TO BE PART OF A 48-HOUR DIVE!

Scuba Diver Australasia - - Contents - By Shafraz Naeem

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.

Pure clar­ity

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

Www.math­ieumeur.com

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.

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