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A well-known tropical island’s best kept secret

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Mauritius has never been punted as a diving destination. Honeymooners go there, families go there to enjoy the world class water sports, golfers go there to enjoy superbly manicured golf courses, but diving? Maybe with your partner on a lazy Sunday. For the Europeans and Scandinavians it’s inexpensive, well run, has fabulous resorts with superb all-inclusive entertainment packages, stunning enclosed lagoons, and white sandy beaches where the kids can safely play. Dive boat launches are among the easiest and most relaxed I have ever experienced anywhere in the world. Boats launch from the lagoon, which is flat calm, and you step onto the boat, either from the beach or off a jetty.

After a thorough briefing on the type of reef and safety procedures in the dive centre, you are good to go. Dive groups are small, and the dive masters and instructors are normally Mauritians, whose safety training and service levels are exceptional. The dive team loads the cylinders on board, and you saunter down to the boat in your wetsuit. You climb onto the boat and kit up your cylinder while the boat putters along to the dive site, normally 5 to 10 minutes away.

A backward roll and you are into amazing clarity and breath-taking fish life. In Mauritius, you don’t need to hunt for moray eels. I have countless videos of them hunting and killing on the reefs, and the extremely rare weedy scorpion fish is a superb example.

The visible re-growth of new corals and the re-establishment of coral reefs on this fabulous holiday island playground is undoubtedly world news.

Mauritius reefs are fairly deep on the global scale and to a certain extent they have been protected from the worst of the ravages of global over-heating of the sea.

Against the global trend, where worldwide reefs are suffering from damage caused by over-population, over-fishing and pollution, there are tiny acrapora corals breaking through the previously dead areas of reef. Ever cautious, the scientists still have to establish the rate of growth, and the Marine biologists at Reef Mauritius in Pereybere are planning to put down coral growth plates to establish the rate of growth.

It’s also probably the safest place in the world to live right now, with a benign climate, unobtrusive governmental controls and almost zero crime. If you leave your handbag on the seat in the Mahebourg airport public lounge and go back to look for it an hour later after trying to check in unsuccessfully without your passport, it’s still there. If you leave your flip flops on the beach they are still there when you go to fetch them a week later. I have done both.

How does a nation that for centuries depended for its livelihood on sugar farming and subsistence fishing ever change its economy, and encourage its marine-dependent population to protect their resources? Mauritius did, and against the world trend, the coral reefs are re-growing.

The Mauritian Government incentivised its population away from sugar cane towards tourism in the early part of the century, and passed protective legislation to limit damage to the undersea world from over-fishing, agricultural chemical run-off, and to clean up the disposal of sewerage and encourage aquaculture.

The legislation was clever, as it did not confront the sugar industry with dramatic change. Instead of passing draconian laws, Government introduced incentives that made the sugar companies happy to shift their focus. The IRS, or Integrated Resort Scheme was introduced to entice sugar farming companies to partner with property developers and build spectacular lifestyle resorts around the island. This not only limited sugar planting, with its chemical overspill into the sea, it also enriched the local population, weaning it away from subsistence level fishing.

The government passed legislation to enable the creation of protective tourism-based entities whose main entertainment offering was the marine world. High end five and six star tourist resorts sprang up on the most beautiful of the Island’s beaches, and of course it was in their commercial best interests to protect their primary attraction, and the resorts zealously guard their maritime resources. Most resorts have an affiliated dive operator, and all of them offer superb service to divers. Francois Besson of Diving World is typical of these, with a powerful conservation policy and a strong affiliation to one of the world’s leading resort chains.

With the construction of Cyber City at Ebene, and the introduction of high speed fibre, the Mauritian population had an alternative source of revenue in the form of IT based activities and above all of call centres. This is a godsend for both English and French speaking companies, as Mauritius has a 95 percent literacy rate, and a highly intelligent labour pool, so the Islanders became less dependent on fishing for their daily meal. Wealth lessens any population’s dependence on its natural resources. The Mauritius supermarkets are packed with shoppers every evening and over weekends. Much easier to buy your food from the local supermarket than to get up at 4am, wheel the engine down to the boat, paddle out in a tiny skiff to load it up, then travel for 2 hours to the local fishing ground.

Mauritius undoubtedly offers some of the world best diving. It is varied, and can be relaxed, dramatic, adventurous or simply fun. The spectacular volcanic structure of the island lends itself to deep diving, where the deco divers can enjoy some spectacular scenery in over 40 metre viz where massive shoals of pelagic fish congregate. Many Europeans spend the winter months in Mauritius, diving with Ocean Spirit, and exploring untouched reefs.

There are sensational dive sites on the East at Bel Mar and in the North in Pereybere where the current is so strong it’s like riding an undersea wave. There are mid-water cleaning stations where the giant tuna come in to be attended by minute cleaner wrasses and damsels, and increasing numbers of hunting barracuda and blue-fin kingfish. There are secret islands off-shore where there are washing machine circular holes filled with the oceanic white-tip sharks who come to spend the daylight hours sleeping, without fear of losing the water-flow over their gills that they need in order to stay alive.

