Mauritius, a dive destination in the heart of the Indian Ocean
Britain is, hopefully, winning the battle against COVID, and Mauritius is waiting with open arms to welcome divers from the UK to enjoy our magnificent Indian Ocean reefs. After the dramatic crash landing of the 300 metre bulk carrier ship Wakashio the island is fully restored to its pristine glory.
From the moment you arrive, you are among friends. English, French and Creole speaking, Mauritius has the best of many cultures. British, since from 1815 until 1965 Mauritius was administered by Britain, who took over from the French so the French flair and culture has remained, and the gentle influence of the dominant Hindu religion creates a harmony that makes it a wonderful, serene place to live. I wake up every morning to the scent of frangipanni outside my window, and walk down to the beach with my dogs, where we swim in the palm fringed lagoon. The air is clean and fragrant, with a whiff of cinnamon, a breath of curry and a hint of expensive sunblock.
You check in, and its time to explore. There is a wonderful site called https://bryandiscoversworld.com/blogs/ that will show you around Mauritius, so you can plan after diving activities.
Then its time to go to the dive centre, which is 800 metres from my house. We meet at 8.30, so I have plenty of time for breakfast. The dive centre is clean, well equipped and hospitable, with a coffee shop on the premises that serves food as well. Most diving centres in Mauritius are similar.
We are greeted at the front desk by a knowledgeable young woman who asks us to complete a qualification and health questionnaire. Mauritius diving centres like to be sure they provide the most appropriate service. If you travel alone and need a buddy, they will provide one. If you are nervous after a long break, they will gently assist you through a lagoon refresher session. If you want strong currents and drifts they will make sure these are part of the planning for your visit. Best of all, Mauritians love to dive, and it shows in their passion to show you their fabulous undersea world.
Diving in the North is year-round, with excellent visibility, plentiful variety and easy boat access. Many of the macro reefs are within five minutes from shore. But the best diving and most pristine reefs are to be found on the Norther off-shore islands. We dive with sharks in circling washing machine waters in cathedral- like hollowed out caves.
We dive on Djabeda, a coral encrusted wreck that was deliberately sunk and lies at 30 metres. Or the Silverstar, and advanced dive at 40 metres, where batfish shoals hang out.
We dive the spectacular drop offs on Coin de Mire Island, where sea fans and butterfly fishes abound. Rays and turtles, huge shoals of fusiliers, blue banded snappers and glow fish blend with white and yellow goatfish on many of the reefs.
We dive a reef 3 minutes from the dive centre where morays are plentiful, and there are at least 11 species on one of the reefs, some un-described. Look out for the beautiful lionfish and scorpionfish, there are some species here that are very rare indeed.
The West coast has an abundance of rays dolphins and whales, but care has to be take if you want to book diving there. The bulk of the Mauritius rivers drain into the ocean on the West coast and visibility can be poor to very poor.
The East and South coasts also offer excellent diving, but again, care has to be taken with booking dive packages as tide, wind and weather can be a prohibiting factor.
Most dive boats are comfortable, and all are registered and licensed with the Mauritian Tourism Authority, so there are few cowboys, and every dive centre must show its credentials on its walls.
This is the best time to book diving in Mauritius, where a wealthy First World environment meets Third World pricing for dives. The Mauritian diving industry is way behind the curve and has not yet registered that paying £150 for a 10-dive standard package is way lower than the norm for first class boat diving. Accommodation prices vary from £20 a night for a registered basic studio apartment, to £ 100 plus a night for 4- and 5-star resorts, all within easy distance of the dive centres. Its worth noting that apartments are booked by the room and can in some cases sleep up to 3 people.
You need a vaccination card, and a negative PCR test taken 72 hours before boarding. Flights are around 11 hours, and subsidized by the Mauritian government so shop around.
Words: Jill Holloway
Copyright Ocean Spirit Ltd
Images by Chris Sleap and Gunter Haag
Wining and Diving – South Africa
The Wining and Diving series sees Nick and Caroline Robertson-Brown embark on a tour to tickle the taste buds as well as to discover amazing dive sites in wine-making regions around the world. Some of the best wines are influenced by sea breezes and a coastal climate, allowing two of Nick and Caroline’s passions to be combined into one epic journey.
**Please note, Nick and Caroline are not encouraging drinking before diving! The two activities are kept well apart on each of these trips.
South Africa’s coastline is wild and rugged and has some of the best marine encounters and diving in the world! It is also home to some superb vineyards and so this is a top destination for Wining & Diving! If you have enough time, then try to fit in several destinations on a tour; take in the Sardine Run, go Great White Shark cage diving, snorkel with Blue and Mako Sharks, try to find Sevengill Sharks in the kelp forest, meet the raggies and oceanic shark species near Aliwal Shoal and make sure you dive with the Cape Fur Seals just down the road from Cape Town. Head north for the stunning reefs of Sodwana Bay and even fit in a land safari too! But make sure you make time to visit some of the top vineyards at Stellenbosch and Constantia too, which are just a stones throw from Cape Town and can be done on a day trip.
