Diving in Mauritius: the (experienced) guide’s advice!
Australia, Egypt, Maldives Islands, and the Polynesia are often mentioned when talking of the top diving sites in the world? What about Mauritius? Is it worth of appearing in this prestigious list?
Maybe... maybe not...
In Mauritius, the top coasts along the disastrous, everything depends on the visited sites! Diving anywhere or anyplace deemed convenient might not be enough to give you an enchanting and memorable underwater world. Renting the services of a diving centre, which is little concerned about the quality of the mentioned services being offered, amounts to finding oneself on a dead coral reef, scattered with some wandering fishes. Actual experiences: a guide starts the diving by feeding the fishes so as to attract them closer; he then rushes under a rock to get hold of an octopus, which he proudly showed to everyone. Furious, the octopus spits its ink and tries vainly to escape. A true circus show! The scene reached its limit when we came across a stonefish hidden in the remnants of corals; the guide seized it and showed us its frayed, spiny dorsal. With his forefingers, he let the sheath, covering a spine, slipped and as such, revealed a threatening needle. We could have nearly forgotten that this fish can be deadly for Man... These experiences seem fascinating, yet, they are not enough to quench and fulfill our discovery desires in respect to the underwater life! Our guide brings us back to reality: the show is over, we should be getting back to the surface, although our pressure gauge are indicating an autonomy of 100 bars (1’500psi), largely sufficient to continue our exploration. Later on, I came to learn that some centres practice a diving known as the 35 minutes, where you should get back to the surface after 35 minutes of immersion. Why? Impossible to know! They will probably tell us about security reasons so as to avoid deco-stop... but the plain truth is there: the diving centre has migrated to a tourist factory where excessive profitability has taken over the initial passion.
You must have understood by now: to enjoy the maximum of the diving, it is imperious to find out the good centres that will lead you to the good sites! Fortunately, in Mauritius, there are still many passionates who will enthusiastically make you discover their favourite spots. The island offers a diverse range of diving sites: coral reefs abounding in life, endless drops decorated with sumptuous gorgonian fans, sceneries with an imposing architecture made of arches, tunnels and mysterious caves, rusted shipwrecks that conceal unsuspected treasures...
The attractive sites can be found all around the island, rather exclusively behind the coral reefs. The lagoon is not much interesting, except the marine parks of Blue Bay and Balaclava. It is rather poor in animal life due to the damage caused by fishing (with the use of dynamite in the past!), pollution and the development in the tourism sector. The island can be divided in three big zones: the South-West (from the Morne to Flic en Flac), the North-West (from Tombeau Bay till the islands of the North) and the East (from Belle Mare to Mahebourg). The Southern region of the island is not suitable for diving due to a rough and dangerous sea.
Each geographic zone possesses its own particularities:
The South-western part is famous for the presence of dolphins that take shelter in the bays of Tamarin or of Black River. At Flic-en-Flac, two sites outweigh the others: the Cathedral, which offers a spectacular décor due to the topography of the place (cavities, caves, arches) and Rempart Serpent, which shelters a rich fauna composed of an astounding grouping of different species of stonefishes, scorpionfishes, lionfishes and moray eels. Such an agglomeration of these species is unique in Mauritius and maybe in the whole world! The presence of numerous shipwrecks, willingly immersed in this region so as to create artificial reefs, has enriched diving possibilities, particularly that of Tug II and the Kei Sei 113 located at Flic-en-Flac or the Hoi Siong, recently sunk off the coast of Ile aux Bénitiers. Other such wrecks can be visited but they are found at rather inaccessible depths: the St-Gabriel (-41m), the Orient (-47m) or still, the Carp (-72m).
The North of the island shelters diversified and interesting sites: Peter Holt's Rock, with its giant moray eels and titan triggerfishes; Roches Baleines with its magnificent drop abounding in numerous fishes and sometimes turtles; Stenopus Reef that is rich in giant gorgonias and corals amongst which is found the green tree coral, more than 2 metres high. In this region, shipwrecks are plentiful: the Hassen Mian (Balaclava), Stella Maru (Trou aux Biches) or the Silver Star (Grand Bay) are the most interesting ones. Other wrecks, less attractive, can be further explored at Trou aux Biches: Amar, the Star Hope, and the two barges, Water Lily and Emily.
