‘Mahe’ and its ‘Inner Island’ sisters sit just below the equator a thousand miles from anywhere. They represent much more than just a major diving destination – This is pure natural indulgence...”
SEYCHELLES - MAHE’
Words & Pictures by Bob Whorton
An Island with virtue
Mahe is one of the most picturesque of Tropical Island’s - high granite escarpments covered in lush vegetation rising from a turquoise sea. It must have presented early pioneers with a magnificent vision after so many months afloat. Not surprisingly as news filtered back to Europe of the islands discovery, Mahe and the Inner Island Group were being likened to the very shores of Eden.
Today, one has only to walk its white beaches or sit atop its luscious hills absorbing unspoilt panoramas, surrounded by rare and beautiful wildlife to appreciate just what this heavenly Indian Ocean oasis is really about...
At 27 km long and 8 km at it’s widest, Mahe is fully capable of sustaining a working infrastructure with its International & Domestic airports, a remarkable road network and public transport system. Low-key industrial development and reclamation extensions to the harbour ensure the country’s commercial heart stays beating without a detrimental affect on the islands outline.
To the Northeast of Mahe is the capital city of Victoria (Still ranked the worlds smallest) - Named after the British Monarch. Victoria is a thriving mixture of activity amid old and new world architecture with a way of life developed around western and Kreol traditions. Although a French biased Kreol is the native language of the Seychellois, English & French are both official languages and spoken fluently by the majority.
Mahe’ retains the majority of its original virtue thanks to a remarkable environmental policy by the Seychelles Government, especially due to the fortitude and inspiration of its passionate environmental ministers past and present.
Beau Vallon Bay in the north of the island is home to four of the five dive centres and the centre of tourist activity based around numerous hotels and guest houses.
Mahe has dive sites that are nothing short of marine phenomenon – sites one could happily dive all day and every day. What makes them especially world-class is the extraordinary approachable – almost friendly marinelife. There are over 50 dive sites to the north and west of Beau Vallon Bay alone, with more being discovered every season, and with them more unique marine creatures...
Mahe sits on a broad shelf reaching a maximum of 40m in depth and each of the offshore dive sites are made up of huge outcrops of exposed granite of varying topography, each totally unique and frequented by some amazing marine life. Strong tidal currents bring in nutrients and plankton on which a multitude of hard and soft coral varieties feed. Nothing at all like you would expect to see in the Red Sea, Maldives or Asia... Seychelles is unique.
Diving in Seychelles has never been as popular as many other destinations, but trust me when I say that it is here where magic happens below these waves, it is here I have witnessed so many amazing spectacles that now I can appreciate I have wasted so much of my life elsewhere.
Stork patch to the west is one such phenomenon covering a huge area of deeply cut granite outcrops rising 12m above a flat sandy 25m bottom. On my first descent I sure the whole site was moving, what it was in fact was the biggest concentration of sweepers I have ever seen, incalculable numbers!
Every angle of every surface of rock was enveloped in a meter deep layer of sweepers and above them was another thin layer made up of silversides. As you would expect a large number of predatory fish roamed the extremities of the site, periodically darting in to pick off the unwary with schools of yellowfin jack spiralled around the divers. Periodically the mass of sweepers parted as turtles and large stingray traversed the site. Several whitetip sharks cruised unhindered by our presence, delving into the cracks looking for something more substantial than a sweeper.
To the north east of the bay sits the small islet ‘Lilot’ a relatively shallow site that proved one of the most surprising sites for numbers of species in such a small area. Large schools of Jack species flew in and out looking for snack opportunities, spiralling around making one dizzy. The large granite boulders standing away from the main island wall were homes to giant, peppered and small grey moray with a typical entourage of cleaner wrasse & shrimp. Two species of batfish, longfin and circular loiter between the vertical columns and juveniles of the latter frequent the many caves. Several species of butterfly and angelfish have returned now with the resurgence of healthy hard corals and so too have the coral dependant fish such as psudoanthias and damsel species. Larger species found on Lilot include Scorpionfish, lionfish, porcupinefish and groupers with stingray and large eagleray in the adjacent channel. Various anemonae are home to some vicious Seychelles Anemonefish whose teeth can be felt through a 5mm suit. Meticulous visual inspection of carpet anemone revealed various types of tiny anemone crabs hiding between the tentacles.
Sunset Rocks is a site that looks like a poor alternative to the more famous places further offshore, but be assured it is not… This small site has just about every poisonous fish you could imagine and then some that you won’t, with a few more surprises thrown in. Topographically the site is a granite outcrop rising from a 12m sandy bottom to within 3m of the surface with several small granite rocks scattered around it. A good eye was needed to pick out the four different kinds of scorpionfish (including an example of the rare ‘Barchin’ Scorpionfish - Sebastapistes strongia) and two different types of stonefish as their camouflage was incredible. Surprisingly too there were four different species of Lionfish, some active and some wedged into the crevices. Up on a shallow shelf in just 5m of water we came across a small rock overhang enveloped inside a cloud of tiny sweepers. Here five assorted lionfish were trying to round up and pick of the unwary without much luck. Within the shelter of the overhang we found over a hundred Durban Shrimp large banded shrimp and a small white moray. One further discovery was that of the rare walking black anemone.
