Seychelles Diving: Two worlds in one!

Seychelles Diving: Two worlds in one!

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I wake up with a jolt. The boat is moving! The subtle swaying of the boat on the ocean rocks me into reality. I have a slight headache, remnant of some extra Jack last night. Then I remember we asked Skipper Alastair to start early so that we can see the sharks of Marianne South before breakfast (and hopefully not as breakfast). We have three guests on board. Two of them are avid diving photographers, like my wife and I, and who have been on ‘seafari’ with us for the past three days in the Seychelles.

Text and Images by Clive Ferreira, with grateful help from SF Ferreira

I hoist myself up to the main deck to where my good wife Sue has already made some much-appreciated coffee. After helping myself to some tasty muesli rusks my morning stomach pang has been broken. I inhale the sweet, fresh air of the morning and find myself comforted by the collage of blue waters and sky. The weather is calm despite the slight breeze of the previous day, which caused some slight discomfort when deciding on a suitable mooring place. Rowan, our intrepid Dive Leader, is already up on the fly bridge of the 42 ft Catamaran, Suzy-Q, with Alastair. The boat is moving at about 8 knots on calm flat seas and no wind. Things are looking good.

Suzy-Q is 42 ft Catamaran with two monstrous IPS Volvo D6 engines.
Suzy-Q is 42 ft Catamaran with two monstrous IPS Volvo D6 engines.

“I hope we see some sharks today,” says Rowan. “We will try a better drop-off if the current permits.” We both silently relish the thought of some exciting animal encounters, especially for our guests. This is the second time we have tried this site, renowned for its schools of grey reef sharks. The previous time (about eight months earlier) we were restricted by bad weather. Although we saw some white tip reef sharks (a regular occurrence when diving in the Seychelles) no Grey Reef Shark were spotted. Truth be told we didn’t have the exact drop-off point. This is the sort of knowledge you acquire by paying or bribing the select few who reside on the island. It’s the best way to find some of what I like to call, “Exciting dives of Adventure and Discovery!”… Another option is to find another dive boat on the prospective site and watch their drop-off point carefully (assuming they know what they are doing). Marking the spot on the GPS then becomes a formality (It’s how we found Johnny’s Rock). This however is a rare occurrence in the Seychelles; to find many boats on any site, especially on remote ones like Marianne South. It’s the kind of site that is only accessible from the sole dive operator on nearby La Dique Island or by long-range yacht.

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I go down to the kit up area where our guests, Andrew and Fernanda, are already kitting up. While sipping some more of the aroma rich coffee, I am mesemerised by a flat sea in which everyone is excited to dive. Andrew and Sue are focused on preparing their cameras. Sue does not really care about Sharks as she has her macro lens on – which has become her religion. Andrew, on the other hand, is busy fitting his new 14mm wide angle onto his new camera. As an equally avid macro man he has asked me twice what lens to use. He also plans to shoot some video, as that is what his new toy (3D Mark II) is also capable of. He shot some amazing footage yesterday at Ave Maria of the masses of sweepers and schools of patrolling golden pilot jacks (kingfish or trevallies). Sue is becoming more proficient with my 100m lens and shooting some “good ones” – this compared to her relative and astounding skill with a 60mm. Fernanda and I finish our coffee. We had prepared our gear the previous night already, our foresight in this regard being unmatched. As it was, Andrew had kept me awake last night (or perhaps I am to blame), discussing, if not arguing, which dive site is better, and solving some of the world’s greatest problems. I am not so sure about those solutions right now as World Peace may never be practically accomplished by two good friends and a bottle of whiskey. The heavy “thinking” of last night is undoubtedly the cause of my slight headache, which fortunately subsides and makes way for the growing excitement of the morning dive. At this point I am glad Rowan did most of the kitting up.

About thirty minutes after departing Anse Petite, our wonderful anchorage off the island of La Dique, we arrive at Marianne South which is located at the southern point of the island Marianne. We are all ready and there is a shared silence of excitement. The “viz” looks good and we can see the turquoise bottom surrounded by navy blue seas. Alastair and Rowan scout the site. We want to drop off close to the southerly point. The depth gauge shows that we are now around 20 meters and decreasing. I look over to the seemingly out of place green mounds of land that stand about 50 meters away. The land mass is dramatic with beautiful shaped granite rocks covered with lush green vegetation. For most, if not many, this is as good as it gets.

“Lets drop here” says Alastair, and so Rowan drops in first to gauge the current. He quickly gives the all-clear sign and we all drop in like excited children at a pool party. We have one non-diving guest on board who watches on with bemusement. She is a solid 80 years of age and wisdom. Although she isn’t a diver, she is probably one of the strongest swimmers on board.