The islands of the North offer particularly attractive diving and surprisingly, are rarely visited by the clubs due to their distant location. Yet, they remain easily accessible for one little hour is enough to reach them. Various sites at Gunner's Coin are worth the visit: The Wall for a rendez-vous with the pelagic species, the wreck of Jabeda or still the Sleepers' Cave that often shelters sleeper sharks. Round Island is found among the most spectacular diving sites: an unequalled place for watching the big ones (sharks, shoals of barracudas, marlins). Banc Rouge, located in between Round Island and Serpent Island, is just as much as attractive: a steep peak reaching up to -80m to the surface, and where there is an ever-perfect visibility. The most famous and visited sites of the Northern islands is undoubtedly the renowned Shark Pit, behind Flat Island, at the foot of Pigeon House Rock. From November to the month of May, it welcomes a significant number of black-tailed sharks (Carcharinus wheeleri). Oblivious to the divers who come to observe them, they swim in the waters that are much oxygenated due to the disturbance of the swell. In this region, the visits depend on the conditions at sea, which can be very rough when there are violent winds.
On the Eastern coast, the magnificent lagoon bordering the coasts is scattered with many channels that allow easy access to the open sea. The channels are rich in plankton life and attract numerous pelagic species. The channel of Belle Mare is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful places of the island, though diving there is rather sporting due to the frequent violent currents (drift dive). You will definitely come across a spectacular agglomeration of species: sharks, rays, barracudas, jacks... Impossible to dive here twice for surprises are always popping up! Further to the south, towards Mahebourg, the sites offer a fabulous topography. The amazing geological structure allows the divers to swim in a decor made up of peaks, caves, breaks, tunnels, canyons, arches... The sites of Roche Zozo and Colorado are the two stars of the place, without forgetting the remnants of the historical wreckage of the Sirius. A genuine relic of the past, this British ship had sunk in 1810 during the naval battle of Grand Port, which opposed the French to the British. Unfortunately, there’s not much left and visibility is quite poor in those waters. Nevertheless, the discovery of cannons, cannonballs and the debris of the two-centuries-old hull will certainly evoke strong feelings!
In Mauritius, diving is possible all year round but the best season remains at summertime, from November to April, where the water’s temperature can reach 29°C. In winter, the sea cools down noticeably and can fall below 20°C: the waters are rough and visibility is quite poor.
Gathered together within the MSDA (Mauritian Scuba Diving Association), around forty diving centres offer underwater trips in the region where their centres are located. Nearly all of them are established within an hotelier complex and offer the usual services: rent of materials, first diving, licence exams, night diving, etc. To be able to visit the sites scattered all around the island, without having to rent the services of another diving centre (which brings about demanding obligations such as finding THE right centre, prove your abilities, get used to the club’s requirements, etc.), it is advised to join the Mauritius Underwater Group. The MUG is the unique non-profit making diving club of the island; it has been founded in 1964 and groups together visitors and natives (Mauritians or foreigners living in the island) who have a rich knowledge of diving in Mauritius! The club organises diving everywhere around the island. The only inconvenience: diving takes place solely during the week-end and sometimes, during the week days as well for night diving.
Although each region of the island has its own particularities and charms, the quality of the diving is very variable. To benefit wholly from the experience, the diver should have an adventurous mind rather than being only a simple spectator: rummage about in the cavities of the rock to unravel the mimicry of an octopus or the den of a moray eel, look through the branches of the corals to catch a glimpse of a myriad of timid small fishes, observe attentively the crevices scattered in the reefs to discover tiny creatures, scrutinise the blue waters to catch sight of a shoal of jacks or barracudas, listen to the shrill and distant cries of the dolphins that can appear suddenly...
Whatever be the sites, some species are often seen such as the surprising and discrete mauve or pink leaf fishes, the 2-metres long moray eels, the charming moorish idol, the big and at times threatening titan triggerfishes, the lionfishes or still the catfishes gathered in tight shoals... Fascinated by all these creatures, we can easily forget that there will soon be a time when we should get back to the surface!
Text and photos: © Fabrice Bettex / Mysterra