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Where should you go scuba diving – havelock or neil island?

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Where should you go Scuba Diving next?

Havelock Island (SwarapDweep) or Neil island (Shahid Dweep)

Here are the best dive sites in Havelock Island and Neil Island to help you decide where you should dive next.

Havelock :

Dixon’s Pinnacle – Three pinnacles at different depths with abundant soft coral growth on them. Depths range from 17mtrs – 32mtrs. Schooling fish like snappers, fusiliers being hunted by trevally, banner fish, red tooth trigger fish, juvenile emperor angel fish, peacock mantis shrimp, Moray Eel, cleaner shrimps, turtle if you’re lucky. A dive site that is good irrespective of visibility because there’s so much to see. Ideal site for nitrox

Johnny’s Gorge – A gorge with rocks scattered around. Strong currents sometimes at this site. Depth ranges from 18mtrs – 30mtrs. Massive schools of snappers (different types), fusiliers being hunted by trevally, banner fish, White tip reef sharks, occasional turtle, Barracuda school, lovely swim throughs, shit loads of moon jellyfish in summer when waters get warmer…

Jackson’s Bar – Primarily a deep dive site ! A long bar which starts and stays at around 22-23mtrs with the edges dropping down to 30-35mtrs. Lots and lots of sting rays on the bar, soft coral, occasional rays gliding by, huge school of snappers, lots of Moray Eels… I can’t remember much about this site now cuz it’s been that long ?

The Wall – As the name suggests, a reef with one side dropping off to 60mtrs and the other side gently sloping down in the form of huge steps. Soft coral at depth but fish life concentrated between 9 – 15mtrs. Again, massive schools of fish like fusiliers, trevally, snappers, lionfish, angels, octopus, morays, crocodile flatheads, ghost pipefish, scorpion fish and a whole lot more. Easy dive site even if there is a strong current because you can simply hide from it. Perfect for all levels of divers. Except fucking try divers 😉

WhiteHouse Rock – Oh boy, where do I even start with this site. My favourite in the Andamans. Coming up from about 60 odd mtrs to as shallow as 8-9 mtrs, this dive site offers everything ! Insane variety of soft coral, fish life like groupers, residential turtles, octopus, Scorpion fish, Barracuda, trevally, rays if lucky. Swimming through the soft ‘black coral’ is like swimming through a forest, then around the corner the type of coral and colours start to change ( I need to look at the names of all those corals, forgot ) perfect site for deep,, Nitrox, fish id specialty dives…

S.S Inchket – Steam Ship Inchket was a Japanese cargo vessel which sank in 1950 (I can’t remember exact date) after hitting a huge rock. It took a long time for the ship to sink and so there were no casualties. The wreck is now an amazing site for all sorts of marine life. Coral, invertebrates, molluscs, reef fish, turtle -all reside here… The ship is broken in two parts and has a couple of narrow swim throughs, however, Penetrating the wreck entirely is not possible. The site ranges from 5mtrs at the bow to the deepest point being at the stern at 18mtrs. Visibility at this site is usually quite low but tends to surprise on some days. Currents if any are quite mild and most often because of thermoclines. A lovely site overall. One of the furthest dive sites from Havelock apart from WhiteHouse Rock, diving these sites requires planning based on the tide to have best conditions.

Neil :

Junction – called junction because it’s right at the junction of Neil and Havelock ! This is a deep dive site and topography is similar to Jackson’s Bar. Starts off at 23mtrs and goes down to 33mtrs, this dive site has a lot of soft coral and Gorgonian Fan coral in particular. The currents at this site can get really strong and since the life is primarily deep, dives tend to be shorter than others. Huge school of fusiliers feeding on plankton and being hunted by trevally make for an epic dive even if it is short. Strong currents at the junction could be an ideal place for pelagics and so drifting off if you have plenty Air after running low on bottom time could be fruitful.

Bus Stop – Bus stop is a gently sloping dive site with patches of reef and sparkling white sand in-between the reefs. Most often always very clear water at this site. The patches of reef are home to the reef fish and Moray Eels. One particular area where there is a fan coral has around 35 lionfish and can make for quite a site if they are all out in the open and not hiding under the overhang. Sandy bottom is home to a carpet of garden eels facing the direction the current is coming from. This site ranges from 13-22mtrs and continues sloping gently..

Margarita’s Mischief – Another patch reef, this dive site has patches of reef of what is supposed to be volcanic rocks. The way the reef is formed makes the reef patches look like it were some ancient construction with very rectangular shaped rocks placed horizontally and vertically. In between these rocks are invertebrates, morays, sand filled with sting rays, anemones, feather stars, and beautifully colourful Anthias. Surgeon fish, snappers, banner fish, red tooth trigger fish always cloud up the visibility. One section on the reef is where a lot of hunting happens when the current and visibility are just right – most often ! The site is fairly flat and ranges from 12mtrs over the reef patches, to 16mtrs in the sand… Beautiful site for all certification levels.