Each reef is different, and all of them have something to offer the recreational diver, and of course it’s a wide-angle photographer’s paradise. In summer the viz can go up to 80 metres, and the lowest I have dived in was 15m viz in mid-winter on a turning tide.

It is really exciting to see the once-dead brown corals sprouting new polyp-tips, and to see the burgeoning growth of the soft corals. With the growth of the soft corals come the coral crabs, banded pipe fish and bower shrimps, so Mauritius is rapidly becoming a paradise for macro photography. With the growth of the corals comes protection for the eggs of the shoaling fusiliers, big eyes, glow-fish, snappers and goat fish, and these are now showing up in massive hatchings that bring in the game fish.

Diving in Mauritius is exciting, and different from anywhere in the world.

It’s an Island with its reefs reborn through the clever intervention of an enlightened government.

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Sources: CORALS and Indo-Pacific Reef Guide by Harry Erhardt and Daniel Knop

Pics: Jill Holloway

Pics: Chrystelle Besson Diving World

© Ocean Spirit

www.osdiving.com

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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Top 12 Dive Destinations in Oceania – Part 2

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Oceania has a fascinating mixture of well-known romantic destinations and wild, remote dive spots that few people ever get to visit. It is a region of contrasts with enough dive destinations and cultural highlights to satisfy even the most adventurous divers. In part II of 12 great places to go diving in Oceania, we take a deep dive into some of this region’s most famous and little-known islands. Get inspired for your next dive trip to Oceania here.


French Polynesia

French Polynesia’s Society Islands have a stellar list of dive destinations, including Tahiti and Moorea. Between them, they offer easy coral reef diving and calm, turquoise lagoons with friendly stingrays and blacktip reef sharks. You can also swim with humpback whales, tiger sharks, lemon and nurse sharks there.

This beautiful nation’s best-known dive spots, Fakarava and Rangiroa atolls, are just a short flight away from the Society Islands. Both of these huge atolls offer exciting pass dives with hundreds of grey reef sharks and resident dolphins.

For a completely different dive experience, visit the Marquesas Islands. This island group is the farthest from any landfall on Earth and has a unique underwater world that hosts unusually large mantas and melon-headed whales.

And if that all sounds like too much effort, go Bora Bora scuba diving instead. This ‘Pearl of the Pacific’ has fantastic diving, and you can spend your downtime relaxing with champagne lunches on deserted islands.


The Solomon Islands

The Solomon Islands are a haven for more than 1000 reef fish species and numerous prized critters, plus dolphins, sharks, rays and six species of sea turtle. Hosting hundreds of wrecks and remote hard coral reefs, there is something for every diver there.

The Russell Islands host some of the best-known dive sites in all of the Solomon Islands. There, you can glide between the walls of a crevasse that cuts through an island, immerse yourself in wreck diving at White Sand Beach, swim through a halocline at Custom Caves, or go in search of pygmy seahorses.

For the best wreck diving, make sure you visit Iron Bottom Sound. This stretch of water hosts around 200 ships and more than 600 aircraft wrecks from World War II. It is a wreck diving mecca that offers excellent tech-wreck dives.


The Marshall Islands

The Marshall Islands is a chain of volcanic islands and coral atolls that few people know about. As the fifth least visited country in the world, these islands offer remote diving among exciting deep wrecks and vibrant coral reefs.

Bikini Atoll is the main dive destination in the Marshall Islands. Made famous by US atomic bomb tests in the 1940s, this atoll hosts numerous deep wrecks that offer incredible tech diving.

As well as some of the best tech-wreck dives imaginable, the Marshall Islands also have thriving hard coral reefs without any dive crowds. There are pinnacles, drop-offs, channels and shallow coral gardens to explore, busy with colorful reef life.


The Cook Islands

When it comes to warm welcomes, it’s hard to beat the Cook Islands. From the moment you arrive, you will be drawn into one of the friendliest nations in the world and won’t want to leave.

This wonderful country is a perfect place to get your Open Water Diver certification or take your family diving. Rarotonga is the main destination for tourism and is a charming island with fresh markets, cafes, restaurants, and resorts tucked away among the palms. There are around 25 dive sites just offshore and gorgeous beaches for laid-back surface intervals.

Nearby Aitutaki has fewer visitors, yet it hosts around 22 dive sites, with many still being discovered. It is a great place to dive among remote coral-covered landscapes and forget the rest of the world exists. Whichever island you choose, the waters are warm and full of colorful reef life.


New Caledonia

New Caledonia is one of those wish-list destinations known for its spectacular diving, crystal-clear waters and abundant marine life. Unlike some remote destinations in Oceania, New Caledonia has modern infrastructure that makes it easy to explore at your pace – by car or island hopping with regular domestic flights.

There are over 100 dive sites scatted around New Caledonia, offering a tempting mix of deep drop-offs, thrilling drift dives, wrecks, and easy reef diving. Most diving is conducted at the New Caledonia Barrier Reef, a vast 1500 km-long reef that encloses a UNESCO World Heritage lagoon. Within the lagoon, you can explore coral-encrusted walls, channels, and easy dive sites in shallow waters.

New Caledonia’s extensive marine reserves ensure these dive sites are teeming with life. For the best chance to see mantas and sharks, visit from April until September.


