Réunion Island

Réunion Island

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Situated some 805 kilometres (530 miles) east of Madagascar and around 200 kilometres (130 miles) south-west of Mauritius lies La Réunion in the Indian Ocean. Reunion is a French island that stands out from all the others. It’s an island where you can dive prestige reefs, walk in valleys full of waterfalls and visit an active volcano all in the space of one day. It is a mountainous island and is known worldwide for its hiking trails, mountain bike trails and paragliding.

Text and Images By Gaby Barathieu

Reunion-Map
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Volcanic in origin with one volcano, “Piton de la Fournaise”, still active this island rises 3 069m straight out of the ocean and has thousands of valleys surrounding its active volcano. The entire island is covered in mountains and the waters provide some of the best dive sites the Indian Ocean has to offer.

The volcano, “Piton de la Fournaise”, is a major tourist attraction and is located within the Réunion National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site. It sits 2 632m above sea-level and is active with regular eruptions. These volcanic activities provide spectacular viewing and what makes it even more amazing is that you can safely approach the lava flows from previous eruptions.

Geologically, Reunion Island is relatively young and consequently its lagoons are small and not very deep. The island however, rises from deep water and is a magnet for whales, whale sharks and other pelagic animals. Fed by deep ocean currents, it boasts healthy reefs that teem with colourful fish. The coral forms a discontinuous reef of about 15km to the west and south of the island.The Island is 39km long and 45km wide, covering a total area of 2 512km. Réunion is considered an “overseas extension” of France and is therefore included in the European Union. This means the currency used on the island is the Euro. The principal towns are Saint-Denis, the administrative centre; Saint-Paul, the first “capital” and Saint-Pierre the most southerly town.

The water temperature varies from 23C degrees in winter to 30C degrees in summer. The locals are laid-back and welcoming. Getting to Réunion is easy with daily flights from Paris, which take about 11 hours.

There are more than150 species of coral and 500 species of fish to be found which makes for relaxed and enjoyable diving. The eastern and southern sides of the island are known as the wilder sides of the island.

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Most of the dive operators are situated on the northwestern side of Reunion, where there are three main areas for launching boats. These dive centres are situated in the harbours, where boats are ready and waiting to take you out on the warm, quiet waters of the western side of the island.

La Réunion is an all-year destination. But if you want to see humpback whales, the austral winter (June to October) is the best time. Every year, they come to breed and give birth near our shores with the best action being from mid-August to mid-September.

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Dive conditions are generally better during the summer months with the best visibility and warmest water. However, this is also the rainy season so the weather can “close in”.

Dolphins are to be found around the island throughout the year and visibility is very good for mostly 80% of the year.

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Because diving Réunion is relatively unknown (and because of the distance to get there) La Réunion is a great dive destination if “frontier diving” is your bent. There’s nothing like diving places where few get to go.

Réunion offers a wide variety of dive sites. Just beyond the reef there are large flat reefs, beautiful steep walls and shipwrecks. Photographers tend to shoot wide-angle in the morning because conditions are calmer. In the afternoon, the shallower dive sites will delight you with their wealth of corals, sponges, reef fish and critters. This is a great opportunity to work on ambient light and macro underwater photography.

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The greatest coral and marine life biodiversity is found on the west coast. There are also lava flows on the south side of the island, which are visited by some dive centers. These sites are exposed to strong currents, however, and for experienced divers only.

We also have some wreck diving at Réunion. The most famous is the Hai Siang at 55m deep (181ft). When the ship sunk it landed on its side, but then was righted by a cyclone. It’s a fun dive with a descent straight through the blue water column. Photographers can set up wide-angle or possibly ultra wide-angle (14mm).

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Other popular deep wrecks include The Navarra at 50m (164ft), The Sea Venture at 45m (148ft) and Antonio Lorenzo at 38m (125ft). These are deep dives that require special training, however the photo potential is incredible. There are also some great wrecks in shallower water covered with abundant marine growth, fish and other exciting critters.

The macro diving is world-class at Réunion Island, with a wide range of biodiversity. The dive sites are usually found on the outer slopes of the barrier coral reefs, but you can also find some extraordinary encounters in the lagoons. Harlequin shrimp are often observed by free divers in the lagoons, so it’s certain that scuba divers can find them. There are also many colorful nudibranchs waiting to be found and photographed.

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With great visibility and warm tropical waters, what more could a diver ask for?

With 40% of its approximately 2500 km2 territory classified as World Heritage Site by UNESCO, Reunion Island offers an amazing mix of authentic cultures and wild nature. As soon as you arrive on the island, you will feel and see the extraordinary variety of cultures that coexist in perfect harmony. From Asian cuisine to creole markets, from Buddhist traditions to Tamil, Islamic or Christian rituals, Reunion is a melting pot of cultures.

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Réunion’s Most Popular Dive Sites

The Caves of Maharani: An original site in about 15m (49ft), which includes a series of cracks and caves adorned with skylights. On this dive, wide-angle is preferable in the morning when the position of the sun is best. Divers regularly see kingfish over one meter in length, making close passes while hunting. Lionfish are under the overhangs waiting for unsuspecting prey.

Passe de l’Ermitage: A cleaning station and meeting point for turtles and eagle rays. The turtles visit the cleaning station daily while also using the lagoon for shelter at night. The extensive seagrass beds provide an abundant food source.

Grand Tombant de la Point au Sel: This is one of the best dives at the island, but reserved for experienced divers since the current can be violent and unpredictable. There are great wide-angle opportunities with regular sightings of huge schools of jacks and pelagic fish (swordfish, marlin, tuna). Less frequently, divers will encounter a whale shark, hammerhead sharks or manta rays.

Cap la Houssaye: THE site for macro photography. On a regular dive you will see nudibranchs, mantis shrimp and ghost pipefish as well as turtles, barracuda and more. There is a huge meadow with sea slugs of all kinds, but beware of scorpion fish camouflaged on the bottom as they await passing prey. Visibility is average but this is not a problem for macro.

Réunion offers a wide variety of diving mixed with stunning topside landscapes. This small French island should be on every underwater photographer’s destination list!

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About the Author

Gaby Barathieu is a passionate underwater photographer based on Reunion Island. He and photographer Yann Oulia run the Reunion Underwater Photography website and Facebook page, sharing the incredible diving and wildlife encounters in the waters near their home. View their photography at www.RUP.re or on their Facebook Page.

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Useful stuff:

Language:French; Creole is widely used

Currency:Euro

Time:GMT +4

Climate:Tropical

Natural hazards:Cyclones (November to April); active volcanoes

Diving season:Year round

Water temperature:27C/80F (Jan-March), 23C/73F (July-Sept)

Air temperature:22C (Winter), 27C (Summer)

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Diving Lake Malawi

Diving Lake Malawi

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My grandfather had a fish tank stocked with Malawi Cichlids and I have always wanted to dive Lake Malawi to see these pretty fish in their natural environment. This year, my dream trip to dive Lake Malawi became a reality.

