Sri Lanka: Teardrop in the Indian Ocean

The teardrop island of Sri Lanka sits just underneath its mainland cousin India. For many thousands of years it has been a stop off point for international trading for galleon ships travelling from South Africa to Indonesia, known as the Silk Road. Although not historically famous for its diving, this is one destination not to be missed and is only becoming more popular.

This beautiful country is full of the colours and aromatic smells of incense and spices that you would expect to find in this part of the world. With stunning fabrics draped on the roadsides and art work scattering the streets, it’s a delight for all senses walking through the streets of Hikkaduwa, one the island’s main hubs of activity. This beautiful array of colours can not only be found on land but transcends below the surface of the Indian Ocean.

 

Now time to get wet!

Sri Lanka offers some great diving to wet the appetite. Usually very quick boat rides out to the dive sites, with the opportunity to spot dolphins playing in the wake of the boat.

Unawatuna is one of the most popular beaches on the coast, lined with palm trees, you can find dive centres sprinkled along the 2km stretch of sand.

As Sri Lanka has been part of a major shipping route throughout the centuries it is only to be expected that a few unfortunate ships met their fate off the coast which in turn has led to some amazing wreck dives. If you’re a fan of wreck diving there is a number to choose from, lying at depths as shallow as 9 metres or deep enough for a technical pro.

Sri Lanka not only boasts spectacular safaris on land with the chance to see animals such as the Leopard and Elephant, it also hosts an array of animals under the water.

5 of the 7 species of turtle reside and pass through these waters of Sri Lanka. For those of you with an eye for detail, nudibranchs are found throughout the reefs, showing off their beautiful colours and intricate patterns.

Diving here is best from October – April. With strong winds building up in the summer months, it is best to avoid visiting from May-September as many of the dive shops are closed due to the rough weather.

Boxing Day Tsunami

The 2004 tsunami had a devastating impact on the shores of Sri Lanka. Some of which you can still witness today. A couple of large wooden boats in the middle of fields, many new buildings along the coastline and even some shops have photographs posted up on their walls showing you the damage and disruption that occurred that Christmas. Unfortunately two thirds of the Sri Lankan coast had been affected by the tsunami but the reef seemed to survive with not too much damage in most parts, while other parts you can witness the uprooting of many hard corals.

Largest mammal on the planet…..

The Blue Whale graces these waters in their hundreds and are now being researched as to why they love the waters off Sri Lanka so much. Boat trips out to the pods are available to get a chance to see the world’s largest animal, even though you may only see a fraction of the body as they can reach lengths of up to 30metres. These impressive creatures of the blue were once hunted to near extinction by whalers. Unfortunately their numbers are still very low and are on the endangered species list. When choosing a whale operation please keep in mind their practices and regulations. These beautiful animals should not be harassed in anyway, and each boat should keep a safe distance from the whales as to not intrude or harm them. The Sri Lankan coast guard are monitoring trips in order to protect their Blue whale population.

Surfs up!

Not only does Sri Lanka provide entertainment underwater but also on the surface. Sri Lanka has become a popular surf destination over the past decade, with fun waves perfect for the beginner up to the Pro. What better way to spend some time before your flight back home, or even to spend a sunset session in the waves.

Make it your next destination

Sri Lanka is the perfect destination to have many different experiences, there will not be much time to say you are bored. With tasty dishes, temples, happy people and wildlife there isn’t much that Sri Lanka doesn’t offer. If you are looking for a family vacation where everyone is kept entertained, even the non-divers, Sri Lanka will live up to the challenge.

Or, if you’re a backpacker in search of cheap living and adventures then book your ticket and say a warm hello to this jem in the Indian Ocean

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Tofo’s Giants: Mozambique

A small speck on the map situated in Southern Mozambique, Tofo is a diver’s paradise for those who like to witness the ocean’s giants. Hosting a feeding ground to the world’s largest fish, rays and mammals, there is no doubt your breath will be taken away during time spent diving here.

The largest fish in the world, the Whale shark (Rhincodon typus) is a common giant to grace the waters of Tofo with one of the largest concentrations in Africa it is certainly one of the top locations to see these beautiful spotted sharks. These gentle giants are plankton eating sharks, growing up to a length of 12 metres.

Although this creature is large in stature, it is still vulnerable to human activity. Remember to be respectful when coming into contact with them. They can be rather curious which doesn’t always work in their favour with many having propeller scars or getting jumped on by snorkelers. Remain at least a few metres away from them and just enjoy watching them swim by majestically. It is amazing how small you feel, especially while trying to snorkel with them and keep up with the pace that they so effortlessly hold.

The Marine Megafauna Foundation is a research centre based in Tofo and carry out research on the whale shark population as well as other marine species that commute up and down the coast such as another ocean giant, the Manta Ray.

