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Magic in Mauritius

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Our first dive trip to Mauritius happened by chance when a couple of our good friends decided to get married and invited us to join them there for their wedding. We had heard from others that the diving was pretty good and so we excitedly booked to stay in the Lux* Grand Gaube hotel where the ceremony would be held. Before we left, we did some research on the various Dive centres that would be able to provide us with the diving we hoped to do whilst we were there.

The hotel itself supported a small DiveSail operation, but given the recent press on this particular company and the very high prices, we were keen to find a centre that would be more suited to our style of diving. Using the usual Google search I stumbled across the aptly named Dodo Divers, after the infamous extinct bird only found in Mauritius. Their website is very impressive due to the stunning photograph of the islands that surround Mauritius adorning the background (www.dododivers.com). They quote Mark Twain – “God created Mauritius first, and then made a copy which he called Heaven”, and they couldn’t be more right, especially when exploring the wonderful world beneath the Indian ocean. Within 24 hours of contacting Dodo Divers, I was emailed by the owner, Rose – a British woman from Peckham (south London, UK) who could not have been more helpful if she tried… and so our relationship with Dodo Divers began.

DIVE CENTRE

As underwater Photographers/Videographers, we travel to destinations that promise an abundance of life and interesting species we may not have seen before. Although we have been diving in the Indian Ocean previously, this was our first trip to Mauritius so we didn’t fully know what to expect from the diving. However, the moment we had finished the first dive we knew we had added another place to the list of top destinations.

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Based in the North East, we were 1 hour’s drive from the airport and situated in the town of Grande Gaube. Dodo Divers was a 5-minute drive away in Calodyne so Rose came and collected us from the hotel and dropped us off afterwards making it the ideal spot for our trip.

img_2846The Dive centre itself is ideally situated for exploring the numerous dive sites in the North East including some of our favourites from the trip, Merville’s Patches, Anemone Garden, Grand Baie Aquarium and the impressive Silver Star wreck. The main building is right on the beach with changing facilities, wash tanks and a large table with lean-to roof out of the sun. The dive boat is perfectly set up with plenty of room for the equipment and kitting up whilst being sheltered by a canopy. There are no more than 14 people on it at any time ensuring you are comfortable both on and off the boat. The atmosphere is laid back and relaxed with everyone getting to know your names from the offset. This is not to say they don’t treat you like royalty though as you barely touch your kit or have to worry about anything since they take care of it all for you.

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DIVE SITES

There is plenty to see in Mauritius and so much to capture on film. Richard had his Go-Pro Hero4 Black with Inon wide angle lens, and I had my Canon G7X in Nauticam housing with the Inon S-2000 strobe armed at the ready – for the first time ever my battery died on a 45 minute dive during this trip! Some of our favourite sites were:

Merville’s Patches – This dive consists of a series of coral filled reefs teaming with fish, but what makes this site unique is the abundance of moray eels that live here. Under almost every rock there were a plethora of Morays – we even found 3 squeezed in one tiny hole as shown in the image below:

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img_0564There was a beautiful Anemone with a resident black Anemone Fish – both were just stunning. We were also shown the unusual Leaf Fish; magenta in colour, this little creature would easily go unseen as it could be mistaken for a piece of coral. It wasn’t until I reviewed my images that I also noticed a small Anemone crab in the top left corner, capturing all three beauties in one go.

Shark Safari (Round Island & Snake Island) – The first thing to point out about these islands is that the Round Island isn’t round, and Snake Island doesn’t have any snakes – all the snakes live on Round Island. Go figure that one out! These 2 small islands can be found a 60 min boat ride away from the North East coast. The main draw for these waters, that are rich in oxygen from the pulsating currents, are the sharks. This two dive safari set in a scene of huge wall drops offs and giant overhangs, that wouldn’t be out of place in the film Jurassic Park, did not fail to deliver. White tip and grey reef sharks can be found cruising these waters which are beautifully decorated with giant fan corals. If you’re serious about scuba diving then this is a must!

