Alphonse Island

Alphonse Island

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Alphonse Group The Alphonse Group of islands are situated 7 degrees South of the Equator and 400 kilometers South-West of Mahe. This magnificent island threesome comprising of Alphonse, Bijoutier and St Francois, lie in the very heart of the Indian Ocean and form part of the Seychelles’ outer island group.

Getting There – Guests are required to fly into Mahe Island, Seychelles at least 4 hours before the weekly charter flight is scheduled to depart. A standard package includes the hour-long return charter flights between Mahe and Alphonse.

Flight Times – The flights leave Mahe at 11:00 from domestic departures on a Saturday and arrives on Alphonse at 12:00. It then departs Alphonse at 12:30 arriving back at the Mahe domestic terminal at 13:30.

Accommodation & Amenities – The rustic and comfortable accommodation is situated on the shoreline of the Eastern side of Alphonse Island. The main hotel complex consists of a reception area, beach bar, dining area, swimming pool, tennis court and main office. Guests stay in one of 15 privately spaced air conditioned bungalows or 4 one bedroom villas, offering every kind of comfort. The bar area, pool and lounge area provides the ideal venue to relax in the evening breeze after a day out in the sun and houses the restaurant serving freshly caught sea food of the highest quality.

Arrival Day On arrival you will be met by the Alphonse Island management team and transported to the hotel by golf cart. Indemnities will be signed followed by a comprehensive briefing on what to expect during your stay. Everyone will then be shown to his or her accommodation to settle in and unpack. Dinner is served at 19h30.

Normal Day – Breakfast is served from 6:00 – 9:00 am or on request. Lunch is served at 1pm.

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Diving – Alphonse Island Dive Centre and its team of professional international diving staff will make your experience at Alphonse resort a personal, safe and unforgettable one. The sheer drop offs, rich currents and abundant sea life that surrounds the Alphonse Group makes it one of the most exciting and diverse dive destinations in Seychelles. The pristine sites around both Alphonse and St Francois are famous for warm crystal clear waters, high coral cover, great visibility and a diverse range of fish species comprising of reef, pelagic and shark species. Daily encounters with Stingrays, Turtles, Moray Eels, Barracuda, Wahoo, Sharks, Tuna, Grouper, Snapper, Trevally make the dives extremely memorable. Alphonse’s range of dive sites are suitable for all categories of divers, which makes the area an exciting experience for both beginners and advanced who will enjoy our drift dives. Dive sites are easily accessible with typical boat travel taking ten to thirty minutes. The dive center also offers PADI Bubble Maker, Discover scuba, Open Water, Advanced and Specialty scuba courses.

Diving Rates

  • Per Dive USD 120
  • Double Tank USD 220 5
  • Dive Package USD 550 10
  • Dive Package USD 1000
  • Includes all diving equipment

Diving Course Rates

  • Bubble Maker USD 110
  • Discover Scuba Diving USD 210
  • Scuba Diver / Open Water Diver USD 900
  • Advanced Open Water Diver USD 750
  • Speciality Courses USD 290 (2 dives) or 490 (4 dives)
  • Alphonse Island Eco Diver Package USD 1400 (10 dives + certification in 5 Specialties)
  • Includes all diving equipment

Additional Activities – The snorkeling around the coral heads within the safety of the lagoon is simply out of this world. Snorkeling equipment is available for hire at the dive centre. The kayaking along the edge of the island on a high tide gives guests the opportunity to see the magnificent bounty of turtles, rays, fish, and various other sea creatures, which call Alphonse their home. The cycling tracks around the island pass through coconut groves and lead to the various private and secluded beaches. You may wish to join our local experts on a nature tour or for watching the multitude of seabirds that can be seen about the atolls. You may spot dolphins when out on the water but specific trips can be also arranged and, if you are lucky, you may see several of the different whale species that frequent these waters.

Snorkeling Equipment Rental Rates

  • USD 10 per day
  • USD 50 per week
  • Loss of gear will be charged per item

Alphonse Guided Snorkeling Trip Rates

  • USD 45 per person, children under 11 free (min 2 paying guests)
  • 1 hour 30 min, includes snorkeling equipment (Children under 11 years must be accompanied by 1 adult per child)

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St Francois Guided Snorkeling Trip Rates

  • USD 85 per person, children under 11 free (min 4 paying guests)
  • 1 hour 30 min, includes snorkeling equipment (Children under 11 years must be accompanied by 1 adult per child)
  • Loss/damages of gear will be charged per item

Park Fee – There is a compulsory St Francois fly fishing park fee of USD 175 per week (USD25 per day) for anglers and USD 70 per week (USD 10per day) for non-anglers and divers, which is payable in cash when on the island. All packages exclude this park fee and these funds are given to the Island Conservation Society for the preservation of nature in the Seychelles.

