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Baie Ternay - View of the Baie Ternay Marine National Park from Cap Matoopa copy

My Dive | Seychelles

Palm trees, white sandy beaches, pristine reefs - the Seychelles are the tropical islands cliché. About five years ago, Chris Mason-Parker moved to the archipelago to promote marine conservation. He is taking us to his five favourite dive sites of Mahé Island

Top 5 Dive Sites

1 Baie Ternay

Baie Ternay - A pair of Zanzibar butterflyfish swim above the reef

Located on the northwest coast of Mahé island, Baie Ternay is sandwiched between Cap Matoopa and the Morne Seychellois National Park. The bay is surrounded by steep granitic slopes, which are covered in lush vegetation. Declared a Marine National Park in 1979, the coral reef, seagrass beds and mud flats of Baie Ternay provide excellent habitat for an amazing diversity of marine life.

Baie Ternay can only be accessed by boat and is very popular with both divers and snorkelers alike. I tend to begin my descent in the boat channel, a narrow pass in the reef with a sandy bottom at a depth of three metres. The reef slopes down to a depth of 16m before giving way to sand. There is a second patchy reef at 25m but I prefer to stay on the main reef where the coral colonies are larger and the marine life prolific.

The coral cover is probably the healthiest anywhere on Mahé Island, with huge table corals competing for space with lush soft corals and brightly coloured brain corals. Squadrons of eaglerays are commonly observed above the reef, while juvenile whitetip reef sharks huddle together under coral overhangs. Cleaning stations at the base of the reef slope host numerous shrimp species, and close inspection will find them busy attending to moray eels and passing fish. Medium sized grouper species are frequently sighted with the territorial coral hind particularly abundant.

I usually finish a dive within Baie Ternay in the shallows, where the lush coral gardens are stocked like an aquarium. It is not unusual to find a sleeping green turtle resting amongst the leather coral or an inquisitive hawksbill slowly swimming across the reef.

2 L’ilot

Lilot - A pinkeye goby sits on the tip of an Acropora coral

The tiny granitic islet of L’ilot is situated to the north of Beau Vallon bay, a mere 100m from Mahé Island. A short journey by boat from local dive centres, this is a popular site that is accessible for most of the year. The huge granite boulders that rise above the water are equally impressive below the surface where they are festooned with brightly coloured soft corals. Strong currents often sweep past bringing with them a variety of pelagics. Large schools of spotted eagle rays are common as are barracuda and jack fish. The granitic boulders have formed numerous small caves and overhangs, which are home to giant sweetlips and sleeping whitetips.

The reef is dominated by soft corals and sponges, which are found in greater abundance here than anywhere else around Mahé. The boulders give way to sand at around 18m, though much of the marine life is found at shallower depths. Schools of resident yellow snapper and soldierfish are plentiful, while bumphead parrotfish sometimes visit the reef, scraping off fist-sized chunks of coral as they feed.

It is not just the big stuff brought in on the current that makes L’ilot so appealing; it is also famous for its abundant macro-life. Pinkeye gobies hover above branching Acropora corals, pausing occasionally to rest on the tips. Brightly coloured anemones are home to the endemic Seychelles anemonefish (Amphiprion fuscocaudatus) alongside delicate porcelain crabs filter feeding plankton from the passing current. L’ilot is also an excellent location for spotting nudibranchs with several species commonly found on the reefs sponges and soft corals. The psychedelic Nembrotha lineolata is particularly common here while it appears to be scarce on other reefs in the Seychelles reefs.

Depending on the time of year, the visibility can vary hugely at L’ilot as can the currents. However, the abundance of both larger pelagics and unusual marco subjects means that it is never a dull dive.

3 Aldabaran

Aldabaran - Every inch of the ship is encrusted with marine life

The Aldabaran wreck is an old fishing vessel that was confiscated by the Seychelles coast guard for fishing illegally in Seychelles waters. In 2008 the 28m vessel was deliberately sunk to provide a new dive site close to the Beau Vallon bay area. The intact ship now sits upright in 40m of water with her deck at about 25m below the surface. The site of the wreck is close to the coastline in an area lacking in reef or any other physical structure. The Aldabaran rests on a sandy bottom in an otherwise baron landscape. Divers usually descend down the dive boat’s anchor line as currents can sometimes be strong.

Due to the depth this is definitely a site for the more advanced diver. Bottom time is short and it is important to keep an eye on dive computers so as not to go into deco. Over the years the ship has attracted a variety of marine life and today sponges and soft corals encrust the surface of the vessel. The wreck is like a beacon to pelagic fish with jacks a common site as they pass through hunting for prey. Resident schools of yellow snapper swirl like confetti around the ships upper deck at times obscuring the scene with a curtain of gold. Lionfish hunt juvenile reef fish amongst the rigging while expertly camouflaged scorpionfish lie motionless on the deck, waiting to ambush their prey.

A single circuit of the ship should take in the region of ten minutes, at which point your dive computer will be signalling for you to make begin your ascent. As you make your way to the surface remember to keep your eyes open for passing barracuda and wahoo.

4 Grouper Point

Grouper Point - A cleaner wrasse busy at work inside the mouth of a spotted sweetlips

Grouper Point (also known as Lighthouse) is located at the mouth of the Baie Ternay Marine National Park and is a granitic site home to an abundance of marine life. Currents passing through bring with them the opportunity to see pelagics and larger reef fish. Depending on the direction of the current, the dive usually begins within the Baie Ternay Marine National Park and follows the contour of the reef out towards the Conception channel.