It was here in Tofo that research was collected and used to publish that there are actually two different species of Manta Ray. The Giant Oceanic Manta (Manta birostris) and the Reef Manta (Manta alfredi). These beautiful winged creatures are always at the top of a diver’s must see list. These plankton eating giants have turned Tofo’s reefs into an important aggregation site, with over 900 individuals identified. At many of the dive sites there are cleaning stations where you can watch numerous Mantas getting manicured.

Manta aren’t the only large ray to be found in these waters. The largest species of stingray, the Small Eye Stingray (Dasyatis microps) is also one of the most elusive. It is was first captured on film on the reefs of Tofo back in 2009 and until recently had only ever been seen alive on Tofo’s reefs. Their bodies reaching a width of up to 2 metres (around 7ft), they are another example of the majestic ocean giants that you can witness whilst diving here.

The Mozambique channel that separates Madagascar from Africa is also a popular highway for majestic marine mammals such as the Humpback Whale (Megaptera novaeangliae). Sat on the deck of a beach bar you can waste an afternoon watching the behaviours of these whales whilst they breach, blow, tail and fin slap. A beautiful sight to be exposed to while sipping on your cocktail.

If seeing them from land only wets your appetite for a closer encounter, you often get a front row seat to the show on the dive boat, travelling to and from the dive sites. Nothing more humbling than seeing a 30,000kg whale breach metres away from your boat. You don’t even have to see them to witness their presence. Quite often while diving you will hear haunting moans in the distance of the Humpbacks communicating with each other. The vibrations of the low drones vibrating through your body. Of course the ultimate experience is to see these creatures while underwater. You could be lucky enough to be carrying out your safety stop at 5 metres/15 feet when your dive guide suddenly has a wide eyed look and points behind you, for you to turn around and see a mother and her calf swimming by. If that doesn’t bring a tear to your eye, you don’t have a heart!

There are different dive operations available in Tofo, each with fast RIBS that leave from the beach. Often the take off and return of the boat is often an exhilarating experience, especially when the surf is fairly big. Dive sites range from 10-45 minutes away which gives you the opportunity for some wild life spotting.

Dolphins are a common culprit to see during the boat ride. With different species such as the Bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops aduncus) and the Indo-Pacific Humpbacked dolphin (Sousa chinensis). Nothing makes for a better start or end to a day out diving when you spot the dorsal fins breaking the surface and get the chance to jump in and swim with these wild, playful mammals. An experience that cannot be replicated at Sea Life captivity parks. Being in the dolphin’s own natural environment and being in contact with them by their own choice makes it extra special if they choose to hang around to show off their bubble rings and fancy flips. A very special experience that is worth the wait rather than paying too see these very intelligent animals in a cement pool.

Mozambique is one of the top locations for diving, with something for everyone to enjoy, the snorkeler, the diver or the beach bum. There are hostel accommodations for those on a budget and also high end resorts for couples wanting to make it extra special.

The Marine Megafauna foundation is based at Casa Barrie Lodge and also hosts public talks. A great way to get first-hand information about conservation and the wildlife of Tofo. You really do immerse yourself in the wanders of the ocean here and realise that it is so important to protect it. What fun could we possibly experience if our oceans were empty?!

 

The Jewels of the Pacific: The Cook Islands

Rising from the Polynesian waters are 15 islands collectively known as The Cook Islands. These stunning islands have for many hundreds of years attracted the attention of sea farers across the globe and is now attracting attention from the avid SCUBA diver.

Sitting in such an expanse of ocean so far away from mainland you really can have a secret escape to the jewels of the Pacific as these islands are otherwise and rightly known as.

Although such a remote setting, these islands are easily accessible to the diver seeking a secret escape. Two of these islands are Aitutaki and Rarotonga that hold jewels of their own below the surface of the crystal pacific waters.

You probably won’t find The Cook Islands on the list of top places to dive in the world, but that is what makes it more inviting. A stroll along the beaches to find no other footsteps, pristine dive sites just for you and no crowds to hustle through on the street.

 

Rarotonga

This island is the gateway to the Cook Islands with the international airport situated here, making it accessible to other islands. By no means does this make it a busy island, with the main road’s circumference of just 32km around the whole island, you will still get the perfect island getaway feel.

With 3 dive operators situated in different locations on the island, it is up to you where you decide to stay and dive. All operations performing at a high standard as there is nowhere to hide for mistakes or cutting corners, so you can expect great service with whoever you decide to dive with. Why not make a road trip and explore the different parts of the island and experience what all 3 has to offer, getting an all-round experience of the underwater world of Ratotonga.

Big Fish Dive Centre works with resorts so it’s a great way to get a good deal on diving and accommodation. Want your own transport? They will even come up with a deal for scooter hire along with your dive trips. Making it a great way to save money and have everything taken care of for you.

