Dive Atlas Of The World: An Illustrated Reference To The Best Sites - Jack Jackson (2016)
by Alan Mountain
ALTHOUGH IT IS SOMETIMES COMPARED unfavourably with the Seychelles, the Maldives and Kenya, Mauritius is an exciting place to dive. Here it is possible to play with Spotted Eagle Rays (Aetobatus narinari), watch sharks hunt their prey, swim through forests of gorgonias - some over 2m (7ft) in height - see walking Filament-finned Scorpionfish (Inimicus filamentosus), also known as Dragon scorpionfish and Indian Walkman, flex their beautiful wings when they feel threatened. Pass through lobster-filled chimneys and canyons. You can feel the power and purpose of tuna (Thunnus sp. and Katsuwonus pelamis), Wahoo (Acanthocybium solandri) and even marlin (Makaira sp.). The quiet diffidence of shoals of jacks and trevallies (Carangoides sp.), as they briefly encircle you and then move off, leaves you wondering whether their curiosity was satisfied.
There is, however, another dimension to diving in Mauritius. The island has some of the most relaxed and amiable dive centres in the world that are nevertheless professionally operated to a high standard. Here you are not a number, or just another diver waiting in a queue to be whisked off to a dive site and taken down by a divemaster who has become an automaton. In Mauritius the natural hospitality of the people comes bubbling through and you are soon made to feel as if you are diving with ‘buddies’ whom you have known all your life. The dive centres, most of which are hotel-based, normally operate a six-day week with a morning dive at 09:30 and an afternoon dive at 13:30 (depending on demand) and so it is possible for suitably qualified divers to arrange a dive at a time and place of their choice.
Mauritius is a small island and so access by road to dive sites in different parts of the island is relatively easy. With the exception of the south coast, where the coral reefs are less developed, Mauritius offers interesting dive sites right around the island. The most popular are those along the west and north coasts.
The southwest region stretches from south of the Le Morne Peninsula up to Black River. The underwater topography is made up of a sandy floor dotted with coral patches and rocky outcrops encrusted with corals. An interesting feature is that nearly 60 percent of the corals in this subregion display their polyps in day-light while sifting the water for zooplankton, which creates interesting opportunities for macrophoto graphy.
Off the west coast the best diving is to be found from Black River up to just north of Flic en Flac. Diving takes place in a fairly concentrated area characterized by a series of more-or-less parallel terraces. These are made up of boulders interspersed with small caves, larger caverns, archways, chimneys and tunnels - leading to a sharp drop-off where some dives extend down to 60m (200ft). Top sites include Couline Bambou 1, Cathedral 2 and Shark Place 3.
NORTH OF THE ISLAND
In the north of the island, the best diving takes place between Pointe aux Piments in the south and Pointe l’Hortal in the north with the offshore islands of Grand Baie offering some excellent sites to experienced divers. This part of the island is popular with holidaymakers, offering long, uninterrupted white beaches in the west and the tourist bustle around Grand Baie in the north. In the west the sea bottom is sandy and most diving is done either on rocky outcrops or along the barrier reef and on the drop-off. In the north the bottom is made up of a volcanic shelf that extends from the main island to the offshore islands and is heavily encrusted with coral in many places. Top sites include the wreck of the Stella Maru 4, Stenopus Reef 5, Aquarium 6, Tortoise 7, the Silver Star wreck 8, and around Gunner’s Quoin 9.
The north of the island is well protected from the prevailing southeasterly winds, which makes year-round diving possible.
There are some exciting dives in the east, but they are weather dependent. In the south some of the best diving can be done off Mahébourg, the top sites being Colorado 10, a mini grand canyon of the sea, and Roches Zozo 11(Bird Rock), which features tunnels, canyons and a huge arch.
Squirrelfish (Sargocentron caudimaculatum) are common on outer reef slopes.
The Stella Maru was purposely sunk in the 1980s and is still largely intact. It is one of the top sites north of the island.
Queen Coris (Coris frerei) is an uncommon wrasse with strikingly different colour phases. It is often seen on its own.
Ponta do Ouro has been accessible to divers since 1994 and has grown from war-ravaged village to bustling diving destination.
The Inhambane estuary forms an enormous, calm, clearwater lagoon with mangroves, small islands and sandy coves where pansy shells lie just below the sand.