to the Winter 2023 edition of Dive Travel Adventures.
We're delighted to be back! It's certainly been an interesting couple of years... and, whilst there's still a certain amount of craziness around, things are definitely looking up.
It's so exciting to see the world opening up again. Our 'new normal' is full of possibilities and opportunities. Divers and travellers have always been a resilient bunch and there's never been a better time to pack your bags and head off into the blue!
Where will you go? We hope you find plenty of inspiration for your next dive travel adventure here...EDITOR SCUBAVERSE
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THE SECRET IS OUT!
Nick and Caroline achieve a long-held ambition to visit St Helena. Surely, this fascinating, mostly undiscovered destination, is diving’s next big thing…
ST HELENA, sitting out in the Southern Atlantic between Africa and South America, is one of the world's most remote diving destinations. Its location in this vast ocean means that the coastline has been carved out by the forces of nature. Above water, forests give way to plunging cliffs and underwater giant steps, caves and caverns fashioned out of the stone over millennia.
The thing that strikes you when you slip under the
been a long time since we have dived a destination so full of life. Octopus, eels and crustaceans take shelter in every crevice. Schools of fish seek shelter under the overhangs and in the caverns. In the early months of the year, large numbers of Whale Sharks aggregate in these waters. Dolphins surf the waves in their hundreds, while mobula rays cruise below and Humpback Whales come here to calf. All this, and you will be in the water with only a handful
Helena offers those who love a little history behind their dives, a world of opportunities. The Papanui lies in just a few meters of water in front of the harbour and, with some of its structure sticking out above the water, this is an easy-going dive that could even be snorkelled. The wreck sank in 1911 after a fire broke out on board. The captain drove it as close to the island as possible and then evacuated the crew safely, but the ship was lost. It is a big wreck site and the artifacts still on board this 131m long steamer built in 1898 are incredible.
The Darkdale wreck has a special place in history as the first British ship to be sunk in WWII south of the equator. It was struck by a German U-Boat on the 22nd October 1941 and her casualties are remembered on the cenotaph in the harbour. She lies in deeper water just in front of the harbour with
the shallowest point at around 33m. The Darkdale is covered in the endemic Cunningfish, a beautiful white butterfly fish that creates swirling clouds around all of the wrecks and is such a feature of St Helena diving.
There are several other artificial reefs to explore but don’t let the amazing wreck
diving take up all your dives! The caverns and overhangs make for some stunning scenery, and the schools of fish that parade along the rocky walls are a sight to behold.
If you want to snorkel with the biggest fish in the sea, the Whale Shark, then you need to head to St Helena between December and March. During these months, the gentle giants aggregate around the island making it one of the best locations worldwide to see these magnificent creatures.
Above water the island is packed with things to do. If you love history, well, St Helena has that in spades, including the final chapter of the story of one of its most famous residents – Napoleon. St Helena also boasts the world's oldest terrestrial animal, Jonathan, a giant tortoise who celebrated his 190th birthday in 2022. The scenery is stunning, and
the island is covered in trails and walks that encompass hills, forests, valleys and coastline. For those who are really fit, there is Jacob’s Ladder. This dizzyingly steep set of steps climbs from Jamestown to the cliff above to Ladder Hill Fort, some 699 steps and 183 meters high. The record to climb the steps is just over five minutes! Can you beat it?
Be bold! Be different! Get away from the crowds and dive St Helena!
Scotland Lundy Island Azores
Fuerteventura Egypt Jordan Palau
Nick and Caroline’s long-held dreams of epic Tiger Shark encounters come to fruition on their return trip to Grand Bahama.
Black Manta Photography take a trip to Mexico's Caribbean coast for a twin centre holiday that showcases the incredible underwater diversity of Cozumel and Playacar.
TRAVEL GUIDE: AZORES
Into the Blue: Hovering around the dramatically beautiful mid-Atlantic archipelago with Daniel Brinckmann.
Yo-Han Cha takes a short flight to the Canary Island of Fuerteventura for a week of relaxed diving and some winter sun.
Lundy Island offers an off the beaten track experience along with fantastic scenery above and below the waterline. Jane Morgan explores.
Nick and Caroline take advantage of the international travel hiatus to seek out some underwater highlights a little closer to home.
Jay Clue heads to Palau to discover what makes this spectacular Pacific archipelago one of the most diverse dive destinations on our planet.
Sean Chinn returns to Aqaba for the scuttling of a Lockheed L-1011 Tristar Plane.
After many a difficult time with suspended flights and then the COVID pandemic, Sharm el Sheikh is firmly back on the map for UK divers. Nick and Caroline head out to see what’s new.
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“We are thrilled to be returning in a few months! The reef systems here are the most unspoiled we have seen in our travels around the world and the resort is paradise. We can’t wait to see all our friends at Wakatobi.” ~ Robert and Barbara Hay
An experience without equal
At Wakatobi, you don’t compromise on comfort to get away from it all. A private guest flight brings you directly to a remote island, where all the indulgences of a five-star resort and luxury liveaboard await. The Wakatobi dive team will ensure your in-water experiences are perfectly matched to your abilities and interests so your underwater encounters can create memories that will remain vivid and rewarding long after your visit is concluded. While at the resort, or on board the dive yacht Pelagian, you need only ask and the Wakatobi team will provide any service or facility within its power. This unmatched combination of world-renowned reefs and first-class luxuries put Wakatobi in a category all its own.
RAND BAHAMA is one of the busier islands of The Bahamas, with a direct ferry to Florida that helps bring in American tourists. There is plenty to do both above and below the water where there are some lovely wreck dives, beautiful reefs and plenty of sharks of numerous species. The Bahamas is one of a handful of countries worldwide that has had the foresight to protect their sharks. This makes for some incredible diving experiences with local shark populations
thriving. Grand Bahama has the usual Caribbean Reef Sharks, Lemon Sharks and Nurse Sharks, but at Tiger Beach, at certain times of the year, you can find both Great Hammerhead Sharks and the elusive and iconic Tiger Shark.
From the West End of the island, Tiger Beach will take between one and two hours by boat, giving enough time for a thorough briefing on how to behave when you are in the water with these impressive predators. There are strict protocols to follow to ensure that not only do you stay safe, but the sharks are not overly disturbed.
Excitement on the boat
THERE IS PLENTY TO DO BOTH ABOVE AND BELOW THE WATER WHERE THERE ARE SOME LOVELY WRECK DIVES, BEAUTIFUL REEFS AND PLENTY OF SHARKS OF NUMEROUS SPECIES.
increased as the crew set anchor in the shallow sandy bank that makes up this site. However, the conditions looked challenging with a strong current and darkening skies. The plan needed adjusting and, rather than descending as a group, we were going to descend just two at a time with seriously heavy weight belts to ensure we could stay close to our shark expert once we arrived on the seabed.
Nick and I were up first and were quickly in position, just in time to find three large female Tiger Sharks heading our way. These sharks like to put on a show and moved in a “V” formation right up to us,
nosing the front of our cameras curiously, before swimming over us and circling around to do it all over again. Our guide was constantly on alert to signal to us which direction these amazing creatures were coming from.
All too soon our session ended to give the rest of the divers who were waiting on the boat the chance to experience the Tigers. Back on the deck we told the others what to expect and they eagerly donned their gear. Luck was on our side; the current had started to die down and the visibility had improved immensely. This allowed us to revert to “Plan A”, which meant we were all
allowed back into the water to line up on the sand and watch these magnificent sharks swim past and around us. Great Hammerheads also joined in on the fun, as well as a cautious Bull Shark keeping its distance. This made the experience one of the most incredible dives of our lives, just as we had hoped it would be.
Whilst we had dived this
IMAGES Below: Nick is approached by three Tiger Sharks.
Bottom: The view from Nick’s camera.
site in the past, on previous occasions the weather had stopped us seeing the Tiger Sharks or they had been shy and stayed in the distance. This was a completely different experience, with the sharks coming within touching distance - not that we did!on a day that we will never forget. The boat ride home was a bit bumpy as the stormy
weather drew-in but there were only smiles and laughter from the 10 other divers on board who had shared this shark encounter with us.
If you are going to Grand Bahama to dive Tiger Beach, make sure you stay on the island and take in some of the other diving and topside entertainment too. Before we headed back to Freeport the next day, the hotel staff at Old Bahama Bay suggested we squeeze in an additional trip. We grabbed the chance to go snorkelling with Southern Stingrays off a tiny, uninhabited island about 40 minutes’ fast-boat ride away. A dozen or so large rays swam all around us in the shallows as we soaked up the experience in the sun.
Soon it was time to head back to Freeport, the main town on Grand Bahama, where we had arranged to do a Caribbean Reef Shark Dive at the famous Shark Alley dive site. Here, the local dive operators hand feed the sharks and so they stick close to the site, always ready for the divers who come to see them. The dive site also boasts a huge school of Horse-Eyed Jacks, barracuda, loads of reef fish, and you need to watch out for the morays that seem to like to surprise the divers who are focussing on the sharks.
We also visited Picasso’s Reef, a lovely healthy finger reef that boasts turtles snoozing amongst the soft corals, as well as the wrecks of the tugboat Papa Doc and the much larger Theo’s
THE TIGER SHARKS MOVED IN A “V” FORMATION RIGHT UP TO US, NOSING THE FRONT OF OUR CAMERAS CURIOUSLY...
BAHAMAS GRAND BAHAMA
wreck, which is home to a host of crustaceans, reef fish and schools of jacks. Our final dive saw us visit the gorgeous Plate Reef, named after its incredible formations of hard corals towering over sandy channels. On each of these reef and wreck dives we were rewarded with further chances to see turtles and sharks before heading back to the surface.
No visit to Grand Bahama is complete without a night out in Port Lucaya. As we were
IMAGES Bottom: Shark smile. Below left: Roadside stalls are always brightly coloured. Below right: Kayaking adventure through the mangroves.
not diving on our final day, we decided to make the most of happy hour and try out a few of the local, bright and delicious cocktails in Rum Runners, a haunt we had not visited since we worked as dive instructors on the island some 15 years previously. It was just as we remembered it, and we passed the night telling tall tales about our diving adventures.
Our final day saw us heading out for some on-
activities. Our first stop was the popular Paradise Cove, where we donned our snorkelling gear, enjoying the warm sand between our toes as we walked down the beach and headed out into the shallow, turquoise water. The first section was over a huge bed of seagrass where turtles grazed and stingrays hunted, seemingly not bothered by our presence at all. Further out, we arrived at an area of coral heads to explore, and we
THIS WAS A COMPLETELY DIFFERENT EXPERIENCE (FROM PREVIOUS DIVES HERE) WITH THE SHARKS COMING WITHIN TOUCHING DISTANCE - NOT THAT WE DID! - ON A DAY THAT WE WILL NEVER FORGET.
enjoyed watching the small reef fish going about their daily business, before we turned back to order a well-deserved lunch. We then piled back into our tour bus and headed off to the mangroves, where we were booked to do a kayaking tour.
We doubled up on the kayaks, and after our guide had helped us get in without falling into the water and pushed us off, we were soon quietly paddling through prime mangroves. The seagrass, reefs and mangroves are all hugely important to the islands of The Bahamas, with mangroves defending the land from the worst of the hurricanes, as well as filtering any run-off, which helps to keep the surrounding water crystal clear. Young reef fish and even baby sharks make the mangroves their
IMAGES Above: Turtles are a common sight when diving and snorkelling in Grand Bahama. Left: Snorkelling with Stingrays. Bottom left: Happy shark divers!
home, with the dense root system offering protection from potential predators. Here the mangroves stretched for miles and slowly drifting through them was a wonderful way to feel close to the local nature.
Grand Bahama was hit by one of the strongest hurricanes ever recorded in 2019. For this to be followed soon after by a pandemic has really hurt an already suffering tourism industry. However, due to amazing community spirit and lots of hard work, most businesses are back up and running and welcoming divers who come here for the beautiful clear warm blue waters and near permanent sunshine that The Bahamas has to offer.
THE BAHAMAS IS ONE OF THE MOST ENVIRONMENTALLY PROGRESSIVE COUNTRIES IN THE WORLD.
We flew British Airways from London to Nassau, and then onto Freeport with Bahamasair.
Make sure you have a suitable underwater camera to capture your time with the Tiger Sharks.
We had a driver for our whole trip but local taxis and transfers are readily available.
