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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Geo Cloete

Geo Cloete

DSC_4372For some of us walking the planet, the allure of the ocean is so intense that it plays a pivotal role in our lives because we long passionately to spend as much time possible on, or in, it.

We soul-search as to why this undying love for the ocean burns so fiercely in me, took me down numerous paths. Many varied conclusions were reached, but none which singularly captured the essence. For now, I am content to accept that it’s the sum of all those, and more, as to why the ocean forms an inseparable part of my life.

Subconsciously it started years before I even saw the ocean for the first time, but became a reality the day when a friendly surfer spurred me on for an incoming set wave. e thrill and emotions I felt on that day as I sped down the unbroken face of a wave for the first time, is etched into my mind. I knew from that moment on, the ocean had opened its doors to a new child; for a life inside it rather than next to it.

Only much later in my life did I add scuba diving to my repertoire of ocean lifestyle. I went through the mill of completing numerous dive courses, but from the start the desire was there to be able to capture the beautiful world below the surface in an artistic manner. It’s easy to forget when practicing a sport/ hobby/activity which is exclusive to a relatively small number of people on the planet just how fortunate you are. I therefore, consider myself privileged, not only for being able to explore the last “Great Frontier” in person, but also for being able to capture part of its beauty and to share it with a wider audience.

It brought me great joy the other day when somebody commented on a series of photos of mine, saying that they made him feel that he was there when the photos were taken.

It took a few years of saving and building up to my current rig, but it has been worth every bit of effort that went into it. With little over three and a half years shooting my DSLr setup, I am still new on the scene. However, I would like to think that what I lack in years I am making up for with passion, a hunger to learn and the sheer number of hours I spend in the water. Further I am thankful for my design/creative background as I do feel its aiding me in steering towards my goals.

I love shooting macro and wide angle equally and am very glad it turned out like that. Each discipline has such unique challenges and exposes me to such varied facets of ocean life. I can’t imagine shooting only the one or the other. As an added bonus, there is always the possibility of discovering new creatures in the Cape’s waters and shooting both disciplines, I believe, in- creases that possibility.

As a proud Capetonian I try to promote the city as a viable dive destination. Other than spreading the word, I have also created the Facebook group, Cape Town ~Just beyond the Shoreline ~. Its aim being to showcase the rich and beautiful marine life people can get to see by simply swimming out a few meters from our shoreline. There are some further ideas around this concept which I would like to bring to light,

but am still searching to reach that “right” person at Cape Town Tourism.

Travelling and exploring is in my blood. Although I have travelled abroad to some wonderfully exotic destinations, it was done prior to owning my current rig. So the time is ripe to introduce my beloved camera to some foreign far-o destinations. is year I was very fortunate to enjoy a few wonderful dives along Kwazulu Natal’s South Coast and the Wild Coast. Not only was it a pleasure to experiment in those warm, azure blue waters, but great new friends were made along the way. I am looking forward to exploring more of the wonders along that part of our magnificent coastline in the future.

To view more of my work, please visit:

http://www.thebigpicturelibrary.com/FrozenPixels

Joe Daniels

Joe Daniels

AD00004Ever since I can remember I have been fascinated by the underwater world and the creatures that live in it. I can remember looking through photographs that my father had  taken  whilst  diving  in the Maldives and knowing that I wanted to spend as much time    as possible underwater.  As soon as I left school I volunteered for a Marine conservation expedition in the Seychelles. This is where I first started taking photographs underwater with a supposedly ‘waterproof’ digital compact. I spent every free moment snorkeling with my camera just taking snap shots of the myriad tropical fish and corals. So after six months on the expedition I was completely hooked on underwater photography. After the Seychelles I completed my Divemaster course back in the UK then travelled to Australia. The majority of my time I spent working on diving and snorkeling boats on Ningaloo Reef. By this time I had already upgraded to a basic Canon compact with a housing which, I then sold to buy a housing for my father’s old Canon G9. This camera opened up a whole new world for me, photography wise, and is where I really homed my skills as a underwater photographer. I never went out on a boat without my camera and took full advantage of having the Ningaloo Reef as my training ground.

Ningaloo gave me a huge amount of experience not only photographically, but as a diver and deckhand. I now work on the Marine Conservation Expedition I volunteered for back in 2007 and have upgraded to a housed DSLR. I still spend every spare moment snorkeling with my camera in hand. Although I spend my working week diving, I prefer free diving in order to capture the images I am after. This allows me to get closer and spend more time with my subjects. Most of my images are wide angle using a Tokina 10-17mm fish eye lens, although the introduction of a 60mm Macro lens to my kit has opened my eyes to the possibilities of macro photography.

I have spent every available opportunity of the past year free diving and photographing the rich and diverse marine life that can be found within the Marine Parks of North West Mahe, Seychelles.

Camilla Floros

Camilla Floros

AD00002Born and bred in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, Camilla is a marine biologist based at the Oceanographic Research Institute in Durban. Her desire to become a marine biologist was initiated at a very young age on a small Mozambican island where she witnessed the successive decline of the surrounding coral reefs due to over exploitation and the lack of conservation awareness. After numerous years of study, Camilla achieved her goal by attaining a PhD in marine biology. Her research interests are dedicated to assessing the impacts of human activities on coral reef communities and providing reef managers with improved conservation strategies.