Spa – There is a small spa situated in close proximity to the main swimming pool that offers massages and various other treatments. All massages can be booked in the bar area the night before.

Head Lamp – Although the roads between the accommodation and hotel are lit, it’s wise to have a headlamp for when you are riding your bike at night.

Casual Wear – Everything is informal on the island and guests should dress casually at all times and feel free to attend dinner in casual clothing.

Weather – The Seychelles is typically hot and somewhat humid with the midday temperature hovering at 35 degrees Celsius. Evenings are also invariably warm with the exception of the first and last few weeks of the season, when there may be a strong, cooling breeze. Water temperature ranges from 27 – 29 degrees Celsius.

The Fishing and Diving Season at Alphonse – The main diving season runs from early October to the end of May.

Hours of Daylight – Due to its proximity to the equator, there is no real twilight in the Seychelles. The sun rises quickly at around 6:15 a.m. and sets with equal swiftness at about 6:30 p.m. This varies by only minutes throughout the year, giving nearly a full 12 hours of daylight for 365 days a year.

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From Scene of Accident Medevac Insurance – All guests are required to obtain “From Scene of Accident Medevac Insurance”. Details will be requested prior to arrival on the Island. Alphonse Island and agents cannot assume any financial responsibility for consequences incurred if this has not been obtained.

Travel Insurance – All guests are required to obtain travel insurance that will cover any costs incurred due to flight delays for any reason. Any guests planning to dive will be asked to provide their travel insurance details as proof of cover for diving activities. This is often included in general travel insurance policies but should you wish to dive deep, please check any depth restrictions.

Indemnity Form – All guests are required to sign an indemnity form once on location. Divers booked on courses must complete the Medical Statement prior to diving, this is provided prior to arrival in case you need to arrange medical clearance for diving from your physician.

Inoculations & Health – No inoculations are legally required for entry. However, you may want to check with your local immunization and inoculation clinic for their recommendations on health precautions for travel to the Seychelles. Some travelers elect to protect themselves against hepatitis A with an immunoglobulin injection (short- term protection) or the longer lasting vaccine. Other inoculations may be required if you are planning a trip extension to parts of Africa.

Water Consumption – There is a desalination plant on Alphonse, and water from the faucets is safe to drink. We do not stock mineral water to reduce plastic waste and will only supply it when specifically requested prior to arrival.

Luggage Restrictions – Check in luggage is strictly limited to 15 kg or 33 pounds per person, and 5kg or 12 pounds carry-on luggage. Remember, that all diving equipment is provided so you will only need to pack cameras for diving. It is not possible to load extra luggage, it will have to be repacked and left on Mahe until your return. Please adhere to the limits. It is suggested that lighter soft-shell luggage is used. Pack a separate bag with excess equipment to avoid having to repack at the airport. There is left luggage storage at the airport and you can arrange for your tour operator in Mahe to store excess luggage while you are on Alphonse Island.

Communication on Alphonse – Each chalet has a phone service, operated via satellite.

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Internet Connection – There is a wireless connection in the bar area and a network cable connection in the Internet room. There is no charge for their use.

Electricity Supply – The Island has 24-hour electrical current (240 volt, 50 cycles AC) with British plug points. A European electrical current adapter (3-point, square-pin) is necessary.

Contact telephone Number – Alphonse Island: +248-4-22-90-30 (GMT+04:00). When dialing internationally, precede with appropriate access code.

Gratuities – Tipping is never mandatory and if you wish to show appreciation to the staff and require a suggested amount based on an average which guests normally tip then please use the below amounts as an indication.
General hotel staff approximately USD 250 per person per week or USD 35 per day as a guideline. This is to be left at reception upon departure for equal distribution. The diving staff has a slightly varied amount, which can be suggested by the manager of that activity when on location. We suggest a USD 20 per dive guideline for the diving team, which is given to the respective manager at the end of the week and will be divided up by the dive team and skippers. Any gratuities will be much appreciated by the staff and we thank you for your generosity.

Currency – You do not need to change your € (Euros) or US$ (US Dollars) into the local currency. The hotel accepts US Dollars and all major credit cards except American Express. Credit cards carry an additional 5% bank fee, which will be added to the total bill.