Text by Penny Shadow
Images by Penny Shadow and Dana Allen

We landed in Lilongwe and after a 3 and a half-hour drive on good roads, we turned off to venture through the hills of the Lake Malawi National park for our destination, Cape Maclear, where our hosts at Danforth Yachting, Lodge and Yacht Charters, operate from. Receiving a warm welcome from the owners and managers, we were given welcome drinks and shown to our superb, luxurious rooms with fabulous views over the lake. Danforth is right on the beach with a dive deck to the left, emerald-green lush lawn and sparkling swimming pool in front and a large thatched gazbo dining area to the right. Islands surround the lodge, forming a natural bay, where the lodge boats are safely moored. After a quick freshen up we headed to the deck for a chat with the dive instructors over sundowners. With fish eagles overhead, an African pied kingfisher perched on the mast of the hobie cat, the sparkling waters and lush green island in front of us I couldn’t have been happier. The sun gave its final goodbye for the day in spectacular, blazing African style.

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Lake Malawi covers one-third of the country of Malawi. The lake is  600 kilometres long and 80 kilometres wide at its widest point, and forms part of the African Rift Valley. Malawi is a country of varied topography with lowest altitude being 35 metres and its highest peak, Mount Mulanje at 3002 metres above sea level. Rolling hills, high lying plateaus, cool misty mountains and flat plains make up the terrain. The crowning glory though is the magnificent Lake Malawi, also known as the “Lake of Stars” because its shimmering water reflects the bright sunshine.  This is the third largest lake in Africa and the ninth largest   in the world. The lake plummets to a maximum depth of a staggering 752 metres.

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Our first dive was to a dive site known as Aquarium, directly opposite Danforth yachting and just a short boat trip across the lightly rippling lake waters. No tides, no currents, no salt, no huge surf to launch through, this couldn’t be easier. We kitted up on board the little wooden dive boat, Rafiki, did our backwards roll into the water and descended into the crystal clear, fresh sweet water. An abundance of colourful tropical fish, small, bright, varied and beautiful swam around us. These fish are known as Cichlids (pronounced ‘sicklets’) and are endemic to the region. I felt like I was swimming in Grandpa’s fish tank. Bright luminous blue stripes offset by matt black, yellow and black horizontal stripes, plain blue rimmed with darker blue, mottled orange and black, clear blue with yellow spots, the vivid colours and abundance was breathtaking.

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Breeding season brings the dance of courtship and for those privileged enough to see it, fish are no different to other species. Many Malawi cichlids are mouth brooders. During mating season the plainer more drab females are attracted to the bright colours of the males. The male jiggles his body until the yellow spots on his anal fins virtually glow. The female confuses these spots with her eggs, tries to grab the spots with her mouth, thus fertilization takes place in the females mouth. The babies grow within the mother’s mouth. She spits them out in a safe nursery area and swims around guarding them. If the mother senses danger for her young, she will try and fend off the intruder, but for total safety, she scoops the babies back into her mouth.

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Our Divemaster pointed out a mother fish frantically swimming around her group of tiny little babies. As we watched closely, the babies grouped into a tight bundle and quick as a flash entered the mother’s mouth. A few stragglers didn’t make it in, so she swam around a second time, they regrouped and in they went. With cheeks bulging the mother swam around. When she senses the danger is past, she releases the young.

These smart little fish have evolved over the years to ensure survival of the species. All have fancy Latin names, for example; Cyathochromis obliquidens, Nimbochromis fuscotaeniatus, but for ease of use, our dive instructors have given them identifiable common names. The ‘around the corner fish’ is a smart little guy. He hovers, well camouflaged on the side of a rock, then darts over the rock at lightning speed and captures his prey unawares. So too ‘top deck’ named after the delicious chocolate slab, brown on the underside and pale on the top, he is also a stealth operator. Just before he strikes he subtly changes shades, the top goes dark and his underside pales, confusing his prey as to which direction he    is facing and he strikes with ease. The ‘play dead’ fish is fascinating to watch. He swims at full speed then suddenly all movement stops and he collapses as if in cardiac arrest. As he lies limp and useless, smaller fish move in closer, curious and unaware of the danger at which point, the life flows back into our very un-dead fish and he strikes out at his next meal.

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Not all of the Malawi cichlids are predatory. The algae eating fish ‘fat lips’ suck the algae off the rocks like a Kreepy- Krawly. During our 40 minute dive around the aquarium dive site we also saw blue tipped crabs, shoals of nearly transparent tiny sardine like Usipa and the slightly larger one-and-two dotted Utaka fish. The crater-like nests in the sand on the bottom are made by the male blue Chambo or Liani fish. These craters, exactly circular and carefully crafted are worked diligently by the males to attract a mate. Of course, the guy with the biggest, fanciest house gets the girl and competition in the fish world is fierce.

At a deeper depth of 25 metres dwell the creepy catfish. These long whiskered, sleek bodied, slimy looking fish grow to great lengths. Kampango and Vundu are the two main types of catfish lurking in the deeper waters.

Danforth is a prime location for a diving holiday. Cape Maclear is a World Heritage site and a fresh water marine reserve. Within a radius of 2.5 kilometres there are around 22 different dive sites, each unique in topography.

Rocks, boulders and swim-through’s make for some amazing dive experiences. The dive site known as “bakers oven” is a rocky outcrop with fabulous swim-through’s at a maximum of 15 metres.

Rays of light from above penetrate the many holes in the rocks with stage lighting effect. The tunnels are wide enough for diver plus kit, enticing even those divers normally cautious of caves.

Night dives are excellent. We set off just before sunset at 17h45 and were in the water at twilight. With our flashlight beams we spotted the nocturnal fish known as dolphin fish or Cornish Jack. Due to their very poor eyesight they have developed a magnetic field around them which helps them to determine their surroundings, sense danger and not bump into rocks. The Cichlids, in contrast to their daytime frantic swimming activity, were noticeably slower and sleepier at night.

For the more experienced divers, Zimbawe Rock offers a challenging, fascinating deep dive.  This site was rated  as ‘the best fresh water diving in the world’, by Full Circle magazine a few years ago.

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“Zimbawe Rock” is actually an underwater mountain, rising out of the lake. The mountain is tunneled with numerous channels to enter and exit, amazing swim-through’s, tunnels and boulders and abundant fish – brilliant diving in clear fresh water. This site can only be dived on calm days as there is no anchorage for the dive boat.

Danforth has a fleet of boats, all named after characters of the Lion King. The mighty Mufasa, the 38 foot, ten berth catamaran is the glory boat.  Immaculately cared  for and maintained, she is much loved by owner and Captain, Howard Massey-Hicks, Mufasa can be chartered for lake cruises to the far ends of Lake Malawi. Shenzi is a wonderful dive boat – a cedar wood, inboard engine, user friendly vessel with camping style facilities on board. The sturdy roof top is a great viewing platform, sun-tanning deck or launch pad for plunging off into the depths of cool, fresh waters.