img_0711Silver Star Wreck – The Silver Star is a 57m fishing trawler that sank in 1987. She sits on a sandy bottom at 42m deep, and interestingly is the only shipwreck in the waters of Mauritius to still have her giant and very impressing propeller still intact. It seems all other wrecks have had theirs salvaged for the scrap value, so seeing her in all her glory made this dive all the more special. Because of the depth we had 15l tanks, and planned a dive with 6 mins of deco which was needed to cover this impressive wreck. Plenty to see on this dive from the giant propeller, penetration through the wreck revealing shoals of fish hiding in the dark, to the abundance of marine life that can be found on the deck, all the way up to the hard coral that has formed on the top of the mast.

img_0903Grand Baie Aquarium – We were joined by our newly married friends (Silpa and Scott) on this dive which made it all the more special. A shallow dive of just 13m, you never know where to look as there is life literally everywhere! Shoals of Sgt Majors, Trumpet fish, baby Crocodile fish, and Leaf fish adorn the reefs brightly lit by the warm Mauritian sun. Without a doubt, the highlight being the most stunning and vivid purplish/red Anemone with their resident fish. Huge barrel looking things that look as though they’re made of the finest velvet – just stunning and have never seen anything like it anywhere!

Anemone Garden – As the name would suggest, this dive site is littered with Anenomes, but, and this is a big but, what we found will forever remain in my memory. In amongst the vivid coloured anemone that dominates the reef was the most beautiful white anemone – in all of the dives we have done around the world this was a first for us. Such a very special moment to remember!

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HIGHLIGHTS

Global Underwater Explorers – After recently undergoing fundamentals and technical GUE training, Dodo Divers is now the first dive centre in the Indian Ocean to offer GUE courses, with hopes of one day being the first GUE accredited centre. GUE (Global Underwater Explorers) is a world renowned high-level technical diving organisation geared towards training highly skilled technical divers, as well as putting emphasis on conservation and exploration work. Brining GUE to Mauritius will attract a whole new calibre of divers, and opens up the as-yet largely undiscovered world of technical diving in the Indian Ocean. You can find more about GUE on their website: www.gue.com

img_2858Community work – In addition to the above, Rose and the team are working with a local marine conservation NGO, supported by Government ministers and ministries, on a project to generate greater awareness amongst Mauritian youths about the importance of marine life conservation efforts in Mauritius. As part of the project, over the next year, Dodo Divers will have groups of Mauritian school children between the ages of 10-15 coming to learn to dive with them in an effort to open their eyes to the beauty of the underwater world that surrounds their Island. Rose says “We hope that by learning to dive, they will be able to relate more with the conservation workshops that the NGO are organising”. Just this week they had an MBC – Mauritius Broadcasting Corporation – press launch of the project.

Dodo Divers Team – It wasn’t just the quality of diving that impressed us but also the fantastic team at Dodo Divers. All the reviews say the same thing: they go out of their way to make your experience special, and that’s exactly what they did for us. A particular shout out to Anthony – one of the best dive guides we have ever come across. A friendly, intelligent Mauritian local, his air of authority is balanced with his likeability and humour meaning you trust him implicitly to provide fun whilst ensuring your safety. Anthony, also an accomplished photographer himself, was taking some really impressive photos with a compact camera. The other members of the team, Nadeem, Chang, Pascal, Manisha and the owner Rose were equally fantastic and made our diving truly exceptional, and we seem to have returned home with a newfound love of Justin Beiber – what can we say other than “I’m sorry”!

From the minute we arrived at Dodo Divers, to the emotional farewell at the end of the week, we felt at home with this incredible group of people. They took care of everything and tailored the diving to our likes and requests meaning we enjoyed every single one. The world is a big place and has so much to offer – we have a list of dive destinations as long as Richard’s XL wetsuit that we wish to visit. With this in mind, we rarely plan to return to somewhere we have already visited – well until now that is. Hand on heart we will return not only to Mauritius to visit these beautiful waters but to Dodo Divers to visit what we can only describe as our new home from home.

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OVERALL

We can’t write enough words to express how impressed we were with Dodo Divers. Not only do we feel like we’ve had the most amazing diving experience in Mauritius, but we feel like we have made friends in the process. Magical Mauritius has stolen our hearts and we will 100% be coming back in the future, without a doubt diving again with Dodo Divers!