We descend into the warm blue waters (temperature 28 degrees) and the photographer’s frantically get their cameras ready on the way down. The viz is really good and there is no current to speak of. Marianne South is actually very different to most other dive sites in the Seychelles as it is almost a wall dive. The 20 plus meters of granite boulders are really awe-inspiring and it “colours” up nicely when photographed, especially with some coral on it.

We see our first white tip and everyone is now fully alert and awake as we move along “right shoulder” (In the Seychelles you only have two directions depending on current). We soon see some great schooling snappers, soldier fish and big eyes. We watch a small squadron of eagle rays glide past effortlessly and a turtle making its way up for air. Then suddenly, swimming effortlessly out of the blue abyss, he appears. A nice two-meter grey reef shark! His mere presence immediately has the attention and cautious respect of us all. Serenely it circles us a few times before moving in closer to investigate. We try our best to get a good shot of this truly magnificent creature. Suddenly it rears off, losing interest, realizing there is no breakfast but bubbles for our fearsome friend. Unfortunately, no one grabs any great photos. Wide-angle shots require virtually kissing the animal and we were still about four meters away!

We realize we have to honour our deco times and some of us are running low on air after a dive where we touched 22metres. Slowly we ascend until we reach our safety stop. A few friendly batfish come closer and play. There are some interesting jellyfish for the macro guys in the water and a remora is seeking a host with one of us. After a fabulous 61 minutes we are back on Suzy-Q for breakfast, in time for a Spanish omelette.

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The dive at Marianne is the second last dive on our three-day seafari. We breakfast on the boat as we make our way back to base camp on Eden Island which sits about 20 nautical miles away on Mahe; the largest and principal island of the Seychelles. We reach the island in the early afternoon after a leisurely trawling speed. To everyone’s delight we manage to hook some Job and Bonito for the braai we’ll inevitably enjoy later on in the evening.

Rowan calls the last dive of the seafari at the Eden Island “house reef,” Johnny’s Rock, a most special reef. The rock is a series of submerged boulders covered with beautiful stag and plate coral as well as some interesting soft coral. The site is only about 20 minutes from Eden Island off the Mahe coastline. The highest point of the boulder lurks only 5m below water level. There is significant fish life, a lovely pair of “swim-through” caves and a number of interesting cleaning stations. There is the usual resident reef shark, a pair of huge Napoleon wrasse and buffalo parrot fish. Some of the fish are so large you actually get a fright because of their looming shadows! There is a resident pod of dolphins that patrols the area and we often encounter them underwater. When we arrived earlier in the summer the whole reef was covered in millions of sweepers and baitfish dancing around the boulders. A huge school of golden kingfish patrolled the area in hunt of nature’s bounty. Every time I submerge myself in the mystical and enigmatic beauty of the ocean I can’t help but feel at peace. A feeling of love and appreciation washes over me as a smile stretches my lips.

We have wasted a bit of time fishing along the way and it is quite overcast when we finally fall into the water (with giant stride and all) around 4 o’clock. The viz is not as good as the previous week and it is almost eerily dark. However, arriving below, a new sight greets us. The entire reef is covered in “yellow flowers” as the turret coral have opened up mixed with red thistle coral. Added to this is the dark blue sea and silver dancing baitfish, which makes for a spectacular display.

It is quite clear that the mass of sweepers has now been seriously depleted by the marauding golden trevallies. However, there are still a few million left. The macro guys find some spectacular anemones accompanied by a porcelain crab. The resident white tip scouts around as we approach the swim-through. An eagle ray drifts past looking for food. This reef is gorgeous and we can’t help but enjoy the spectacle below us at the safety stop before ascending after 61 minutes. Another great day, another great dive…

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I visited the Seychelles for the first time in 1991. At that stage I was not yet a diver but I can remember the pleasure of snorkeling and the lingering interest in the resort course being taught in the hotel swimming pool. However the sheer beauty of the islands’ paper white beaches, piercing blue water and rugged grey mountains coated in lush vegetation forced me to make a promise. Some how, sometime, my feet would feel the sands of the Seychelles again.

Nine years later I visited Mauritius and had to do a resort course. I had watched my wife and youngest son qualify as PADI open water divers and oozed with some jealousy. The rest of the family and I duly did nine dives and then as they say the rest was history. The family got hooked and to this day the family dives whenever the opportunity arises.