Duty Free Allowance – 200 cigarettes or 50 cigars, 1 liter of spirits and 2 liters wine.

Cancellation Policy

  • A 10% fee shall be levied if cancellation is made more than 180 days prior to arrival.
  • A 10% fee shall be levied if the reservation is moved to an alternative date within the same season.
  • A fee of 50% shall be levied if cancellation is between 180 and 90 days prior to arrival. A fee of 100% shall be levied if cancellation is 90 days or less prior to arrival.
  • All cancellations & provisional bookings must be confirmed in writing.

We hope the above information helps to enhance your trip to Alphonse Island. Should there be any further assistance you require, please do not hesitate to contact us info@alphonse-island.com

A new diving experience in Seychelles

A new diving experience in Seychelles

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A new ‘unique’ diving experience is now available in Seychelles as Alphonse Island makes its debut into the luxury travel sector, offering guests experiences that can’t be found anywhere else in Seychelles.

The island, known as one of the best fly fishing destinations in the world, has made significant modifications to appeal to the lucrative luxury diving travel market. One of these modifications is the opening of a brand new dive centre.

The islands feature exceptional turtle sightings with very healthy breeding populations covering both atolls. Divers can expect huge schools of Bluelined Snapper, Humpback Snapper, Bigeye Trevally and even Batfish to join them on their diving experience.

The reefs are still untouched, pristine and teeming with activity with many species of Moray, as well as small macro such as nudibranchs and shrimp species. Divers will be able to marvel at dramatic drop off walls covered in forests of gorgonian sea fans, while the plateaus feature a high percentage of hard coral cover. Drift dives are common with reef hooks used for divers to stay in the right spot.

Have you always dreamed of swimming with dolphins? These beautiful creatures often grace divers with their presence on the excursions. But, the activity doesn’t stop there: the islands’ Giant and Bluefin Trevally populations are very healthy with a ‘wolf pack’ often attacking reef fish with nurse sharks. Also Hammerhead, Silvertip, Bull Shark and Grey Reef sharks can often be seen during the dives.

Courses offered at the new dive centre include the full PADI suite from Open Water to Divemaster as well as the ‘Discover Scuba’ Diving course. All the courses are focussed around underwater appreciation and conservation. Later this year, the dive centre will also start featuring Nitrox dives as well as the opportunity to go on an overnight trip to the far South of the Seychelles.

Besides the diving centre, the island also has a great number of other ‘unique’ experiences on offer.  The Alphonse Group of Islands comprising St Francois, Bijoutier and Alphonse islands, are considered the most remote, pristine and unspoilt group of islands in the Seychelles. Travellers will be able to embark on nature conservation walks to the uninhabited islands of Bijoutier and St Francois. They’ll be able to have a unique experience by overnighting on A’Manni – a Catamaran yacht in the St Francoise lagoon, or discover the expansive flats surrounding the Alphonse atolls as well as participate in conservation-related activities.

 “We are offering something exceptional. In today’s travel industry, people want more than a private plunge pool and butler. They want to explore, discover and create memories that will last a lifetime and that’s exactly what Alphonse Island offers,” says Keith Rose Innes, Managing Director of Alphonse Island.

Alphonse Island taps into the ‘Real Seychelles’ where everything is still raw, flawless and untouched, says also Amanda Lang, Marketing Manager Alphonse Island.  “Alphonse Island is not just another Island resort; it is a destination where the real luxury lies in the experience.”

Even though the real luxury of the island is expressed in the uniqueness of the experiences on offer, the island has also heavily invested in the upgrading of its facilities. All twenty-one Beach Bungalows and five spacious Beach Suites on the island have been extensively refurbished to create a more ‘barefoot luxury’ feel with new colours and new furnishings. Also the beach bar and the restaurant have been entirely revamped.

Rates for the forthcoming 2016/2017 season can be obtained by contacting marketing@alphonse-island.com

For more information about The Seychelles, visit http://www.seychelles.travel/

All the images from the DUC Shootout 2016

All the images from the DUC Shootout 2016

The 6th DUC Shootout took place between 1 February and 3 May and for the first time permitted images from inland diving venues. The DUC Shootout is one of three fantastic underwater photography competitions held during the year in South Africa. The theme of the competition is to provide a platform for underwater photographers to showcase their favourite dive sites throughout Southern Africa.