Five beautiful black mantas for Dodo Divers!

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cropped-bm-black3xFind out more about Hayley and Richard’s adventures at www.blackmantaphotography.com.

Hayley is a passionate scuba diver, travel blogger, and underwater photographer, travelling the world with her partner Richard to complete the team at Black Manta Photography. A qualified TEC50 and sidemount diver, she's dived everywhere from Truk Lagoon to deepest Indonesia and loves nothing more than exploring new and exciting places, documenting her experiences with her camera above and below the water. As divers, Hayley feels we are privy to a secret beauty and by capturing it, hopefully, we can encourage more people to protect and cherish it.

Marine Life & Conservation

Ghost Fishing UK land the prize catch at the Fishing News Awards

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The charity Ghost Fishing UK was stunned to win the Sustainability Award.

The winners were selected by a panel of industry judges and the award recognises innovation and achievement in improving sustainability and environmental responsibility within the UK or Irish fishing industries in 2021.

Nominees must have demonstrated a unique and innovative response to an environmental sustainability issue within the UK or Irish industry, demonstrating that the project has gone above and beyond standard practice, and provided evidence of its impact. The judges look particularly for projects that have influenced a significant change in behaviour and/or that have inspired broader awareness and/or engagement.

Ghost Fishing UK originated in 2015, training voluntary scuba divers to survey and recover lost fishing gear, with the aim to either return it to the fishing industry or recycle it. The charity is run entirely by volunteers and has gone from strength to strength, only last year winning the Best Plastic Campaign at the Plastic Free Awards.

Now, the charity has also been recognised at seemingly the opposite end of the spectrum. This is a unique achievement as trustee Christine Grosart explains;

We have always held the belief that working with the fishing industry is far more productive than being against it, in terms of achieving our goals to reduce and remove lost fishing gear.

The positive response to our fisheries reporting system that we received from both the fishing industry and the marine environment sector, was evidence that working together delivers results.

The feedback we got from the awards evening and the two-day Scottish Skipper Expo where we had an exhibit the following day, was that the fishing industry despises lost fishing gear as much as we do and the fishers here are very rarely at fault. It is costly to them to lose gear and they will make every effort to get it back, but sometimes they can’t. That is where we come in, to try to help. Everyone wins, most of all the environment. You can’t ask for much more.”

Following the awards, Ghost Fishing UK held an exhibit at the Scottish Skipper expo at the new P&J Live exhibition centre in Aberdeen.

This gave us a fantastic opportunity to meet so many people in the fishing industry, all of whom were highly supportive of our work and wanted to help us in any way they could. This has opened so many opportunities for the charity and our wish list which has been on the slow burner for the last 7 years, was exceeded in just 3 days. We came away from the events exhausted, elated, humbled, grateful and most of all, excited.”

Trustee and Operations Officer, Fred Nunn, is in charge of the diving logistics such as arranging boats and organising the divers, who the charity trains in house, to give up their free time to volunteer.

He drove from Cornwall to attend the awards and the exhibition: “What a crazy and amazing few days up in Scotland! It was awesome to meet such a variety of different people throughout the industry, who are all looking at different ways of improving the sustainability and reduction of the environmental impact of the fishing industry.

It was exciting to have so many people from the fishing industry approaching us to find out more about what we do, but also what they could offer. Fishermen came to us with reports and offers of help, using their vessels and other exhibitors tried to find ways that their product or service could assist in our mission.”

  • Ghost Fishing UK uses hard boat charters from Cornwall to Scotland for the diving projects, paying it forward to the diving community.
  • The charity relies on reports of lost fishing gear from the diving and fishing community and to date has received well over 200 reports, culminating on over 150 survey and ghost gear recovery dives, amounting to over 1000 individual dives and diver hours by the volunteer team members.
  • You can find more information at ghostfishing.co.uk
  • If you are a fisher who knows of any lost fishing gear, you can report it to the charity here: ghostfishing.co.uk/fishermans-reporting
  • The charity is heading to Shetland for a week-long project in the summer of 2023. If you would like to support this project, please contact them at: info@ghostfishing.co.uk

Chair of Ghost Fishing UK and professional technical diving instructor Dr Richard Walker was immensely proud of the team’s achievements;

I’ve been a scuba diver since 1991 and have met thousands of divers in that time. I’d be hard pushed to think of one of them that wasn’t concerned about conservation of our marine environment. To be recognised by the fishing industry for our efforts in sustainability is a huge honour for us, and has encouraged our team to work even harder to find, survey and remove lost fishing gear from the seas. The fact that the fishing industry recognises our efforts, and appreciates our stance as a group that wants to work alongside them is one of the highlights of our charity’s history, and we look forward to building the relationship further.

