PRASLIN Island (Pronounced PRAALEN)
By Bob Whorton
PRASLIN, an Island 20 miles northeast of Mahe is the second largest of the Seychelles inner islands and a scaled down version of its big sister. Like Mahe, the granite peaked Praslin sits upon a shallow seabed filled with warm clear waters with a character all of its own.
The romantics have often described the inner islands of the Seychelles as emeralds set amongst turquoise and sapphire, well I couldn’t disagree with them on that… Praslin and its satellites present the eyes with an unspoilt paradise such as anyone could perceive it, and a tranquillity that makes even Mahe seem rushed. This 11 km Island boasts long white beaches and picturesque coves that are totally natural with the lush fringing vegetation providing an air of invisibility to the islands human occupation.
This report is the culmination of two trips to Praslin, and I can assure you there it won’t end there as dive sites around Praslin can offer limitless surprises in the shape of its extraordinary marine life.
The dive sites around Praslin are well spread and broadly encompass all of the immediate island areas like La Digue and Marianne to the west, Curieuse National Marine Park in the north and the isolated Shark Rocks in the south. Each of these areas has sites of special interest and this report includes just a few to whet the appetite and portray how varied the diving around Praslin really is. (Map of Praslin sites)
NATIONAL PARK & CORAL GARDEN
The most beautiful of Praslin Satellite islands is ‘Curieuse’, the island and its surrounding waters lie under the protection of the National Marine Park scheme preventing little interference from man above or below the water. Originally inhabited as a leper colony back in 1833, the island today is home to around 7 families one member of whom is the keeper of the less impaired colony of 277 relocated Aldabra tortoises.
The waters around the island are teaming with marine life and one of the sites on which to witness this is ‘Coral Garden’ but dive guides have renamed it ‘Fish Garden’. The site is a broad low outcrop of granite covered in coral formations. Although the site was marred by the El Nino incident the number of species of fish present amazed me. Even fish that were generally known to leave dead coral were still using the skeletons as acceptable shelter. However, I was more than pleased to see that several species of coral (other than the healthy plate varieties) were doing well, with growth rates comparable with that in the Maldives, Andaman’s and Kenya.
Sweeper numbers and habits were similar to those on ‘Stork Patch’ off Mahe, they covered everywhere in a layer 50 cm thick. Great schools of predatory jacks and rainbow runners hung around the extremes while several schools of snapper and butterfly fish hovered above or drifted across the site. As the sweeper-mass split to allow us in our inquisitive eyes were given the treat of seeing literally hundreds of cleaner shrimp in every crack or even out in the open and several exquisite Nudibranch. ‘Moray Cleaning Station’ would be another suitable name for the reef as amongst the shrimps were grey, white-mouthed, speckled and yellow margin moray… I gave up counting after 20! As you may expect with so many sweepers there were lots of sizeable Lionfish and Scorpionfish dotted around the site too. (Assortment of photos)
There has been a lot of news in the press over the past year or so with the supposed discovery of submerged cities off Japans south island. Utter rubbish of course, as the dive guides in the Seychelles will show you many better examples of how nature can sculpture even the hardest granite to resemble man-made structures. One of these remarkable sites is White Bank east of Praslin, a granite outcrop that has, over thousands of years been carved by the elements to resemble a forgotten fortress. Buttresses, passageways and courtyards criss-cross the site adding to the illusion. Lying in a flat open tidal channel subjects the site to some very strong currents but once inside the protective walls the site could be explored with relative ease. Huge granite boulders combined to form caves and swimthro’s that were filled with a wide variety of nocturnal fish. Large batfish teased the group at every chance while dense schools of Trevali and tuna darted above us reflecting the bright sunlight like a giant mirror. Lots of lobster amongst the cracks too, sharing with a legion of moray valet’s, the amiable Durban dancing shrimp. Many of the granite boulders are softened beneath a lush rainbow-carpet of soft corals while overhangs are densely planted with nocturnal flowering cup corals. Small pink, purple and white fan coral species contrast against the granite and new fresh hard corals rise from the ashes of their ancestors in great variety. (Assortment of photos)
BLOODY CRAZY BATFISH
Shark Rock is one of two outcrops of rock breaking the surface, rising from a fairly shallow seabed to the south and east of Praslin. Topographically: If you were to imagine the base of a melted candle you can picture the structure of this site… the split granite melted together by millenniums of coral concretion. The site is an oasis for fish with regular sightings of whitetip and grey reef shark. The many canyons and overhangs hide huge grouper species, whilst the small grottoes shelter congregations of squirrelfish, sweetlips and snapper. The time flew by as my American journalist buddy and I explored the many nooks and crannies fringed with new hard coral growth. Then to our delight a small eagleray glided into view performing a complex series of hydrobatics above the sandy floor. Ascending to our stop depth we were intercepted by a bunch of the craziest batfish I have ever seen, each taking it in turns to bite at our fins, BCD’s and coming right upto the glass in our masks. Finally breaking the surface we expected them to leave, but they just kept on playing around us. The boat did not perturb them either, almost following us up the ladder (Photos). Then to my amazement the batfish pushed their heads out exposing their eyes above the water to watch us on the boat!
