Macro Life, Grand Cayman Ep. IV – Ex USS Kittiwake

Kittiwake Grand Cayman | Macro Blog – February 2015

The wreck sitting on the sandy bottom just off the West Side of Grand Cayman


USS Kittiwake has only recently made its way to a sandy bottom on the West Side of Grand Cayman, but has quickly began to host an array of marine life. The wreck has climbed the list of Top Wreck Dives in the Caribbean as well as the world!

Unmatched with its Easy diving conditions, accessibility and safety this wreck is a dream come true for both experienced and novice divers. It sits in a shallow 60ft of water allowing for long bottom times. The shear size of the wreck and ample amounts of light make it a photographer’s dreamland.


Being dwarfed by this massive ship as you swim just off the sand is an experience in itself. If a massive ship wreck with loads of sunrays shimmering down through crystal clear doesn’t get you excited to put the wide angle lens don’t worry there is more. Even though the wreck was sunk a mere 4 years ago a flora of marine life is often seen in, on and around the wreck. From big schools of Horse Eyes Jacks, Spotted Eagle Rays feeding in the sand, multiple Groupers visiting cleaning stations and even the occasional gathering of Silversides this wreck is sure to keep the wide angle shooter busy for multiple dives!

Schooling Jacks at the Kittiwake


What we have been so impressed with though, is the macro life that has made the wreck home. The Kittiwake has quickly become the go to for an array of critters. These aren’t just chance encounters either. We have had consistent findings of some rather rare critters for the waters around Cayman and better yet, these sightings usually occur in the same areas of the ship dive after dive.


The port holes along the sides of the wreck frequently have Dushia Flabellina (Purple Ring Flabellina as we would call them), Skeleton Shrimp and the always entertaining Secretary Blennys!

Purple Ringed Flabellina in one of the deep port holes of the Kittiwake

 (Above – Purple Ringed Flabellina in one of the deep port holes of the Kittiwake.)

(Below – These Blenny’s are constantly darting in and out of their holes giving you a chance for some unique captures.)

These Blenny's are constantly darting in and out of their holes giving you a chance for some unique captures.


These guys love hydroids and are literally all over the wreck.


These fun subjects can be found all over the wreck.

(These fun subjects can be found all over the wreck.)



Ranging from half inch to just mm in length these guys can be tough to find and shoot, but everyone loves a challenge.

(Ranging from half inch to just mm in length these guys can be tough to find and shoot, but everyone loves a challenge.)

Nimble spray crabs have made there home throughout the nooks and crannies in multiple locations.


Often found in areas that are different to light properly, but be patient and wait for them to reposition.


Once you find one of these colorful crabs, chances are he will be in the same vicinity on your next dive. They are very territorial.


Why these creatures have made the Kittiwake their home we aren’t sure. There are a couple observations and assumptions we have made as to why these little guys are setting up shop here though. First of all, the most abundant plant life on the wreck is algae. Algae happens to be one of  main food sources for a lot of these animals. Secondly, other locations where we have frequent sightings of Nudibranch and Sea Slugs are usually in the 15-30ft range and generally are known to have a bit of surge. So the depth of the Kittiwake is ideal for sightings in comparison to our other experiences. There is also, frequently a little surge action moving in and out of the wreck. In other words all signs point to the Kittiwake for being a hot spot for macro activity of all kinds.

Bandled Coral Shrimp

(Banded Coral Shrimp)

Grape Cluster Nudibranch

(Grape Cluster Nudibranch)

Slender File Fish & Arrowhead Crab

(Slender Filefish & Arrowhead Crab)



Filmed entirely of subjects that we find on the Ex USS Kittiwake


This young, but iconic artificial reef has quickly become a local favorite here in Cayman. The shallow depth and shear size of the wreck offer up opportunities for well lit dramatic images. When you prepare the camera for a “wreck” dive most would instantly think wide angle. Not that this would be a bad plan. The site has ample wide angle opportunities that would keep anyone with a camera busy for multiple dives. Don’t be afraid to take a dive to explore the wreck for macro life though. Our many dives on the wreck have shown us it is also home to an array of macro life that we would consider uncommon on other sites around the island. We aren’t  just having one time encounters either. As we continue our exploration and filming on the wreck we find that most of these subjects can be found on a very regular basis. Not that anything in the underwater world is guaranteed, but more often than not we can find a couple of these little critters scattered throughout the dive site.The Kittiwake has without a doubt climbed to the top of the list of wrecks dives in the Caribbean and further more, the world. It’s proximity to shore paired with the easy diving conditions of the Cayman’s the wreck welcomes divers of all skills levels. Disappear into the lower decks of the ship or hang out on the main deck with common encounters with schooling Horse Eyed Jacks and feeding Spotted Eagle Rays.

The ex-USS Kittiwake is an Ex-US Navy Submarine Rescue Vessel. She was sunk on January 5th, 2011 in Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands to create an artificial reef and shipwreck attraction for scuba divers and snorkelers to visit and enjoy.The attraction is operated by the Cayman Islands Tourism Association.
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Filmed by – Chase Darnell & Dusty Norman
Edited by – Chase Darnell

Music – With You
By – Aurora
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© All Rights Reserved 2015 – (Chase Darnell | Dusty Norman)

What about the wreck benefits the Macro shooter?

Since the wreck is fairly new it consists of small, but promising amounts of Coral and Sponge This simply means there are not as many places for these tiny guys to hide making it easier to find and therefore photograph/video them.

Since the wreck is still intact and upright using a tripod becomes a very viable option. Some of these critters are just mm’s long. The use of a tripod becomes mandatory for stable shots, especially if you are on the mission for macro video.

Algae is mostly bland in color while a lot of these critters have vibrant colors and patterns. The use of a constant light for locating subjects proves to be very beneficial. The light makes the vibrant animals really pop and standout from the algae they are frequently found in.