Grand Bahama is an island close to our hearts, in part due to our time working with a local dive operator. We love all the islands of The Bahamas that we have visited, but it was on Grand Bahama that we started our careers as diving instructors back at the start of this century. It is always a pleasure to return. Recently The Bahamas has introduced a ban
on single-use plastics, stopping the use of plastic bags, straws, cutlery, Styrofoam, and the release of balloons. This, on top of the already existing, strict protection for sharks, makes the Bahamas one of the most environmentally progressive countries in the world.
It is, however, the experience of diving with the Tiger Sharks that remains in our memories the most. The clear blue, warm water and the chance to see these big, beautiful sharks up close is absolutely not to be n
Nick and Caroline travelled courtesy of The Bahamas Tourist Board: www.bahamas. com/explore
Diving was kindly provided by www.epicdiving.com, www.reefoasisdiveclub.com and www.unexso.com.
Dive into the turquoise depths of an underwater world filled with forgotten shipwrecks, unexplored caverns, and legendary blue holes. The Bahamas is home to the world’s third-largest barrier reef and considered a top diving destination for novice and experienced divers. Find out why on your own deep-sea adventure.
S WITH a lot of divers, we mostly decide on our holidays based on the best possible diving for the time of year. It was December and there was a plethora of worldly dive locations to choose from, but one option kept coming back to the table – Mexico! Having already experienced breathtaking trips to the Pacific destinations of Guadalupe and Socorro, it was time to check out the east of the country and the Caribbean resorts of Cozumel and Playacar.
We were heading out to Mexico with leading dive operator Pro Dive International who had arranged for us to stay at four different hotels from the Barceló Hotel Group - two on
IMAGES Above: Stunning blue waters offer the perfect backdrop and an endless supply of marine life. Right: The boat jetty at the Occidental Cozumel.
the island of Cozumel, and two in Playacar on the mainland.
Pro Dive International run several well-established centres across Mexico and the Dominican Republic. They are also at the forefront of marine conservation and environmental programs and are making significant inroads into preserving the reefssomething most divers are particularly passionate about.
Pro Dive’s green credentials are extensive and include initiatives such as only using biodegradable soaps and cleaning detergents in the dive centres, ensuring their boats only use 4-stroke engines which results in less fuel use and exhaust waste, as well as committing to their dive operations being as plastic-
free as possible. They are also leading the way with beach clean-ups by adopting beaches. The “Adopt a Beach” program established from ZOFEMAT (Zona Federal Maritima) and in collaboration with Parque Nacional Arrecifes de Cozumel is really making significant changes to the reefs all around the island of Cozumel.
Cozumel has a strong reputation for its beautiful reefs - it forms part of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, which stretches from the Yucatan Peninsula all the way to Honduras, which at around 1000km long is the fourth largest reef system in the world. As you can imagine, the biodiversity is just staggering and is one of the main reasons for this area being so popular with divers from all over the world.
After a flight from London to Cancun, we were met by the Pro Dive team and taken to the ferry port just south of Playa Del Carmen for the short journey over to Cozumel. It was dark by now, and we judged the length
of the journey by how bright the lights on the island were getting as we sped across the water.
The Allegro Cozumel was the first base for the trip - a four-star hotel situated on the southwest coast that boasts three swimming pools and an on-site Pro Dive centre located next to the jetty. The Allegro offers an ‘Ultimate Dive Experience’ package and its rooms associated with this level provide generously sized accommodation with a whirlpool bath and a private terrace with hammock. These rooms are located close to the beach and dive centre and, in addition to the private pool, also give access to the Santa Rosa VIP lounge which is exclusively for Premium and Ultimate Dive experience guests. Daily scuba diving excursions – one tank per day – are also covered in the package.
It’s possible you won’t see a busier dive centre in all your travels as it caters for not only guests at the Allegro, but also for a number of other hotels in the area. How the team
managed to organise everyone is a miracle! The staff are exceptionally friendly, helpful and could not do more for the guests, and the dive centre is well equipped and has a large area for rinse tanks and sorting gear.
When diving Cozumel, one name comes up time and time again… Palancar. This is the reef area to the southern peninsular of Cozumel which is considered to be the best of the best on the island.
Sadly, a few months before we headed out, we found out that the government had closed this area of reef due to a problem they had identified as ‘White Syndrome’. It has since reopened but what is officially called ‘Stony Coral Tissue Loss’ or SCTL for short is still an issue in parts of the Caribbean and Florida. Despite appearances, the disease is something entirely different to coral bleaching. In SCTL, the bacterial infection spreads rapidly with very high mortality rates that impact many hard corals including brain, pillar,
THE BIODIVERSITY IS JUST STAGGERING... AND ONE OF THE MAIN REASONS FOR THIS AREA BEING SO
flower and star corals. Scientists are still working on a solution but fear that a multitude of factors is at play - all humandriven, including sanitation, temperature rises, plastic, impacts on the food chainall making it very difficult to pinpoint the cause and prevent it from happening.
The closure of this area coincided with a huge push to educate tourists, especially divers, about environmental best practice. We saw this first-hand directly from the team at Pro Dive who banned any form of sunscreen on their boats or in their dive centres. Dive Guides also enforced strict
Above: Richard next to a huge fan coral. Below: One of the friendly resident turtles on the local reefs.
behaviour underwater including no touching, no pointy sticks or gloves, and requesting divers stay a good 1m above anything underwater, including the sand. Despite the southern reefs being closed at the time of the trip, there were still many beautiful dive sites and probably some you wouldn’t normally visit if you only ventured further south. Some of the highlights were Santa Rosa Wall and Reef, Paso de Cedral, Casa Blanca and La Francesa, which border the edge of the Palancar Gardens dive sites which were inside the closure zone. Also, the Felipe Xicotencatl, more commonly known the C-53 Wreck, which was a US-built admiral class minesweeper constructed in 1944 for the US Navy. She was decommissioned in 1999 and donated to the Cozumel underwater park and sunk intentionally as an artificial reef. Whilst some might consider her small, her exterior with an impressive bow section and engine room is a sight to behold.
But it’s the reefs of Cozumel that deserve all the plaudits. Every single one of them is
adorned with brightly coloured sponges and corals of all shapes and sizes. The marine life encountered ranged from the ‘big stuff’ like sharks, giant Green Turtles and eagle rays, all the way through to Green Morays, lobsters (everywhere), giant crabs and the Splendid Toadfish, which is entirely endemic to the island of Cozumel. Everywhere you turned there were schools of fish - some nestled tightly together on the reef, and others living under an overhang, but the colours of this underwater metropolis were utterly spellbinding!
Every reef seemed to have its own DNA print of swimthroughs and tunnels - some a few metres, and others with countless twists and turns - all with beautiful shards of golden Mexican sunlight beaming through, giving the sense of another worldly presence.
There was an element of sadness at not being able to dive Palancar, but hand on heart, the best that Cozumel could have EVER offered us was served on a plate. If you’re heading out to dive Cozumel,
Get into the best schools.
With the only living coral barrier reef in the continental U.S., The Florida Keys & Key West are a national and natural treasure. In fact, from Key Largo to Key West and all points in-between, you’ll discover countless wrecks and thousands of species of marine life – all within the protected 2,900 square-nautical-mile Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. There’s never been a better time to go down under.
then please do check these alternate dive sites out. Don’t just dive Palancar because people say it’s the best, take the time to make up your own minds - you may be pleasantly surprised just as we were.
We can’t leave Cozumel without mentioning the second hotel of our stay, the Occidental Cozumel. Situated just along from the Allegro, the jettys of the two hotels are just 200m apart. The Occidental also boasts a Pro Dive centre and, as they are neighbouring hotels, they share the use of the four dive boats on offer. This means that the team works cross-functionally making the organisation far more fluid. It also means that the dive sites offered by the two centres are the same, so regardless of where you stay, you will have the same
outstanding experience of diving.
This five-star offering from Barcelo has a very different feel, with the rooms all coming off palm-lined walkways and in the style of a Mexican Hacienda, but still feeling modern and luxurious. Our room at the Occidental was within the Royal Level area, offering guests more privacy with a gated reception, jacuzzi and exclusive a la carte restaurant. The room was smaller than the Allegro but more modern in design with sliding doors to a garden terrace. It's worth noting that in both hotels, humans are not the only guests, they have resident Cozumel Coati's - an indigenous sub-species of the animal that is found across many South American countries. These cuties are often found wandering the grounds
in addition to the many iguanas hiding amongst the bushes.
Although the excitement of Playacar was still to come, we left Cozumel with a heavy heart. The people were just spectacular and the epitome of professionalism - Sabrina and the office team were a joy to see every day, Marc and Rey were fantastic guides for the days we had them, but it was Hans that stole our heart - a charismatic guide from Chile who truly loves Cozumel and knows all the best sites.
Will Cozumel be back on the future agenda? You bet your bottom dollar it will - if not to dive Palancar, then just to dive with Hans! But for now, it's off to the ferry to the mainland insearch of Bull Sharks and Cenotes… n
Turn over for more Mexico: Playacar
HAND ON HEART. THE BEST THAT COZUMEL COULD HAVE EVER OFFERED US WAS SERVED ON A PLATE!
We are Giacomo Rossi and Mariel Bravo, dive instructors and nature guides based in Baja California Sur, Mexico. As Sea lovers, photographers, environmentalists, we created the tour agency Baja Underwater Expeditions as a life project to share our passion for diving, underwater photography, and conservation. Specialized in underwater wildlife expeditions, we offer customized tours in the Pacific and the Sea of Cortez to witness Striped Marlins, Mobula Rays, Gray Whales and much more.
We are also avid photographers, know the best places and try to organize trips with other photographers. All our activities are thought to be
ecofriendly and help the ocean as we also lead direct efforts for the conservation of some species.
Cerralvo Divers forms part of Baja Underwater Expeditions and is our Boutique Dive Center located in La Ventana. With its strategic position in the bay in front of Cerralvo island, we have direct access to a lot of beautiful dive sites. Almost pristine coral reefs and unexplored dive sites are ready to be discovered with us.
Tel:+52 612 213 7511 /+52 987 117 1354 firstname.lastname@example.org www.bajaunderwaterexpeditions.com
C. Manzanilla, 23232 La Ventana, BCS Instagram: @baja_underwater_ expeditions
HE FERRY journey back to mainland Mexico had a completely different feel in the sunshine. We were well rested from the stunning week on Cozumel and seriously excited for the Bull Shark and Cenotes dives that were on the agenda.
Home for the next week was Playacar, an area just south of Playa del Carmen on the Riviera Maya, known for its upmarket all-inclusive resorts and golf courses. Hotel number three of the Mexico trip was the Allegro Playacar. The hotel was very similar in design and amenities to its Cozumel cousin, but we felt it was missing the warmth of the people there. There’s a definite party feel to the hotel, or that might have just been the perception on arrival as we were greeted by a full-on foam party happening in the main pool in
offers three pools and three restaurants. There was also a buffet option, which was just as well as we were unable to make a reservation at the other restaurants at the required time, due to being out of the hotel first thing to go diving. Thankfully the buffet offered some really tasty food, which was themed each evening for
were lit by fairy lights making for a really beautiful setting at night.
Pro Dive International has a presence in the watersports hut by the main pool, with the main office and dive centre based a short walk along the beach at the Royal Hideaway Hotel. This is where we found ourselves for the first full day in Playacar,
geared up ready, and fingers crossed for some Bull Shark action!
Due to their migratory patterns, the Bull Sharks frequent the warm water of the Mexican Caribbean during the months from November to February, mainly for the pregnant females to give birth to their young, which makes the Riviera Maya the hotspot for divers to see these sharks in their natural habitat. We weren’t 100% sure we would see any Bull Sharks but hearing that they had been sighted in the days leading up to our first dive made us quietly confident.
Entering the water and descending we could see a couple of Bull Sharks skimming the surface of the sandy bottom around 25m, and the excitement was at an all-time high. Conscious of the brief to follow each other closely until we settled in a line, our group of 16 divers split into two and steadily got into position, being
careful not to disturb too much of the loose sand. We could see the sharks around, but it was only towards the end of the dive when most of my group had ascended that they came so much closer. We stayed an extra five minutes with our expert guide Iago and were treated to five or six Bull Sharks venturing just a few metres from us, circling and crisscrossing each other as they became more and more confident.
Our visit also coincided with ‘Shark School’ - an initiative between Pro Dive and Dr Erich Ritter, the famous shark behavioural expert. Sadly, Erich passed away on 28th August 2020, the summer after we visited, and our thoughts are with his family, friends and the dive and conservation community at this great loss.