This year, the judging was convened by Allen Walker, a highly skilled and award winning SA shooter. In a first for the DUC Shootout, Allen arranged to have 5 international judges on his panel for the 2016 event. All 5 of the judges are highly acclaimed awarding winning photographers.

The judges are:

  • LIA BARRETT
  • ADAM HANLON
  • ELLEN CUYLAERTS
  • PAUL COLLEY
  • SUZAN MELDONIAN
  • MICHEL LONFAT

From the East Coast to the West Coast, to deep wrecks, to shallow rock pools, Coelacanths, shark diving, whales, pristine coral reefs and their inhabitants and (for 2016) the inland waters of Southern Africa. Here are the winning images arranged by category: advanced, intermediate and novice.

Overall winner:

Overall winner. Kate Jonker.
Overall winner. Kate Jonker.

Advanced:

Advanced 1st place. Jean Tresfon
Advanced 1st place. Jean Tresfon
Advanced 2nd place. Kate Jonker
Advanced 2nd place. Kate Jonker
Advanced 3rd place. Jenny Stromvoll
Advanced 3rd place. Jenny Stromvoll
Advanced 4th place. Arne Gething
Advanced 4th place. Arne Gething
Advanced 5th place. Jean Tresfon
Advanced 5th place. Jean Tresfon

Intermediate:

Intermediate 1st place. David Welch
Intermediate 1st place. David Welch
Intermediate 2nd place. Tracey-Lee Featherstone
Intermediate 2nd place. Tracey-Lee Featherstone
Intermediate 3rd place. Kerry van den Berg
Intermediate 3rd place. Kerry van den Berg
Intermediate 4th place. Gemma Dry
Intermediate 4th place. Gemma Dry
Intermediate 5th place. Raoul Cosica
Intermediate 5th place. Raoul Cosica

Novice:

Novice 1st place. Craig Hurn
Novice 1st place. Craig Hurn
Novice 2nd place. Alexander Kock
Novice 2nd place. Alexander Kock
Novice 3rd place. Craig Hurn
Novice 3rd place. Craig Hurn
Novice 4th place. Franco Cremona
Novice 4th place. Franco Cremona
Novice 5th place. Fred Fourie
Novice 5th place. Fred Fourie

Copyright notice:

Please note that the images displayed on this page are the property of the authors and copyright vests with the author. The authors have given permission to use the images in promoting the DUC Shootout only. This permission has been granted only to the Durban Undersea Club and its media partners. You may not use the images for your own purpose or any other purpose. Please respect the authors’ right to ownership.

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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Christophe Mason-Parker

Christophe Mason-Parker

As with SCUBA diving, underwater photography came to Chris late in life. In fact it was not until 2008 that he bought his first camera and underwater housing. The 8MP Canon Powershot A720 was a revelation. The Powershot had a full manual mode, and Chris spent hours playing around with the settings, learning how minor adjustments to the ISO or the shutter speed would affect each shot. At the time he was working on a coral reef monitoring programme in Philippines, and underwater photography became a means to photograph and catalogue the amazing diversity of marine life he encountered on the reefs.

When his contract finished in the Philippines Chris moved to Bali and then Mexico, before eventually ending up in Seychelles in 2010. The Powershot accompanied him every step of the way until Canon stopped making the housing and he was forced to switch to a newer model.

In 2013 Chris bought a Canon 7D and soon after purchased an Ikelite housing, hoping to take his photography to the next level. Still living in Seychelles, Chris currently works for Global Vision International (GVI), where he oversees the organisation’s marine and terrestrial conservation expeditions. The projects include coral reef monitoring, turtle nesting surveys and shark-tagging research amongst other programmes. He is also co-founder of the Seychelles Sea Turtle Festival, an annual event aimed at promoting marine turtle conservation within the archipelago.

A passionate advocate of marine conservation with a keen interest in environmental issues, it is no surprise that conservation is a theme that appears regularly in his photography.  Chris firmly believes that photographers have an important role to play in making conservation issues more accessible to the public, and that photographs have the ability to cross language, cultural and social boundaries.

Seychelles provides the perfect environment for underwater photography, with its dramatic granite formations and abundant marine life. Still getting to know his DSLR setup, Chris tries to get out diving or snorkelling as often as possible. “Finding time to get out there and shoot is not always easy but it is important to force yourself to take a break every now and again”.

These days, aside from his role with GVI, Chris regularly writes articles for dive magazines and is currently working on an Underwater Guide to Seychelles, due to be published next year.