Rafiki is a smaller wooden dive boat, easily maneuverable into nearby dive sites. Bench seats and no rails make Rafiki suitable for rear entry dive rolls in full dive kit. A removable step ladder is hooked onto the side of the boat at the end of the dive.

In addition to diving, Danforth is geared up for other great watersports. Kayaking, dingy sailing on Lasers, Hobie-cat Sailing, waterskiing, wakeboarding, tube rides, mountain biking, hikes, nature walks. There is truly something for everyone. Sun-loungers and shady  hammocks  around  the swimming pool offer a tempting rest between all the activities.

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So why dive Lake Malawi?

Easy access to dive sites, no tides, no major currents, no salt water. Warm, fresh clear water. Abundant fish, fascinating species, interesting rock formations, a variety of different dive sites, suitable for beginners through to advanced divers.

Coolest water temperatures:23C
Average water temperatures:27C
Warmest water temperatures:33C
Average visibility:15 metres
Good visibility:25 metres
When to visit:All year round
Best time to dive:Best months Sept-Dec

Danforth Lodge and Yacht charters. Cape Maclear.

Lake Malawi.

Tel. +(265) 99 9960077or 99 9960770

info@danforthyachting.com www.danforthyachting.com

While my lifetime dream to dive Lake Malawi has been fulfilled this has only whetted my appetite for more.  Farewell for now.  I shall return.

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

HSASA 50hr Dive-A-Thon 2017

HSASA 50hr Dive-A-Thon 2017

Handicapped Scuba Association South Africa is located in Centurion, Gauteng and is a non-profit company that specializes in training people with disabilities, on how to scuba dive.

Our NPC number is: 2014/027833/08. The directors of Handicapped Scuba Association SA are: Vic Hugo, Euvrard Geldenhuys and Melissa Leonard.  HSASA is busy planning and organizing a “HSASA 50hr Dive-A-Thon” for next year, 10-12th March 2017.

In short, our vision and mission of this fundraising event, is to organize and plan, dive trips for- and the training of new disabled divers for 2017 – so that they can too share in the experience of diving.  We need everyone’s support to come on board with this project. Our goal is to get as many dive schools and divers of all institutes, involved. Therefore we would like to ask every diver, to participate in this event and help us make it a HUGE success through buying dive-slots.

We have created a Facebook event and would like to invite everyone to join. https://www.facebook.com/events/1614728932163335/?active_tab=discussion

We are going to have two special events taking place on Saturday the 11th March 2017.
They are:
1.  “Sinking the Obstacle to Freedom” – illustrating that HSA’s are free at last and they have no limitations anymore…but more about this later….
2.  Lighting the cross with glowsticks on one night dive (Saturday night 19:00-20:00 dive slot). It’s going be so much fun, an experience and quite a sight to see. So be sure to book one of your slots on this hour.

We are going to have food stalls, great prizes to be won, a boma fire at night, jumping castle for the kiddies, etc…

Demo gear will be available and DAN will also be joining us.

The weather will still be nice and warm and we are going to have so much fun!! We are looking forward- and would love to have you all there with us…

How it works:
There have to be at least two people in the water at all times – for the duration of the dive-a-thon.  People can book their one hour slot and choose any hour between Friday 10:00 – Sunday 13:00, to do a dive. They can also book more than one slot.  The first dive will start on the Friday, 10th at 10:00 and the last dive will end on Sunday, 12th at 13:00. The cost is R150 per person, per dive-slot hour (even sponsors of dive-slots are welcome). We aim to book 750 dive-slots and more.  There will be a Rescue diver or higher qualified, at all times, to ensure the safety of everyone.

So, what if you don’t have the time to join us in person and do your slot, but want to contribute? Well, you can sponsor your R150, and we will find a diver to do your slot of your behalf.

We need you to make this event a great success !!!

Time of Dive-A-Thon:
Start : 10th Fri 2017 at 10:00
End : 12th Sun 2017 at 13:00

Place:
Miracle Waters, North West

So, how do you book your slot?  You can book your dive slot, by making a payment into the following account:
Handicapped Scuba Association SA
Bank : Absa
Type of account : Cheque
Account nr : 4083663706
Branch : Mall@reds Wierdapark
Branch code : 336-346
Reference : “name” and “dive-slot/s”
Please email your details and proof of payment to: melissa@hsa-sa.co.za

About HSASA: Scuba Diving has a great rehabilitative effect on people living with disabilities – so great, that it restores their self-confidence and human dignity, as well as gives them a new perspective in life. After being trained on how to scuba dive, they do not only gain new skills in recreational diving, but they also meet new long-lasting friends and have a sense of belonging. Scuba diving opens up a new world to disabled people, who thought that their lives are over. After being trained, the disabled divers start to live more adventurously and live their lives to the full.

When diving (and with the help of their dive buddies), the physically challenged and wheelchair bound people, get the opportunity to be free from gravity for approximately 50 minutes (duration of a dive) and are able to move as freely as they like. These disabled people’s outlook on life, are permanently changed.
People with various disabilities, ranging from: spina bifida, hearing loss, amputees, paraplegics, quadriplegics, muscular dystrophy, sight impairment, hemiplegics, cerebral palsy, cognitive disability and locked-in syndrome, are all trained and are known as HSA Divers.

We at Handicapped Scuba Association South Africa are dedicated and aim to change and improve the physical and social well-being of people living with disabilities, through the recreational sport of Scuba Diving. We are dedicated to ensure, that the disabled people whom we train, are given the same opportunity to receive quality training, certification and dive adventures – just like the able-bodied divers do.
We not merely just aim to train disabled people and to let them have a once off experience – NO!, it is also our desire and focus to assist these disabled divers, to continue to dive and also experience ocean dives, as well as to get them socially involved.

Therefore your contribution is not in vain.

Bookings are now open!

Our website is: www.hsa-sa.co.za

Our Facebook page: Handicapped Scuba Association SA:
https://www.facebook.com/HandicappedScubaAssociationSA?ref=br_tf

For any queries, please contact Melissa at: 083 545 8295 / melissa@hsa-sa.co.za

A fun weekend awaits all divers.

Malaria prevention and prophylaxis

Malaria prevention and prophylaxis

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DAN receives many inquiries from members regarding malaria. Indeed malaria has become an increasing problem due to drug resistance. As divers venture deeper into the African tropics they incur increasing risk of contracting malaria. Lack of medical facilities, transportation and communication add additional complexity to managing this medical emergency.

Three DAN members have required evacuation by air over the last three years due to malaria. Understanding malaria prophylaxis and general preventative measures is therefore of the utmost importance. The following section covers the most important considerations in selecting and using malaria prophylactic measures and medications. The treatment of malaria, which is complex and requires close medical supervision, falls outside the scope of this document.