Erich had a PHD from Zurich University in Behavioural Ecology and was the only professional applied sharkhuman interaction specialist.
Erich’s main expertise was the body language of sharks, with a major interest in shark attacks and their causes. His work centred on proving that there is no such thing as a dangerous shark, only dangerous situations with sharks, and his studies have turned on their head many people’s assumptions about shark behaviour.
It was an incredible opportunity for us as selfconfessed shark lovers to spend time with someone we hold
in such high regard, and an honour to have attended two of his ‘Shark School’ presentations, and to chat candidly about his life’s work. We found the Pro Dive Bull Shark dives and set-up to be immensely professional - the dive briefings were indepth, and we were well looked after at all times. Pro Dive also donate $5 of every shark dive booking to ‘Saving Our Sharks', an organisation which focuses on the protection of the Bull Sharks in the Riviera Maya area.
It’s impossible to come to this area of Mexico as a diver and not visit one of the thousands of Cenotes that are dotted all along the Yucatan Peninsula. You constantly see images of these wonders on social media, and marvel at their beauty. Our plan over a two day period was to visit four different Cenotes, and boy were they all different!
First up was the famous Ponderosa, so-called the Garden of Eden for its many routes and caverns in the system. It's quite a touristy spot with a seating area set up on the
ledge overlooking the entrance. Wooden stairs take you down to the water’s edge where the water is the most beautiful bluey-green - yet still crystal clear - to show off the stunning features below. Luis and Oliver were our guides for the group,
with Luis taking personal care of us - a lovely local guide who made us feel instantly at ease.
The second your head goes under you are transported to another world, with the roots of trees shooting down through the water and then casting a blurry shadow overhead. What strikes you the most is the clarity; you can see as far as the light will take you and it reflects on almost every surface. The common route for this Cenote takes you through a large cavern space, broken up by gaps in the rocks above that let the sunlight shine down in shafts synonymous with this type of diving. Tree roots and jagged rocks make the perfect setting for the light, an eerie stillness beneath the dancing beams.
Our second Cenote dive of the day was Tajma Ha, which was just a short drive away. The entrance, down a long flight of steps amongst some seriously tall trees, was reminiscent of Jurassic Park. You can’t see where the water leads to, just a small pool hidden beneath the overhangs of the rocks.
During the dive you are treated to jaw-dropping formations of stalactites and stalagmites, some so huge they dwarf the diver in front of you. And we can’t move on without talking about the Halocline - a phenomenon experienced when the cold freshwater at the top of the water column mixes with the warmer saltwater lower down. The result: a mindbending experience of blurriness and a very strange dive indeed!
Leon, a super chilled French guide, led our second day dives and is responsible for giving us one of the most memorable experiences we’ve had underwater.
Before travelling to Mexico there were two Cenotes that were at the top of the wish list - Angelita and Car Wash. We’d asked the team at the office to make it happen and here we were, heading south on the 70km trip to dive Angelita.
Angelita, meaning ‘little angel’ in Spanish, is worldfamous for her 5m thick cloud of hydrogen sulphate that sits around 30m depth. Above the
IMAGES Above: Incredibly clear waters in the Cenotes reveal unbelievable vistas full of stalactites, stalagmites, and jaw dropping scenery.
cloud is cold freshwater, whilst below it is warm saltwater, and this unique experience did not disappoint. From the surface, you can see that Angelita is circular in shape and almost Blue Hole-like in appearance, with steep sides and darker water in the centre hinting at her depth. Popular with freedivers, she reaches 60m, and it’s the joining of waters that have created a totally unique cloud of hazy gas that makes Angelita seriously special, and stinky!
Even before you hit the cloud you smell it - that eggy sulphur scent that sends you back to your childhood and the use of stink bombs. Sinking into the cloud you see absolutely nothing but white and the faces of the divers closest to you. As you
IF YOU'RE AN UNDERWATER PHOTOGRAPHER THEN THE CENOTE KNOWN AS CAR WASH NEEDS TO BE AT THE TOP OF YOUR LIST.
emerge into the warmer salty mix devoid of natural light due to the cloud looming above your head, it feels spooky and uneasy, although totally breathtaking. The upside-down tree is the star of the show - most of the tree is under the cloud with a few wellpositioned branches poking out above it. This is literally Mother Nature at her absolute best.
To put the icing on the cake for an unforgettable trip, our last Cenote was indeed the Car Wash. Famous for her unique swathe of stunning Water Lilies, she surpassed our expectations. The first half of the dive took us around the large open cavern area, with the remainder spent admiring the beautiful lilies and the terrapins milling around amongst them. If you’re an underwater photographer, then this needs to be at the top of your list. The early afternoon sunlight provides an aura of orange hues that glisten through the water making for some stunning shots. Oh, and if you’re wondering where the name comes from? It’s named the Car Wash as this is where
the local taxi drivers used to bring their cars for a wash. Brilliant!
We weren’t sure it would be possible to top the week in Cozumel but diving with the Playacar team at Pro Dive International delivered some of our best ever experiences underwater. Also, our final and favourite hotel of the tripThe Royal Hideaway, home to the main office of Pro Dive in Playacar.
This hotel is a five-star adult-only centre of luxury and everything about it shouts out high-end! The design is a perfect mix of modern and traditional, and each room block has its own concierge where you
can book dinner reservations and organise check-in and out. The room for our stay was generous, with a beautiful terrace overlooking the gardens and pool. The hotel has two main pools off the beach and several relaxation pools dotted amongst the blocks that guests can use if they want a more tranquil area to sunbathe and chill. Throughout the centre of the hotel is a water feature similar to a lazy river but it is not for guests to frolic in - it’s just for aesthetics!
This would 100% be first
choice when returning as our stay was only for three nightsthe service from all of the staff was much higher than expected, and almost everything was covered in the all-inclusive package. Dining at The Grill - the restaurant overlooking the beach - is a must for the evening. It just so happened to be a full moon the evening we dined there and we chose a table as close to the sand as possible. Also make sure you treat yourselves in one of the Teppanyaki-style restaurants and watch whilst the chef
TRAVEL LOG: Mexico
We took direct flights with British Airways from London to Cancun. This is a popular holiday route so there are several other options.
If vou want to see the Bull Sharks in Playacar then you need to be in Mexico November/December.
Alternatively, if you want to see the Whale Sharks that frequent the Mexican waters then the summer months of June/July will be your best bet.
Pro Dive collected us from the airport and delivered us by car and public ferry to the island of Cozumel. Taxis are abudant if you
want to do your own thing.
Water temperature Around 27°C on average.
Currency Mexican Peso and US $.
Favourite non diving activity
There is so much history! Chichen Itza is a must, and also Tulum and Xcaret. Isla Mujeres has stunning beaches.
Favourite place to eat Everywhere! Lots of local cuisine delights and also main chains of American fast food.
Final word Don't miss the Cenotes whether to snorkel or scuba dive!
cooks up your food with an air of hilarity and entertainment.
It was an absolute joy to be around the Pro Dive team in Playacar and we even found ourselves loitering at the dive centre when we weren’t diving! The manager Ricardo was on hand every day and was the central pin to an impressive team of multi-national dive professionals. All of the team were a shining example of their profession: fun, chatty, safety and environmentally aware, and focused on all of their clients, all of the time.
We can’t recommend this twin centre holiday to Mexico enough. It really is the perfect opportunity to sample different types of diving and make the
most of the amazing diversity of this region. Not to forget the incredible hospitality and the highest quality service standards of the dive centres and hotels. Book it and experience for yourself!
Black Manta Photography travelled to Mexico as guests of the Barceló Hotel Group and Pro Dive International. www.barcelo.com www.prodiveinternational.com
This feature is dedicated to the memory of Erich Ritter: 1958-2020
Where a passion for adventure meets true eco-tourism
DIVE NINJA EXPEDITIONS was founded with one goal in mind—to create exhilarating dive experiences that help protect the oceans we all love so much. This is at the heart of everything Dive Ninja provides—whether it is a local dive tour in Los Cabos, a multiday bucketlist expedition, or a diving course.
Located in sunny Cabo San Lucas, at the tip of the Baja California peninsula, Dive Ninja offers guided tours in one of the planet’s most unique geographic locations. This incredible environment is where the mighty Pacific Ocean meets the Sea of Cortez, famously named ‘The World’s Aquarium’ by Cousteau himself. These rich bodies of water come together creating an abundance of life and biodiversity loaded with amazing underwater experiences. Encounter schools of thousands
of mobula rays, sea lions, sharks, humpback whales, massive schools of fish, and so much more. Beyond beautiful Baja, Dive Ninja also leads custom group trips to experience some of the best diving around the world. Including destinations like Socorro, the Philippines, Bahamas, Tonga, and the list goes on Most adventures are linked with local scientists or conservation projects, giving you the opportunity to learn about current research and local initiatives. On some trips you’ll also have opportunities to participate in marine science research projects. In addition to donating part of its profits to help fund marine research and conservation organizations, Dive Ninja is a Green Fins member as well as a 100% AWARE member, which helps support the important
conservation work conducted by AWARE. As a PADI Five Star IDC Dive Center, Dive Ninja also offers a full range of scuba diving, freediving and technical diving courses—including their renowned conservation focused PADI Divemaster and Instructor courses.
Dive Ninja recently received first place in all seven categories of the 2023 Scuba Diving Readers Choice awards - including Best Overall Dive Center, Quality of Training & Courses, and Quality of Staff. Book a trip today and discover a new way to experience underwater adventures with Dive Ninja.
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TRAVEL GUIDE THE AZORES
IMAGES Left to right:
Peaking at 2,351m as Portugal’s highest mountain, Pico volcano dominates the landscape on the namesake island.
Catholic processions – here pictured in Pico’s coastal town of Madalena – are still almost a weekly sight in the Azores.
CORVO FLORES GRACIOSA SãO JORGE FaIAL PICO
Portugal scubaverse.com 046 | DIVE TRAVEL ADVENTURES | WINTER 2023
Atlantic oceanSãO MIGUEL
For decades, divers have travelled to Madeira and the Canary Islands, but neglected the Azores. That was until word spread about seamounts, schools of mobula rays, sharks, whales and dolphins. The season on the nine islands halfway between Europe and America is short and weather can be rough, but still they offer some of the best blue water diving in the world and certainly the best in Europe. Especially the neighbouring islands Faial and Pico and the less known southernmost outpost, Santa Maria. Simply enchanting islands!
IT ALL BEGINS WITH
If it wasn’t for Robert and Petra Minderlein, diving tourism on the Azores could have taken a different direction. Back in the mid-1990s, the German couple ran dive cruises on their sailing yacht “Revenge of Wahoo” and were the first who dared to go where before only big game anglers and crazy spearos went: to Princess Alice Bank, a seamount 50 nautical miles south of Faial and Pico islands.
These days, local dive centres use large RIBs, motor yachts and catamarans to venture out for full day trips with two dives in the deep blue. During the three hours’ ride, divers should keep their eyes on the water as dolphins, marlins, hammerheads and makos, whales and turtles can show up anytime. On arrival, it usually only takes minutes until green rhombic shadows start circling the boat. These schools of mobula rays – smaller relatives of mantas – have become a trademark for diving in the Azores. Both snorkelers and divers are supposed to hold on to the mooring lines and vertical shotlines, or most certainly never stray too far in case currents suddenly pick up. If things go very wrong, it’s next stop, Brazil...
THE BOTTOM? 1000 METRES BELOW
In the water you will often find yourself surrounded by groups of ten to thirty mobulas that swim in and out of the picture, while schools of pelagic fish such as bonitos, amberjacks and barracudas loom in the distance. While it is tempting to let go of the line and chase those living curtains, one is better off doing a multi-level dive on the rope to be ready for the big moment.
Encounters with Oceanic Manta Rays, White Marlins or large Ocean Sunfish are not common, but still possible. A dip along the mooring line to the shallowest point of the reef at 32 meters can be rewarded with Pelagic Stingrays, amberjacks and mobulas cruising the tip, but generally the action tends to happen in mid-water, so don’t waste too much air and bottom time. Given the availability of food, it’s surprising that sharks always are - and always have been - a virtual no-show. If you want to see the men in the grey suits - or rather blue suitsCondor Bank and Pé de Sousa are the places you want to be.