Pacific Divers gives you the chance to become a SCUBA instructor, being the only PADI 5* IDC on the island. Want a change in career? Why not spend 3 months here doing an internship and fully immerse yourself in the waters of this beautiful island and gaining a new career while you do it!

Dive Rarotonga is the only multi agency certifying dive centre on the island. So if you are looking to increase your certification level, or encourage a friend or loved one to get certified they have many choices for you.

No matter who you chose to dive with, the marine life stays the same. Turtles, eagle rays, hard and soft corals will be just a few of the wonders you can encounter on your dives. There are also special encounters with Manta rays and Humpback whales that will be filling your mask up with tears and leave your mind blown.

Aitutaki

This island is special as it boasts a hard coral fringing reef that surrounds a shallow lagoon. Perfect for snorkelers and divers. It is second in popularity of the islands and is only a 45 minute flight from Rarotonga.

Bubbles Below is the only dive operation on the island, meaning that while you are on your way to the dive sites you will not see any other cattle boats pouring 40 divers into the water, keeping the sites pristine and private. These guys know the sites inside out and will give you a great time, whether you are searching for macro or Mantas.

With visibility commonly in the region of 30-40m any dive you jump on will be a good one and just a short boat ride away you have numerous sites available to you.

So wandering where your next dive vacation should be…. Think the Cook Islands. Get away from the rush hour of everyday life and swap your alarm clock for the sound of the sea hugging the shore. For exclusive diving and quiet untouched beaches then this is the destination. These islands really are the jewels of the Pacific, and after experiencing them you will be left with memories that no amount of money could buy.

 

 

 

Fiji’s Unforgettable Dive Sites

Lying in the crystal waters of the South Pacific, Fiji is the ultimate dive destination. For the nervous beginner to the confidant professional, Fiji has it all. Teaming with life from the smallest nudibranch all the way up the food chain to the impressive Tiger Shark and everything in between. Fiji will take your breath away.

Diving is year round with water temperatures ranging from 24°C from June to September a 3mm or 5mm wetsuit is sufficient. November to April tends to be hotter with temperatures up to 30°C where a rash vest, bikini and shorts are all you need.

With many dive sites located around the islands here are 5 dive sites you must get in your log book.

Beqa Lagoon

Titled the “Best Shark Dive in the world” by Dive Magazine and featured on the BBCs South Pacific series Beqa Lagoon shark dive is the number 1 dive experience not only in Fiji but the world. With the chance to witness up to 8 different species of sharks including the Bull shark and the odd Tiger shark.

Of course sharks aren’t the only marine life you get the chance to see. Teaming with over 400 species of fish including Giant Trivially, Māori Wrasse and Giant Groupers you won’t know where to look next.

This dive site is situated in a designated protected Marine Park and Shark Reef Marine Reserve. Making it the first one in the waters of Fiji! The recommended dive operation to do this experience with is Beqa Adventure Divers. They are the original shark dive specialists, with a friendly and professional team who work with locals and are entrusted to the day to day management of the marine park.

The morning involves two dives, both of which take place in Beqa Passage. Only a 20 minute boat ride away the first dive takes place at 30m for the first 17minutes of the dive. Here is where you will see the Bull sharks feeding. The second part of the dive takes place in the shallows where the smaller sharks hang out. Total dive time is 45minutes. After an hours surface interval on the boat it’s time to drop down for the second dive. This takes place at 16m for 35minutes. Again another chance to see these Bull Sharks feed along with other shark species. If you are having a very lucky day a Tiger shark may appear from the blue and show the Bulls who the real boss on the reef is.

Diver level: Advanced with 30+ logged dives with at least 5 deep dives (30m/100ft)

 

Ningali Passage

A small break in the barrier reef of Gau island. Ningali Passage has a mild to strong current. Somewhere to witness Grey Reef sharks cruising the currents along with pelagic species. Giant groupers, barracudas and sea snakes are some of the life that travel using the currents.

With a ledge at 20m you can sit comfortable, tucked out of the current and take in all the sites. For the rest of the dive you can simply drift up to the shallow part of the channel into the lagoon.

For the best visibility it is best to dive 1.5 hour before high tide and 1.5 hours after. The Aggressor Fleet is a top live-aboard that travels between the Fijian islands. Ningali passage is one of the dive sites on the week long itinerary.

Diver level: Advanced

 

E6 Bligh Waters

Fiji is known as the “coral capital of the world” and for good reason. The array of colours that hide underneath the turquoise surface will blow away. With this pinnacle starting from 1m and dropping down to the depths of over 900m, it is a feast for the eyes with the abundance of soft and hard coral with something for all level of divers. To get the chance to dive this spectacular coral wonder, a trip on the Siren Fleet will take you directly to site.