The three commandments of malaria prevention and survival are:
1. Do not get bitten
2. Seek immediate medical attention if you suspect malaria
3. Take “the pill” (anti-malaria tablets/propftylaxis)

Do not get bitten

  • Stay indoors from dusk to dawn
  • If you have to be outside between dusk and dawn – cover up: long sleeves, trousers, socks, shoes (90% of mosquito bites occur below the knee)
  • Apply DEET containing insect-repellent to all exposed areas of skin, repeat four-hourly
  • Sleep in mosquito-proof accommodation: Air-conditioned, proper mosquito gauze, buildings/tents treated with pyrethrum-based insect repellent/insecticide
  • Burn mosquito coils/mats
  • Sleep under an insecticide impregnated (Permacote®/Peripel®) mosquito net (very effective)

Seek immediate medical attention if you suspect malaria

  • Any flu-like illness starting 7 days or more after entering a malaria endemic area is malaria until proven otherwise
  • The diagnosis is made on a blood smear or with an ICT finger prick test
  • One negative smear/ICT does NOT exclude the diagnosis (repeat smear/ICT diagnosis is made, another illness is diagnosed or the patient recovers spontaneously – i.e. from ordinary influenza)

Take “the pill”

There are several dangerous myths regarding malaria prophylaxis:

  • Prophylaxis does not make the diagnosis more difficult
  • It does protect against the development of cerebral malaria
  • Is not 100% effective – hence the importance of avoiding bites
  • Not all anti-malaria medication is safe for diving
  • Malaria is often fatal – making prophylaxis justified
  • Anti-malaria drugs, like all drugs, have potential side-effects, but the majority of side-effects decrease with time
  • Serious side-effects are rare and can be avoided by careful selection of a tablet or combination of tablets to suit your requirements (Country, region and season)

The following drugs are available for the prevention of malaria:

Doxycycline (Vibramycin® or Cyclido or Doryx®)

Used extensively in the prevention of Chloroquine resistant malaria. About 99% effective. Not officially recommended for use in excess of 8 weeks for malaria prevention, but it has been used for as long as three years with no reported adverse side effects. Offers simultaneous protection against tick-bite fever.

Dosage: 100mg after a meal daily starting 1 to 2 days before exposure until 4 weeks after exposure. Doxycycline should be taken with plenty of non-alcholic liquid.

Side effects: nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, allergy, photosensitisation. May cause vaginal thrush infections and reduces the efficacy of oral contraceptives.

Use in pregnancy: unsafe (as is scuba diving). Also, avoid during breast feeding and in children younger than 8 years of age.

Doxycycline is DAN’s first choice recommendation for divers in areas with choloquine resistance/”resistant malaria”.

Chloroquine (Nivaquine ® or Daramal ® or Plasmaquine ®):

Contains only chloroquine. Must be taken in combination with Proguanil (Paludrine ®)

Dosage: 2 tablets weekly starting one week before exposure until 4 weeks after leaving the endemic area Contra-indications: known allergy, epilepsy

Side effects: headache, nausea & vomiting, diarrhoea, rashes, may cause photosensitivity (sunburn – prevention, apply sun block)

Use in pregnancy: safe (note scuba diving is not considered safe during pregnancy)

Proguanil (Paludrine®)

Must be taken in combination with chloroquine (Nivaquine® or Daramal® or Plasmaquine®) Dosage: 2 tablets every day starting one week prior to exposure until 4 weeks after

Contra-indications: known allergy to Proguanil. Interactions with Warfarin (an anti-coagulant incompatible with diving)

Side-effects: heartburn (tip: take after a meal, with a glass of water and do not lie down shortly after taking Proguanil) mouth ulcers (tip: take folic acid tablets 5mg per day if this occurs) loose stools (self-limiting – no treatment required)

Use in pregnancy: safe but must be taken with folic acid supplement. 5mg per day (note scuba diving is not considered safe during pregnancy)

The combination of chloroquine & Proguanil is about 65% effective falciparum malaria. Although not a first choice, its relative safety and limited side effects may justify its use in certain individuals.

Atovaquone / Proguanil (Malarone ® ; Malanil ®)

Registered in South African as a causal prophylaxis in February 2004. Safety in diving has not been established. Preliminary data suggests it may be safe for pilot and divers.

Effective against Malaria isolates that are resistant to other drugs.

Controlled studies have shown a 98% overall efficacy of Atovaquone / Proguanil in the prevention of P. falciparum malaria

Dosage: 1 Tablet daily for adults, starting 24 – 48 hours prior to arrival in endemic area, during exposure in endemic areas and for 7 days after leaving the endemic area only.

Dose should be taken at the same time each day with food or a milky drink.

Contra-indications: Known allergy to Proguanil or Atovaquone or renal impairment (i.e., significant renal disease is likely to be incompatible with diving). Safety in children < 11kg has not been established.

Side-effects: Heartburn (Tip: Take after a meal, with a glass of water & do not lie down shortly after taking Proguanil); mouth ulcers. To date Atovaquone has been well tolerated and the most common adverse reaction being headache.

Use in Pregnancy: Safety in pregnancy and lactating women has not been established. (Note: SCUBA diving is not considered safe during pregnancy)

The safety of Malanil has not been confirmed in diving. Accordingly, even though preliminary data suggests that it may be safe, we are not able to recommend it. Doxycycline remains the first choice for divers diving in Africa where there is resistance to chloroquine.

Mefloquine (Lariam® or Mefliam®)

About 90% effective Dosage: one tablet per week.

Side effects: may cause drowsiness, vertigo, joint aches and interfere with fine motor co- ordination (making it difficult to exclude DCI in some cases)

Pregnancy: probably safe in early pregnancy and may be used with confidence after the first trimester of pregnancy. May be used in breast feeding and babies weighing more than 5kg.

Mefloquine is considered unsafe for divers and pilots. It is contra-indicated in epilepsy but us a good first choice for other travellers

Pyrimethamine/Dapasone (Maloprim® or Deltaprim®/Malzone®)

No longer regarded as effective but still recommended in Zimbabwe

Sulfadoxine and Pyrimethamine (Fansidar®)

No longer used as a prophylactic.

Quinine (Lennon-Quinine Sulphate®)

Not used for prophylaxis but is the backbone in the treatment of moderate and severe malaria. Serious side-effects are not uncommon during treatment.

Arthemeter (Cotexin®)

fte “Chinese drug”. Available in some areas of Africa. Not for prophylaxis. Used in combination with other drugs in the treatment of mild to moderate malaria.

Halofantrine (Halfan)

Not used for prophylaxis and best avoided for treatment.

Recommended malaria drug prophylaxis in DAN Southern African region (Africa and Indian Ocean islands)

malaria

* In situations where the risk of contracting malaria is low, (e.g. in cities, air conditioned hotel or when rainfall has been low, etc.) the traveller may be advised to take no drug prophylaxis but stand-by treatment mus t be carried unless medical care is readily available. Personal protection against bites must be adhered to at ALL TIMES.