To see more of Chris’ work visit www.archipelagoimages.net

Head over heels – snorkling with seals

Head over heels – snorkling with seals

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With their sleek streamlined bodies, sinuously flexible spines and frenetic flipper action, Cape Fur Seals (Arctocephalus pusillus pusillus) are one of nature’s most gifted swimmers. Like playful puppies they frolic in the Cape’s kelp beds and around the abundant reefs but hunt in deeper water. Curious, even mischievous, by nature they investigate everything that floats or swims in the Cape’s waters.

Text and images by STEVE BENJAMIN of ANIMAL OCEAN

Duiker Island is a protected island in the Atlantic Ocean, off Hout Bay near Cape Town. It is roughly 77 by 95 metres in size, covering an area of about 0.4 hectare and is home to a variety of sea birds and up to 15 000 Cape Fur Seals. It is also the perfect spot for photographers, divers and people interested in getting close to marine life to interact with these eccentric and fun-loving seals.

Duiker Island as seen from the air
Duiker Island as seen from the air

Animal Ocean, owned by zoologist, marine guide, skipper and scientific commercial diver, Steve Benjamin has been leading focused seal snorkeling trips to Duiker Island for the past 4 years. His is the only company to focus solely on this activity. This means that on any given summer day you can find the Animal Ocean team heading off to the island. It also means that Steve and his team know it better than anyone else.

Snorkeling with the seals is unlike any other activity you can do in South Africa. This is a chance to interact and get nose-to-mask with a large marine mammal that WANTS to play with you. Steve often thinks that this activity is more for the seal’s entertainment than the guests.

The regular and non-interactive way to see the seals
The regular and non-interactive way to see the seals

There’s no training requirement and (unlike shark diving) no baiting. It is a completely natural interactive wildlife experience in which the wildlife comes to play with you, because it wants to.

Seal snorkeling trips run from October to the end of April. The rest of the year it is too rough and too cold — the seals are civilized and don’t like to swim unless its a nice warm day, unfortunately, for them warm water is 14C! During the months of November and December, when the males are mating and the females giving birth, is when the most seals are found at Duiker Island.

Regular tourists visiting the seals from the various vessels that provide non-interactive viewing
Regular tourists visiting the seals from the various vessels that provide non-interactive viewing

Cape Fur seals are different from true seals in that they have small ears and propel themselves with their front flippers — we don’t have true seals in South Africa. Cape Fur Seals eat fish; mainly pilchards and anchovies but they will opportunistically eat octopus, crayfish, reef fish and even small sharks. They are adaptable and intelligent. Fortunately they won’t eat snorkelers, but they may playfully nibble your fins.

The seal pups leave the safety of the island and enter the water during March and April, after being born in December. The pups are incredible to snorkel with and often interact with and play with snorkelers. It is an underwater photographer’s dream assignment.

The trip to Duiker Island from Hout bay harbour is 3 km’s and takes about 5 minutes by boat. Duiker Island is named after the cormorants that used to cover the island before the seals took over about 30 years ago. It is a low-lying island that can get waves washing over it during winter. The areas where the snorkeling takes place is shallow (maximum depth of 5m) and surrounded by a kelp forest. The island offers great protection from the prevailing strong summer wind (the southeast) but is susceptible to swell brought in from the open ocean. Trips are sometimes cancelled because of the swell and resulting wave action on the island.

A curious seal spy-hops to observe
A curious seal spy-hops to observe

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Seals crowd the island shore

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Seals in their kelp environment

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A seal leaps clean out the water

Duiker Island is not known for shark activity and the Animal Ocean team have never seen any around the island. The main reason that the Atlantic coastline is low in shark numbers is because it is so cold. While sharks can handle cool waters they prefer the warmer temperatures of South Africa’s east coast (the Indian Ocean).

If you’re an underwater photographer then this is the ultimate close-encounter-low-gear marine experience. If you’re a naturalist in love with marine life then you will love being in the water with these amazing creatures.

Animal Ocean provides all the equipment you will need to get in the water. They provide 5mm wetsuits with hoods, gloves, booties, fins and masks. The Atlantic Ocean water is cold at 10C – 15C, so be ready for a shock when you hit the water. However, your amazement at seeing the seals will quickly take over and you’ll forget about the cold water. Rest assured though, when you return to the boat you’ll be given hot chocolate and warm water down your wetsuit.

