The legend claims that the numerous pirates who accosted Rodrigues long ago had hidden away fabulous treasures in mysterious caves or on desert islets. In the course of the different epochs, gold diggers and other adventurers have never been able to track down anything. What if these treasures have been forever buried in the emerald waters of its immense lagoon or even, beyond the coral reef?
You just need to dive at “Trou aux Pirates” to be convinced of the situation! Far from discovering gold coins and valuable jewellery, you will come across a much more precious treasure: an almost intact underwater fauna and flora. Barracudas, stingrays, sharks, tunas and kingfishes (jacks) evolved in an aquatic landscape made up of an incredible diversity of hard corals and immense gorgonian fans.
The dive started at the entrance of a small crack guarded by a shoal of batfishes. Engulfed in this narrow passage, we came out through the other extremity as if we had just emerged from a deep cave. On the drop that unfolded before our eyes everything seemed in harmony, the equilibrium between the rocky formations, the hard corals, the giant gorgonian fans and the shoal of fishes was perfect. To such an extent that we did not know where to look: here, a big grouper that was not so shy, there, a shoal of kingfishes, further away, a tuna swimming furtively the long of the coral reef... Busy photographing a gorgonian fan cut in a particular relief, I could not see the solitary barracuda stealing away behind me! On the other hand, the big stingray did not go by incognito; it was gliding on the bottom of the drop in 30 metres of water. Not worrying much about us, it moved off in the distance in a majestic impetus, attracting our gaze on the vast blue of the ocean that occasionally revealed some blacktail reef sharks. It would not be for this time though, let us not be too demanding and instead, hope for some surprises during our next explorations!
And believe me, there will be many surprises, even though some sites are not easily accessible in this period when the southern winter is ending. The sea, fairly rough due to the prevailing winds, obliged us to retreat back inside the lagoon many times. That was how we got the occasion to discover “Couzoupa”, a small aquatic Eden garden, located in a nook of the channel of Port Sud-Est. This site, easily accessible, shallow and protected from the assaults of the sea, offered a multitude of attractions. The waters were full of traditional reef fishes but also, other rare species such as the leaf fish or the famous “inimicus” scorpionfish, which can walk on its pelvic fins. ”Couzoupa” is a coral garden where you can wander about as you please and pry the waters for the discovery of hidden gems. One such jewel will surely be this "field" of sea anemones with vivid red trunks and long tentacles which provide shelter to “domino” damselfishes (Dascyllus trimaculatus) and clownfishes accompanied by their newly born offspring. Or, still these blue kingfishes, which were hunting through the labyrinths of the reef.
Skirting around a lump of coral, I caught sight of some big antennas waving in the water. Judging from the size, the animal owning these antennas must be gigantic... And, actually, a lobster, its length easily approximating half a metre (and I’m not exaggerating!) stood before me. It was impossible to get close to it: it was blocking the way with its appendix. I kept on insisting but this only resulted in its immediate withdrawal in its hideaway. On previous voyages, I had already observed some normal size specimens but this experience clearly goes beyond the imagination. Benoît, our guide and proprietor of “Bouba Diving Center”, did not seem stunned; he has already been through such amazing experiences! Further away, we came across a small octopus that seemed as if it wanted to play hide-and-seek. Mischievously, it let us get really close before abruptly fleeing some metres away. It settled on a rock and boasted its talent by constantly changing shades like a kaleidoscope, before finally taking the colour of the rock’s surrounding; a perfect copy. The small game lasted for a few minutes till the time when grown weary of our presence or maybe, upset from the fact that we had been able to locate it once more, it fled away in the waters leaving us with a cloud of ink as a farewell souvenir. A few metres away, an old wheel, probably, forming part of an ancestral cannon component, was lying in the sand... and, what if, though concealed by the sand, the remnants of one of our famous pirates’ shipwreck appear suddenly?!? We would surely not have the courage to dig!
On its own, the channel of Port Sud-Est offers 5 interesting diving spots: “Jardin”, “Small Wall”, “Castle Rock”, “Pâté Fanu” and “Couzoupa”, which is undoubtedly the most attractive and well-preserved of the sites. ”Small wall”, just like the other spots, depends on the varying visibility resulting from the changing tide. It is a drop going down to a depth of 20 metres. Once again, we discovered big lobsters, bigeye kingfishes and even a tuna without forgetting the barely perceptible fauna: numerous species of nudibranchs, shells, anemones' shrimps, stonefishes whose camouflage still convey dread and, hidden in the cracks of the rock, sumptuous juvenile angelfishes that are quite rare like the Semicircle angelfish (Pomacanthus semicirculatus), not to be mixed up with the Emperor angelfish (Pomacanthus imperator), which can also be found here! It is quite unfortunate that the sites of the channel are practically covered with sediments, thus accentuating further the morose aspect of the sceneries. These places are very much exposed to the movement of the tides that carries sand and mud. Furthermore, the recent storms and cyclones have awfully brewed up the seabeds; instead of sinking in the depths of the channel, the sediments have settled on the surrounding rocks. The time needed to clean these sites of their impurities will probably be extended to a few more months.