# high risk people include babies and children under 5 years, pregnant woman, elderly people (and greater than 65 years), people with suppressed immunity (e.g. diabeties, etc)

Notes:

  1. The above mentioned recommendations were compiled from material supplied by the National Department of Health and Worldwide Travel Medical Consultants.Prohpylaxis significantly reduces the incidence of malaria and slows the onset of serious symptoms of malaria
  2. All anti-malaria drugs excluding Mefloquine are considered compatible with diving
  3. Like with all other medications, anti-malaria drugs should be tried and tested on land well in advance
  4. If unpleasant side-effects occur, please consult your diving doctor
  5. Whether or not you take prophylaxis, be paranoid about malerial Malaria can presrnt in many ways varying from fever or diarrhoea to flu-like symptoms. Always inform your doctor that you have been in a malaria area. Symptoms can start within 7 to 14 days from first exposure until 30 days (and rarely even months) after leaving a malaria area.
  6. No single medication is 100% effective and barrier mechanisms (personal protection against bites e.g. mosquito repellents, nets, protective clothing, not going outdoors from dusk to dawn) must be
  7. Any strange symptom occurring during or within 6 weeks of leaving a malaria area should be regarded with suspicion and requires medical

If you think that you may have malaria or are concerned about unexplained symptoms after visiting a malaria area, contact DAN immediately on 0800 020111 or +27(0)11 242 0112.

Frans J Cronjé, MBChB(Pret), BSc(Hons) Aerosp Med
Albie De Frey, MBChB(Pret)
Hermie C Britz, MBChB(Pret), BSc(Hons) Aerosp Med

Mombasa es su casa: A Kenyan Underwater Escape

Mombasa es su casa: A Kenyan Underwater Escape

Diving in Mombasa is arguably the best diving in Kenya. Mombasa Marine Park has been up and running for 26 years now, and is Kenya Wildlife Services’ (KWS) flagship Marine Park. The sea life is abundant, with over 400 species of fish having colonised the thriving coral reef; ensuring a great experience for everyone.

Text and images by Bruno Kinross

Around August and September, humpback whales pass by on their annual migration. The wondrous whale sharks quickly follow them between November and March; accompanied by the elusive manta ray on occasion. If pelagic diving enthusiasts are still not satisfied, then there are plenty of white tip reef sharks to been seen, as well as a variety of dolphin species. There has recently been the second ever-recorded sighting of humpback dolphins; allowing for a truly special encounter with their cetacean cousins: the spinner and bottlenose, often seen in the surrounding waters. There used to be tiger sharks, hammer-heads, guitar sharks and bull sharks, but due to global exploitation populations have been decimated, making frequent encounters a thing of the past.

With all the larger species around it is easy to forget the smaller things in life and this is an area where Mombasa can really deliver a true feast. There is a fringing reef that runs most of the length of the coast and in Mombasa this provides a nice protected lagoon where macro species can thrive. Sea-horses, nudis, Frogfish, dragon seamoths, pipefish, lionfish and puffers are just a few of the things you might find.

There are a few dive operators in the area, but Buccaneer Diving is the only 5 Star IDC centre in East Africa, with Course Director Bruce Philips at the helm. Their main base is at the Voyager Hotel in Nyali, but they also have bases at White-Sands Hotel in Bamburi, the Mnarani Club in Kilifi and also Page in Zanzibar.

Being the only IDC centre in East Africa means they are the only centre that can offer all levels of training from the Discover Scuba Diver for those who are just taking their first tentative steps into the sea, all the way up to Instructor level for those who would like to look to diving for a career. They also offer a wide range of specialties, as well as being able to provide Nitrox for those who just can’t stand to get out of the water and want those extended bottom times. It is an extra 5 euros per double dive if you want some of the superior mix.

They operate within the Mombasa Marine Park, with dive sites on either side of the fringing reef. The house reef, Angies, is just a few hundred meters away, which also makes it the choice dive site for night dives. Venturing to the outer side of the reef is where the diving is at its best. In September to December the visibility can reach up to 30 meters, with the sea temperature at around 29 degrees. However, in the wet months this decreases greatly to as low as 3-4 metres but averages around 6-10m and a temperature of between 24-26 degrees.

For those with a taste for wrecks, in 2002, Buccaneer, in association with Project AWARE, sank the 74m ex cattle carrier MV Dania. The Dania is undoubtedly the best wreck dive available in Kenya with depths ranging from 18 to 30 metres. Shallower diveable structures include the bridge, the hull and the massive upper deck, which are ideal for less qualified divers. Dania is well colonised and is home to large groupers, batfish, barracuda, moray eels and a colourful array of other fish and large schools of Jacks. The Dania is not the only wreck in the area, as there is also the MV Globe Star and MV Kota Menang (ships which hit the reefs in the 1970s), though they can only be dived at the right tides. You can find diving information regarding Buccaneer on their website at www.buccaneerdiving.com.

Buccaneer also runs all of the watersports activities for the hotel and there are a range of sailing boats available from funboats and picos to catamarans and windsurfs. Aside from the sailing there is kayaking and for those who still want to see underwater without actually getting wet there is the glass bottom boat option that also gives you the choice to snorkel if you should want to.

The upside to operating in a Marine Park is of course the better marine life to be seen, but the downside is that you must pay a marine park fee every day you choose to go in to the sea. It is $15 per day, so not cheap considering the size of the park. This does, of course, add up so if you plan to dive everyday for a week or two, make sure you remember to add this cost in your budget if you are planning to head that way.

All the dives off the outer side of the reef are drift dives and dive masters all carry permanent surface marker buoys so there is no need to worry about getting lost, and for those who just like to be lazy it is the perfect choice. The majority of the diving takes place along one main stretch of reef, with dive sites like ‘Shark Point’; named after the white tip reef sharks often seen there, and ‘Kasa’ which means ‘turtle’ in Kiswahili. There is a healthy amount of green and hawksbill turtles and you will see them more often than not. As you drift along you move past schools of Bluestripe and Bigeye snappers, fusiliers rush past you in both directions, being chased by Bluefin trevally while large brown-marbled groupers sit to be cleaned. There are areas where you get swarms of glassfish and baby barracuda. The list goes on…

There is a great contrast between diving inside the Marine Park and outside of it. Beyond the Park’s perimeter various forms of fishing have almost entirely destroyed the corals, although dynamiting has not been as prevalent in Kenya as it has been in neighboring Tanzania. As a result there are few fish to be seen outside of the reserve. Mombasa Marine Park is far from an exemplary reserve, mostly because the Government Fisheries Department issue licenses to people to be allowed to use nets in the reserve area, completely defeating the objective of a marine park.

