TO BE PART OF A 48-HOUR DIVE!
An epic 48-hour diving relay in the Maldives was a mammoth undertaking that raised awareness for marine conservation
Sometimes just looking in our own backyard can uncover a hidden gem, saving us the torture of long-distance travel, and leaving more time to enjoy the diving itself.
FLYING OVER THE ROCKY CLIFFS
of Christmas Island, you realise that this place has to be one such gem, being host to many prized pelagic species, while remaining relatively accessible. Although technically part of Australia, the tiny island is actually located barely 500 kilometres south of Jakarta. Formerly administered by Singapore until the 1950s, its quaintly-named capital of Flying Fish Cove (“the Kampong”, locally) exudes a definite air of nostalgia of Singapore’s old days.
Taking a jump into the crystal-clear waters, the first impression is that of incredible purity.
The visibility seems to go on forever, and the underwater scenery appears as pristine as the topside landscape is untouched. Most dive sites start off with a shallow plateau at about five metres depth, followed by a steep drop-off into the blue. The shallow zone is completely plastered with massive hard corals overlapping each other to form a thick carpet that serves as a hiding place for its numerous endemic fish species, such as the Cocos angelfish and lemon-peel angelfish.
Slipping over the edge of the drop-off and heading down into the depths, it is common to encounter sharks heading up to inspect the intruders into their domain. Grey reef, whitetip and silky sharks are seen frequently, while hammerhead sharks are not uncommon either, but their shyness requires stealth from divers in order to observe them up close.
Sights that need seeing
A good place to start your trip is a dive site named Chicken Farm. A gentle current bathes the site, allowing divers to slowly drift alongside massive schools of fusiliers, black triggerfish, and goldrimmed surgeonfish, which seems to stretch out to the very edge of visibility. Million Dollar Bommie offers equally impressive schools of fish, along with the odd tuna, shark, and barracuda rounding off the experience.
My two favourite sites, though, have to be Northwest Point and the aptly-named Perpendicular Wall. The sites themselves are covered in majestic sea fans and other colourful sessile marine life. Near the surface,
large pelagic animals can predictably be found, including dolphins and manta rays. As you head down along the wall, you are greeted by schools of barracuda, various species of sharks, and if luck is on your side, you may even encounter a school of hammerhead sharks deeper down.
Whale shark downtime
Between dives, time passes quickly while you search for the whale sharks that can predictably be found in the shallow waters that surround the island, the sharp sun rays of late morning shimmering on the beautifully patterned skin of the massive animals. Given the extreme clarity of the water, it is actually surprising to regularly find whale sharks cruising this area, since they feed on plankton.
The particular geology of the island means that several caves and caverns have been carved into its belly over thousands of years. Outside Thunderdome Cave, a large school of hundreds of pinnate batfish hover near the entrance. Not far from there, experienced divers can make their way into Thundercliff Cave, with its resident population of cardinalfish. The cave is relatively shallow, but reaching the majestic stalactites at the end of the tunnel can be quite taxing, as freshwater percolating through the island creates a current flowing outwards.
After two morning dives, afternoons are spent exploring the island’s wildlife, admiring its spectacular jungles and waterfalls, and seeking out endemic bird and crab species. Of particular interest, the red crab migration that takes place at the end of the year, with its tens of millions of crabs rushing towards the sea to breed, is a truly spectacular and unique event not to be missed. But that’s another story…
With everything from whale sharks to walls caped in corals, diving on this tiny island, you really will think all your Christmases have come at once
Mathieur Meur has been shooting underwater for over 25 years, at first freediving and subsequently on scuba. He was among the first adopters and promoters of digital technology for underwater photography, authoring what is probably the first PADI-approved digital underwater photography specialty course in the world in 2001. He has gone on to contribute regular columns on photography techniques to dive and photography publications, and has authored five books on underwater photography techniques to date. Mathieu is also a regular speaker at dive events, a judge for underwater photography competitions, and a coach for underwater photography workshops.