During daylight it hides in cracks or below overhangs – venturing out at dusk to exposed positions to feed then returning to safety before dawn.
The incomparable - Shark Bank.
This site (about 25 minutes from Beau Vallon Bay) only covers an area half that of a football pitch with a maximum depth of 30m, with large granite rock formations reaching up to 18m. The majority of granite is covered in soft corals and white sea fans with fresh growths of Porites and Acropora. The visibility varies with the tides and plankton but averages around 20m.
I must admit, it was love at first sight the second I reached the seabed on that first dive - Almost like a formal who’s-who line-up of marine life… the first thing I saw was a small whaleshark swimming just off the bottom!
Turning around facing a long broad rock wall two cute thornback boxfish (Cowfish) stared inquisitively back at me without hesitation, a few metres further along the wall a dwarf lionfish pretended it wasn’t there and in the recess behind it were two peppered moray. Above the moray were a whole army of Durban dancing shrimp, the most I’ve ever seen in one place. Swimming south along the wall three eagleray flew over towards the centre of the site. Straight at me flew a large speckled stingray with a small sand whip-ray riding on its back.
I arrived at the southern rocks that stand apart from the main formation; several more eagle ray flew overhead followed again by the piggyback rays. I felt something looking over my shoulder and turned to find a large hawksbill turtle looking down from a perch slightly above me. At the centre of the site is a large rock rising 8m off the bottom, here about 60 seriously large batfish mimicked its sloping eastern side in the stiffening current. Below the large overhang at the base lay a small sleeping nurse shark amongst a group of bigeye and cardinals.
The Current increased: viz dropped (due to an influx of zooplankton) and we headed for the anchor line. The show didn’t end there, 7 eagleray soared in the distance, and above them a large school of Great Barracuda looked interestingly at the even larger school of 5-lined snapper in the lea of the rocks. The ease of diving this wonderful site varies with the viz and current but well within the capabilities of an advanced open water diver.
Early one morning...
Our dive began with just millions of mackerel, very large Napoleon Wrasse and several whitetip sharks roaming around. Viz was a max 15 m... Not ideal for distance shots.
About 45 minutes into the dive things started getting interesting... I began to hear squeaks and clicks very close by. I turned to find a Dolphin above and behind me staring at my fins! It swam towards several more hanging at around 8m motionless. They were shadowed by a big school of BIG Dogtoothed Tuna, as the dolphin moved the tuna followed behind. Then nothing for a few moments until 5 individuals caught my attention above a sloping rock, which saw me and swam around close to the surface followed again by the Tuna...
I decided to stay put and looked all around, heard the noises again as a thousand mackerel headed towards me at warp 9 - followed by 7 dolphins! The large flattened rock at the edge of the site is where they drive the mackerel in order to catch them more easily. At one point 3 of the dolphin were down on the sand having caught fish.
Garry and the rest of the group turned up behind me and I signaled him about the sighting, before he came over they looked at a dolphin coming from behind... I looked the other way back towards the point as I knew what was happening; rightly enough down shot the rest of the dolphins into the mackerel - Typical flanking/pincer movement!
Remarkably, Garry had inadvertently discovered where the local pods of dolphins take their meals!
Further interest can be added to trips by including excursions into the marine parks around Mahe’
In 1973 the first Indian Ocean National Marine Park was conceived around St. Anne Island as a measure to preserve its unique marine environment of sea grasses and Sargasso Sea weeds. No fishing or random anchoring is allowed in the area under law and special passes are issued for access. Many Indian Ocean countries have now adopted a similar formal policy enforced by wardens, a strategy that works well too. The marine life around the marine park is extensive and includes 150 species of reef fish, turtles and octopus. The area is recognised as a major breeding area for Hawksbill turtles.
Port Launay is a small enclosed bay on the north-west coast of Mahe, north of the Berjaya Beach Hotel, surrounded by beautiful peaks, tropical forestry and interesting islets. The bay is a haven for developing fish and consequently their predators too. During the periods of heavy plankton Launay is visited by whaleshark. Access is possible by boat for diving but a nearby road allows ingress for beach walks at low tide. Adjacent to the bay are the islands of Conception & Therese (The stage for the Gathering of giants) making a pleasing vista for photography and meditation.
Without doubt one of the most invigorating and interesting of holiday destinations with the important bonus of being exceptionally good for diving too. There are very few locations that can turn a diving trip into a complete holiday experience where you come back refreshed with a broader outlook on a bigger picture.
The Seychelles is the perfect location for families with non-diving members and I guarantee they will be much too busy to groan about the fact that you are always in the water!
Seychelles - MAHE
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