With crystal clear waters, and abundant wildlife, snorkelling in the Isles of Scilly is a genuine joy.
Snorkelling is a wonderful way to experience a side of the islands that you cannot normally see. A few metres away from your towel on the beach is a whole new world waiting for you.
Whatever your age, or your level of experience there is somewhere for you in the peaceful waters around the islands.
I should add before we get any further that I am not going to talk about specialist trips run by individual companies in this article. They deserve their own articles. They don’t deserve to be a footnote in a general article about snorkelling in the Isles of Scilly
One of the great things about snorkelling is that you don’t actually need much in the way of equipment. In theory all you need is a snorkel and a pair of swimming goggles. That being said, buy a little more equipment and you will have a much more enjoyable experience.
Essential Equipment for Snorkelling in the Isles of Scilly
At the very least you should get a mask and snorkel. They usually come in a kit and the snorkel clips on to the side of the mask so you don’t lose it in the water. You can pick these up from as little as £5, even on the islands. But there is a reason they are so cheap. The cheapest masks do not have a good seal, and often don’t fit very well. There is little worse than your mask filling up with water just as you have seen something you want to take a closer look at. Cheap snorkels also often leak.
Diving or snorkelling fins are also a good idea. If you are planning on spending a lot of time in the water then you’re going to want to make it easy to swim. Once you are used to them, fins are a lovely way to move around in the water.
Optional Equipment for Snorkelling in the Isles of Scilly
The water around Scilly is famously clear, but despite being in the path of the gulf stream it is generally a few degrees colder than the water around the mainland. Because of this it is advisable to get a wetsuit. Over the last decade or so the prices of these have come down massively, and it is possible to get a very good wetsuit that will do you for years for a surprisingly small price.
Wetsuits not only help you stay warmer, but the neoprene gives you a little more buoyancy, which is perfect if you are hoping to be floating in the water for some time.
The only other thing you might want to get is a waterproof camera.
The sea around Scilly is teeming with wildlife, and it is possible to get some amazing photos with a little patience. You don’t have to spend hundreds on a GoPro, there are plenty of waterproof action cameras you can get that do a very good job. I even had one delivered to the Post Office in HughTown while I was on holiday because I wanted to record the amazing things I was seeing in the water.
What you might see Snorkelling in the Isles of Sciily
You probably think I’m crazy starting with this, but I genuinely mean it. Seaweed is horrible stuff when the tide is out. Nasty slimy stuff that is just waiting to cause you so slip over. Or trick you into stubbing your toe on a hidden rock.
But when the tide is in it can be truly stunning. That section of beach you avoided because you couldn’t walk on it without falling suddenly becomes a glorious forest of swaying vegetation. Fields of sea grass covering the ground, tall trees of kelp and bladderwrack swaying gently in the current.
Even if you see nothing else then just gliding silently through the underwater towers of seaweed, split by beams of golden sunlight, can be heavenly.
There are a variety of Jellyfish in and around Scilly. While you should always be aware of their ability to sting you, they can be truly beautiful in open water.
I guarantee you will be surprised at the number of crabs there are in the shallow waters around Scilly. Varying in size from the truly tiny, to the surprisingly big these entertaining crustaceans scuttle across the seabed looking for food trying to avoid larger predators.
Crabs are not all there is though. In the relatively shallow waters you will see a variety of shrimps. They lie to hide in the warm shallow water around patches of seaweed. They are hard to spot due to their natural camouflage, but if you float without moving in a likely spot your eye will be drawn to them moving and soon you will see lots of them.
Over the last decade or so many thousands of baby lobsters have been released into the waters around Scilly. Immature lobsters tend to bury themselves in the sand so are rarely spotted, but once they are big enough to deter predators they can sometimes be seen wandering around the slightly deeper waters of the bays around the islands.
It is theoretically possible to see both squid and octopuses while snorkelling in the Isles of Scilly it is sadly quite rare. It is however perfectly possible. On the mainland at St Michael’s Mount a large common octopus was seen crawling (is that the right word?) around in the harbor earlier this year. The staff returned him to deeper water pretty quickly.
One thing you are more likely to see however is cuttlefish. The cuttlefish bones littering the beaches give you an idea how many there are, but they are extremely fast and have exceptional camouflage so it can be tricky to see one.
There are all sorts of small fish swimming around the shallows of pretty much every beach in Scilly. But with a little patience you can see some much more impressive creatures. Here are some of the more common ones.
Often found swimming in and around the seaweed in water a few metres deep looking for food. They can grow to a fair size, and are one of the most likely “large fish” you will see. Usually the mottled or stripey Ballan Wrasse, but if you are lucky you might see a brightly coloured cuckoo wrasse.
The waters around Silly are particularly good for Pollock, and they can grow to a spectacular size. With a bit of luck you can see them surprisingly close to the shore.
One of my favourite things to see is a gurnard “walking” along the sea bed. Actually they are simply using their tentacle like feelers to search for food in the sand. In my personal experience the best place to see them is in the tidal waters of Green Bay on Bryher.
The most likely mammal to see while snorkelling in the Isles of Scilly is of course the Atlantic Grey Seal. We will cover these amazing creatures in a future article but your best bet without getting a boat specifically to find them is off Higher Town Bay in St Martin’s in the waters looking out towards the Eastern Isles.
Dolphins are sometimes seen very ocassionally in the waters around the islands. You will have to be very lucky to see one though. If you do make sure you let me know.
Recommended Spots for Snorkelling in the Isles of Scilly
I tend to go to Scilly with my family. So spending a whole day getting to somewhere remote and then several hours in the water is not really feasible. There are however a number of places where you can snorkell that are easy to get to. And the chances of you seeing things worth seeing are pretty high.
My absolute favourite spot is Old Town Bay on St Mary’s. The beach is quiet, there are toilets for the kids, the sand is fine and clean. The waters are clear. There are no surprising currents, and at High tide there is a large bank of seaweed under about three to four metres of crystal clear water.
If you have your own favourite spot put something in the comments below!