We eventually made our way back to Seychelles in 2007 for a holiday. It was then that our love affair was renewed and we validated this affair by buying a place at Eden island and then, of course, the good ship Suzy Q! It is, today, the ultimate diving experience in the Seychelles… If you don’t believe me, there is nothing stopping you from trying.

Suzy-Q is 42 ft Catamaran with two monstrous IPS Volvo D6 engines. There are three cabins and everything you need to make you feel at home on the ocean. There is a TV (which we hardly ever use) and a mass of dive gear, among other things. Suzy-Q operates from the new Eden island marina; a highly successful marina development in Seychelles that has been largely done by a South African developer.

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Location of Seychelles:
The Seychelles is a group of 115 islands spread over a very large mass of ocean. The islands have two prevailing wind systems. The stronger SE monsoon blows May through September and the milder NW Monsoon prevails in November to February. In between these times it is fairly wind free and makes for the best diving. Although diving is in fact possible all year round.

Mahe is the main and biggest island with Victoria as the capital. The population of Seychelles is around 90 000 with most people living on Mahe, Praslin and La Dique but with the majority on Mahe. The island sits 4 degrees south of the equator and so the weather is highly tropical with harsh sunshine, high ambient temperatures of around 30 degrees and a fair amount of humidity (one has to get used to this). If you are diver this is much less of a problem as we spend so much time at 28 degrees our bodies hardly know better. Rainfall annually approaches three meters and the rain showers can be torrid. Regardless of this it is always welcome as the rain cools things down quite significantly. The best time of year, without a doubt, is April-May or October/November, although you will have to trust me when I say it is still quite nice in December as well.

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The Seychelles mainly consists of the inner islands situated on a large underwater granitic plateau that is no deeper than 50m. At the so-called drop-off, where the depth plunges to thousands of meters, there are the first of the outer islands that are all in fact coral atolls. These islands are all varying distances away from the capital Victoria and beg for further exploration. At the moment we have restricted ourselves to the inner islands. Apparently there are some stunning wall dives at Des Roches, Alphonse and of course Aldabra, but that surely must be the subject for later exploration.

Diving the Seychelles is indeed quite something as the waters are bountiful. There are masses of fish and other examples of underwater life despite the significant bleaching that followed the 1998 El Nino. The good news is that the coral is recovering nicely. The fish life is still prolific and many interesting species abound.

In my view the reefs, albeit limited at this time, are not in such bad shape and appear to have improved over the last few years although there are certainly less turtles. As it is Turtles have been a delicacy in the Seychelles for decades, although this is now officially banned.

The viz is generally good and one can dive year round in warm water (27-30 degrees). One only requires a “shorty” to enjoy the salty blue waters. There are many sites and a good variety of fish, reef and chances for macro photography. There are species that are quite numerous, more so than any other place I’ve seen. The chances of seeing various animals, for an example, are listed below.

1. Eagle rays; battalions; 90%
2. Many white tip reef sharks: 70%
3. Buffalo parrot fish: 75%
4. Napoleons: 60%

Seychelles has a whale shark season from September through November. In fact I have seen these creatures as late as January and this last December I am aware of at least four sightings and two in January. All the sightings occur, usually, around the main island of Mahe.

Other reefs

Brisaire and Dragon’s teeth
About 20 minutes outside of Victoria there are two large boulders. One is more visible than the other. The big one is called Brisaire and the other one, Dragon’s teeth. Diving below water on either one is similar and both fabulous. Many people rate them the best dives in the Seychelles. Brisaire deserves a mention in most dive books. The viz is normally quite good but the site is prone to mild currents. These sites both have excellent coral and schools of snappers, big eyes, soldiers and fusiliers. There is always much pelagic activity as well as the usual white tips (they actually have a cave here), buffalo parrots, napoleons, eagle rays and hawksbill turtles.

Shark bank
This is one of the iconic dives of the Seychelles; almost like Pinnacles at Ponta. It is the deepest popular dive at 30m. It consists of a few large boulders, but with very significant fish and pelagic life. There are literally banks of yellow snappers and big eyes. Unfortunately I have not seen any sharks there but, just as with Pinnacles, there is always a chance. The location is about 20 minutes by fast boat towards Silhouette. In December a whale shark patrolled the area and some fabulous video footage was captured. The shark swam elegantly with a bevy of remoras. The footage rolled out on a continuous basis from one of the local dive operations.

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Trois dames
This is a submerged series of large underwater boulders covered with coral near Therese island on the west coast of Mahe. There is a wide variety of fish life around the boulders with the usual resident white tips. Again we find many cleaning stations dealing with giant starry-eyed puffer fish, angel and batfish. Schools of bat fish keep you company on your safety stop.