Diver level: All levels

 

The Mamanuca Islands

These beautiful islands offer easy access to many stunning dives sites. If you don’t have your sea legs and prefer to have base on a tropical island the Mamanuca islands are host to many resorts. Subsurface Fiji are a dive operation that will pick up divers from 11 different resorts around the islands and take you to the many dive sites from a 2 minute to 30 minute boat ride.

Diver level: All levels

 

Manta Reef @ Kadavu Island

The fourth largest barrier reef in the world, The Great Astrolabe stretches along the island of Kadavu. One of the favourites is Manta Reef. It is well worth the 40 minute boat ride to jump in at this feeding/ cleaning station to see the majestic Manta ray. There is even the chance to encounter the occasional Great Hammerhead shark. This site is becoming renowned throughout the diving world. Matava resort is not only a great place to stay but offers trips to the reef and this is their signature site.

Diver level: All levels

mamanuca

 

My Very First Time: Fiji

I had just turned 18 and was setting off on my first solo adventure to a destination over 10,000 miles away to an island in the South Pacific…. Fiji.

I was about to embark on my very first SCUBA diving experience with a volunteer program run by the Non-Government Organisation Frontier.

Frontier have many different projects across the globe. One of those is a Marine Conservation project based on a tiny island East of Fiji’s main island Viti Levu. http://www.frontier.ac.uk/Destinations/Volunteer-Fiji.aspx

Gau Island (pronounced: now) is an un-commercialised island. You will not find any restaurants, bars or any other tourists, you really are on your very own private island.

The first week on the island, myself and the nine other volunteers began our PADI Open Water course.

Our confined dives were just in the shallow bay a few metres from the dive deck. The best part about not being in a swimming pool for confined is the fact you get to see the marine life.

After completing our confined dives it was a very easy transition to the Open Water Dives as we were already use to the saltwater, surge, and the wildlife around us.

On completing the course we then had the freedom to dive with our buddies without an instructor and go explore.

Strict rules were adhered to, to contain the 5 buddy pairs and make sure we behaved ourselves. Everyone’s dive computer was checked by the surface support to make sure we did not exceed the 18 metres and the duration of the dive was no longer than 45 minutes. If either of these rules were broken it meant a dive ban for the next Saturday, our free day off to shore dive as much as we wanted! The following week we completed our Advanced Open Water. The team were then ready to start the research.

 

Gaul Island has a barrier reef running down the West side. Our job as volunteers was to collect data on; fish species and abundance, invertebrate species and abundance and also coral and algae species and percentage cover throughout different locations on the reef.

Two 30 metre transects were used at four different depths and a team of 4 would work their way along the tape measure and record their findings. At the end of the day all records were then put into a database.

After 5-6 weeks on the island we had an interval of stormy weather, which was perfect for us to complete our PADI Rescue Diver and EFR course. Probably the most fun I have ever experienced while learning first aid and how to help in diving accidents. Not only does the course make you a safer diver but it also is the first step to helping others.

The beauty that Fiji has to offer underwater is spectacular. There is a reason it is the soft coral capital of the world. With the vivid colours and visibility that stretches 30 metres + it is very hard to be disappointed.

Fiji also boasts a healthy shark population. Ningali Passage is a break in the barrier reef with a current and is a site that is guaranteed to give you shark sightings. As you descend down into the blue you will spot the odd White tip shark cruising in the current. Getting deeper you can perch on a ledge and just sit and watch. The majestic black tip reef sharks will come by in their dozens. If you are truly lucky you can get the chance to see hammerhead sharks. For this site a live-aboard trip is a must. There are many operators; https://aggressor.com/fiji.php http://sirenfleet.com/liveaboards/fiji.html http://www.naia.com.fj/            http://www.tuitai.com/ and if not participating on a volunteer program, then a live-aboard is the only way to get the most out of the dive sites in Fiji.

 

The most famous shark dive in Fiji is in Beqa Lagoon. It has been suggested that it is the best shark dive in the world and is certainly the most exhilarating dive I have done to date.

This site is just south from the main island and is easy to get too if you’re staying on the main island.

It is one spot on the planet where you have the chance to see many different species of shark but the main attraction is the Bull Sharks.

My two buddies and I were the only divers booked on. We got on to the boat and made our way down the river. We were accompanied by 5 dive guides; the feeder, the camera man and the others with large poles. I certainly felt safe, but getting closer to the site nerves started to kick in. You always hear about big sharks, see them on the TV but in person it is a different ball game! The trip is made up of two dives with a surface interval on the boat. If you are lucky you may also be treated with a Tiger shark encounter! A DVD is available of the dive which I strongly suggest you purchase. A great way to relive one the most exhilarating experiences.

Fiji was the start of my underwater adventure and 8 years later, now a PADI instructor with a degree in Marine Conservation I look back on this experience as my favourite. Not only did I make lifelong friends, and cemented my love for the ocean, I also changed from a somewhat bored, lost teenager to a focused and excited young adult who was ready to explore this beautiful planet of ours. I will always be thankful to my dive instructor for kick starting my career in our blue planet and I hope to re visit the stunning waters of Fiji one day.