Populations of Makos and Blue Sharks took a strong blow from pelagic fishing fleets the past decade, so don’t expect ten or more to show up at the same time like in the good old days. However, with patience, up to three or four animals might follow the scent of the bait and when the game is on, interacting with the curious and elegant Blue Sharks over the crystalclear abyss is a treat. Makos are the icing on the cake, but they have never been regular visitors and while shy Smooth Hammerheads and Tope Sharks are common, the former avoid divers even when baited.
The unknown one
If you just fell in love with Atlantic seamounts, you might want to ask your boss for another week off. Just hop onto a plane to the main island São Miguel and take a short flight or the ferry from Ponta Delgada to Santa Maria. The southernmost island of the Azores is surrounded by close to ten “Baixas” (submerged hills) and water temperatures are 2-3°C higher, resulting in Mediterranesque underwater vegetation and more frequent warm water species. More anemones, more colours and generally more fish. Pinnacles
such as Baixa dos Badejos, Banco João Lopes and Baixa da Maia are home to Dusky Groupers, red Hogfishes, pufferfishes, schools of triggerfishes, groups of colourful Island Groupers and even the odd Loggerhead Turtle. In late summer, marine protected areas such as the open water rock of Pedrinha attract clouds of anchovies with jacks and barracudas dashing in for a quick meal. A few scenic yet easy caves with blue windows, large stingrays and millions of shrimps wrap up the coastal diving experience.
Did you know...
Before the moratorium in 1986 whaling was commonplace in the Azores. In the old days, fishermen ventured out with rowing boats with large hand harpoons. Needless to say, rough seas and the wrath of the dying animals took many human lives too. It really was man against beast and a style of whaling accepted by the WWF and Greenpeace. These days, many of the spotters - “Vigias” - who used to launch fireworks at the sight of a whale to alert the hunters, lend their binoculars and eagle eyes to whale watching companies, dive centres and biologists – a beautiful transformation from hunting to ecotourism.
THE XXXL LEAGUE
No matter which oceanic site you’re returning from, once you enter the island triangle of Faial, Pico and São Jorge you might spot the blow of one of the resident Sperm Whales or another of the 36 species of marine mammals present in the Azores. Grab your camera from the dry bag instead of fins, mask and snorkel – unless you are either a journalist or biologist on a chartered boat with an expensive government permit. Most local dive centres offer whale watching trips that can turn out to be spectacular.
The frequent Sperm Whales might demonstrate social behaviour such as spy-hopping, tail-lobbing, even fully leaping out of the water and presenting their fluke on their way down, where they chase Giant Squid in the deep channels off the islands. Whale enthusiasts, who favour the gentle giants over seamount diving, might want to come in spring when baleen whales such as Fin Whales and Blue Whales roam the waters. Another rewarding alternative are “Swimming with Dolphins” trips, which give you the chance to snorkel with Common, Bottlenose, Atlantic Spotted and Risso’s
Dolphins. Obviously, not every plunge will result in a close encounter, but teamwork within a calm and small group, a good captain and persistence will get you the shot you have dreamed of. If it does not work out one day, you might try again the next. At least in theory.
The most famous saying in the Azores claims you can have “four seasons in one day” and it is absolutely true, as wind and current systems, and mountains with four-digit altitudes, make for
IMAGES Above: The best view of Pico mountain is from the neighbouring island of Faial. Below: The beautiful halfmoon bay of Sao Lourenco on Santa Maria island.
ever-changing conditions. In short: visit in late June, July, August, or early September and stay at least ten days. Trips to seamounts, especially Princess Alice Bank, are only possible on the calmest days, while the rougher ones will restrict divers to coastal sites, which are not out of this world, but still very nice.
Monte da Guia, a halfsunken caldera just outside the harbour of Horta on Faial, is a marine protected rock full of lava tunnels on the inside and
Isle Of The Sun
Santa Maria is the only non-volcanic island of the archipelago and lacks a distinct mountain where rain clouds get trapped. There are less forests and more palm trees, cactus and agaves than on the other, more humid islands. Add to the mix winery mountains, the breathtaking halfmoon bay of São Lourenço, which stretches from sea level up to cliffs reaching 200 metres, and the white beach of Praia Formosa – actually the only two
bright beaches in the Azores – plus the enchanting little villages surrounded by loose stonewalls, and you get sort of a greener, pre-tourism Menorca. Luckily, the government issued a construction freeze to prevent more people moving
here after falling in love with this pretty place. Oh, did I mention the old whaling station at the lighthouse where snorkelers sometimes still find precious Sperm Whale teeth? Shush, just do not tell the other tourists...
a half-sunken caldera wall on the outside. That is where eagle rays, barracudas, schools of breams, porgies, mackerel and parrotfishes abound while Forkbeards lurk from holes as well as Mediterranean and Masked Morays. A field of old cannons and a sunk pontoon (which can be penetrated) are located just off the harbour. Arcos do Prainha on the other side of the five miles wide channel surprises with lava arches and blue windows that could fit in several lorries. The two small islands situated in front of Pico island are home to huge stingrays and amberjacks, while small seamounts like Baixa do Sul and Baixa do Norte boast a few black corals and pelagics like jacks and boarfishes.
Blown-out days are an excellent opportunity to discover the sheer topside beauty. Think Irish meadows and Hawaiian coastlines, intertwined by blue lanes of hydrangea framing the roads of Faial all the way up to the two kilometre wide caldera of Cabeço Gordo on 1000 metres above sea level (watch your dive profile/tissue saturation.) The road to the West takes you to the wastelands of Capelinhos where a submarine volcanic eruption created a few square miles of new land in the 1950s, but also covered a whole village in dust and lead to one more exodus of Azoreans to America.
Spend the afternoon on the scenic beach of district capital Horta before heading over to the famous sailors’ den Café Sport to enjoy the best gin and tonic in between the continents. Sitting outside just in front of the marina, you cannot help being mesmerized by the majestic silhouette of Pico Island, a single 2,561 metre high mountain rising from the deep. Pico is a diamond in the rough with no beaches, but black lava fields, picturesque highland lakes and the remote Eastern part where tourists still are a vast minority. The big thing, of course, is hiking and climbing the volcano itself. Either go in the early morning and be back in the afternoon, or climb up in the afternoon, bring
peak that allows a view on the neighbouring islands. It goes without saying that physical fitness, walking sticks, hiking boots, ideal weather conditions and reporting at the summit station are mandatory.
Ferries in between both islands cross plenty of times a day in high season and take no more than 45 minutes. The
visiting both islands and getting a rental car or scooter is a must, but when it comes to your base camp, pick Horta (Faial) if you prefer an urban centre and a beach over pure nature, or Madalena (Pico) if you prefer a calmer, bigger and more dramatic landscape over a variety of restaurants and bars.
IMAGES Top: Climbing Pico about 2000m. Above: The famous cafe Sport in Horta. Below: Cabeco Grande Caldera on Faial.
Bottom: View from Monte da Guia.
Things naturally get more exciting ten miles offshore on Baixa Ambrosio, a blue water site with the shallowest point at 50 metres, which sometimes boasts even bigger schools of mobulas than Princess Alice Bank and at times huge clouds of barracudas and lone Yellowfin Tunas. While whales are less common and baited shark dives not available, the diver’s delight are the day trips to the “Ilhéus das Formigas” (Ant Rocks), a few pebbles with a lighthouse breaching the surface twenty nautical miles north of Santa Maria. Schools of white trevallies, amberjacks and stingrays frequent the crystal-clear waters off the Eastern wall with its black coral trees.
The neighbouring submerged reef Dollabarat is either hit or miss: the circular platform can feel barren apart from Dusky and Island Groupers and Hogfish, but if the current is ripping prepare for Wahoos, bonitos, Sunfish and enormous schools of amberjacks. Still, that little Baixa south of the Formigas is a safe alternative: hand-tame large groupers
and huge stingrays live in the canyons surrounded by curtains of damselfish and more often than not mobulas, barracudas and schools of Bermuda Sea Chubs and triggerfishes. The once numerous sharks are mostly gone, but on good days you might still spot the dorsals of Hammerheads (or dolphins) in the vicinity of the rocks, or a Galapagos Shark if you are really lucky. However, Whale Sharks are common during the boat ride in warm summers – a unique feature of Santa Maria.
HOW TO GET THERE
In summer there are direct flights with Ryanair from London Stansted to main island São Miguel (Ponta Delgada), which serves as a hub for connecting flights with Azores Airlines to Santa Maria (Vila do Porto), Faial (Horta) and Pico (São Roque.)
TAP Air Portugal offers daily flights from both Heathrow and Gatwick to Lisbon (wonderful stopover!) and Azores Airlines connects from there.
WHERE TO STAY
Although there are hotels, the typical and best kind of accommodations are rooms, self-catering apartments and pousadas brokered by the dive centres.
WHERE TO DIVE
Faial: Norberto Diver, www.norbertodiver.pt Haliotis, www.haliotis.pt Pico: Pico Sport, www.pico-sport.com
Santa Maria: Manta Maria, www.mantamaria.com; Haliotis, www.haliotis.pt
Surface temperatures between June and September may vary between 20-26°C (Santa Maria), with an average of 22-23°C. Below 30 metres temperatures may drop to 18°C, so a 7mm wetsuit or semidry with hood is recommended.
Daniel Brinckmann is a German editor and photographer, who has worked as
Azores in 1999 at the age of 19 and people and the place. He has spent
than 15 articles on the archipelago
Azores dive cruises
Overnight stays on seamounts such as Princess Alice Bank and black water dives are a good reason to consider one of the few liveaboards in the area. Motor yachts “Dreams of the Sea”, “Narobla” and “Olim” (also in Santa Maria) by Pico Sport (www. pico-sport.com) and catamaran “Saildive” (www.saildive.pt) explore the best dive sites around Faial, Pico and São Jorge.
LOVE SEEING sharks in the sea. From catsharks in the UK to reef sharks in warmer climates, I still get that jolt of excitement whenever I see one. Even if I’ve seen a particular species many times before, the thrill is still there and when it’s a species of shark that I’ve never seen before, I need to remember to calm down, control my breathing and try not to freak out… well, not too much.
The island of Fuerteventura is a stronghold of a shark species that’s ‘Critically Endangered’ on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species – the Angel Shark, Squatina squatina. The Angel Shark, which is so endangered everywhere else in the Atlantic
and Mediterranean, is so common around Fuerteventura that you can (and I did) see one on my check dive next to the dive centre at 5m. And here was me worried that I’d come all this way and not see one. Dive one, sorted! Later in the week I’d witness an Angel Shark swim through the dive centre’s training area. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to get in the water or take a photo, but it’s an example of how easy it is to see such an endangered animal out in the wild in Fuerteventura.
And ‘easy’ is a word that I used a lot when visiting and diving in Fuerteventura, especially as I remembered how easy it had been starting the day at a rainy Stansted airport in the morning, only to end the same day, sipping an evening beer after having been diving in the sun. The early morning
Top left: The nudibranch species, Hypselodoris picta, is very commmon in Fuerteventura. Top right and above: Deep Blue Dive Centre and their fleet or RIBs. Right: My buddy Hanna and an anchor close to the dive centre.
flight was painful to get out of bed for, but it was more than worth it. I had checked into the Barcello Castillo Beach Resort in Caleta de Fuste (or Caleta for short) by lunchtime and was kitted up to do my check dive by three o’clock in the afternoon. And, as I’ve previously mentioned, by the end of the day I had also seen my first Angel Shark.
Fuerteventura is the second largest island of the Canary Islands archipelago in the
THE VISIBILITY WAS STUNNING, WELL BEYOND 30 METRES... AND THE SEA TEMPERATURE IN NOVEMBER WAS 20°C.
Atlantic Ocean. It is sometimes referred to as the island of eternal spring due to its pleasant year-round climate. I was there in late November and was walking round in shorts and T-shirt during the day. The evenings called for either jeans or a jumper; personally, I found it too warm for both.
I was there mainly for the scuba diving but prevailing north-easterly trade winds mean that there’s surfing, windsurfing and kitesurfing to be had, as well as land activities like cycling and
off roading on dune buggies. However, if you’re like me and prefer to relax after a day’s diving, there’s plenty of beaches and beautiful swimming pools. It’s not usually something that I’d do, but I also gave the hotel spa a try, only so that I could report on it for everyone else’s sake –it was rather good!
I was diving with Deep Blue Dive Centre who are based at the end of the marina breakwater in Caleta, less than five minutes’ walk from the hotel I was staying in.