This is another exposed site with varying degrees of current and a great spot to watch large schools of Jacks, tuna and several types of snapper. Several large isolated boulders are covered in soft coral and small fans, surrounded by small reef fish. The site is famous however for its eagleray sightings, even in mild currents upwards of 20 rays can be observed together. Until I went to the Seychelles I had never observed eagleray hunting and feeding in the sand, but day-by-day it became quite a common occurrence. (Photo)
ARGUABLY, THE BEST CLEANING STATION THERE IS…
All of us at some point in time have come across reef cleaning stations… The area off the southern tip of Marianne Island has to be one of the most unique of these sites…Catering for grey reef sharks.
Not since the early visits to Rocky Island and the Farasan Islands in the Red Sea have I witnessed so many sharks drawn naturally to one site for all the right reasons, it was refreshing to see. (Site Map)
‘South Marianne, has it is now known, had only been discovered as a dive site about two years ago. Since then, a steady stream of divers has visited the site to observe the natural behaviour of these sharks. The site is made up of a narrow band of huge granite boulders around the southern perimeter of the island with sheer rock walls and columns rising vertically to the surface…A spectacular 9m deep backdrop that the noticeably defined groups of six to ten sharks parade in front of in order to receive the attention of the cleaner wrasse (Photos). Periodically an individual shark would hang at 45 degrees into the current with its mouth wide open to permit the entry of a single wrasse, which then picks out the bits from between its teeth (Photo). This is the only time they will remain almost stationary and there is no sense of urgency in the waiting sharks either, they patiently swam in large figure 8 patterns until it was their turn at the station. Separate groups of sharks wait for their opportunity on the main circuit by swimming above the sandy bottom at around 20m in amongst schools of Jack, Pompadour and kingfish. It is not unusual to see other types of shark here too, during dive two in particular I saw three whitetips and a bull shark, the latter verified by Sabina our “difegite”. However it didn’t hang around…Good!
The sharks tolerated the ingress of divers but only to a point, if anyone encroached on the actual cleaning circuit then the sharks would move further along the wall…invariably someone always does this! On the three separate occasions that I dived the site the numbers of grey reef shark averaged 30 in 4 groups, although more optimistic reports have claimed nearer 50.
South Marianne has some other wonderful marine life; looking under the many overhangs I found a yellow pufferfish, Scorpionfish, and electric ray amongst the array of nocturnal bigeye and squirrelfish. On every dive a group of eagleray plied the water just below the surface. Out on the flat expanse of seabed we saw several very large examples of fantailed ray too (Various photos).
The visibility here is generally very good; during my visits we enjoyed a brilliant 40m.
ALL GOOD THINGS…
The more I get to know the dive sites around the Seychelles inner islands the more in love I become with it…I suppose it’s a man-thing, but there is so much to see. Then of course there is all that wonderful unspoilt scenery to cope with. Paradise… You Betcha!
Praslin can be combined with trips to Mahe without the loss of any diving time thanks to the super efficient ‘Cat Coco’ ferry that leaves Mahe port at 07.30 every morning, arriving in Praslin at 08.15. Another important feature of this transfer is that there are no costly weight restrictions.
Seychelles - Praslin
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