Land of Smiles: Islands of the Gulf

The gulf of Thailand boarders Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam. Once called the gulf of Siam it is now one of the most popular destinations for back-packers and divers. Exquisite food, cheap accommodation and easy diving conditions definitely makes it a top destination.

Thailand’s islands became the go too destination after Alex Garland’s book “The Beach” was made into a Hollywood blockbuster. When the young Leonardo DiCaprio and friends found the white sand and turquoise waters of the secret paradise, everyone on the planet it seemed wanted to experience it.

Koh Tao and Koh Phangang are two of the islands found in the gulf. Both same, same but very different, offering very different island vibes.

Koh Tao:

If you ever have a conversation with a group of divers, this little island will probably be mentioned at some point. It is almost expected of people to have spent sometime during their diving career in this part of the world. Breath-taking scenery, clear waters, and cheap, delicious food are just a few of the many reasons why it is so popular.

Koh Tao is a back-packers paradise. To be able to eat authentic Thai cuisine for such little cost is always a bonus for a hungry traveller. Taking a look around the island and the main hub of Sairee Beach you may get the feel of being at an 18-30s getaway. With bar crawls, beach games and fire shows it certainly sets you up for a good time while you are not underwater. Dive shops and bars pretty much dominate the scene here.

Underwater however is where you want to be. Boasting over 30 dive sites you are spoilt for choice! Most of them only a short boat ride away. Two of the “must see” sites are the pinnacles; Chumphon & South West. These are the furthest sites from the island but well worth the longer boat ride. Here is where you have a more likely chance to encounter the world’s largest fish…. The Whale Shark (Rhincodon typus).

If your interest is in diving then this is the island for you. It is very small, so makes getting around pretty easy. Not only does it have cheap back-packer style accommodation, there are also high end resorts to be found in quieter spots such as Shark Bay. So there is something for everyone.

Of course why just visit one island? Especially when they are situated just a short ferry ride away from each other. Koh Phangang is the nearest island to Koh Tao and holds another level of beauty.

Koh Phangang:

Famous for its “Full Moon Party” many people by-pass this island when thinking about diving. It holds a very positive energy and has a lot more of a laid back vibe than its sister island Koh Tao. Being a much larger island, you can often feel like you are the only person in paradise. It also hosts many more resorts with private pools on the beach so there is definitely a more “up-market” feel compared to Koh Tao.

There are a few shore dives available but the number one dive spot to get to on this island is out in the channel. Sail Rock is one of the most renowned dives sites in the Gulf of Thailand. Situated in the channel between Koh Phangang and Koh Tao. It’s a rock pinnacle sitting in the middle of nowhere. After a 30minutes or so you will see a rock appear on the horizon, protruding out of the blue waters, almost as if it was dropped there. This dive site is top of the list so you may find a row of decrepit thai fishing boats turned dive vessels, rafted up together with groups of divers giant striding into the channel. An early wakeup call is essential if you want to get the rock to yourself. Whale sharks are no stranger to the rock so always take a look out in to the blue. Another great aspect of the site is the chimney that reaches up through the rock. Truly worth a visit, it can be a rough ride through the channel, so it’s often advised to take a sea sickness tablet before you leave.

 

A common fish you will see on Thai reefs is the territorial Titan Trigger Fish (Balistoides viridesens). These beautiful fish are quite famous in Thailand due to their temper and lack of patience for divers. Their most distinguishing features are the dorsal and anal fin that propel in a very different way to most other species of fish.

They get there name from the spine at the front of their head that is triggered by their dorsal fin when they are feeling threatened. Trigger fish are very protective of their nests which are usually on the sea bed surrounded by small rocks. This cocky fish will let you know if you are getting too close so beware, they are not shy to show you who is boss!

Another feature that you can’t miss is the dentures on these fish, and they are not afraid to use them. There are often stories being shared after hours over a few bottles of Leo or some Hong Thong, usually with a few battle scars being compared. The stronger the drink, the bigger the fish gets!

Now a trigger fish’s territory resembles a cone shape. The point of the cone is the nest and as you travel up the water column their territory expands. Do Not Swim to the Surface, a common mistake by divers. The trick is to stay low and kick on your back away from the stealthy diamond shaped predator.

Don’t let this fish get you worried. It always adds a comedic side to diving when you pass someone who has tread too close for comfort. Especially when it’s a battle between; a 6 foot something man vs a 10 inch lippy fish.

Conservation

With the amount of divers these reefs are exposed to it is our job to look after it. Thailand has a reputation for cattle farm like dive boats, with 40+ SCUBA enthusiasts entering the water at one dive site. Try to avoid diving with shops that cater for the masses, unless you just want to see bubbles and people at every corner and of course never touch, take or tease the wildlife.