It’s a very professionally run and environmentally aware dive centre with a real family atmosphere amongst the staff. They own four speedy RIBs that are moored up at the dive centre, each able to get you to a local dive site within minutes - the furthest I had to travel was around ten minutes, then it was simply masks on and a backward roll into the sea.
The visibility was stunning, well beyond 30 metres. The sea temperature in November was 20°C, so depending on how warm or cold you feel
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Best of the Central Atolls itinerary on board one of our favourite liveaboards Sunseeker. 17 dives with NITROX included. Consider adding on a week at Meedhuparu Resort for an additional £1499. 7 nights from £2799 pp incl
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underwater meant a 5mm wetsuit or a semi-dry. I feel the cold underwater but being Aberdonian I insisted on diving in my 5mm (it’s a perfectly good wetsuit, why buy another?) albeit supplemented with a hood and gloves and I was fine - just about!
After the excitement of the check dive, I had high expectations of my first proper day of diving. The sea around Fuerteventura was full of creatures to investigate. There seemed to be moray eels in every crevice and almost immediately I saw a massive Atlantic Stingray swimming 20 metres beneath me. During that first ‘proper’ dive I realised I’d forgotten to tell Hanna, my guide for the week, that I don’t like having animals handled just for the sake of a photo. Therefore, it was a pleasant surprise to find that I didn’t need to, as she - as well as the rest of the staff at the dive centre - didn’t like handling them either. She just pointed out creatures of interest and let me figure how to best take the shot.
Mother Nature, as she often is, proved how unpredictable she is that day. There were no Angel Sharks, well none seen by Hanna or me. It turned out that one of the staff, Dave, seemed to be a particularly lucky charm for seeing Angel Sharks. He saw seven (only!) that first day and kept seeing multiple sharks every day after that! This may have led to me inquiring how to get myself
and Hanna on the same boat as Dave and his group. But that’s not to say that the first day was a disappointment; I had a fantastic day of diving, no sharks but I did have a close encounter with another rather large Atlantic Stingray on my second dive. There were also crustaceans and nudibranchs amongst the wide variety of
life seen on the reef. I was here for a week, so I wasn’t worried about not seeing Angel Sharks. I just needed Dave to be on the same boat as me.
On the second day of diving, there was no Dave. He was needed on another boat.
Predictably, there were no sharks spotted by our boat. Dave spotted loads. Jealousy aside, it was still an excellent day of diving. We found an octopus and we came across a very friendly grouper who took quite a shine to Hanna. There was an eagle ray in the distance, who really didn’t want its photo taken, but it’s not always about getting the shot. I love seeing eagle
IT WAS AN EXCELLENT DAY OF DIVING. WE FOUND AN OCTOPUS AND A VERY FRIENDLY GROUPER WHO TOOK A SHINE TO HANNA.
FUERTEVENTURA IS A STRONGHOLD OF THE CRITICALLY ENDANGERED ANGEL SHARK. THESE SHARKS ARE SO COMMON AROUND THE ISLAND THAT YOU CAN (AND I DID!) SEE ONE ON MY CHECK DIVE NEXT TO THE DIVE CENTRE AT 5M.
rays… and I still wasn’t worried about seeing Angel Sharks, honest!
Day three and it was either down to sheer coincidence or my subtle hints/begging that had worked, as Hanna and I were on the same boat as Dave. And we had multiple Angel Sharks! They’re just beautiful and seeing them on the reef made me appreciate just how well camouflaged they are in their natural environment.
Thank you, Dave! It was a real privilege to see such rare and beautiful sharks on a dive.
Having seen my sharks and gotten some photos of them, I thought I’d focus on the smaller creatures in the seas around Fuerteventura, which obviously led to more Angel Shark and stingray encounters. Sod’s Law never fails, but I have no regrets. I was able to appreciate so much of the life around Fuerteventura.
The eels, gobies, nudibranchs and fireworms had gone unphotographed for too long
spent trying to showcase the rich and varied ecosystem that I had been diving on all week. And Hanna finally discovered why I warned her about needing a lot of patience when buddying with an underwater photographer.
Everything just came really easily on Fuerteventura. From
the proximity of the hotel to the dive centre, and the numerous cafes and restaurants nearby catering for a largely British and German clientele, I didn’t find anything particularly difficult. There wasn’t even a language barrier as everyone spoke English. Rather embarrassingly, my Spanish is extremely limited.
TRAVEL LOG: Canary Islands, Fuerteventura
Flights are available from multiple UK airports. Flights from London take just over 4 hours.
Avoid high summer season. September to November is a great time to visit Fuerteventura for diving.
The resort of Caleta de Fuste is just 20 minutes drive to the south of Fuerteventura Airport. Taxis are readily available for private transfers.
In November, the water temperature was 20°C. September tends to give the warmest seas at 23°C.
Currency Euro €
Favourite non-diving activity
Surfing, kitesurfing and windsurfing are popular here due to the trade winds. There's also plenty of day trips available including the caves at Ajuy and the sand dunes in Corallejo.
Favourite place to eat / drink
There are plenty of cafes and restaurants to choose from throughout the resort.
A trip to Fuerteventura is essential for Angel Shark spotters but there is plenty more to see underwater.
On my last day, Rolle, one of the dive centre owners, took me for a tour of the island and there was a lot to see. There’s a beach made up of calcified algae, called Popcorn Beach near Corralejo located at the north of Fuerteventura. I was advised it was very trendy on Instagram. I’m not trendy enough to be on Instagram but it was remarkable to see a beach made up of something that looked very similar to popcorn. The coast was full of surfers and the odd kite surfer. Inland, Rolle drove us up to Guise and Ayose Viewpoint where there are statues of the aforementioned Guise and Ayose, two of the ancient kings of Fuerteventura. I thought Rolle was having me on when he told me of the local superstition of touching the kings’ genitalia if you wanted to have children, but then I saw
a lady in amongst a group of German tourists do just that! I guess she wanted kids.
I had a fantastic week in Fuerteventura. The staff at Deep Blue Dive Centre were very welcoming and hospitable; in particular, many thanks go to Hanna for being a fantastic guide and buddy, even if she did spank me on air all trip, and to Dave for being the Angel Shark whisperer. n
Yo-Han Cha dived as a guest of Deep Blue Dive Centre in Caleta de Fuste: www. deep-blue-diving.com www.hellocanaryislands.com
SEALS THE DEAL
Lundy Island offers an off the beaten track experience along with fantastic scenery above and below the waterline. Jane Morgan explores.
WORDS & IMAGES: JANE MORGAN
HERE IS SOMETHING very special about Lundy Island. I’ve been visiting this little granite outcrop since 2005 and I still get just as excited each time I return.
Lundy is the largest island in the Bristol Channel, lying 12 miles off the coast of North Devon where the Atlantic Ocean and Bristol Channel collide. Once past this 400–foot rock there is nothing but water until you hit America. The island is just three miles long and half a mile wide and managed by the Landmark Trust.
Due to warm southern currents meeting cooler northern waters, Lundy is in an ideal position for a diverse marine environment. Famously a small area on the east coast of Lundy was designated the UK’s first No-Take Zone (NTZ). It is also a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) due to the significance of the marine habitats and species, a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and a Marine Conservation Zone (MCZ).
There are several ways to get to Lundy Island, including helicopter, the MS Oldenburg,
GETTING TO LUNDY USING YOUR SEA LEGS
dive boat or the club rib. Plus, there is a total of 23 selfcatering holiday accommodation options to choose from, although if you are only visiting for the weekend, it’s the camping field or the camping field. However, if you decide to stay for a week or more you have a fantastic choice from lording it over a 13th century castle or playing lady of the manor at Millcombe House, which is a Georgian rectory with stunning views down a wooded valley.
If that’s not your style you could play lookout in The Old Light, standing on the highest point of the Island, Beacon Hill, 469 feet above sea level. Or if you fancy some real isolation there is the coastguard watchhouse of Tibbets, which is a simple fisherman’s chalet without electricity. With no TVs and radios on the island it really is the perfect place to unwind from the pressures of modern living.
The diving on Lundy is
From March till October the Island’s own supply ship and ferry, the MS Oldenburg departs several times a week from either Bideford or Ilfracombe. Some visitors also opt to travel over with a dive operator, by far the best option for divers as there are no luggage restrictions. Obsession Boat Charters operate out of Ilfracombe and Lundy Charters operate out of Clovelly. However, if you are travelling over with a dive club, the most exciting option is to travel on the club rib.
onto the jetty and natural harbour on Lundy Island.
Three nudibranches (Diaphorodoris luteocincta) on a silty
Far left: Selfie with an inquisitive seal pup.
surprisingly varied from wrecks to reefs. One of my favourite dives is the wreck of the Robert, which I first dived back in 2005. This single screw coaster capsized and sank in 1975 and now lies in around 25m on the eastern side of the island. Conger eels and edible crabs inhabit all the cracks and crevices and the structure is covered in anemones, starfish and nudibranches.
If you are good at navigating you can swim between the Robert and the Iona II, which is just another 50m to the west. The Iona II is a protected paddle steamer and you do need a licence to dive it. If you contact English Heritage or
the Lundy Warden this is easy to organise and free of charge. There is also an Iona II Dive Trail to help you get the best out of the wreck, which explains the structural remains as well as the surrounding marine life.
If you prefer to concentrate on macro life there is plenty to be found on Gannets Rock, the Knoll Pins and beneath the Jetty. The Knoll Pins are probably my favourite macro dive. The walls of the gully are home to the rare and stunningly beautiful Sunset Cup Corals, and this is one of only three places this coral is now recorded in the UK. You can also see Yellow Anemones and Devonshire Cup Corals, and if you are lucky, some years there have been a profusion of nudibranches. Baby crawfish peer out of their homes in the reef and mermaid’s purses are intricately tied onto the pink sea fans. Gannets Rock though, definitely has the best spread and colours of Jewel Anemones and Yellow Anemones; often the wall is also a great spot for finding nudibranches crawling
across the encrusting sponges. Probably the most surprising macro dive I’ve experienced in Lundy was beneath the jetty. I have only dived it the once, and that was due to bad weather and low visibility. Obviously, you need to check with the warden when it's safe to dive as it can be really
though it’s definitely worth the effort. I was blown away by the amount of life we found hiding there. My favourites included Jewel Anemones, nudibranches, Devonshire Cup Corals, Burrowing Anemones, Snakelocks with Leach’s Spider Crabs, flatworms and an assortment of other crustaceans, including a large
During the winter season from November till March you can fly by helicopter between Lundy and Hartland Point on Mondays and Fridays. However, for divers the usual way is by boat (see previous box for info).
Check the tide tables. Lundy has the second highest tidal range in the world. Also remember to book your tank fills at least a month in advance!
My favourite option is to drive myself to Ilfracombe, load the dive boat and leave the car in the car park at the harbour. Once on Lundy you can pay £3
per person for luggage transportation up the hill. Essential if you are taking tents and not an athlete.
Between 9-18ºC depending when you travel. Expect March to be the coldest with August/ September the warmest.
Favourite non-diving activity
The scenery is spectacular and there are some beautiful walks around the island. If you are lucky, you may spot some Manx shearwater, puffins and guillemots, whose numbers are all on the rise since the eradication of rats on the island.
this just off the shore, who would have thought it?
that takes me back to Lundy year after year, and that of course is the friendly colony of Grey Seals. I have travelled far and wide with my diving, and I still stand by my belief that you have to go a very long way to beat the fun you can have underwater with our very own pinniped pals. We generally have a look around the island and check where most of the seals are hauled out on the rocks, then as the tide comes up you know they are going to be plopping into the water. They can be a little shy to begin with and the best advice is to ignore them and let them come to you.
The younger seal pups are just like puppy dogs and most can’t resist the lure of a diver’s
Once they get really comfortable, they can start nibbling at you, so watch out for teeth through the dry suit! It’s the only sort of mugging that I would definitely recommend, even if you end up head down, feet in the air, and surrounded by bubbles from your own hysterical laughter. n
MORE INFORMATION www.landmarktrust.org.uk/ lundyisland www.nationaltrust.org.uk/lundy www.lundydiving.co.uk www.lundy-charters.co.uk
IT’S THE ONLY SORT OF MUGGING THAT I WOULD DEFINITELY RECOMMEND, EVEN IF YOU END UP HEAD DOWN, FEET IN THE AIR, AND SURROUNDED BY BUBBLES FROM YOUR OWN HYSTERICAL LAUGHTER...