Grand Bazaar
This is a small but deep reef with much “action” to it. Emperor snappers, pompano, eagle rays, napoleon and buffalo parrot fish. The maximum depth is 25m and in most cases there may be some current as it is more in the open channel. It is a reef almost like Bikini at Sodwana, small but with much to offer. Large schools of fusiliers followed by pelagic activity are always prevalent.

Mannes bank
Here we have what is probably the best dive on the East Coast. It normally has a mild current and it is relatively deep at 22m. The coral at that depth is in excellent condition. Mannes Bank is home to a large resident nurse shark, a number of white tips, flotillas of eagle rays and schools of skunk anemones and turtles. The bank rises from a depth of 25m up to 15m, which makes for a nice wall dive. Large schools of fusiliers with schools of barracuda, king fish and bonito patrol the area as well as large eagle rays. In addition to this, fairly large napoleons patrol the area. These fish, unfortunately are, not as friendly as potato bass so taking good pictures of them remains a challenge.

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L’ilotte
This is the site where I last shot on macro. It is in fact a magical wide-angle site with lovely soft coral and teeming with some magical fish life given the prevailing currents. This is where I encountered a whale shark covered with its team of remoras and pilot fish with a 100m lens at 16m. We immediately surfaced and found seven more swimming around in January 2008, well outside the whale shark season.

L’ilotte is a must dive on the Seychelles and has some great photo opportunities. The island is small, sitting about one 100m offshore. The dive is not very deep with a maximum depth of 18m. Depending on the current one may proceed on your right or left shoulder round the island. Viz is very much dependent on conditions. At L’ilotte one normally gets large schools of big eyes, hanging in the current as well as white tips and eagle rays.

L’ilotte is therefore one of my all time favourites. It is also the only place where I have seen a large school of buffalo or hump-head parrotfish. These fish cast a large shadow and you always know when they are around. Although shy, their curiosity compels them to approach you. To see a large school of them is simply awe-inspiring.

Some more reefs:

Harrisons, Isle Seche, Turtle rock, Lost City, Aquarium, Booby, White bank, Light House, Conception, Matoupa, Chuckles, The Ennerdale wreck, twin barges, Marmelle and many more.

Diving is done mainly on the West Coast of Mahe from four different dive centres. There is one dive centre on the East Coast, three more on Praslin and one on La Dique. The Seychelles also has some very up-market island resorts which run their own dive operations at Silhouette, Denis island, Frigate, Des Roches and North Island. Currently Suzy Q is the only specialized dive charter although a number of other boats also offer diving.

Diving is currently restricted to the inner islands. On our to-do list, however, we look forward to exploring the Amirantes, Alphonse and, above all, magical Aldabra.

Other things to do in the Seychelles:

You may visit one of the many fabulous beaches of powder white sand and light blue, and at times turquoise waters. All this can be found on Mahe or one of the other islands. Most of the beaches are fairly quiet and can be enjoyed on your own or with very few fellow tourists. The Seychelles has some of the best beaches in the world. Top of these are Anse Lazio (voted no 1 in the world.) Other good ones are Beau Vallon, Grand Anse on la Dique and Anse Soleil. La Dique is well worth a visit. Time has chosen to stand still on most parts of the Island. There are also giant tortoises a-plenty on nearby Moyenne. It should also be said that The Seychelles has two World Heritage sites: the Vallee de Mai, with the famous black parrot, and coco de mere on Praslin and Aldabara. Obviously, visiting the botanical gardens and the local market can be quite a treat. In Victoria, Little Big Ben, is a must-see and of course, if it’s not too much of a bother, you can always just go diving!

Some reference

Marianne Island is a small (238 acres) granitic island of the Seychelles. It is located 3.8 km ESE of Félecité Island. The island was a former coconut plantation, and on the western side of the island is a long beach. The southern tip of Marianne is known as a world-class diving location. The tallest peak on the island is Estel Hill at 130 meters.

Presently, Marianne Island is uninhabited but is routinely visited by tourists and boaters. For much of the 19th and 20th century, farming and copra production took place on Marianne. There was a former settlement called La Cour, and in 1940 the island had 60 inhabitants.
There are a few species of gecko on Marianne, including the La Digue day gecko (Phelsuma sundbergi ladiguensis) and Phelsuma astriata semicarinata. Reportedly, the rare Seychelles Paradise Flycatcher {Terpsiphone corvina) is occasionally spotted on the island.[1]. Also, it was once home to the extinct Seychelles Chestnut-sided White-eye

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