Many of the dive shops on the islands have put into place coral nurseries to help keep the reef sustained. Thailand suffer from extremely high sea temperatures during some months with the water temperature reaching 33 degrees Celsius which is far too hot for coral to survive so coral bleaching can be common.

Ang Thong National Marine Park is a protected area to the West of Koh Phangang. It includes 42 stunning islands. All apart from two are uninhabited and undeveloped. It is a beautiful example of an archipelago and worth a visit. You pay a small fee to enter the park, and you can witness the untouched beauty for yourself.

The land of smiles will keep you smiling throughout your time there and also when you look back at the memories. This kingdom offers so much adventure on land and sea and is undeniably a destination to visit.

 

 

 

 

Pirate’s Treasure: British Virgin Islands

You may have come across the British Virgin Islands in celebrity magazines, as a very popular spot for the rich and famous to show off their tanned, beautiful bodies and to have fun on their pristine mega/super yachts. Fully equipped with toys and gadgets that would satisfy James Bond.

If owning your own yacht was out-dated then how about your own private island next to Sir Richard Branson?

The BVIs has long had a link to jewels, gold and riches but it didn’t always use to be about the glamour. Before the days of the immaculate, luxury yachts gently crossing between islands, the British Virgin Islands were a haven for galleon ships discovering new land, carrying important cargo of meat, spices and gold. This of course meant it was a haven for Pirate’s!

These stunning chain of islands lie at the border of the cold Atlantic Ocean and the warm Caribbean Sea. With crystal blue waters and white sandy tropical beaches and the vast colour of luscious green that cover these volcanic islands it is no wander why it is a popular destination. The waters around these areas are relatively calm and consistent making it a favourable spot for sailors past and present.

The main island is that of Tortola (Turtle Dove). This is the largest of the islands. You would struggle to find one place where you look out to horizon and not see a neighbouring island in the distance. These islands all have something different to offer.

Vacations are all about the water here. More people stay on boats rather than resorts as this makes it easy to island hop. There are a few different options for those who want to explore underneath the waves.

  • If you are happy enough to explore with your buddy then dive equipment is available to rent. From tanks and weights to the entire gear will be delivered to your boat. Perfect for diving on your own schedule, just grab a dive map and away you go!
  • If you fancy letting someone else take the reins and guiding you then there are many operations that will take you diving. Rendezvous diving is also popular in this area, where the dive boat will raft up to your vessel, pick you up and deliver you back to your boat with all gear included. Excellent if you want an easy, hassle free experience.

There are numerous dive sites in the BVIs ranging from wrecks, pinnacles and walls.

The soft coral in the area is beautiful with many vibrant tropical reef fish. White spotted eagle rays are a favourite to see soaring the water gracefully showing off their effortless form of swimming. Under ledges you can find shy nurse sharks getting some sleep before their nocturnal feed. Follow the peculiar lines of shells leading to a crack where a tentacle or 8 may unfold out of the octopus den.

The wreck of the RMS Rhone is the most popular dive spot in the BVI. Sinking in 1867 during a horrific hurricane it lies broken in two, making it perfect for a 2 tank dive. The deepest part lying at 27m/85ft rising up to a depth of 12m/40ft it is even a popular snorkelling site. Rated 15th best wreck dive in the world by Dive Magazine, it’s not one to be missed.

The bow is the typically the first dive. When the weather and sea conditions are outstanding, you will be able to see the dark, blurry image of the wreck laying on the sea floor. As you slowly descend down you will come across the crow’s nest. Still very much visible even though covered in nearly 150 year’s worth of coral and sponge. One of the highlights of this dive is actually penetrating the bow. Starting off with a fairly dark corridor but then opening up in to a vast space inside the hull of the ship. Looking up, down in the skeleton of the ship and side to side you will not be disappointed with the life you find there. From huge spiny lobsters, eels and not forgetting the odd Great Barracuda that hide in the shadows. After moving through the huge bait balls that engulf you, you leave through the wide opening back into the light where the ship was once joined to the Stern.

The stern is ideal for a second dive, it is also great for snorkelling. It too has a swim through at the propeller shaft which you can’t miss. Expanding 18ft across it was one of the biggest in its time. Swimming through you will find on the curling lots of orange cup sponges, wrasse hanging out and other small critters in the cracks on the rocks. On this dive you will find more of the artefacts that have been left behind, such as a section of black and white tiles making up a floor, or a small head of Captain Wooley’s silver spoon and many of the mechanical parts of the steam ship. One of the most famous relics left untouched is that of the “Lucky Porthole” the only one left still intact with the brass hinges, frame and glass. Rub it 3 times for luck and make a wish. Don’t wish for money, as that doesn’t seem to work!