Fish Slate – Jeeeejus ! Whatasite ! Suitable for all levels of divers from DSDs to experienced certified divers. This site is a reef fringing Neil Island. Has amazing coral life starting at very shallow depths of 5mtrs. Boulder and a variety of branching and table coral make for picturesque views. Visibility at this site is most often clear and schools of fish are massive. Schools of Midnight snappers, chubs, red tail butterfly fish, sweetlips and a whole lot of fusiliers always hovering over the reef are a perfect safety stop. Reticulated Dascyllus and freckled Hawkfish are always above and between the branches of the staghorn coral. If this site really wants to show off, then even a turtle or dugong may show up. The max depth at this site is 12mtrs and currents are mild. A site you should definitely dive at from Neil Island

Busy Buro – A site just out of bounds for open water certified divers in terms of depth. Starts at 16mtrs, this is a flattish reef of volcanic rock. Not too much coral at this site but lots and lots of fish. Schools of yellow snappers at the start, stingrays or marble rays in the sand, lobsters and cleaner shrimp in the crevices followed by white snappers and golden sweetlips at the other end of the rock at 19mtrs make this another site off Neil with different schooling fish. Trevally hunting fusiliers is exciting to watch at this site because of the coordination of the trevally hunting and fusiliers darting all of a sudden.. Currents could be from none to moderate.

K Rock – haven’t dived it much. Only a couple of times so far..

Anchor Line – Another reef fringing Neil Island, a site ideal for DSD and open water course divers. This site has a  Sandy bottom at 6mtrs and reef filled with live boulder and branching coral. Schooling fish doing their thing and the sand bed right by it, makes it a perfect dive site for beginner divers to watch and understand why one gets hooked to diving. Easy relaxing dive site !

Nursery – This site is on the western side of Neil Island and again is a reef fringing the island. Schooling fish, lobsters, stingrays, octopus and cuttlefish are what can be seen here. A site suitable for all levels of divers starting at 6mtrs and upto about 12mtrs.

Dive Site: Nemo’s Reef

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DIVE Site: Nemo’s Reef

DIVE PROFILE

MAX DEPTH: 15-20 meters
AVERAGE DEPTH: 5-8 meters
BOTTOM TIME: 45 – 60 minutes

About the Dive Site: Nemo’s Reef

Nemo’s reef. Where do we begin to describe this extremely familiar yet totally mysterious place! A shore entry site, it opens into a swimming pool-like setting with shallow water, white sand and a baby reef (1-3 meters). It then splits into two long fringing reefs on either side of the shallow sandy pool. The Andaman and Nicobar Islands harbours over 2000 sq.km of coral reefs and a majority of this area fringes along islands. Thick forests, mangroves and rocky shores make access difficult in most places and this is where Nemo’s reef is popular. Easy entry and exits, not requiring long surface swims. It is also fairly sheltered from winds through most of the year.

On an average day at Nemo’s, we typically get to see mixed schools of reef fish, everything from surgeonfish, rabbitfish, parrotfish, butterflyfish, bannerfish and snappers, sweetlips queenfish and chubs, to hunting trevallies, needlefish and barracudas. Five species of anemonefish can be seen here, easily, giving this reef its name. Cephalopods like the octopus, squid and cuttlefish are residents at nemo’s with regularly used dens and rubble patches. The banded sea kraits and the more estuarine file snake come through regularly, along with the beautiful Kuhl’s sting ray. Molluscs, crinoids, crustaceans, sponges polychaetes and several other invertebrate groups thrive here as well.

High tide is a great time to dive because the water is usually clear and we get to see the sloping topography of the reef, however, the marine life tends to concentrate into dramatic densities when the tide recedes, the water level comes down and visibility drops.

The topography of the dive site makes it ideal for us to begin dive courses and take people on their first ever SCUBA diving experience, but by no means is Nemo’s reef just a training space. The shallow profile of this reef allows us to stay until we hit the reserve on our tanks without having to worry about no-decompression limits. So this gives us on average an estimated 60-80 minute underwater for fun divers who are keen on exploring the rocks and sands for crazy macro life- day and night!