A diving trip without a little thrilling experience is not a real trip. Fortunately, we were entitled to such a trip! On a particular day, the weather turned out to be gloomy; there was a constant downpour. Benoît decided to dive at the entrance of the channel (“Pâté la Passe”). Due to the strong swell, we went down quickly. The bad visibility (barely 5 metres) and the feeble light made us feel as if it was already dusk even though it was still 11am! We finally reached a depth of 36 metres, four blacktail reef sharks (carcharinus wheeleri) were waiting for us... Due to the bad visibility, it was impossible to know what was happening beyond 5 metres. It was exciting yet at the same time alarming to suddenly catch sight of the sharks at arm’s length, then to see them abruptly melt in the prevailing fog. This little game went on for some minutes, the sharks were curious but calm and inoffensive. Obviously, I was unable to take some good photographs in these conditions: it’s a pity as the “London fog” atmosphere was quite terrific and unusual in a tropical sea. With a proper visibility, the feeling would have been probably of a new kind but certainly, not this intense! This is one of the pleasures of diving: to never really know what is waiting for us on the other side of the mirror... Our diving was extended to the length of the drop. A multitude of small caves, rifts and tunnels crowded with an exceptional fauna allowed us to end this exploration quite calmly.
The following days were spent in discovering some sites beyond the coral reef, namely “Gros Roche” or “La Gorge”. “Gros Roche” is a small drop abounding in corals. Unfortunately, this reef is not much colourful, as it is constituted mainly of hard corals like the “Brain coral”, the “Acropora coral”, or still the “Porous coral”. Some gorgonian fans and soft corals nevertheless manage to bring out lively colours in this monochrome décor. The reef is made up of small ravines where it is a real pleasure to come upon nice surprises like these magnificent butterflyfishes (Chaetodon trifasciatus) or these big and active parrotfishes. However, the main highlight of the show is a small damselfish, seemingly insignificant at first sight, but which turned out to be an endemic specie of Rodrigues. This specie has been recently discovered and has not yet been recognized by the “high international authorities”. For the moment, it is known as “Rodrigues Damselfish” and wears the (temporary?) Latin name of “Pomacentrus Rodriguensis”.
On the other hand, the site of “La Gorge” offers an interesting relief combined with a jagged architecture. The site can be accessed from the inside of the lagoon through a small narrow tunnel in the coral reef, which leads to the exterior of the lagoon. The star of the place is “Johnny”, the big solitary barracuda, which regularly waits for the divers in a labyrinth of caves, galleries and canyons bathed in magnificent plays of light. On our way back, the trip was much more rough as we had to pass through the tunnel again with a violent undercurrent that forced us to hold on and drag ourselves the length of the wall to reach the lagoon once more.
Our holidays were coming to an end and we regretted the fact that we had missed a visit to “Ti Colorado”, an underwater pinnacle of rock located at 4 km from the barrier reef and accessible only during the summer. It is a gigantic block lying in 39 metres of water and rising to 18 metres of water, where a rich fauna live in the crystal clear waters.
Our heads filled with magic moments, we left this island full of discreet charms. Lost in my thoughts, I recalled the old wheel lying in the sand, which was probably centuries old. It is obvious that archeological wonders are surviving somewhere... The coral reef is still a mystery; more than 3/4 of the area have never been explored. As such, there still remains a phenomenal amount of sites to discover, and thus predicting beautiful “finds”. I envy Benoît who often explores the long coral reef circling the immense lagoon. One day, maybe, he’ll finally fall upon the real treasure of the pirates!
There are only two diving clubs on the island. Our guide during our diving trips was Benoît de Baize, owner of Bouba Diving centre, which is settled in Mourouk Ebony hotel found in Port Sud-Est. Please take note of the fact that the centre is closed for the whole month of June.
License and medical certificate are required. A compulsory MSDA (Mauritius Scuba Diving Association) license will be delivered directly by the centre. Complete equipment is provided (already included in the price of the diving). The club organizes different types of diving: swimming pool initiation and first time at sea, exploration, night diving, diving and barbecue on desert islet, discovery diving, and diving for children as from 12 years old.
Supervising / Certification courses:
- Benoît de Baize (NAUI instructor) knows every nook and corner of the sites that he will make you visit.
- Obtaining NAUI licenses: “Scubadiver” or “Scubadiver Advanced”. The course is available in either English or French (preferably during winter from May to September).
- Be careful, there are no decompression chambers in Rodrigues. Normally, the diving is effected with no deco-stop.
- Many corals, the usual fauna of the Indian Ocean. Faded aquatic sceneries, numerous caves, tunnels and breaches. There exist possibilities to watch “big fishes”: tunas, kingfishes, sharks, barracudas, and rays (but no Manta ray!).
- During summer, from October to April, but preferably in November. In winter, from June to September, the South East prevailing winds do not allow trips beyond the coral reef, diving is recommended within the perimeter of the lagoon. The sites will be less varied.
Text and photos: © Fabrice Bettex / Mysterra