Animal Ocean respect the seal’s space and do not go close to the island, which is protected, and tell guests not to touch the seals (although they will choose to come close to you). Each trip is managed with two guides in the water with you and the location to snorkel is marked by a big red buoy. The seal snorkeling normally takes about 40 minutes, when the cold water forces a return to the boat. The whole trip takes about 2,5 hours including initial meeting, getting equipment, the boat ride, getting in the water and returning.

Animal Ocean is a Trip Advisor award winning operation and guests have written some wonderful comments.

Brian Hope, South African – I’m born and bred in Cape Town and this was honestly one of the best experiences I have ever had in the Mother City

Natasha Ruscheinski, Holland – This was one of the most awesome snorkeling experiences I’ve had.

Monique S, Belgium – What a great experience! The crew was very nice and relaxed, although safety first … so everything was explained very well, before we plunged into the water.

Booking can be done through the online booking form on the website www.sealsnorkeling.com where further information is also available.

The wreck of Rio Sainas

The wreck of Rio Sainas

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In the early hours of 11 March 2013 the, 35 meter, 300 ton fishing vessel “Rio Sainas” made her final journey to the bottom of the sea. She was under tow after spending nearly 3 weeks on the shore at Zavora, Mozambique; the result of losing power and drifting in a high wind before running aground on the sandy beach. Fortunately for her crew and for the environment, she ran aground on sand, right between two rock reefs. Had she hit the reef the crew would have been in real trouble considering the state of the sea and her fuel and oil may well have leaked out of a damaged hull, posing a considerable pollution risk for the area.

Text by Jon Wright

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Initial attempts to re-float her by her owners proved futile and she was declared a total loss by their insurance company.The salvage company Subtech were called in and they began the arduous task of cleaning her up so she would not pose any threat to the environment. Over the course of 10 days more than 35 tons of fuel and oils were pumped off and several tons of debris was removed before she was deemed fit to be towed out to sea. It took several attempts to free her, each pull from the large tugboat resulting in small gains, with the salvers having to wait patiently until the next high tide to try again. Working day and night in foul weather they finally won the battle on the afternoon of 10 March, freeing the stricken vessel in 20 knot winds and 3 meter swells.

As she had run aground bow first, she was being pulled from the stern with the plan being to relocate the massive hawser to the bow for towing away from Zavora. However sea conditions had deteriorated so much, it was not possible to launch the small boat needed to carry out this operation and the tug and tow had to sit it out at anchor in the bay. The next morning, we awoke to a much calmer sea, but with only one boat floating on it. We can only assume the tired old ship was taking a lot of water over her stern in the heavy sea and her not very watertight hatches were unable to cope. At some stage during the pitch black, stormy night, she slipped beneath the waves.

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In the short time she has been on the bottom she has already become an aggregation point for many species of fish, including several sightings of a 2 meter brindle bass which we are hoping will be a long term resident. Juvenile fish of various species are finding a home here and we often see trevally, cuda and other game fish hunting around her. A vessel which, during 40 years of operational service, killed so many marine organisms is now sheltering and nurturing these same animals providing a new habitat for life in Zavora.Their loss became our advantage; now the Rio Sainas is Mozambique’s newest wreck and at only 9km from our launch, it’s on our doorstep. Lying in 33 meters of water, with a 35 degree list to starboard and coming up to 19 meters she is a perfect dive site for recreational divers. The scour by the propeller goes down to 35 meters and there is plenty of scope for penetration for the more experienced diver. It is possible to enter the aft deck hatch, proceed through the pristine (but not so spacious) engine room and exit by the galley one deck up. From there, you can enter the crew accommodation, proceed up one deck and into the wheelhouse.

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Rio Sainas was engaged in deep sea lobster potting at the time of her grounding but had previously been involved with long lining – divers’ most detested fishing practice (the crew told us they had been shark finning at one time). She was under a Mozambican flag, crewed mainly by Filipino’s and owned and operated by Pescamar, which itself is owned by a Spanish fishing conglomerate. She had 3 FADM (Mozambique armed forces) personnel on board and was armed with 3 AK47’s and a PKM machine gun, the mount of which is still clearly visible, (to the rear of the superstructure on the starboard side) to act as protection from possible pirate attack.

So, one down, so many to go! While we can be happy that there is one less fishing boat in the channel, we must also do our part. Knowing that the food we eat comes from sustainable resources, and does not involve the exploitation of less fortunate people is the least we can do ethically. For our own health, we must also take a stand against current industrial food production practices such as the over-use of pesticides, hormones and the increasing dominance of genetically modified ‘Frankenfoods’. Eventually, we consumers call the shots. If we stop buying fish from the red list, it will not be economically viable to catch it. What is needed is a common consensus, we only have power in numbers. The future of the sea and indeed, the land, is in our hands.