You may experience some strong current at times, which can change very quickly, but using the wreck as a shield results in an easier dive.

“The Rhone” has become the first and only Marine Park in the BVI. The act of fishing or collecting of lobster is prohibited. This is one of the reasons why the wreck is just as fascinating for the artificial reef it has become, and not just the spectacle of the ship itself.

Lion fish (Pterois volitans) in the British Virgin Islands

You may notice the beautiful but invasive Lion fish (Pterois volitans) in these waters. Unfortunately these fascinating fish should not be in the Caribbean Sea. They have no natural predator here and are therefore top of the food chain, damaging numbers of native species.

Professional dive guides are allowed to kill them using a spear gun. One of the ideas to reduce their numbers is to try and train the bigger reef fish, such as sharks to feed on them as they haven’t yet discovered that they can also be a part of the food chain. So don’t be surprised if your dive guide carries a spear gun along and treats you to a feeding show with some very intrigued sharks.

The numbers of Lion fish are very low and you may dive all week and not see one. If you do ever spot them it is always helpful to let the nearest dive operator know. As every little bit helps.

There is also new legislation for fishing which has come into action April this year 2016.

From now on if you want to come and fish recreationally or fancy catching your dinner for the barbeque then you can only do it from a boat that is registered with the Government Fisheries Department. Many of the crewed yachts available for hire have a fishing permit for that vessel. Unfortunately if you are planning to sail your own boat for the week, hired or owned by you, it will need to have the right documentation.

People are sometimes left disappointed with new laws imposed or how big a marine park is and get frustrated that they are not allowed to catch certain species, but these areas and legislation are helping to safeguard the marine life.

Although the pirates are long gone, the Caribbean treasures of the reef and underwater world remain, so lets help to preserve it.

Natural Wonders of the Great Barrier Reef

Sat at home many of us watch the nature programs. Beautiful scenes from lands foreign to us, with exotic, colourful and even deadly creatures from across the globe. Soft tones of Sir David Attenborough fill our ears with information and facts on these sometimes alien looking environments.

One of the most talked about eco systems is that situated on the North East coast of Australia. The Great Barrier Reef.

The Great Barrier Reef is the largest living organism on the planet. So large that it can be identified from space. Stretching 2900km and made up of 2600 different reefs and 900 islands it really is a wander to explore.

Hosting the largest collection of corals, sponges and over 1500 different species of fish, it really is an appetite for the eyes resembling an aquarium. You will not be disappointed with the chance to see 6 of the 7 species of turtle, excited dolphins, impressively sized whales, beautiful sharks and magnificent rays.

On a glassy calm day you see nothing but blue from the heavens down to the sea, with miles of emptiness ahead of you, or so you think. Until suddenly Poseidon’s underwater world appears below the surface. Visibility stretching down to the sandy bottom you can see the pallet of colours appear before your eyes.

There are a few different options on offer to experience the reef.

You can chose to view it from the surface, underwater or air. If you only have half an hour to spare or time is on your side to spend a week, there is a choice for you.

Liveaboards:

This is a brilliant way to explore the reef if you have the time. If you aren’t yet a certified diver you could gain your certification and still have time to put your training into practise after you have completed your course and go fun diving with a two night trip that offers eleven dives, including night dives.

Already certified? There are many different styles of liveaboards to choose from depending on what you want to get from your experience on the GBR. If you are looking for a more romantic get-away then there are vessels fitted out with beautiful cabins that are suited for a high end resort, a hot-tub on the bow to even the Bond style helicopter pad on the top level to get to and from the boat in style, some operations even offering a “top deck” experience with your own private dive guide and valet service.

Liveaboards are the only way to explore the outer ribbon reefs. These are much further from land and give divers the chance to witness deeper drop offs, larger pelagic species and whale migration. Possibly the best way to see the night’s sky, lying out on the sea, miles from light pollution, with just the sound of the water beneath you.

Day Excursions:

Being as Australia is a colossal sized country you may not have the time to spend a week on the reef, but not to worry you can still experience natures treasures in just a day.

A popular destination to visit the reef from is the beautiful town of Cairns. Providing easily accessible transfers to the reef by sail or engine power. Most operations provide the opportunity to dive & snorkel two different sites throughout the reef! You don’t even have to be qualified! If you don’t want to get wet, there are usually glass bottom boat tours so you can still witness Neptune’s natures.

Jumping in to Nemo’s terrority you will recognise many of the familiar residents, from Dori the palette surgeon fish, Crush the green turtle and of course Nemo himself hiding out in his anemone.

Reef by Sky:

if you want to see the reef from above, then chopper it is! To get a picture that is postcard perfect, then you will want to fly over the reef. Watching whales on the surface and the jigsaw pieces of reef and white sandy islands that build up the only non-man made construction visible from the moon.

