The labyrinths of Neptune.
In spite of the whims of Mother Nature, who looked bent on perturbing the smooth progress of our diving, the proprietors of the “Cotton Dive Centre”, Jacky and Fifi, tried their best to embark us upon the discovery of their favourite sites. Despite the rough sea and a poor visibility, which often prevented us from taking photographs, we did manage to experience all the beauty of the diving!
If I had the choice for the preservation of a site, it would undoubtedly be “The Basilica”: a natural architecture masterpiece. Endless tunnels, obscur caves, winding galleries and majestic arcs have been sculpted in the coral reefs with the passing centuries. Jacky acted as my guide in this sensational diving; we entered into a small dimly lit cave with a tunnel revealing itself at the bottom, which would allow us to access the interior of this ?coralline edifice?. We would finally be traveling through the bowels of a gigantic labyrinth!
The long tunnel got narrower as we moved forward, leaving only a thin crack of a deep blue where a light current was dragging us. The uneven roof was trimmed with air bubbles that were struggling in finding a way to the surface. The tunnel finally opened into a room leading to multiple galleries and caves filled with the bluest water, lighted partially by the rays of the sun seeping through the numerous gaps of the vault. The glimpse of the midnight blue of another tunnel extended our exploration. A wall made of rocks forced us into resurfacing almost vertically to take up another narrow passage. The stirred up sediments formed a misty curtain that reduced our visibility. The tunnel then widened into a large well and brought us into a new cave. The openings in the roofs allowed beams of diffused light to pass through. We continued to swim but could not stop admiring these enchanting plays of light. With its stately and mysterious vaults, the cave took a near resemblance to a basilica. The pure and solemn notes of an organ seemed to be the only things missing in imagining ourselves in the immersed edifice where Neptune celebrated his office!
It was now high time to leave by taking a last gallery cluttered with big rocks. Fortunately, Jacky knew the way back like the back of his hands; on my side, I was completely disoriented! In the shadowy light, a shoal of blue jackfishes (kingfishes) worked their way furtively through this rock maze. Ordinarily, this uninhabited site does not attract marine fauna enthusiasts. The scarcity of light prevents the coral from developing and this explains probably why the territory is occupied by such a small number of sea animals. However, we can still come across some pelagic fishes: jackfishes, tunas, sleeping sharks or a lost turtle!
But, be assured that there are still many sites where an abundant marine fauna can be observed. Since the fishermen are mostly busied in the lagoon, the exterior reef is completely preserved and offers a fantastic variety of corals. They do enjoy a good health and constitute the ideal habitats for both fishes and crustaceans species. You’ll discover an underwater beauty in all its guises: enormous plate corals protectively guarded by the angelfishes, the complete collection of triggerfishes (clown, picasso, titan, etc.), an abundance of pelagic fishes, shoals of parrotfishes, and snappers, which barely move aside to let you swim on...
Jacky and Fifi unveils their favourite sites, among which there is the “Sec des tortues” where you can swim from cave to cave in the search of green turtles, “Karlanne”, where you’ll come across all the species of tropical fishes, or still “Camelerou” and its star: a magnificent grouper which has the gift of changing colour instantaneously depending upon the substratum upon which it is moving. And if still this is not enough for you, try the channels! The one at St-Francois will fulfill the experienced diver’s desire. Between 8 to 30 metres deep, it is a fantastic channel where the outgoing current often models your moves. Tunas, barracudas, parrotfishes, porcupinefishes and at times, green turtles swam past us. The star turn is inevitably a shoal of "big-eye jackfishes" (kingfishes), of more than 100 individuals. Beware; the current is often so strong at this place that you will have to swim back flipping energetically!
For the beginners’ choice, shallow and protected sites in the lagoon, such as “La balade des demoiselles” (4m) or “The Aquarium” (7m), will allow the observation of a vast variety of corals and tropical fishes: lionfishes, damselfishes, solefishes, gobies and much more! The immense wealth of these sites will also attract the experienced diver, particularly "The Aquarium" which, allows the access to a canyon going under the coral reef where numerous fishes have formed their own groups: groupers, surgeonfishes, moray eels and ignobilis jackfishes of more than one metre fifty. Due to a quite strong current, getting back to the entry point is done through the help of a rope firmly anchored in the canyon.
The Eastern part of Rodrigues is undoubtedly a fascinating exploration territory: a kaleidoscope of colours and shapes whose secrets are jealously guarded by Mother Nature. The jagged underwater relief is the principal highlight: mounds of corals, tables, totems, pyramids, domes, arcs, caves, tunnels or canyons. It is simply a magical world where the unexpected is always on time!
- The "Cotton Dive Center" is located within the premises of the Cotton Bay Hotel. However, the centre is closed during the months of July and August. Reservation is a must (email: firstname.lastname@example.org).
- License, diving logbook and medical certificate must be produced. A compulsory license by the MSDA (Mauritius Scuba Diving Association) will be delivered directly by the centre. The complete equipment is provided (already included in the diving fee - a discount is made for a diver wholly equipped on his own). The centre organizes different types of diving: swimming pool initiation and first dive at sea, level 1 formation, night diving, and diving for the children.
- The supervisors are Jacky (B.E.E.S.I monitor + CMAS** instructor) and his wife, ?Fifi? (Dive Master + CMAS***).
- There is no recompression chamber in Rodrigues. The diving is carried out within the security zone (no deco-stop).
- Many types of corals, the habitual fauna of the Indian Ocean, some endemic species. The underwater landscapes are constituted of a very jagged relief, numerous canyons, tunnels, caves and faults. Many pelagic fishes such as tunas or jackfishes and some sharks.
Best time of the year:
- During the southern summer, running from October to April, with a net preference for the months of October, November and December (no cyclone risks!). Good visibility and a calm sea will keep the rendez-vous. Temperature of the water: 28 degrees.
Text and photos: © Fabrice Bettex / Mysterra