It was a great shame when the government made drag netting legal again at the end of last year under the auspices of trying to alleviate local poverty. The reality of this is that it does not make locals one shilling better off as the people manning these nets are now largely from Pemba, Zanzibar and Tanzania. After destroying their own coast-line, these foreign nationals are employed by the owners of the nets (often ex members of parliament) so that they can pay them a far lower wage than their Kenyan counterparts.

There are also many areas where the use of such large destructive nets is viewed very badly by local fishermen and so workers are brought in to man them. The end result is that none of the increased revenue from the larger catches gets back to the local community but instead whisked away to line the pockets of someone much higher up the food chain. KWS has recently introduced regular beach clean ups, which is already making a difference and with continued pressure from the public, there is hope. KWS is starting to see the importance of the reefs and the potential income they can generate from tourism, but much expansion of the reserves is needed.

There are many hotels around Mombasa, but Voyager is perfectly apt as a mid range all-inclusive resort. Despite all the other development happening around Mombasa, the existing hotels have remained relatively untouched, leaving many which are most definitely in need of a re-vamp; made all the more backward by the absence of more exclusive boutique hotels. The costs for hotels range from around $90-$300 per night depending on season but for those on a tighter budget there is also cheaper accommodation at places like ‘The Mombasa Backpackers’, where it is $12 for a dorm bed for the night.

Outside of diving there are places where kite surfing is available and a full range of courses to be had. One of the best is Pepea Kitesurf based at Mombasa Beach Hotel. It is hard not to be infected by the obvious passion and love for the sport that the owner and instructor John Koyiet has. It is also well worth a trip to the south coast to visit Diani where you can find the ’40 Thieves Bar’ that has been ranked in the top ten bars of the world. Here there is a range of accommodation and smaller boutique style places start to appear. Linzi Kennaway who grew up on this Kenya South coast paradise created Kenyaways Diani Beach, Galu side, in July 2008. If you are heading down that way it is somewhere well worth checking out. It sits with the garden leading on to the beach and has beautiful views straight out to the sea. Linzi, not only a great hostess, is also an experienced kitesurfing instructor and there are few places more perfect to learn at. HO Extreme; Kenya’s leading kite school takes care of this side of things and they are also based at Kenyaways.

Mombasa is Kenya’s second biggest city, and with a population of around 1 million it is growing at a phenomenal rate. The development over the last few years has been massive; large numbers of apartment and office buildings have been going up and even the development of the new city mall is rapidly modernising the look of the area, while, however, the infrastructure still lags behind. The people are incredibly warm and friendly and are always ready to welcome you. Just a few hours drive away are some great safaris; Shimba hills is under two hours away, Tsavo east and west maybe 4-5 hours. About 8% of the Kenya’s land mass is protected area for wildlife conservation. The protected areas comprise of 23 terrestrial National Parks, 28 terrestrial National Reserves, 4 marine National Parks, 6 marine National Reserves and 4 national sanctuaries.1

Mombasa is served by Moi International Airport and is just under an hour flight from Nairobi, making it easy to get to from all parts of the world. Direct flights to Johannesburg are also now operating straight to Moi.

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Stunning Sodwana Bay

Stunning Sodwana Bay
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Launch for a dive in Sodwana

The summer of 2001 was my first dive trip to Sodwana bay. For my first dive, we launched just after 7am and already the African sun was high in the sky. Our dive boat skipped over the calm ocean en route to our dive location – a reef called 7-Mile. After a 30-minute boat ride the skipper brought the boat to a stop and immediately organised chaos broke out as everybody grabbed for fins and masks. One by one, the skipper helped everyone kit-up before maneuvering the boat to the exact location above the reef using landmarks. At first I was not convinced that anybody could locate a reef using landmarks and triangulation but to this day I have never been dropped incorrectly. The skipper then counted down 3-2- 1 and we all rolled backwards off the boat in unison. We were greeted by a kaleidoscope of colour and large schools of goatfish and blue banded snapper which hung in mid-water above the reef.

Text and Images by Paul Hunter

Cresent-tail Bigeye
Cresent-tail Bigeye create great contrast with the blue background

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Lionfish flaring for a great image

Glassfish
Thousands of Glass fish surround divers

There were so many fish I felt like I was in an aquarium. From that initial moment I knew Sodwana was a special place and have since never been disappointed. That dive went on to be one of those spectacular dives with large moray eels, turtle, nudibranches and much more. To this day, 7-Mile reef is still one of my favorites with its many swim throughs, over- hangs and mushroom rock.

Over the past 6 years I have spent diving holidays in Indonesia (Bali, Wakatobi, Bunaken, Lembeh), the Red Sea (North and South) and Malaysia (Sipadan), and after every trip I realise what Sodwana and South African diving has to offer. I believe diversity is the word I’m looking for. Don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoy diving internationally and will continue to as long as it offers something different. However, for me, these international destinations seem to be lacking something. I call it the “wild factor” which I believe diving in South Africa offers. On any given dive in Sodwana you have a good chance of seeing manta, turtles, whale shark, numerous other shark species and dolphin plus an abundance of macro subjects. And that’s just underwater. The entire bay is surrounded by a massive sand dune covered in a dense coastal forest which offers plenty other animal life.

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Leopard shark on the sand

I believe diving in Sodwana can compare with any top dive destination in the world due to its variety of coral reefs, phenomenal sea life and all year round good visibility. The reefs of Sodwana are regarded as the southern most coral reefs in the world and the only tropical dive site in South Africa. Divers are exposed to more than 1200 species of fish on the many reefs. The point I’m trying to make is reinforced every year at the Sodwana Shootout. Each
year, while viewing the images of all the contestants I’m blown away at what is available right here on my doorstep. I ask myself the same question every year: “why do I do international trips when I have all this diversity right here in the country I live in”.

