See a detailed snorkelling and beach access map below.
The Bight Reef (also known as Coral Gardens) is an excellent snorkelling reef that begins close to the beach, and is the most popular snorkelling site in the Turks and Caicos.
This is a great location to start your underwater adventures at before exploring some of the other beach reefs around Providenciales.
The Bight Reef is home to a wonderful diversity fish and marine life, yet the coral isn’t quite as vibrant as what’s seen at Smith’s Reef or at the reefs typically accessed on snorkelling boat tours.
Unlike the nearby Smith's Reef which is more extensive, the Bight Reef consists of only one main ridge of coral that extends about 350 feet (107m) out from the beach. At the far outer reaches of the Bight Reef, the ocean depth becomes 15-20 feet (4.5-6m).
It’s quite common to spot green turtles and hawksbill turtles, as well as southern brown stingrays and the occasional spotted eagle ray. As they are accustomed to the regular snorkelers, the creatures at the Bight Reef tend to be more approachable than those at other reefs in the Turks and Caicos. If you’re lucky, you may even spot a nurse shark resting on the ocean floor.
The fish sightings include stoplight parrotfish, blue parrotfish, bar jacks, Nassau groupers, queen angelfish, butterflyfish, barracudas, porcupinefish, trumpetfish, squirrelfish, yellowtail snapper, queen triggerfish, sergeant majors, damselfish, scrawled filefish, schoolmasters, trunkfish, and yellow goatfish, to just name a few of the species at the reef.
Under the ledges and in crevices are spiny lobsters, banded coral shrimp, spotted moray eels, and sea cucumbers.
Hard and soft corals can be seen across the entire Bight Reef system, and the most-impressive examples are seen at the deeper eastern side of the reef.
It’s very easy to find the beach accesses and coral at the Bight Reef. There are two adjacent accesses, with parking and pedestrian paths that lead to the beach and close to the reef. If you’re staying at an accommodation in the Bight or western side of Grace Bay, it’s also possible to walk along the beach to the Bight Reef.
Reef etiquette and informational signs can be seen on the beach at the Bight Reef, and red marker buoys can be seen close off the beach, so it’s hard to miss the snorkelling site when on the coast.
See the Bight Reef map below.
The lanes that lead to the Bight Reef are found off of Lower Bight Road, the route that leads between Grace Bay and Turtle Cove. When looking for the two lanes that lead to the beach, it’s easier to watch for the signs for the two resort signs, for Coral Gardens Resort and the Windsong, rather than the relatively unobtrusive Princess Alexandra National Park beach access signs.
The Penn’s Road access is on the western side of the reef, and the footpath to the beach here leads directly to the start of the snorkelling reef. The Stubb's Road access is on the eastern side of the reef, and is usually a little less crowded. Free parking can be found along both Penn’s Road and Stubb’s Road.
If you’re staying at the Beaches resort, the reef is a 10 minute walk away to the west. If you’re looking at the ocean in front of the resort, head left down the beach for about .5 miles (.8km).
Wind and other weather conditions can effect underwater visibility and general snorkelling pleasantness at the Bight Reef. Great visibility and clarity really improve the underwater experience.
Generally, great snorkelling is had when the wind is below 12mph (19kph). Additionally, the incoming or high tide times likewise typically bring better clarity.
Midday and full sun of course lights up the underwater scene better, yet some of the interesting creatures, such as lobsters, lionfish, and marine molluscs emerge in the morning and evening.
By far the greatest danger at the Bight Reef is careless and reckless boat operators. The area has a roped off swim zone around the reef, yet small speedboats offering tubing and wake rides tend to travel at excessive speeds directly outside of this zone. Along with being dangerous, these boats also churn up sediment and reduce visibility in the water.
Although not much of a threat, the occasional lionfish is something to be aware of. An invasive predatory species from the Indo-Pacific , lionfish have venomous spines on the their back capable of giving very painful stings, which in worst case scenarios can cause temporary seizures or paralysis. Fortunately, the lionfish are not aggressive to humans and only sting in defensive situations.
Currents and under pulls are rarely an issue at the Bight Reef. However, beginners and unsure swimmers should consider using a snorkelling vest. As with any location, strong winds or rough conditions can make snorkelling unpleasant and difficult, and should be avoided. If there is a current present, it usually travels parallel with the shore. If you’re in such water movement, it typically makes sense to swim towards shore, and not attempt to swim against the current. Once back on the beach, it’s easy to walk back to your starting point.
As with all reefs in the Turks and Caicos, great care must be taken to preserve and protect the fragile coral and sea life.
Due to damaging behaviour by snorkelers and sediment caused by dredging and powerboats, the Bight Reef has declined a bit from what it was fifteen years ago.