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One less fishing boat plying its trade in the channel means the oceans get a break, albeit until the next one comes along. And as the aging fishing fleet sinks and becomes home to ocean life it means fishing companies are forced to reconsider their options and economics. For divers, it’s a bonanza – something to explore, something to attract fish life and something to be marveled at.

Zavora is home to two marvelous diving wrecks – the Klipfontein and now, Rio Sainas. A fortunate intersection of shipping misfortune meets ocean life to create a diver’s dream dive.

Magical Maldives

Magical Maldives

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The Maldives is synonymous with images of azure waters, picture-perfect beaches and luxurious resorts. However, the twenty-six atolls and nearly twelve hundred islands that comprise the Maldives are a perfect recipe for great diving, and predictably the Maldives has established itself as one of the premier dive destinations in the world. Because the Maldives straddle the equator in the Indian Ocean diving in the Maldives features an abundance of marine life.

Text: Nishan Perera. Images: Mohamed Shafraz Naeem (‘Shaff’)

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While the reefs themselves abound with both hard and soft coral the fish life in the Maldives sets it apart from many other dive destinations. Schools of snappers, fusiliers, sweetlips and parrotfish are seen on many sites along with large napoleon wrasse, barracuda, trevally and turtles. There is no shortage of pelagics either with sharks, tuna, eagle and manta rays being seen in large numbers. Strong currents flowing through the narrow atoll channels transport nutrients and drive the food chain that accounts for the vast numbers of fish.

In 1998 and 2010 the Maldives suffered extensive coral bleaching that affected many of its shallow reefs. However, deeper sections of the reefs were unaffected and many reefs are showing good signs of recovery. Importantly, the fish life has not dwindled and pelagic sightings remain as consistent as before.

Channel dives, referred to locally as ‘Kandus’ offer exhilarating drift dives where divers can drift past overhangs and caves while watching larger fish such as sharks and giant trevally pick off schooling fish in the current. Inside the atolls are numerous islands and submerged reefs. Most islands have fringing reefs that slope down to the atoll plate at around 40m. These reefs are generally prone to milder currents and offer easy diving as well as excellent snorkeling.

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Submerged reefs are referred to by many names depending on their size, structure and location. The most commonly dived are ‘Thilas’, which are pinnacles rising from the atoll floor and ‘Giris’, which are similar to thilas but smaller and often shallower at their highest point. Hard corals and gardens of anemones with clownfish can be seen covering the top of many thilas while the sides of the reef slope away steeply and are punctuated by overhangs, arches and caves. Soft coral and large sponges can be found in areas prone to currents while large sea fans proliferate in deeper areas. Grey reef sharks patrol the edges of the reef while there is always a chance to spot a passing manta ray or squadron of eagle rays gracefully swimming past.

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Another highlight of diving in the Maldives is the many cleaning stations where larger fish arrive to be “serviced” by cleaner wrasses and shrimps. Many of these cleaning stations attract large manta rays and provide excellent opportunities to observe these magnificent animals at close range.

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Wreck divers will also not be disappointed with several excellent wrecks. The most famous are the ‘Maldives Victory’ close to Male’ and the WWII ‘British Loyalty’ wreck in Addu Atoll.

Diving Regions

The Central Atolls comprising North Male’, South Male’ and Ari Atolls form the bulk of Maldivian dive itineraries. In addition to being easily accessible the Central Atolls provide a variety of sites and good chances of spotting everything the Maldives is famous for. North and South Male’ Atolls were the first areas to open up to tourism and are home to well-known dive sites such as Nassimo Thila, Banana Reef, Embudhoo Express and Cocoa Thila where you can expect breathtaking topography with steep drop-offs, caves and precipitous overhangs with prolific marine life including sharks, manta rays, giant trevally, black snappers, Napoleon wrasse and schooling bannerfish.

Ari Atoll is probably the most popular destination for liveaboards as it offers some of the most reliable encounters with pelagics and big schools of fish. The best diving in Ari Atoll is also centered on thilas making it more suitable for less experienced divers. Popular sites such as Fish Head, Maaya Thila, Hafsa Thila, Kudarah Thila and Broken Rock epitomize the Maldives’ benchmark of excellent fish life. Aggregations of blue-lined snappers and oriental sweetlips congregate around current-swept pinnacles while stingrays and turtles are regularly seen along with dogtooth tuna and occasional eagle rays. Grey reef, blacktip and white tip reef sharks frequent most dive sites. Whale sharks and manta rays frequent the southern area around Maamigili.