LIVING SEAS Snorkelling Scotland’s
Nick and Caroline take advantage of the international travel hiatus to seek out some underwater highlights a little closer to home.
HE SCOTTISH Wildlife Trust’s Living Seas Project comprises eight snorkelling trails specially designed to showcase the amazing diversity of Scotland’s seas. At the time of writing, there were three trails so far in Berwickshire, the Isle of Harris and the North West Highlands. We were intrigued and wanted to explore these sites, but warm water diving trips always seemed to get in the way… until COVID-19! Over the summer months of 2020 the staycation was king, and this gave us the perfect opportunity to try out one of the snorkel trails. As we have close friends in the area, we selected the North West Highlands as our destination
and with the sun just setting as we pulled into our home for the next week, we knew at the very least we were going to be surrounded by incredible scenery. We crossed our fingers that the weather would be kind to us and that the water would not be too cold.
All the North West Highland snorkelling sites are within about a one hour drive of picturesque Ullapool. The Scottish Wildlife Trust has produced a leaflet on the trail
IMAGES Above: We love Scotland. Below: Getting ready to snorkel Ardmair.
Right: A diver marvels on the pier legs at Mellon Charles.
with a handy map with guides to each site, as well as listing the marine life you might see, places to park and safety guidelines. We studied the weather forecast for our first day and saw a row of orange sun symbols looking back at us, so for our first day we picked what we had heard is one of the most beautiful beaches in the UK (possibly even the world): Achmelvich Beach.
With our wetsuits, masks, snorkel, fins and cameras all thrown into the back of the car, we headed north, and followed friends who were joining us and knew the area well. We set off early to beat any crowds that had also seen the forecast and were the first to arrive in the car park. To our delight, there were well maintained public toilets and a famous pie shop nearby for our lunch! But it was the sight of the bay as we came over the top of the sand dunes that made our day. A simply stunning white sand beach skirted with rocky hills and a
sea that ranged from turquoise to azure – and all to ourselves!
Some of our friends were going to wild swim whilst the rest of us got into our snorkelling gear and headed into the cool (11°C) water.
Lion's Mane and Moon jellyfish loomed out of the blue at us, reminding us that we had to watch where we were going.
Below us the seascape changed from a sandy seabed with small shoals of sand eels to a rocky kelp bed, home to crabs and juvenile fish.
WE STUDIED THE WEATHER FORECAST AND SAW A ROW OF ORANGE SUN SYMBOLS LOOKING BACK AT US...IMAGES Top: Stunning Lion's Mane Jellyfish are something to watch out for. Above: A snorkeller at the steps of Mellon Charles.
More snorkelling trails have now been added to the Living Seas Project.
Why not explore the stunning Isle of Arran, or Lochabar, Outdoor Capital of the UK. Plus, new this season: East Lothian, North Argyll and Torridon!
Back on shore we were able to quickly warm up in the blazing sun, as beach-goers started to arrive to enjoy this magical place. Many brought their dogs so that they could enjoy the water; Scotland seems to welcome them far more than England and Wales do.
Whilst the rest of the week we were not quite so lucky with the sunshine, the rain held off and we had a mixture of sun, a light breeze and clouds as we explored another five of the nine possible snorkelling sites. Ardmair offered us impressive underwater scenery, with the rocky grey cliffs turning white underwater due to the number of barnacles growing on them. Crabs scaled this underwater white wall and there were lovely patches of seaweed reaching for the surface. The
day was to include a bit more excitement too. Our friend, who was wild swimming, came across a group trapped by the offshore winds and unable to get back to shore on their small inflatable dinghy. We had to call the coastguard and direct the helicopter sent from Stornaway to help them, and we watched as the incredible team winched a young lad off the rocks and back to safety.
Later in the week, Camusnagaul Bay, located south of Ullapool, saw us exploring a pebbly shoreline with plenty of seaweed and marine life. Once again, we had to dodge a huge number of Lion’s Mane Jellyfish as we swam. Whilst they can give you a nasty sting if you swim into their lengthy cirri, they are also very beautiful and mesmerising to watch as they
Other page: A Lion's Mane Jellyfish out in the water off Achmelvish Beach.
Top left: The dark rocks turn white underwater with barnacle growth. Top right: A small crab hides in the seaweed. Top middle: The WWII pier at Mellon Charles.
Above: Panorama at Achmelvish Beach.
slowly pulsate to move along in the shallows. There are two more sites in this area, and we decided to take a quick peek to decide which to visit the next day when the sun was due to return in force. Whilst Gruinard Bay was stunning with a large beach enclosed by majestic mountains, it was Mellon Charles that got the unanimous vote for our penultimate day. We also decided that whilst some of the party would snorkel the site, we wanted to dive the remains of the WWII pier. For both activities the site offered an easy entrance from a sandy beach and a short swim to the concrete pier that does not reach the shore. The pier legs were covered in a variety of anemones, seaweed and sea squirts. Crabs scuttled along
A lengthy 7-8 hour drive from Manchester. Ullapool is about 1.5 hours drive from Inverness Airport.
Use the Scottish Wildlife Trust’s Living Seas Snorkel Trail guide to pick sites suited to the weather and your abilities.
You will need a car to get to the snorkelling sites.
Between 4 – 14°C Currency £ GBP
Where to stay
We stayed in the heart of Ullapool in Glen Almond and loved being able to walk to the local amenities, but for spectacular panoramic views it has to be Cnoc Cailean. Visit www. ullapoolholidayhomes. com for more.
Favourite place to eat/drink
Any of the places along the waterfront in Ullapool offer a great meal and drinks with a stunning view.
Final word We absolutely loved snorkelling in Scotland –we will be back!
IMAGES Above: Mellon Charles is a great site for divers, snorkellers and wild swimmers.
the bottom, wrasse darted between sheltered kelp fronds, and the water was clear enough to see the snorkellers overhead. Just before high tide, the sea floor was only at 5m, so this is a great place for snorkelling, freediving and scuba diving. The drive back to Ullapool was simply stunning and reminded us that the Highlands has so much to offer both above and below the waves.
Our final day saw us head north again to finish our week in the Bay of Clachtoll - another series of stunning white sand beaches with rocky gullies and swaying kelp beds to explore. Some wild swimming and snorkelling soon saw us needing a feast of warm food and a celebratory drink to toast what had been a wonderful week.
Ullapool is the perfect place to base yourself for the North West Highlands Snorkel Trail. The village is in the middle of all of the snorkel sites and offers plenty of restaurants and bars to keep you fed and watered in the evenings. The bay is stunning and a lovely place to wander in the evening. Keep an eye out for Sammy the Seal who patrols the harbour as the fishing boats return in the hope of a fishy snack or three! We were also lucky enough to see a pod of 20 or so Common Dolphins playing in the evening sun before heading back out to sea. A truly magical place. n
MORE INFORMATION www.scottishwildlifetrust.org.uk/ things-to-do/snorkel-trails www.visitscotland.com
WANT TO FIND OUT MORE ABOUT SNORKELLING?
Take a look at www.worldwidesnorkeladventures.com for all the news, blogs, gear info and travel features, plus everything else you need to know from the world of snorkelling.
RESORT & SPA Siladen
FROM OUR exclusive dive resort, located in the heart of the world-renowned Bunaken National Marine Park, North Sulawesi, Indonesia on the lush tropical island of Pulau Siladen, we offer you an authentic, relaxing and memorable experience.
Open since 2003, we are an ecofriendly, socially responsible boutique dive resort that places high emphasis on the protection of the Marine Park and the environment. The resort offers attractive, exquisite and secluded accommodation with open air showers and sunbeds overlooking the calm seas. Enjoy a full range of
activities, land tours, spectacular sunsets and quality of service.
Siladen Resort & Spa is a 5 Star PADI Resort where you will enjoy a safe, exclusive and memorable diving and snorkelling experience. Thanks to our strategic location, over 50 premium dive sites are within easy reach. The Bunaken National Park covers a total area of over 890 km2, hosts 390 different species of corals, is a center of marine global biodiversity and ranks among the top diving destinations worldwide.
The Park is known for its rich macro life and is mostly characterized by wall dives rich in hard and soft corals. Shallow coral reefs surround all five islands within the Park but beyond the shallow reef, the seabed drops away very quickly, forming the beautiful vertical walls with huge caverns and overhangs that Bunaken is famous for.
Besides diving and snorkelling in Bunaken, we also organize muck and critter diving on the black sand sites of Manado Bay and soft coral dives on the slopes of Bangka Island. Close by also we have white sand sites which offer some beautiful reefs and gentle slopes. There is even a fairly intact (entirely sponge encrusted) wreck
within easy access of the resort
Our traditional style wooden boats are spacious and offer all the necessary comfort and safety amenities for our guests.
After an amazing day of diving or snorkelling, unwind by treating yourself to a relaxing massage at our Spa. Enjoy a unique opportunity to relax, benefit from traditional treatments, rest your mind and pamper your body. Indulge in soothing, uplifting and restorative therapies based on ancient knowledge and natural Indonesian ingredients.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Website: www.siladen.com www.facebook.com/Siladen www.instagram.com/siladenresort
Originally founded as an outpost for marine studies, today Coral Eye, Bangka is a melting pot of passionate travelers, dive enthusiasts, underwater photographers and marine biologists.
Situated between the Celebes Sea and the Molucca Sea, in the northern province of Sulawesi, Indonesia, Pulau Bangka lies in the heart of the Coral Triangle, the global epicenter of marine biodiversity.
Coral Eye places the guest at the center of the space, creating a unique environment that favors socialization and communication between people united by a common passion for the sea. The project came to life in 2009, as four young marine biologists
decided to pursue their dreams to set up a marine outpost on Bangka Island. In 2013, Coral Eye opened its doors to tourism to mix science with passion and love for the sea.
Bangka island is situated between Bunaken and Lembeh and it combines the best elements of both. Here you can experience both exceptional critter diving and wonderful coral reefs. Bangka is known for its abundance of soft corals which makes our underwater world especially colourful.
With more than 30 world-class dive sites, Bangka's archipelago offers several different diving spots, from richly-colonized volcanic pinnacles, beautiful pristine coral reef slopes to sandy slopes, mangroves and walls. All the diving spots can be reached with 5 - 40 minutes of navigation from the resort. The seascape encompasses several different habitats that support rare species such as the pygmy seahorse, leaf fish, frogfish, white and black tip reef sharks, nudibranchs, and dugongs.
In 2022, we joined forces with the Siladen Resort & Spa to form a new partnership and elevate the resort to a new level of comfort for guests. While keeping the original community spirit of Coral Eye and the characteristics
that have distinguished it from other resorts since its founding, the new partnership adds a touch of luxury with seven new private beach view villas and an upgrade of the existing rooms and general guest services.
At Coral Eye we are passionate about the ocean and the preservation of its treasures. As a resort we have a strong Italian input in both architecture and gastronomy. The resort was designed by an Italian architect following a ‘less is more’ philosophy that promotes comfort in simplicity. Guests particularly enjoy our cuisine which offers a fusion between local ingredients and Italian recipes.
Email: email@example.com Website: www.coral-eye.com www.facebook.com/coraleyebangka www.instagram.com/coraleyebangka
Adventures in the
Jay Clue heads to Palau to discover what makes this spectacular Pacific archipelago one of the most diverse dive destinations on our planet.
WORDS & IMAGES: JAY CLUE
ALAU. Just uttering its name inspires visions of picturesque mushroomshaped limestone islands topped with lush green jungle that look as if they are actually floating above neon turquoise waters. But these are not your normal exotic tourist destination waters. Home to the world's first ever shark sanctuary and one of the largest fully protected marine reserves on earth means its waters are teeming with life.
Palau holds a resume that can easily rival the infamous coral triangle to the west. Boasting 340 islands, 400 species of hard coral, 300 species of soft coral, 13 species of sharks, over 1700 species of reef fish, thousands of marine invertebrates, the world's most isolated colony of Dugongs, and the list just keeps on going… But this is nothing new, the Palauan tradition of “bul” has been in action for over 1,000 years. Local chieftains and their councils would get together to set aside different reefs as off limits to fishing each year to allow their inhabitants time to recover and combat overfishing. Now 80% of this incredible country's waters are a no
take zone, and the remaining 20% is open only to fishing by locals - no foreign vessels allowed. Still not impressed? In 2017 they became the first country in the world to institute an eco-pledge that every foreign visitor must sign before gaining entry into the country. But their dedication to conservation is only the tip of this beautiful iceberg.