Vanuatu

Vanuatu is the perfect place to reconnect with nature, offering untouched rainforests, natural swimming holes and excellent scuba diving.

Pristine reefs abound in Vanuatu, with many dive sites accessible simply by walking off the beach. Million Dollar Point is one of the most unique dive spots and hosts an array of machinery and equipment dumped by the US after World War II. The SS President Coolidge, a former World War II troop carrier, and the 1874 three-masted Star of Russia are excellent wrecks to dive.

The amount of marine life at Vanuatu’s dive sites is staggering. As well as rainbow-hued corals and countless reef fish, there are sea turtles, sharks, rays, and numerous pelagic fish. You can also go swimming with dugongs there.


Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea is one of the most culturally diverse countries in the world, home to more than 850 known languages and hundreds of different tribes. It is unlike anywhere else in Oceania.

Along with the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea has some of the healthiest coral reefs in the world, including at Kimbe Bay. This special bay was once ranked as the most beautiful reef by National Geographic.

The nearby Witu Islands are a great place to go critter hunting and drift dive among schools of tuna and barracuda. Milne Bay is the home of muck diving and offers excellent shallow muck and reef diving with numerous critters.

There are seamounts busy with reef sharks and exciting walls at Fathers Reefs, and you can dive in the shadow of jungle-covered fjords at Tufi.


Kathryn Curzon, a shark conservationist and dive travel writer for SSI (Scuba Schools International), wrote this article.

 

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Marine Life & Conservation

MCS call for better protection of UK’s Marine Parks

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On the 14th May the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) announced a consultation on byelaws to protect and manage 13 offshore MPAs. This follows the banning of bottom-towed fishing gear from four offshore MPAs, including Dogger Bank.

These first four byelaws – effective from 13th June 2022 – are a win for the Marine Conservation Society’s ongoing Marine UnProtected Areas campaign.

The campaign is calling for protection, at long last, of England’s offshore MPAs designated to protect the seabed which is vital for absorbing and storing carbon, buffering the effects of climate change, and supporting biodiversity.

When damaging fishing gear like bottom trawls and dredges are permitted to fish in these MPAs, the health of the planet is compromised; preventing the recovery of ecosystems already lost to decades of exploitation and limiting the seabed’s ability to store carbon and combat the effects of the climate crisis.

Today, the Marine Conservation Society is releasing new research, outlining 16 ‘critically important’ sites for protection. Half of the 16 critically important MPAs experienced disturbance (seabed trawling) on over 90% of the total ‘protected’ area.

Just 5 of the 13 proposed byelaws from the MMO are sites deemed ‘critically important’ in the Marine Conservation Society’s newest analysis.

By analysing fishing data, carbon storage potential, habitat sensitivity and MPA conservation objectives, the charity has ranked the remaining offshore sites in need of legislation from ‘critically important’ to ‘important’.

Of the sites identified as ‘critically important’, the South-West Deeps (East) Marine Conservation Zone (MCZ) received the highest score of all sites, making it the most critical for protection. This site – approximately 190 km southwest of the Land’s End peninsula – has not been included in the latest consultation.

The area is vital for carbon storage and is a biodiversity hot spot, experiencing a summer plankton bloom each year bringing wildlife to the area. The Marine Conservation Society’s analysis found that, on average, the area experiences over 5,000 hours of bottom trawling each year. The site has the potential to store up to 1.7 million tonnes of organic carbon; the same amount of carbon as that emitted by over 1 million return flights from London to Sydney.

Frith Dunkley, MPA Researcher at the Marine Conservation Society, said:“Many of the sites of critical importance for protection were not initially designated for their carbon storage potential. However, this added element makes ocean protection even more vital. The huge volumes of carbon which can, and should, be stored by these vast Marine Protected Areas could be put at risk by countless hours of fishing, where vessels indiscriminately drag nets along the seabed. As we face twin climate and biodiversity crises, it’s of the utmost importance that we allow these sites to recover.”

Dr Jean-Luc Solandt, MPA Specialist at the Marine Conservation Society, said: “Our new analysis represents a clear path for the Government to take in protecting our seas. We’ve found 16 sites of critical importance. It’s disappointing to see that just 5 of the 13 proposed byelaws being consulted on now are those we’ve identified as critically important. The four byelaws, due to be in place from 13th June, are a step in the right direction, but there’s a long way to go to achieve protection of 40 sites with management measures as promised by UK Government by 2024.

Join the charity’s call for government action by signing the Marine UnProtected Areas petition, pushing for a further 16 byelaws to be put in place.

For more information, and to read the charity’s Marine UnProtected Areas report from January 2021, please visit www.mcsuk.org.

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The resort is nestled around an ocean front deck and swimming-pool (with pool-bar) which is the perfect place to enjoy a sundowner cocktail at the end of a busy day of critter-diving.

All accommodation is full board and includes three sumptuous meals a day. Breakfast and lunch are buffet meals and in the evening dining is a la carte.

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Booking deadline: Subject to availability – book and stay before end of June 2022

Call Diverse Travel on 01473 852002 or email info@diversetravel.co.uk.

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