My favorite Sodwana dive spots

9 Mile Reef is the furthest and takes about 40 minutes, depending on the conditions. The great thing about this trip is that there is a good chance of seeing and possibly swimming with dolphin and whale shark, and in season humpback and southern right whales. The dive site comprises some small walls, caves, overhangs and pinnacles. This reef is best known for the “Green Tree”; a coral tree that stands tall, surrounded by goldies and other fish. The maximum depth is 22 meters on the sand
and average depth about 18 meters. Due to its distance from the launch site, the reef is not dived often so is in pristine condition. The marine life is diverse and includes most of the tropical fauna typical of the region as well as big schools of passing game fish.
7 Mile Reef, just 25 minutes from the beach, to me, the most scenic reef in Sodwana. The maximum depth is 24 metres and the average around 18 metres. This reef is in immaculate condition and is populated by every type of fish imaginable. There are large schools of snapper and goatfish that hang in mid-water. Their yellow bodies contrast against the blue water making for unbelievable visuals. The reef is well known for the amphitheatre and mushroom rock. Also have a look out for turtles, rays, kingfish and much, much more. This is definitely not a dive spot to be missed.
• About 20 minutes from the beach lies 5 Mile reef. This reef is well known for ‘pothole’ which is an amazing spot for macro photography opportunities and it never disappoints. Also have a look around the top of pothole and on the sand around it. I have come upon numerous surprises here. 5 Mile is a flattish reef with spectacular plate and stag horn corals. Just inshore from 5 Mile at a depth of approx 20 metres is Ribbon reef. This a also a great reef for macro sea life and is named after the ribbon eels that reside here.
2 Mile Reef is only about 5 minutes by boat from the beach. It is a very large reef with numerous places to dive. The reef ’s depth ranges from 8–10 metres to 16–18 metres with an average of 12 metres. Some of the spots you can dive are: Chain, Pinnacles, Caves and Overhangs, Coral gardens, Four Bouy and my favorite, Antons. This reef has many gullies, ledges, pinnacles and outcrops. I have seen everything from turtles, schooling jacks, reef shark and many more. The thing I like about 2 Mile is the diversity of the coral and fish life.
Quarter Mile Reef is basically just behind the breakers and about 12 metres deep. In the summer months this reef is home to ragged tooth sharks that come here to gestate. This dive can only be done when the conditions are right. So if the conditions and season are right I would highly recommend it.

Whaleshark
Plenty of Whale sharks can be spotted in Sodwana during the correct season

Two other reefs that I have to mention are Stringer and Bikini as they are both awesome dives. Stringer lies between quarter and 2-mile reef. It consists of 2 reefs – small stringer and big stringer. Small Stringer is a round piece of coral which attracts a lot of juvenile fish. Big Stringer is more of an elongated reef. It is normally dived on the shore side and when conditions are calm. The other reef I want to tell you about is Bikini. It runs parallel to 2 Mile and is mainly flat . My favorite location on this reef is the Ledge, which is a fair-sized cleaning station. The macro photography opportunities here are world-class. It’s a deep dive and therefore more suited to an advanced diver.

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Let me tell you a little about Sodwana now. Sodwana Bay or, “little one on its own” in Zulu, lies in the heart of Maputaland. It is also situated within the Greater St Lucia Wetland park, South Africa’s first World Heritage Site. Both Maputoland and the St Lucia Marine Reserve are linked to form a continuous protected area stretching 150 kilometres on land and 3 nautical miles out to sea. Sodwana is easily accessible by a 4 hour dive from Durban and 7 hours from Johannesburg.

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Conditions are generally good throughout the year with the best diving from April to September. Visibility can be up to 30 metres on a good day and the average is around 14 metres. The weather is typically subtropical with water temperature above 20°C reaching as high as 29°C in summer.

All the dive sites of Sodwana Bay are named according to the distance from the launch site. The majority of the dive sites are shallow, with an average of around 18 metres. There are however several deeper sites available for those qualified.

It is not only diving that makes Sodwana an exquisite destination. There is also snorkeling, bird watching, hiking, turtle viewing and much more. With its scenic beauty and close proximity to some world-renowned game reserves, Sodwana Bay is the perfect destination for divers who would like to experience the wilder side of life.

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Sodwana is more than just diving, it can be an adventure. A must do is turtle viewing at Sodwana Bay. Five known species of turtle regularly visit Sodwana. Two of which, the Loggerhead and Leatherback, visit every year during the summer months (November to March) at night to lay their eggs. To experience these creatures coming ashore to nest is an incredible sight. Even more incredible is when you get to experience the hatchlings struggling to survive the furry of predators. This event only takes place in a few places in the world. Maputoland boasts the longest running protected program for turtles in the world. Night turtle tours are provided during December and January. Departure times vary with the tide.

Muzi Pans
Just a short 35 minute drive from Sodwana is Muzi Pans which is an little oasis away from the crowds and easily accessible via a tar road. The pans are situated on the Mkhuze river floodplain between Mkhuze Game Reserve and Lake St Lucia. The pan is home to Nile crocodile, hippos and an abundance of bird species. On a good day up to 100 different species can be seen here. The area does have Zululand Birding Route trained local bird guides who can assist you with birding in the area and a guided canoe trip can also be taken on the pan with trained canoe guides. It is well worth the effort to visit Muzi Pans.

Lake Sibaya – Mabibi
Another great location to visit is Lake Sibaya, with its 100 kilometres of untouched shoreline. It is South Africa’s largest freshwater lake measuring 70 square kilometres. The lake lies within the Isimangaliso Wetland Park and is now a World Heritage Site. It provides a habitat for birds, mammals and marine life. This lake has the second largest population of hippos and crocodile in KwaZulu-Natal and is also an important habitat for many bird species. In dry spells, Lake Sibaya is the only source of water for birds and mammals in the area. The entire wetland also supports many of the rural people who in many cases are totally dependent on the water resources. If you are into bird watching then Lake Sibaya is the place for you with 279 species recorded at the lake alone. This wetland is very important for breeding, roosting and feeding. Some of the species you can expect to see are red and white breasted cormorants; pied, giant and malachite kingfishers; fish eagles and a variety of herons, darters and egrets. Waders include white-fronted sand plover, black-winged stilt, avocent, greenshank and spoonbills. Also recorded at the lake are the much sought-after pel’s fishing owl, pygmy goose, palmnut vulture, flamingo, woodward’s batis and rufousbellied heron.

Game viewing or safaris for our international readers
Another reason I have always thought Sodwana to be an international destination is that it offers visitors the chance to do some world class diving and then also experience some of our country’s best game parks. Just think, you can dive in the morning and in the afternoon be on a game drive viewing the Big 5. It does not get better than that.
There are numerous game parks close to Sodwana.

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Below are some of the better-known ones:
Hluhluwe Game Reserve is one of the oldest reserves in Africa . It is also well known for its role in rhino conservation. The park stretches over 96 000 hectares and is home to the Big Five as well as more elusive animals, such wild dog, giraffe, cheetah and Nyala. The northern section of the park is known for the diverse range of both animal and bird life. Guided walks are also available and best to do early morning or late afternoon.  Numerous types of accommodation are available. Hluhluwe is located in a low risk malaria area so visitors should consult their doctors before visiting.
Thanda Game Reserve is a private reserve and lodge that offers ultimate luxury and world-class service. They offer 9 luxurious villas in the main lodge and 4 large luxurious tents in the tented camp. Thanda offers the Big Five and much more. The game restoration project has been successfully launched and the reserve is witnessing its 4th breeding season since the land was purchased in 2002.
Phinda Private Game Reserve is located in the lush Maputaland region in northern KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Phinda comprises of 23 000 hectares (57 000 acres) of prime conservation land. They offer an abundance of wildlife including Africa’s Big Five (lion, leopard, elephant, black and white rhino, buffalo) and over 380 bird species. Guests can look forward to exciting game-drives in open 4×4 safari vehicles led by experienced rangers and Zulu trackers Phinda has seven safari lodges which all offer sophistication and style in the African bush.