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Deep channels, strong currents and good pelagic encounters are the feature of diving in Vaavu Atoll. Sites such as Miyaru Kandu, Devana Kandu and Fotteyo Kandu are well known for shark sightings including the occasional hammerhead shark. Many dive sites are characterized by steep walls with coral encrusted swim-throughs, caves and overhangs as well as teeming marine life. Night diving at Alimatha has become extremely popular due to the presence of large numbers of nurse sharks, giant trevally and stingrays that have become accustomed to and come very close to divers.

The last decade has also seen an expansion of tourism and diving into the more northern and southern atolls. With lower diver numbers these atolls provide a chance to get off the beaten path and explore diving in the Maldives as it was before mass tourism took off. Rarely visited by divers the extreme northern atolls of Haa Alifu and Haa Dhaalu provide diving that is different from the rest of the Maldives. Here the diving tends to be shallower around submerged boulders. Reef sharks including large packs of grey reef sharks can be seen on a regular basis, while species that are uncommon further south such as leopard sharks and guitar sharks are also seen with more regularity here. Schools of barracuda and sweetlips as well as mantas are features of diving in this area. Divers with a keen eye can also find good macro opportunities here with nudibranchs, ghost pipefish and frogfish. Other northern atolls such as Baa, Noonu and Lhaviyani have also built reputations for excellent diving. Hanifaru Bay in Baa Atoll is famous for its feeding aggregations of more than a hundred mantas and numerous whale sharks that come to feed here during the south-west monsoon.

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Meemu and Laamu Atolls in the south provide excellent diving in current-swept channels and colorful thilas. Like elsewhere, pelagics such as reef sharks, eagle rays and dogtooth tuna abound. The hard coral is also in good condition and has more diversity than the northern and central atolls. Huvadhoo and Addu in the extreme south provide the other frontier for diving in the Maldives.

Huvadhoo in particular is famous for its deep channels and shark sightings and large numbers of grey reef sharks can be seen on incoming tides. The coral is also more prolific in the south with vibrant coral gardens crowning the tops of most reefs. Huvadhoo provides an opportunity to see some of the bigger sharks as well. Whale sharks are regular visitors to this area and divers may also catch a glimpse of tiger, bull and silvertip sharks. Just north of Huvadhoo is the tiny Foamulah Atoll, the smallest atoll in the Maldives. In the short time that it has been dived by liveaboards, Foamulah has built a reputation as a Mecca for pelagics with sightings of thresher, tiger, silvertip sharks and even the occasional oceanic white tip. Diving this region requires calm seas due to its exposed location and long ocean crossings so is ideally done from January to March when the conditions are best.

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Weather and Seasons

Although diving is possible year-round the north-east monsoon season from November to May is probably the best time to visit the Maldives due to calm seas and mostly dry weather. During this time the currents flow through the atoll channels from east to west and bring clear ocean water to the eastern side of lagoons with slightly lower visibility on the western side. June to October is the south-west monsoon and the opposite of the north-east monsoon. This period tends to have much higher rainfall and strong winds may prevail at times, especially around July and August. Water temperature is fairly constant throughout the year at around 29°C, although it may drop as low as 24°C in the extreme south during the north-east monsoon. Visibility averages around 20-25m but is better on flood tides with highs of up 40m+ while it may drop to less than 10m during plankton blooms.

Sightings of mantas, whale sharks, turtles and reef sharks are possible all year round. Sharks tend to congregate on the exposed side of the atolls with clear water and strong currents. In contrast the sheltered side of the atoll attracts mantas as plankton flows out of the channels. Manta sightings are particularly good during the south-west monsoon due to plankton blooms.

Accessibility

The best way to truly experience the Maldives is on a liveaboard and there are now a vast variety of boats to suit all budget ranges. Most boats cover the central atolls with a focus on Ari Atoll. However an increasing number of boats offer scheduled trips to the northern and southern atolls.

The Maldives provides diving for all levels of experience. However, some of the channel dives, especially in the south are more suited for experienced divers due to steep walls and strong currents. Snorkelers will also enjoy shallow coral gardens with good fish life.

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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

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