Camilla has been an avid underwater photographer since she started diving and her photography has evolved to become an integral part of her profession as a marine researcher. She has dived extensively throughout the East, documenting the way in which different cultures interact with marine habitats. Camilla has also focused much of her attention on South Africa’s coral reefs which are unique because of their high biodiversity and status as one of the southern-most reefs in the world. Camilla uses her underwater images as a communication medium to bridge the gap between scientific research and public awareness. Her purpose is to educate people of all ages and backgrounds about coral reefs (and other marine ecosystems) and the many stressors that threaten their future.

You can read more about Camilla’s research and see her images on her webpage www.wetlens.co.za.

Mike Fraser

Mike Fraser
Mike Fraser

I grew up on the KZN coast and salt water runs in my family’s veins.  Tales of the ones that were landed and the leviathans that got away, echo in my childhood memories. My parents gave me a green Champion mask for my 6th birthday and when I put my head under water I knew for sure that this was my realm.  The allure of the last great wilderness still beckons me and I have planned my life around it ever since.

In my teens I enjoyed spear fishing and first experienced scuba diving when I went to university.  In those days BC’s were a rarity, contents gauges had not prevailed over j-valves and dive computers were a distant dream. Any form of underwater photographic equipment was way beyond my reach and I stuck to spear fishing until the floods of 1988 put a halt to my predation. Friends persuaded Valda and me to join them on a scuba diving course. After the qualifying dives at Sodwana, the hook was set beyond extraction, spear guns gathered dust in the garage and we began to make lasting friends in the deep. Big creatures – potato bass, sharks, morays – are my passion while Valda fancies the macro stuff. This makes dive planning, let’s say, interesting.

Our first venture into underwater photography was in the early ‘90’s, when we managed to buy a 2nd hand Nikonos V and Ikelite strobe. Those were the days of extension tubes and framers for macro and guesswork for wide angle. I moved into video in the days when we were pioneering shark diving on Protea Banks. While the picture quality was not much better than on our current cell phones, it was great to let others share the dive at home on the TV set. I think it’s the instant gratification that does it for me.

My interest in stills photography blossomed with the advent of the digital SLR. We started out with a D70 late in 2004 and the ability to see underwater what I had bagged, appealed to me. I must say, it was quite a steep learning curve in the transition from video, where you have numerous frames to weave a story. Freezing an instant in time so that it makes a clear and appealing statement, can be quite a task. I’ve never been particularly motivated by competitions. As I’ve progressed I’ve become more discerning and demanding of myself. The challenge is like a staircase spiralling upward forever.

We love to explore un-dived reefs and fortunately there are many in our wilderness. We have recently acquired re-breathers and this adds a new dimension to exploration and photography. You get that smug feeling when bubble-blowing buddies head for the surface with a heap of deco, while the re-breather’s computer gives you several hours of additional quiet time. There’s still so much to experience and learn, so it’s time to load the gear and go diving again.

Sean Sequeira

Sean Sequeira
Sean Sequeira
Sean Sequeira

A silly snorkelling accident encouraged me to undertake a scuba diving course. I presumed that by gaining knowledge of the discipline of diving, I would learn more about the sea. As with most of us, this curiosity elevated me to diving instructor status 5 years later. However, struggling to remember the fish I admired, after each dive, I acquired a secondhand Nikonos 5. This was my ticket to being eternally shackled by debt for an ever increasing jungle of photographical accessories. I have progressed from a Nikonos to a Nikon F100 and now have embraced a digital camera.

I have dived myself into specialised underwater photographic fields and have a particular attraction for photographing sharks. My annual pilgrimage to Seal Island in False Bay has yielded better results with each time I return. Increased exposure to an opportunity in the Bazaruto Archipelago, has given me the chance to build my portfolio from the area. While spending a day on the beach in an area called BD, I witnessed fishermen dump Reef Shark carcasses de-finned on the beach without even moving an eyelid at our presence. Shark deprivation exists in even the most innocent and remote parts of our continent.

My photos are regularly published in Submerge and Alert diver and I have also won accolades at various competitions. I reside in Krugersdorp with my wife and two daughters.

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.

Anthony Grote

Anthony Grote

For me photography has always been about capturing that special shot that stands out from the rest. The challenge in the beginning was always more special as there were fewer people doing it, especially when we consider underwater photography. With the advent of digital camera, and not only that, but the rapid advance in this technology, giving access to more and more people, the challenge had to be shifted somewhat, and for me that has involved taking the available technology and playing.

I started out photographing birds and wildlife while working on game farms in the Lowveld, until I was shown someone’s underwater portfolio of their trip to the Red Sea. From that day I was hooked! It took me 5 years to be able to afford my first underwater system, always erring on the housed system as to the Nikonos. My first trip to the Red Sea was straight after getting my first housing and needless to say it was fraught with problems (hence I am desperate to return there someday). Since then, I was lucky enough to spend 2 years working in the Cayman Islands as an underwater photography/videographer. I then returned to SA and started freelancing as a sport/wildlife/architectural photographer, with a passion for underwater and panoramas. As mentioned before, I like playing with technology, creating images using time-lapse technology, 360° imagery and virtual tours and long exposure starscapes are just some examples.

My highlights have been being published in National Geographic magazine in Poland, being involved in a National Geographic production called the ‘Real Serengeti’, where I sent 6 weeks filming the Migrations in the Serengeti, also being published in magazines in the South Africa, UK, USA and New Zealand. I have been fortunate enough to also win a number of Underwater Photo competitions including the Sodwana Shootout (in both the photo and video categories), Pix Magazine Annual Photo Awards, Sony Winter Shootout, and third place in the NCUPS Underwater Photo Competition and High Commended in the ‘Celebrate the Sea’ Underwater Photo Competition.

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