Jean Tresfon

Jean Tresfon
Jean Tresfon
Jean Tresfon

Jean Tresfon is an underwater photographer by inclination if not by profession. Born and bred in Cape Town, he started diving in 1990, completing a 1-star certification through SAUU. Diving quickly became an all consuming passion and in 1995 he became a PADI certified instructor and ran a dive charter boat for a number of years. In 1998 he gave up the charter business and joined the world of commerce, but continued to spend every spare moment underwater. For the next five years he concentrated his efforts on the shipwrecks of the West Coast area, researching and diving on as many wrecks as possible. Then in 2002 he bought his first digital camera in a waterproof housing and was completely hooked.

Jean has travelled extensively, having dived in the Carribean, the Canary Islands, Gibraltar, the Isle of Man, Kenya, Zanzibar, Pemba, Mauritius, the Maldives, the Red Sea, Indonesia and West Papua, as well as the Philippines and Micronesia to name but a few. However he still prefers the cold waters of the Cape to any other dive destination, and believes it to be one of the world’s finest venues for underwater photography with a truly astounding variety of subjects.

The Southern Red Sea

The Southern Red Sea
Playful Dolphins at Dolphin reef

The “Deep South”, as it is sometimes referred to, must be one of the best kept secrets in the Red Sea. Yes it may be further to travel, but that is little to sacrifice for world-renowned encounters with friendly dolphins, wall diving (which must be some of the best in the world), forests of soft coral covering every inch of reef, perfect conditions and visibility that stretches on forever. It is further to travel but, to me, the ultimate benefit of being further away was the fact that 4 days went by before we saw another boat on the same reef as us.

Text and Images by Paul Hunter

After a disappointing trip to the Northern Red sea I was hesitant to return. I had placed the Red Sea on a pedestal. Yes the conditions were perfect and the visibility awesome but there was nothing to see from a fish life perspective. I have to admit though that the two wrecks we did, the Thistlegorn and the Dunraven, were unbelievable and an experience of a life-time.

One of the few times we saw other dive boats on the reefs we were diving

After much persuasion, I was convinced to return. But this time hundreds of kilometres south; the Deep South. I was told that the reefs were what the north was like 15 years ago. I joined a group of about 20 people most of whom are underwater photographers and good friends. This definitely added to the experience of the trip.

Let’s face it travelling to Egypt and the Red Sea is an adventure unlike anywhere else in the world. There is something mystical about the place, I think it has something to do with a history dating back thousands of years. A time of Pharaohs and Gods and a civilization ahead of it’s time. It was time to return to Egypt and the Red Sea.

Driving through Marsa Alam en-route to the harbour I soon realised that this once small fishing village on the western coast of the Red Sea is blooming into a Riviera. It is destined to become another Sharm El Sheik as a top diving destination. Marsa Alam is located some 250km south of Hurghada. Since the opening of its international airport in 2001 this small village has become more popular and accessible. In some way, i wanted to be selfish and stop progress so this place and the unspoilt reefs can remain just as they are.

Dolphin on Dolphin reef
Dolphin on Dolphin reef

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Clown fish in anemone

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Spectacular soft corals

Dolphin Reef, as its name describes, is home to a very large pod of friendly Dolphin. It’s a shallow horse-shoe shaped reef structure, basically in the middle of nowhere. I would highly recommend this experience to anybody who is in the near vicinity of this magical place. To spend time with these highly intelligent mammals and in such an awesome environment is a once-in-a-life-time must. From the time I hit the water it was almost a sensory overload swimming with them; from their high pitched clicking sounds bouncing off my body to being surrounded by no less than 10 dolphins at a time. The more we wanted to interact with them the more they seemed to want to interact with us. I was unsure if they were used to interaction with people or were just unafraid of us as they came right up to me, swimming continually around me in circles or from straight up from below. The interaction was surreal and I’m still unsure who was having more fun; them or us. We must have spent 90 minutes in the water with them before we had to call for the boats to pick us up as we were all exhausted.

The Red Sea and ship wrecks are synonymous so this trip would not be complete without at least one wreck dive. The Abu Galawa Wreck is not a big wreck. In fact it’s only a sailboat, and it lies at the base of the reef on its starboard side in 18m of water. The wreck is very picturesque and great for photographers and the opportunity should not be missed. The boat is mostly intact, except for decking and the upper structure. The inside is filled with a massive shoal of glassfish. I have tried to find out more about this wreck but to no avail. The only information I have is from the guides who told us that’s it’s an American sailboat that sank in 2002.

Small yacht that had collided with reef now an awesome wreck

Diversity, diversity and more diversity is something this trip had from the start and St John’s Cave was no different. From the surface it looks like somebody went to work on the reef with a pizza cutter. I could make out the myriad of tunnels which form an underwater maze through the reef. With our boat moored on the southern side of the reef we were informed that there were two openings to the north which would lead us into the tunnel system. At this stage I must point out that we were extremely lucky as our captain and dive guides gave us a lot of freedom. The captain was very flexible in terms of the different dive locations and the dive guides let us do our own thing. This helped with the bunch of photographers onboard and went a long way in keeping the peace. The dive on this reef was another highlight for me. What we found while diving here was unbelievable. There were deep cracks in the coral plate which provided us with tunnels to navigate and explore. These same cracks allowed shafts of light to penetrate right down to the seabed. It was mesmerising and cathedral-like to witness. What a pleasure to photograph these scenes. Although some of these cracks were narrow to swim through I never felt unsafe or lost as the cracks always opened up to bigger caverns or to the sea again.

Cathedral light at St Johns Caves

Wall diving
Endless visibility and wall dives

Thousands of Goldies surround the reefs

Wonderful Wall diving. With famous names like St Johns and Elphinestone on the agenda, to mention a few, I knew the wall diving was going to be good. To be honest, the wall diving exceeded my expectations. The walls were covered from top to bottom with pristine hard and soft corals. In some places there were forests of soft coral on the wall. This made for awesome underwater photographic opportunities. We were very fortunate that we never really had strong currents on our dives. This meant we could do the dives at our own pace and really get to enjoy some of the wonders on these reefs. Elphinestone lived up to its name as a magical dive site with unbelievable corals and a large variety of fish life. Another good reason to visit this location is the possibility of seeing Oceanic Whitetip shark. Unfortunately we did not get to see any this time, but that is nature and what will keep me coming back.

The phrases: unspoilt, secluded, diverse and some of the best diving I have ever done, sum up my experience. This is really a special place to visit and dive – one which I will highly recommend. If you are looking for an adventure with unspoilt reefs and secluded dive sites this is the place for you. It’s far away from the hustle and bustle of the north. I would also recommend doing this trip on a liveaboard as many of the locations are too far for day trips. With calm surface conditions, visibility that stretches forever and pristine reefs this trip is well worth it.

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