Palau is easily one of the most diverse dive destinations on Earth. Whether you’re looking for mantas, sharks, macro, spawning aggregations, black water diving, caverns, historical wrecks, or hopping in Jellyfish Lake for one of the most unique underwater experiences in the world, Palau literally has something for everyone. Recently I had the chance to head over with Dive Ninja Expeditions to visit our friends — Seb from Siren Liveaboards, and Paul and Matt at Unique Diving.
With so much on offer, it’s hard to even know where to begin! The reefs of Palau are overflowing with life and covered in corals creating a stunning underwater landscape. There are a multitude of beautiful wall dives where you can spend time searching for some of Palau’s incredible macro
Top:: A school of young juvenile reef sharks patrols the sand flats below.
Above: Light rays dance down from the surface in one of Palau’s famous blue holes.
Right Colorful corals have completely taken over many of the wrecks in Palau.
Bottom: massive clam at Ulong Channel.
life or staring out into the blue watching the local sharks drift by riding the currents. One of my personal favorites is Ulong Channel. Our dive started just outside of the channel, hooking in to watch groups of Grey Reef Sharks standing guard at the entrance floating on the incoming tide. Then you unhook and are launched into a shallow channel that cuts through a rainbow-colored reef filled with life. Along the way we came across a nursery of shark pups as well as a whole list of reef fish. The channel is the ancient remnants of a lake and river system that used to flow out to sea making it feel like you are on an amusement park ride flying through a wild aquarium.
The corals and walls aren’t the only attraction in this lush island nation though. Its history as a strategic operations area from World War II means it has its fair share of shipwrecks and even planes. Learning the stories behind these wrecks, as well as being able to go explore them and even stop on land to see some of the remnants of rusted tanks and military installations, really drives home
how the conflict affected these beautiful islands.
The US military launched Operation Desecrate One in the early morning of March 30, 1944. One can only imagine the fear and emotion that blanketed Palau as American planes appeared over their skies and began dropping explosives on what was left of the Japanese fleet anchored here. Over the next two days, an almost continuous bombardment rained down from the sky through day and night sending at least 60 ships to their final resting places.
Yet wrecks and reefs are just the beginning of what awaits divers in Palau. The islands are home to a variety of unique marine encounters. Being situated on an 8,000-meter deep trench that begins only a few kilometers offshore brings many benefits - including offering some of the world's top Blackwater Diving. Every night one of the largest migrations on earth takes place when millions of tiny organisms move towards the ocean's surface from hundreds of meters deep
WRECKS AND REEFS ARE JUST THE BEGINNING OF WHAT AWAITS DIVERS IN PALAU...
in the mesopelagic zone. By using specialized lights to attract isopods and copepods it enables you to kick off essentially a mini food chain where tiny creatures come in to feed on even smaller ones. Blackwater Diving is like diving in space. While many of the creatures are juveniles of regular species we see on the reef, they look bizarrely different. In one night, you could encounter curious tiny juvenile octopuses the size of a pea, witness see-through larval mantis shrimp aggressively hunting, giggle at tiny larval reef fish hitchhiking rides on jellies, and so many more beautifully strange creatures.
Back on land, Palau is home to the most famous Jellyfish Lake on earth. This marine lake formed around 12,000 years ago and left its namesake inhabitants essentially cut off from the world evolving into a special sub species. Over time the Golden Jellyfish are believed to have evolved from the local Spotted Jellyfish that can be found in nearby
lagoons. They lost their stinging cells and instead now receive their nutrition through a combination of a symbiotic relationship with Zooxanthellae algae and captured Zooplankton making them harmless to humans. Snorkeling through thousands of jellyfish as they make their daily migration around the lake following the sun is an experience I will never forget.
Palau is also home to numerous blue holes, each offering its own unique experience. They range from giant cathedrals with rays of light dancing down from the surface, to darker caverns packed with interesting creatures. There is also the
SNORKELING THROUGH THOUSANDS OF JELLYFISH IS AN EXPERIENCE I WILL NEVER FORGET.IMAGES Top: Golden jellies making their daily migration at Jellyfish Lake. Middle: A curious juvenile octopus, the size of a pea. Whip Coral Shrimp are just some of the mindblowing macro found in Palau. Right: A diver surfaces to check out the Chandelier Cave.
renowned Chandelier Cave. This shallow ocean cave is reminiscent of cavern diving in Mexico’s Cenotes. You enter via a short swim-through at a shallow reef which opens into huge chambers with large air pockets at the surface. Upon surfacing, divers are treated to beautiful stalactites reaching down from the ceiling that glimmer in the light of your torch as if they are coated in crystals. There are four big chambers to check out while inside. After exiting the cave there is a shallow coral garden near the entrance that is filled with Mandarin Fish. In all my travels, I have yet to find another place with this many Mandarin Fish in one dive. With so many adventures to be had it can seem difficult to try to fit them all in one trip, but it’s actually much easier than you would think. For this reason, I’m very happy we were onboard the Palau Siren for the bulk of the trip. Waking up in the beautiful Rock Islands with the dive sites on our doorstep was amazing, but even better, the itinerary allowed us to check out a bit of everything making for a really diverse week. Then to round it off we spent a few days before boarding the ship being
I HAVE YET TO FIND ANOTHER PLACE WITH THIS MANY MANDARIN FISH IN ONE DIVE.
Koror Intl Airport (ROR) via Taipei, Guam, or Manila at the time of writing. (Before the pandemic, there were also flights from Seoul and Tokyo so hopefully those routes will reopen soon).
While most of Palau is easily reached from land ops running day tours, there is something very special about waking up on a liveaboard surrounded by lush mushroom-shaped islands and neon turquoise waters.
Airport taxi and private transfers easily available.
Most hotels will offer to prebook it for you.
Around 27°C on average.
Currency US $.
Favourite non diving activity
Favourite place to eat Pancakes for breakfast at Rock Island Cafe, and dinner at Taj for delicious curries and Indian flavours.
If you’re looking for variety in a dive destination, Palau is hard to beat!
land-based, exploring some of the main island’s culture and natural wonders. One of my personal favorites was the hike to Ngardmau Waterfalls. It’s a gorgeous walk with a few options to jump in the water and cool off along the way if you can’t hold out for swimming at the falls.
All in all, Palau has to be one of the most diverse dive destinations on our planet. Where else can you sneak morning dives in with mantas and World War era wrecks, then snorkel with thousands of jellyfish in the afternoon before drift diving with sharks, and then finish up the day spending your evening looking
at bizarre tiny underwater aliens? There simply is no rival when it comes to the variety found in Palau. n
MORE INFORMATION www.SirenFleet.com www.PristineParadisePalau.com
Jay Clue is the Founder of Dive Ninja Expeditions - an ecotourism business that aims to further marine conservation and research through tourism. Jay and the dive ninjas run specialized expeditions in Baja to see Mobulas, Marlin, Whales, Mako sharks and more, as well as dive trips and expeditions around the world to experience the ocean’s most coveted encounters. Visit www. diveninjaexpeditions.com for more.
Back to Aqaba…
ith fond memories of my previous visit to Aqaba in 2017, I was delighted to be invited back in August 2019 to join a group of journalists to witness the Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority (ASEZA) creating another new artificial reef in the waters of the Red Sea.
Our first day started with an 8.30am pick up from the hotel in Aqaba for a short drive to the marina. Here we got our first glimpse of the large aircraft, gleaming white under the morning sun. The Lockheed L-1011 Tristar was due to be scuttled next to the King Abdullah Reef dive site, adjacent to the Aqaba Container Terminal. Initially the whole process started slowly as care was taken to ensure it would sink evenly before its final destination on the sea floor. The site has a sloping sandy bottom where the plan was for the nose of the plane to sit in water around 15 metres deep, while the tail end sloped down to around 28 metres.
After a couple of hours, we were treated to the full repertoire of the
My first day of diving was scheduled with Red Sea Diving Center. After discussions on the boat between the group, it was decided we would like to explore another new site recently added to the waters around Aqaba. In July 2019, a month before my arrival, 19 military vehicles including a combat helicopter were sunk in battle formation. The vehicles are situated in rows of 2-3 working their way up the sandy slope bottom from around 30 metres to 15 metres, making this a great site for recreational divers. I was happy to
hear that all hazardous materials were removed from each vehicle to comply with environmental best practices.
It was quite an awe-inspiring sight as each vehicle came into view and I was excited to get down and explore. I noticed that the area they were sunk in was in quite poor condition, with discarded fishing lines strangling the coral reef after running down the slope through the seagrass. I now understood why this site was the perfect location; with a major clean up planned, hopefully the new artificial reefs provide a safe haven for marine life, while also providing a great surface for coral growth. Over time, this site should then start to flourish.
After a check out dive on the new site it was time for me to return to my favourite dive site around Aqaba. The
Cedar Pride wreck really stood out to me on my last visit and again didn’t disappoint. The hard and soft coral life that clings to the wreck provides a kaleidoscope of colour and is what really makes this dive for me. Add to that the marine life such as lionfish that you can find hiding amongst the wreck, and it really is a fun site that you’ll want to dive over and over again.
It was now time for a well needed rest after arriving in Aqaba late at night and then having an early start.
Once up and refreshed on day two, it was time for my group to join up with Deep Blue Dive Center based at Tala Bay Resort. We would return to the Underwater Military Museum for our first dive of the day. It was a welcome return as the dive on the previous day didn’t give me enough time to really explore. I enjoyed a fun dive working my way along each vehicle from 30 metres up to 15. Seeing marine life such as a big pufferfish using the wrecks as cover and protection was a great sign as to what this site will become in the future.
My previous visit to Aqaba was for the scuttling of the C-130 Hercules plane back in late 2017. While the rest of the group did a second dive at the Museum, the dive centre was more than accommodating
and took me to the Hercules with a dive guide on the small boat. I’m really grateful they gave me this opportunity as it was amazing to see the plane nearly two years down the line and see how it has improved as a dive site. I was more than
a little excited to see the coral growth under each wing of the plane. After being slightly apprehensive at the idea of purposely sinking a wreck at first, it really did alleviate that feeling once I saw the life growing on this new artificial reef. I was so happy to see plenty of fish life using the inside of the wreck as cover. Although I didn’t see it myself, I was told there’s also a big moray eel that regularly returns to the wreck.
With lunch and dinner provided via a BBQ at the back of the boat, we stayed out to complete a night dive at the Military Museum. While others on-board prepared their array of underwater lighting for a light show to rival Blackpool Illuminations over the wrecks, I decided I would put my macro lens on and see what smaller wonders I could find.
I joked with Deep Blue owner Mohammed that I would find a seahorse. With their camouflage and elusiveness, I wasn’t actually expecting to! So, imagine my surprise after a slow bimble around the wrecks and surrounding reef, I made my way to the seagrass and almost instantly my light caught a glimpse of a tiny seahorse hiding amongst the seagrass. With a couple of entertaining cuttlefish along
the way it turned out to be a great choice for going macro.
Day three saw me diving with Sinai Diver Center for a full day at the new Lockheed L-1011 TriStar dive site. Sinai have a great day boat for diving that is very close to a typical Red Sea liveaboard size. With Wi-Fi also on-board, this is a great boat to be on for your full day of diving. As we approached the dive site the ghostly white appearance of the wreck was visible from the surface and I was now eager to get in and explore.
This thing is HUGE!! Like seriously huge. Dropping in and getting the first glimpse
of it below the surface blew my mind. I remember being shocked at how big the Hercules seemed, but this completely blows the Hercules out of the water. Its torpedo-like front sits at around 15 metres and works its way down to around 30-35 metres at the tail end. As you sit above the main cabin, the wings disappear into the blue abyss even in great visibility.
The three engines have been removed and the third centremounted engine had left a gaping hole just begging to be explored. I felt tiny as I swam into the engine casing and made my way through to an opening
IMAGES Above: My dive guide Paul explores the inside of the Lockheed L-1011 Tristar. Below left: A seahorse I found on a night dive in the seagrass next to the Underwater Military Museum dive site. Below right: Paul ventures inside the third engine which gives access to the main cabin.
into the main cabin. This was definitely the highlight for me of the entire dive. With the seats left in either side of the cabin, it certainly made for an eerie experience once I first started to explore. Unfortunately, they made a mistake leaving the floating cushion seats in and they found their way to the ceiling. It was my understanding that this would be rectified and cleaned. While I didn’t have the opportunity myself, I was told by others it’s possible to enter the cargo hold below; quite the spooky experience from the feedback I received from the other divers. It is certainly a strange feeling being in a plane underwater that you’re normally used to in the air.