However you choose to experience the reef you will not be disappointed. There is something extremely humbling about immersing yourself into one of nature’s natural wanders. Feeling so small on the scale of this reef system you cannot help but marvel this truly alien underwater world.

Conservation:

Unfortunately this remarkable spectacle of nature is in trouble. Scientists believe that around 93 percent of the reef is affected by coral bleaching. A phenomenon that kills the coral. When the sea water temperature rises the coral becomes stressed, so it expels the algae that lives inside the polyp which feeds it using sunlight and gives the coral its colour, therefore after the algae has gone the coral is left with nothing but a white calcium carbonate skeleton.

When snorkelling and diving this astonishing habitat please remember that we only have one Great Barrier Reef on our planet and it is our job to protect it. We must be responsible for our actions, and respect this ecosystem. Even with today’s impressive engineering and technology at our fingertips there is nothing we can do to get the Great Barrier Reef back once it has gone. It truly is one of the “Seven Natural Wanders of our World” and it is our job to keep it that way.

Fiji: Senga Na Lenga

Fiji is all about the “Senga na Lenga” attitude.

No worries is a common phrase you will hear bounced about while travelling this beautiful island chain of the South Pacific.

Gone are the days of cannibalism, travellers & divers are now welcomed with open arms, a huge smile and a coconut cup of Kava (Fijian grog).

Beqa Lagoon Shark Dive

It is the ultimate shark dive experience. It has one of the most diverse species of sharks you can find in one area and is not for the faint hearted. Divers must have at least 30-40 dives logged.

Starting with a scenic boat ride from the main land, you head down to the river mouth and out to sea. As your stomach fills up with butterflies while you are listening to the in depth brief and ready to gear up, the anticipation is unbearable. You pray to Dakuwaga the Fijian shark God and take the plunge.

The first dive is the where you find the BIG BOYS. With a garbage bin full of fish food, the dive guide starts to hand out breakfast (the sharks know that SCUBA Divers are not on the menu)!

This encourages the Jacks, Groupers and Snappers to arrive on scene first. Through all the chaos you will suddenly witness what you jumped in for…. The Bull Sharks (Carcharhinus leucas). Their giant girth and stature will impress even the most avid shark diver. With anything from 5 – 20 of these impressive creatures circling waiting to be hand fed. If the Shark God is on your side that day he may even bless you with a Tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier) encounter. When the presence of this magnificent fish arrives even the Bull sharks know their place in line and will back off to let this solitary hunter feed.

After “the feed” is over it is then time to come up to the shallows to appreciate the smaller species such as the Whitetip Reef shark (Triaenodon obesus), Blacktip Reef shark (Charcharhinus melanopterus) Grey Reefs (Charcharhinus amblyrhynchos) Lemons (Negaprion brevirostris) and Tawny Nurses (Nebrius ferrungineus).

If that wasn’t enough fun for the morning you get to go in for seconds. Again, another feeding frenzy at a depth of around 16m/55ft. A great chance to see the sharks again as nerves have settled by now. All the while your dive is taking place there is a guide filming the experience so you have the option to buy the DVD to remember your dive of a life time, accompanied by a soundtrack of traditional Fijian music and of course “Eye of the Tiger” to showcase the majestic fish.

Not only is this is a brilliant dive, but also helps in protecting and safeguarding the reef and species that live and travel within the Shark Reef Marine Reserve. Our ocean is full of fragile ecosystems and Fijians are making the efforts to preserve and protect their reefs from illegal fishing. Since the shark dive was first introduced the reef itself has become healthier with an influx of marine life all the way to the top of the food chain.

It is always a good feeling knowing that you have the opportunity to not only have a special dive but also knowing that you can help with the conservation efforts that the Shark Reef Marine Reserve are working so hard in protecting for the future of our planet.

If diving into a feeding frenzy is not quite your idea of fun, do not panic!

There is plenty more that Fiji offers for the more laid back diver. The soft coral in these waters are world renowned, the colours are outstanding and perfect for photography. The abundance and diversity of marine life is also exceptional from the coral reef fishes to the many different invertebrates hiding in the nooks and crannies!

One of the best ways to get the most out of your diving in the Fijian islands is on a live-aboard. This way you can reach pristine reefs located all around the smaller surrounding islands of the main land.

Nigali Passage is a fantastic dive for reef sharks if you don’t mind current. It is a passage way through a barrier reef just off the West side of Gau Island which hosts many different pelagic species. It makes for a perfect drift dive so no need to find the boat!

Any diver would be over the moon with what Fiji has to offer underwater. Unlike anywhere else I have dived on the planet and after spending four months there it holds a very special place in my heart. Below the surface you will not be disappointed with the kaleidoscope of colour the reefs have to offer, to when you come up to dry land watching the majestic beauty of the sunset while immersing yourself in local island food, drink and friendly company.

Fiji will really have you living the “Sega na Lenga” motto.