Whitetip reef sharks are frequently seen swimming around the boulders, or hidden, lying under boulders in small groups. At the point, where the reef juts out furthest from the land, huge schools of black snapper, chub and jacks swirl in the water column. Grouper point has plenty of critters to keep macro enthusiasts happy, and I regularly see different coloured leafish gently swaying in the current. Octopi are particularly abundant and are often found in pairs crawling across the reef.

While the temptation to search for macrofauna can be strong, I always make sure to scan the blue here as eagle and mobula rays are regularly encountered. The boulders also provide cover for several species of grouper and sweetlips, while between August and October grey reef sharks visit the site. It is at this time of year that the Seychelles is visited by whalesharks and early in the season Grouper Point is one of the best locations to encounter one of these ocean giants.

5 Brissaire Rocks

Brissaire Rocks - Large schools of yellow snapper are found at many sites within the Seychelles

A twenty minute boat ride from Mahé, Island towards Praslin are the twin dive sites of Dragon’s Teeth and Brissaire Rocks. Separated by a distance of less than fifty metres they are often dived as double tank excursions. Both can be considered world class dive sites on their day, but Brissaire just takes the top spot by virtue of its more impressive coral cover and is without doubt my favourite dive site within the inner islands. Due to their exposed locations, both sites are only dived during calm weather with the best period usually October/November and March to May.

Brissaire is a collection of granite rocks that break the surface to form a small islet devoid of vegetation. The boulders slope down to a depth of 20m, eventually giving way to coral rubble and then sand. The dive site’s isolation means currents can sometimes be strong but visibility is often beyond 30m. Every inch of each granite boulders is covered with healthy coral and brightly coloured sponges. The reef is teaming with life and it is often hard to focus as fish of every conceivable shape and size rush past you.

As with many offshore sites around Mahé, Brissaire has numerous schools of yellow snapper. However, here they seem to be everywhere, blanketing the reef and forming enormous schools. Whitetip reef sharks swim idly through the tightly packed schools, while somnolent nurse sharks rest on the seabed. Brissaire also provides regular sightings of humphead wrasse, and it is not unusual to come face to face with three of four individuals on a single dive.

As would be expected of a site such as this, pelagics are frequent visitors. Schools of jacks hunt in packs, darting amidst the coral covered boulders and scattering thousands of tiny glassfish in every direction. I have emptied a tank watching thousands of fusiliers swarm across the reef in a seemingly never-ending trail of torpedo like forms. Away from the spectacle a resident school of barracuda often hangs in the blue, shifting position to enclose approaching divers in a vortex of silver.

Brissaire Rocks truly is a remarkable dive site. With its vibrant coral reef and amazing fish life this is one site that should be on every visiting diver’s itinerary.

Need to know

The Seychelles archipelago consists of 115 islands scattered across the western Indian Ocean. They are divided between the inner granitic islands, which are home to the majority of the population of ninety thousand people, and the outer coralline islands, which remain virtually uninhabited.

The country’s only international airport is located on the main island of Mahé and is the stopping off point for those heading to neighbouring islands. Several islands, both within the inner group and the outer reaches of the archipelago, have luxury resorts with their own in-house dive centres. While those wishing to dive the near pristine, remote corners of the Seychelles, are required to do so by liveaboard. The majority of tourists base themselves on Mahé, Praslin or La Digue, and dive on the adjacent reefs. Mahé alone has over fifty regular dive sites to choose from and something to cater for all tastes and abilities.

 

While diving within the inner islands is year-round, the best time to visit for those in search of calm seas and good visibility is October/November and March to May. Water temperature remains in the high twenties for most of the year, dipping to around twenty five degrees centigrade in July/August when cold upwellings bring plankton-rich water to the coast. Despite the lowered visibility and rougher sea conditions, this can be one of the most rewarding times to dive. For the macro hunters, the planktonic larvae that settles on the reefs results in a proliferation of nudibranch species, otherwise absent for much of the year. For those that prefer the ‘bigger stuff’, in August the island of Mahé is visited by whalesharks, which congregate along the coastline to feed.

Many of the most popular dive sites are situated along the North West coast of Mahé island and a good place to base your self is in the Beau Vallon area ,where a number of dive centres are located.

Dive operators offer a variety of training courses from basic introductory sessions to more advanced and specialist certifications, and most dive centres follow the internationally recognized Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) diving standards.

There is a variety of diving available within the inner islands, from shallow, protected bays full of brightly coloured reef fish to isolated, submerged pinnacles that attract larger pelagics. Specialist dives such as wrecks and night dives can also be arranged. Dive and snorkel packages can be organized with most of the dive centres and provide a more affordable option.

About the author

Chris Mason-Parker is a PADI Dive Master and underwater photographer with a passion for the marine environment. For the past eight years he has been working in the field of conservation, with a particular emphasis on coral reef monitoring. Having travelled and dived extensively throughout southeast Asia and Mexico, he is currently living in the Seychelles where he works for Global Vision International, running a number of successful volunteer based conservation programmes.  

See more of Chris' pictures on his website www.archipelagoimages.net

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