Our tour took in the lot and this is an experience to be shared with friends. You have to be lucky with the Sardine Run, but the rewards are great if you are there at the right time, with dolphins, sharks, whales and seabirds all competing for the feast of sardines that migrates up the coast in early summer. It is fast and furious, but can also involve long days out on the boat bobbing and waiting for the action to happen.
Flying into Durban you can often combine Aliwal Shoal to start your Sardine Run trip, to get the chance to dive the famous Cathedral Rock and then drift out into the blue for Blacktip and Tiger Sharks.
Gaansbai is the most famous place for Great White Shark cage diving, although recent years have seen numbers falling away, possibly due to the presence of Orca.
Cape Town offers penguins, Blue and Mako Sharks, Sevengill Cow Sharks, Great Whites and the chance to mess about with Cape Fur Seals, who will seek out divers and play among the kelp fronds for as long as you can stay in the cool water. It is here that you can add a few days visiting vineyards and touring the stunning countryside before you head home.
We would love to go back and spend more time in South Africa, as we did not have time for the Mako Shark snorkeling and would like to try again for the cow sharks too. South Africa has so much to offer it is very hard to fit everything into a single trip! It is a high energy and super-productive trip under the water and a wonderful place to relax with your favourite glass of wine in the evening.
All about Sharklife
There is nothing quite like seeing an apex predator in the wild and divers are very fortunate to have the privilege to get up close and personal with one of the world’s most striking predators. South Africa is home to a great number of shark species that attract thousands of tourists every year. Great Whites, Tigers and Bull sharks are just some examples of over 100 different shark species living in the oceans around the South African coastline.
With such an array of species, it’s no wonder there are so many research and conservation organizations in the country that do exceptional work. These entities are collecting important data that is showing how important the shark species is, not only the ocean’s survival, but that of mankind too.
So, what’s the big deal, they’re just fish with teeth?
Sharks have an undeserved reputation as being man-eaters. Considering the millions of people that use the ocean everyday whether for recreational or occupational use, as few as 10 people die from shark interactions annually. If they were the man-eaters we made them out to be, that number would be much higher. More people die from accidents with household appliances in one year than people have died from sharks in the last 100 years.
The shark is an important part of the ocean’s ecosystem, but more importantly it’s their role in the survival of the planet we need to be concerned about. With an estimated 100 million sharks being killed every year, ocean ecosystems around the world have been severely destabilized and unbalanced. Sharks help maintain a healthy gene pool by predating on the weakest of their prey, ensuring the strongest survive to continue the species.
If we wiped out the Great White Shark population in South Africa, there would be an abundance of seals, this growing population of seals, now the new apex predator in the area, would very soon consume to a point of extinction many crustaceans and small bait fish resulting a complete collapse of many fishing industries and worse, the collapse of an entire ecosystem.
Education about the importance of sharks and changing people’s perception of sharks are small actions that can make positive change. An organization that has been working hard to educate people about sharks is “Sharklife”.
I recall becoming a Sharklife Instructor in 2008 when the organization had just started offering a range of courses on several of the shark species found in South Africa. Courses were offered on specific sharks and required a number of dives to study the shark’s behavior and unique characteristics. One of the challenges we faced as instructors was guaranteeing shark sittings on training dives. Some sharks are much easier to encounter reliably than others.
We had some interesting dives experimenting with different non-invasive methods of attracting sharks for our students to study. The most noteworthy of these experiments was trying find what would attract Bull Sharks. These elusive predators can be very inquisitive and engaging which made for some exciting learning experiences.
Today Sharklife has a permanent base in Sodwana Bay, South Africa. At the current premises, Grant Smith, Sharklife managing director, oversees a number of research projects and conducts research internships for candidates from all over the world. In addition to the various shark courses on offer, there is a shark museum with some fascinating displays and shop where you can purchase a host of different shark related products.
Through scientific research, education and awareness bring about positive change to the current destructive trends of ocean exploitation.
Sharklife Current Aims:
- To develop a compassionate desire to conserve sharks by altering public misconceptions about sharks and replacing the “Jaws” syndrome with positive understanding and respect.
- Reduce anthropogenic threats to over exploited marine species by increasing awareness and encouraging sustainable seafood choices.
- Increase marine tourism and transform shark populations into a sustainable living resource by developing educational ocean experiences for all South African’s
In line with aim number 2, one of their achievements was the removal of shark nets in the Rocky Bay area in Kwa-Zulu Natal. An initiative that started in 2008 and took years of relentless campaigning resulted in the removal of the shark nets in this Marine Protected Area. The capture of 14 Tiger Sharks on the 18th April 2012 was a catalyst that renewed efforts for the lifting of the nets and on the 30th April 2014 the nets were lifted for the last time.
More information about this campaign can be found here: https://www.sharklife.co.za/index.php/our-projects/completed-projects/shark-net-removal
How can you get involved?
Visit their website, www.sharklife.co.za and sign up for free shark course. You can even adopt a shark and join as a monthly member.
Regardless of the organization you support, something has to be done before it really is too late to turn back and recover. There are hundreds if not thousands of initiatives out there to get involved with or contribute to and I know all of them appreciate the smallest donation of time or money.
Personally, I would hate to never again see the wonder in a diver’s eyes when they interact with a shark for the first time.
Article by PJ Prinsloo – www.pjptech.co.za