distance and boat traffic make that undesirable. Typically, it is accessed by boat.
Creole Rock is part of the Reserve Naturelle of Saint Martin. The rock itself is an important nesting site for sea birds and walking on it is prohibited. In the water, there are several distinct habitats to explore: sandy patches, sea grass areas, shallow reefs and deeper reefs, which are marked on the map below. On this site, beware of fire coral, a mustardy-colored encrusting coral that is covered in stinging cells and long-spined sea urchins, which have poisonous spikes. Of course, remember not to touch or disturb any of the wildlife while you are here!
Typically you enter the water from moorings that are in the sandy and sea grass areas of the protected side of the rock. These are between ten and fifteen feet deep. Primary attractions in the sandy areas are peacock flounder and southern stingray. The grassy areas are the feeding grounds of the majestic spotted eagle ray, which can be seen gracefully swimming past, or feeding on the bottom. Preying on mollusks and crustaceans, they dig into the grass, leaving telltale plumes of sand at regular intervals. Follow them and you may be able to see them feeding.
Swimming towards the rock, there is a shallow rocky area with small corals and many fish. Small coral heads typically serve as cleaning stations where larger fish stop, often hovering vertically, to be cleaned by small gobies and cleaning shrimp. Look inside and near anemones to see arrow crabs, cleaning shrimp, banded coral shrimp and small crabs. Parrotfish and wrasses are common here, as are juvenile fish of many types.
Continuing around either side of the rock, if conditions permit, you will find a deeper reef that is fed by nutrients carried in the channel currents. On the right hand side, passage may be made inside the last small rock sticking out of the water. Sticking close to the rock, you will be in a shallow, but quite beautiful reef full of sea fans and other soft corals. Working your way away from the rock, there is a small wall and overhang that is often full of spiny lobster, but is only really accessible if you can free dive about 20 feet.
On the left side of the rock, the terrain is similar, but deeper. Many grunts and other fish congregate around a large rock that is visible from the the boat. Beyond this rock, you may experience current from the seaward side, and the reef below gets deeper and more lush. Porcupinefish, trumpetfish and angelfish are often seen here, in addition to many others.
If the sea is very calm, snorkelers can circumnavigate the rock. On the far side of the rock, there are large schools of sergeant majors, snappers and a multitude of other tropical fish. Often there is a school of atlantic spadefish. Always pay attention to water conditions, and do not attempt to do this in strong current or heavy surf – enjoy the protected shallows instead!
Turtle Reef (Sec de Grand Case)
Turtle Reef, also called Sec de Grand Case, is a little-known reef in Grand Case Bay that rises to approximately five feet below the surface at points. It is located off Molly Smith Point, but is typically accessed by boat. As its name suggests, it is the only place in Saint Martin where you are almost guaranteed to see sea turtles.
Turtle Reef grows on and around a formation of underwater rocks and is ringed by sand in all directions and sea grass beyond that. In the shallow areas, there is an abundance of tropical fish. Soft corals, brain corals and pillar corals can be seen as well, in unusually good condition because it is not a well-known site (debris from sailboats accidentally hitting the reef are a testament to this fact).
Hawksbill and green turtles are commonly seen in the reef surrounding the rocky areas, although they can be hard to spot. They also surface regularly to breathe, so check the surface periodically. In the sand surrounding the reef it is common to see southern stingrays, sometimes almost totally buried in the sand except their tails.
At this location, it is very important to be aware of boat traffic. If there are winds, it is also a good idea to check your distance from the boat in order to avoid being carried too far away by surface waves. A map of this location is below.
More photos and information about Turtle Reef: Turtles at Turtle Reef.
Grand Case Pier
The pier in Grand Case, not to be confused with the smaller dinghy dock beside it, is used rarely and has partially collapsed into the sea at the end. It is a concrete structure that is largely covered in algae and sponges with some patches of coral. The primary attractions of this site, to me at least, are the decorator crabs and blennies that can be found in great abundance and variety in this location. It is easy to spend an hour or two just exploring the pier.
In addition to terrific macro life, you may also encounter schools of tropical fish, moray eels, spiny lobsters and much more. Bar jacks and great barracuda visit from time to time in search of a quick meal as well. Late afternoon and evening seem to be the most active time for the decorator crabs, but there is much to see at any time of day. Keep an eye out for occasional boat traffic and small children jumping into the water on hot days. Also avoid touching the pier as there may be fire coral or stinging hydroids. I am uncertain about the safety of being under the pier, particularly the collapsed section, but there is a great deal to see without actually going under the pier itself.
The pier is easily accessible from the beach near the lolos (outdoor barbecue restaurants) in the center of town.