To find out more about Ghost Fishing UK visit their website here.


All images: Ghost Fishing UK

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Marine Life & Conservation

Komodo National Park found to be Manta Hotspot

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Through a collaborative effort between citizen divers, scientists from the Marine Megafauna Foundation (MMF), and Murdoch University, a new study reports a large number of manta rays in the waters of Komodo National Park, Indonesian, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, suggesting the area may hold the key to regional recovery of the threatened species.

Reef mantas (Mobula alfredi), which grow up to 5m, tend to reside and feed in shallow, coastal habitats. They also visit ‘cleaning stations’ on coral reefs to have parasites, or dead skin picked off by small fish. Courtship ‘trains’ are also observed adjacent to cleaning stations. In Komodo National Park, manta rays are present year-round, challenging the famous Komodo dragon as the most sought-after megafauna for visitors.

Scientists teamed up with the dive operator community to source identification photographs of manta rays visiting the parks’ waters and submit them to MantaMatcher.org – a crowdsourced online database for mantas and other rays. Most of the photographs came from just four locations from over 20 commonly visited by tourism boats.

I was amazed by how receptive the local dive community was in helping collect much-needed data on these threatened animals,” said lead author Dr. Elitza Germanov. “With their support, we were able to identify over 1,000 individual manta rays from over 4,000 photographs.

People love manta rays—they are one of the most iconic animals in our oceans. The rise of the number of people engaging in SCUBA diving, snorkeling, and the advent of affordable underwater cameras meant that photos and videos taken by the public during their holidays could be used to quickly and affordably scale data collection,” said MMF co-founder and study co-author Dr. Andrea Marshall.

The photographs’ accompanying time and location data is used to construct sighting histories of individual manta rays, which can then be analyzed with statistical movement models. These models predict the likelihood that manta rays are inhabiting or traveling in between specific sites. The study’s results showed that some manta rays moved around the park and others as far as the Nusa Penida MPA (>450 km to the west), but overall, manta rays showed individual preferences for specific sites within the Park.

I found it very interesting how some manta rays appear to prefer spending their time in some sites more than others, even when sites are 5 km apart, which are short distances for manta rays,” said Dr. Elitza Germanov. “This means that manta rays which prefer sites where fishing activities continue to occur or that are more popular with tourism will endure greater impacts.”

Fishing activities have been prohibited in many coastal areas within Komodo NP since 1984, offering some protection to manta rays prior to the 2014 nationwide protection. However, due to illegal fishing activity and manta ray movements into heavily fished waters, manta rays continue to face a number of threats from fisheries. About 5% of Komodo’s manta rays have permanent injuries that are likely the result of encounters with fishing gear.

The popularity of tourism to these sites grew by 34% during the course of the study. An increase in human activity can negatively impact manta rays and their habitats. In 2019, the Komodo National Park Authority introduced limits on the number of boats and people that visit one of the most famous manta sites.

This study shows that the places where tourists commonly observe manta rays are important for the animals to feed, clean, and mate. This means that the Komodo National Park should create measures to limit the disturbance at these sites,” said Mr. Ande Kefi, an employee of the Komodo National Park involved with this study. “I hope that this study will encourage tourism operators to understand the need for the regulations already imposed and increase compliance.”

Despite Indonesia’s history with intensive manta ray fisheries, Komodo National Park still retains large manta ray aggregations that with careful ongoing management and threat reduction will benefit regional manta ray populations. The study highlights that marine protected areas that are large enough to host important manta ray habitats are a beneficial tool for manta ray conservation.

For more information about MMF visit their website here.

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