Mauritius by night: When the nocturnal species come out to play

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The boat leaves as dusk begins to fall and as the sun sets, we kit up in a fluster of haste, careful not to forget our torches, nervous because it’s unfamiliar to be going diving when everyone else is going out to dinner. We each have a torch and we are told not to switch them on before we hit the water, as they will spoil our night vision.

Menon gives a much longer dive briefing than normal and a lot of it is to do with the unfamiliar darkness we will be diving in. We will be diving Point Vacoas, a reef characterised by sand striped gullies and rich in towering ancient brain coral bomies. During the day it is coloured by delicate pink lilac and peach soft corals and filled with fish life.

He warns us to keep well above the reef until we have a feel for the surrounding darkness. There is a torch at the top of the buoy line and a torch at the bottom. We backward roll into pitch blackness, and switch on our lights. The boat’s navigation lights come on so we know where we are, where the bottom is, and where the boat is.

Sorted.

We sink through the crystal water towards the bottom, careful not to shine our torches in each other’s eyes. It’s easy to spot the others in the group, their torches are like light sabres on the white sand in the marine darkness.

As we reach the reef a hand, lit by a torch points, and there is a juvenile bar-tail moray hunting in the dark, his victim oblivious.

Morays are normally easily spotted during the day in Mauritius, but rarely do we see them outside their holes. They hunt by night.

As I filmed him a light caught an orange undulation, and a Spanish dancer wove his way down to the reef, caught in the spotlight of the whole group of torches.

He was at least 300mm long, and he undulated gracefully, flashing his exquisite colours. You never see them during the day, and I have no idea where they hide. I have often seen their egg ribbons, but I’ve never seen these huge nudibranchs during the day. Another rare nudi was a Berthalini, another huge nocturnal creature built along the same lines and almost as spectacular as the Spanish Dancer.

Someone taps his tank and one of the torches hovers on a large grey creature. I turn towards the sound, and there is a completely unfamiliar creature, silvery grey, box shaped, long spiked tail, about 600 mm long, flapping and hovering and turning in circles.

It’s a Cowfish, and according to the books, it’s not found in Mauritius. It’s found in Indonesia, but there it is looking a little embarrassed at being caught out in the wrong ocean. On honeymoon perhaps? We looked around but could not find his mate.

Another group of unfamiliar creatures was hiding in a crevice. The squat lobster is also not common in Mauritius, so it was wonderful to fine a pair of them hiding in a hole, edging their way tentatively out to find a midnight snack.

I get excited by anything unfamiliar, and that night I saw at least 5 creatures I have never seen in over 1500 dives worldwide. There was a slipper lobster, a finning marbled electric ray, a baby two spot lionfish, proudly spreading his colourful fins, a spot backed crab and a giant coral crab that must have been at lead 500mm across the shell.

Suddenly out of the darkness appeared an extraordinary spider like creature which we later identified as a decorator crab. He uses his sticky spit to attach shells, seaweed and small anemones to his back and legs, and looks like something out of a bad sci-fi movie.

After 50 minutes of dramatic exploration, it was time start ascending, torches firmly lit and pointing down. This time, we had to leave them switched on in case someone dropped one as they are huge and quite costly. We each carried a smaller pocket torch in case of failure, so night diving is always about being doubly safe.

When we got back to the dive centre, Lorenzo from the restaurant next door had prepared a Mauritian feast for us which he served at the dive centre and we sat around the de-briefing table at the Dive Centre drinking Phoenix beer and South African wine, identifying our finds and chatting. It was one of the best dives I have done in Mauritius and I hope to make it the first of many.


Words Jill Holloway

Pics Jill Holloway

Copyright Ocean Spirit

www.osdiving.com

Jill Holloway

Jill Holloway

Jill Holloway lives in Mauritius and at Sodwana Bay Isimangaliso Wetland Park in South Africa. A PADI qualified Nitrox diver with over 1,500 dives, she is a passionate observer and preserver of the marine environment, and has a database of over 35,000 fish pics and hundreds of Gopro videos on fish behaviour, which she shares with her readers.

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