We did four dives on the plane that day, giving me plenty of time to explore. On dive three I changed to a macro lens, thinking that a look around the reefs surrounding the plane would show how special this new site will be. With great reefs surrounding, I was excited to find a huge frogfish camouflaged into the reef, while the usual colours of a Red Sea reef were delightful. A night dive on the wreck increased that eerie feeling but also
showed how quick the marine life was to explore as I watched a lionfish enter the wreck through the cabin door.
Our last day was a time for rest as our flight was in the early hours. A delicious lunch together and time spent by the pool was the order of the day. My trip was a flying visit this time, but it brought back some fond memories of the landbased activities I enjoyed on my last visit. I’d highly recommend to anyone looking to make Aqaba a dive holiday destination that they add some time to their trip to explore the many topside treasures. On my last trip here I enjoyed an adventurous day in Wadi Rum exploring the desert in a 4x4, while marvelling at the enormous sandstone mountains and arches, followed by a traditional Bedouin meal and tea. I was lucky enough to marvel at the wonders of the ancient city of Petra - the ‘Rose
back thousands of years.
Wherever you visit here, you are sure to have a holiday to remember. It was a shame this visit was such a quick one as I’m still looking to add a night in Wadi Rum marvelling at the Milky Way and seeing Petra by night to complete my bucket list. I’ll just have to return again… n
Note: Aqaba was hit by a severe storm in March 2020 and we understand from reports that the wreck of the C-130 Hercules is now broken apart. No doubt marine life and coral growth will still continue to colonise this artificial reef over time.
Sean travelled courtesy of the Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority: www. aqaba.jo
Diving was kindly provided by www.redseadivecenter.com, www. deepbluedivecenter.com and www. sinaidivers.com.
Read about Sean’s first visit to Aqaba in the Spring 2018 issue of DTA: www.scubaverse.com/ magazines
TRAVEL LOG: AQABA, JORDAN
Heathrow to Amman, and Amman to Aqaba with Royal Jordanian Airways.
A mini bus transfer from Amman to Aqaba is around 3.5 - 4 hours long and could save money (and time) waiting for the next available flight between Amman and Aqaba.
The transfer time from Aqaba’s King Hussein International Airport to the main resorts is around 20 minutes depending on where you stay.
28°C in August; I wore a 3mm shorty which was plenty warm enough. I wore the same in 25°C in November but if you feel the cold you might prefer a full suit.
Currency Jordanian Dinar but credit cards are widely accepted in larger resorts.
Favourite nondiving activity
Visiting Wadi Rum desert, the ancient Rose City of Petra, or spending the time snorkelling over the beautiful shallow reefs and wrecks.
Favourite place to eat/drink
Traditional Zarb style BBQ in Wadi Rum Desert Camp.
Aqaba is an amazing place for shallow wreck diving. It’s also a great place to start your diving journey in warm clear waters. Add on some superb land-based tours to complete an amazing holiday.
The centre of adventure
After many a difficult time with suspended flights and then the COVID pandemic, Sharm el Sheikh is firmly back on the map for UK divers. Nick and Caroline head out to see what’s new.
HE NEWS that direct flights from the UK to Sharm el Sheikh are finally back on the schedule and the country is open to visiting tourists again was greeted with delight and excitement; one of the world’s most popular diving destinations is back! Of course, Sharm hadn’t really gone anywhere and it had been possible to get there over the last few years but doing so had meant at least two flights and sometimes long layovers at hub airports. Now you can be enjoying the sunshine in Sharm in just over five hours from the UK, and we jumped at the chance for a return visit on one of the first direct flights from Manchester.
Our trip was to be a dual centre one, which included three days of diving with Red Sea Diving College and a further three days with
Anthias Divers. Our late departure on the final day afforded us a bonus day of diving. Excellent!
Our first day saw us diving on Middle Garden with Red Sea Diving College. As we dropped down, the dive guide pointed out a clownfish in a beautiful pink anemone, making a superb start to our return to diving in Sharm. Middle Garden has wonderful coral in the shallows that also makes it perfect for snorkellers.
Two of the most famous diving locations around Sharm are Ras Mohammed and the Straits of Tiran. They both take about an hour via boat, and whilst the big schooling fish aggregations and sightings of Whale Sharks and mantas take place in the warmer months starting in June, they are worth visiting all year around. Our Red Sea Diving College guide,
IMAGES Below far left: Pufferfish swim in the protection of the colourful reef. Below left: A diver on the iconic Bells to Blue Hole dive in Dahab.
Below right: A school of batfish swim around us at the end of a dive.
Right: Camels are a common sight in Dahab.
Ghandi, decided that Ras Mohammed was the best option on our first day of boat diving and he put two classics on our itinerary: Jackfish Alley, followed by Shark and Yolanda Reef. Jackfish Alley has large crevices in the reef wall that allow you to swim through and marvel at the cathedral lighting as the sunshine forces its way through the cracks in the coral. Glassfish circle in the gloom, trying to avoid being seen by predators. As you emerge into the bright sunlight you are greeted with a riot of colour on the reef and a vast, deep blue as you glance into the deeper water at your side. The beauty of this dive site is enough to take your breath away and we had to be persuaded to surface from the dive after an hour of exploring.
Shark and Yolanda is a mixed dive, starting
SHARM EL SHEIKH IS FIRMLY BACK ON THE MAP FOR UK DIVERS!
off on a wall covered in soft corals in purples, oranges and pinks. Then suddenly, you come across the wreck of the Yolanda, broken up now, but having spilled its cargo of bathroom supplies. It is quite a sight, with a series of toilets and other ceramic bathroom ware laying on the seabed. We had planned on investigating this area, hoping to be visited by the resident large Napoleon wrasse, but Ghandi was signalling to us to wait for other divers to move on and then to join him on the reef around the back of the site.
We did as he suggested and were rewarded with a huge Green Turtle sleeping under
a coral head. As she awoke, we worried she might move away or up to the surface, but instead she glanced at us and then started to clean her shell by rubbing it on the coral, before settling back down to snooze once more. Thinking the dive could not be improved we started to head upwards and were met by a school of batfish, swimming all around us before disappearing into the blue. It was a day of diving that really reminded us exactly why Sharm is one of the leading dive destinations in the world.
Alas, the next day the wind had picked up and so our planned trip to dive the sites off the Straits of Tiran
would have to be postponed. It can get windy in February in the region but there is always somewhere to dive and, rather than crossing the strait, we found a sheltered local site called Ras Nasrani. At the corner of the dive, as the reef curved round into open water, the hard corals were the most incredible we have ever seen.
Towering layers reached up to the surface, all covered in
brightly coloured small fish. Moray eels poked their heads out from protected holes, hoping for unsuspecting prey to swim past, and Blue-spotted Stingrays rested under every table coral. Within minutes, any disappointment to the change in plans had been banished. We were delighted to spend time enjoying one of the local dive sites; they provide plentiful sheltered and shallow areas that are home to healthy reefs and an abundance of marine life.
Halfway through the trip
IMAGES Above: Sharm boasts some of the most beautiful reefs in the world. Below: A dive guide takes time to warm up in the sunshine between dives.
THE LOCAL DIVE SITES ARE HOME TO HEALTHY REEFS AND AN ABUNDANCE OF MARINE LIFE.
and it was time to change location and dive centre. Anthias Divers picked us up and we headed to the dive centre, which always has a host of divers relaxing at the end of the day chatting about their diving adventures. Having rung the “beer bell” we settled down to discuss the weather and to put together a plan for the next three days of diving. The wind was still high but Anthias Divers offer day trips to Dahab, so we were delighted to be offered the chance to return to a place we had not dived in over a decade.
The next morning our gear was loaded into the truck and we climbed into the dive bus to make the 60 minute drive to Dahab for another two iconic dives: Bells to Blue Hole, and
Canyon. The shore diving sites of Dahab are dotted along the coast, each with Bedouin style restaurants where you sit on rugs on the floor before and after each dive. Our guides could not have been more helpful, assisting with all our equipment on the walk and entry into Bells. The site gets it name, we believe, from the sound of tanks banging on the rocks as divers get into the water and make their way down the tunnel in the reef that makes this site so special.
A narrow gully cut into the reef takes you from the surface all the way down to 26m, where you straighten out onto the impressive wall. The rest of the dive takes you along this wall that is covered in gorgonian corals, as you gently get
shallower to extend your dive time.
Finally, you cross a shallow saddle in the reef into the famous Blue Hole. With the dark blue extending deep below you, it is time for a safety stop as you circle around the edge of this impressive sight. With the wind still blowing, we found a cluster of purple Moon Jellyfish at the end of the Blue Hole that marked the end of our dive.
Between dives we settled down to try a Vitamin Sea, a drink of hot orange juice, fresh lemon, ginger, cinnamon and fresh mint - delicious. Our second dive, Canyon, is famous for its clownfish, lionfish and, of course, the Canyon itself, where you can explore a
narrow cut in the seabed, filled with light beams and glassfish. As you exit, you can see your own bubbles filtering through small holes in the sand that create a curtain around the top of the Canyon itself.
The weather had improved the next morning and so our trip to the Straits of Tiran was back on. Again, two of the best sites - Jackson and Gordon Reef - were on the itinerary
IMAGES Below: Parrotfish are important to a healthy reef and there are plenty to find here. Bottom left: Anthias surround most coral heads in their thousands. Bottom right: Shards of light in a crevice in the reef.
and we were looking forward to some spectacular reef diving. We were not disappointed. Anthias Divers boat-share with other dive centres in Sharm. This ensures that boats are not going out with just two or three divers and makes the diving as environmentally friendly as possible. This also means you get to meet a host of other divers, and we enjoyed sharing our diving tales from the morning dives over the usual, delicious lunch.
We had planned for a night dive that evening, with the promise of Spanish Dancer nudibranchs tempting us into the dark water, but as we were gearing up, the weather had different ideas and a storm broke. We had never
BOAT SHARING MAKES THE DIVING HERE ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY; IT'S ALSO A GREAT WAY TO MEET OTHER DIVERS.
Sharm el Sheikh
TRAVEL LOG: Sharm el Sheikh
We flew direct from Manchester with TUI but more and more flights are being added each month.
Winter trips to Sharm can be windy, so a hoodie and beanie are a good idea.
Anthias Divers provided our airport transfers. Sharm is very easy to get around and transport is plentiful.
The winter water temperature is around 21°C; in summer this rises to 28°C.
Currency £, € and US$ are all accepted and Egyptian Pounds can be withdrawn at ATMs.
Favourite non-diving activity
Dolphin watching off the bow of the boat at the end of a diving day.
Favourite place to eat/drink
You can get a superb curry at Rangoli in the Movenpick Resort.
It is fantastic to be able to visit Sharm using direct flights – take advantage of it as soon as you can!
best views of Sharm.
seen rain in Sharm in all our previous visits, but the wind picked up quickly and soon we were getting wet for all the wrong reasons. We called the dive as conditions had worsened and headed to Pirates Bar instead.
Our final day also saw us visit the Straits of Tiran, the storm from the previous evening having blown itself out quickly. The sun was out, and we enjoyed flat calm seas and the warmest sunshine of the trip so far.
It was fantastic to have the opportunity to return to Sharm el Sheikh with the extra bonus of direct flights, now available from several UK regional airports. This destination has
so much to offer all year round. On top of the great diving we did, it’s also possible to dive the Thistlegorm wreck and, in the summer months, enjoy huge numbers of schooling fish on top of the wonderful coral reef diving that the region has to offer. The people are so friendly, the diving is wonderful, and it is now even easier than ever to get to. We urge you to go to Sharm as soon as you can! n
Nick and Caroline travelled to Sharm el Sheikh as guests of the Egyptian Tourism Authority: www.egypt.travel Diving was kindly provided by www. redseacollege.com and www. anthiasdivers.com
PARADISE FROM SEA TO DOOR
Bunaken Oasis redefines diving in Bunaken. Positioned very much at the luxury end of the spectrum, our aim is to provide a 5-star luxury diving experience whilst keeping our ecological footprint to a minimum.
www.bunakenoasis.com Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Bunaken Island, Manado, North Sulawesi, Indonesia