While we love all of our dive sites dearly, it is here that most of us come back nodding in awe-inspired disbelief, thinking “did we really just see that animal in the Andamans? And in Nemo’s reef?” Starting with flying gurnads, ornate ghost pipefish, robust ghost pipefish, devil scorpionfish, angler flounders, honeycomb moray eels, seahorses, bizarre nudibranchs, sea moths, skeleton shrimps and as of a week ago- painted frogfish! While a bunch of these are potentially only briefly passing through, we are certain that most are resident and have missed our eye from having not looked carefully enough or for long enough! Shore dives at Nemo’s reef are very easy to organise and we are never limited by space. So if you are keen on shore diving, our divemasters would be thrilled to take you. It gives us a chance to continue exploring this crazy reef!

Pictures clicked at Dive Site: Nemo’s Reef, Andamans
by Dev 

Dive Site: Pilot Reef

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DIVE Site: Pilot Reef

DIVE PROFILE

MAX DEPTH: 12 -18 – 25 meters depending on diver verification level
AVERAGE DEPTH: 9-14 meters
BOTTOM TIME: 45 – 60 minutes

About the Dive Site: Pilot Reef

North Pilot is a fairly big dive site falling within an even larger patch reef known in old topographical maps as Pilot Reef. While our boats are moored to the dive site, we often times choose to drift and explore the dive site and have the boat pick us up. This reef is rocky and stands tall from the sand bed like a fortress. The part of north pilot we dive at has beautiful encrusting and digitate coral starting at about 8 meters, down to 15 meters.

The best part about this dive is looking in all the crevices and tiny caves for hidden
surprises- lobsters, giant and white-eyed moray eels, sweepers, soldierfish and the
infrequent resting shark. The orange-spine unicornfish, longnose butterflyfish and
trumpetfish are pilot reef residents and are almost never seen in our other dive sites.

North pilot also has great macro life, especially crustaceans and molluscs. Scorpionfish, flatheads and stonefish are very common here but a challenge to spot amidst the complex topography but, well, therein lies the fun. ?

For folks who tend to lose their way in this reef, always keep a look out for the wall of phantom bannerfish that hover over the reef at about 8 meters and just two kick cycles from the mooring line. We are not very sure how to explain this schooling phenomenon by the phantom banners, which do nothing of this sort in any of other sites. At north pilot, they are a monument!

North pilot is often not accessible when strong winds are hitting Havelock from the east. However, we presume that the regular exposure to the winds and swells give this site the regular toss and tumble it needs to stay healthy!

Picture clicked at Dive Site: Pilot Reef, Andamans

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Dive Site: Tribe Gate

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DIVE Site: Tribe Gate

DIVE PROFILE

MAX DEPTH: 12 -15 meters depending on diver certification level
AVERAGE DEPTH: 5-8 meters
BOTTOM TIME: 45 – 60 minutes

About the Dive Site: Tribe Gate

Tribe Gate is a small submerged hill surrounded by a bed of sand on all sides. We begin our dive from its foothills, making our way to the top in concentric, shallowing circles.

The reef at Tribe Gate has evidently been built by Porites coral boulders, over hundreds of thousands of years. These brown coral boulders are stacked in shelves, one below the other, through most of the dive site. Well, except in the ruins of the ancient city of Pavona.

This part of the dive site is characterised by a vast field of miniature pillars built during the reign of the erstwhile coral empire Pavona, before their demise during the coral bleaching episode that hit the Indo-Pacific Ocean in 2010, leaving behind an eerily beautiful geological piece of art.

The ancient city is home to moray eels, stonefish, groupers, cardinal fish, flatheads, urchins, nudibranchs, shrimps, among many others. It is also perennially overcast with a cloud of two-spot snappers. You could do your entire dive at tribe gate in this city. ?

Some special residents that we are always on a look out for include the scribbled filefish, yellowtail barracuda, striped surgeonfish, Beaufort’s crocodile flathead, unicornfish, banded sea kraits, Phyllidia and Halgerda slugs and other cool critters.
Tribe Gate is also where we see the most number of Tridacna clams- the largest living clams in the world- and also all five species of anemonefish we see commonly in the Andamans.

We conclude our dive with an extended safety stop, enjoying as the sergeant major damsels and fusiliers school around us, until we surface to a spectacular view of Havelock Island.

Tribe Gate is a great place to fun dive, learn to dive or even do your first ever dive!

Pictures clicked at Dive Site: Tribe Gate, Andamans

Video credit Umeed Mistry

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Dive Site: The Slope

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DIVE Site: The Slope

DIVE PROFILE

MAX DEPTH: 18 meters | 12 meters, depending on diver certification level
AVERAGE DEPTH: 7-10 meters
BOTTOM TIME: 45 – 60 minutes

About the Dive Site: The Slope

The Slope is one of our favourite shallow dive sites because we’ve known and befriended its residents for many years now. In terms of proximity, Slope is the Wall’s closest neighbour but despite the nearness, the topography could not be more different. Imagine the Slope to look like an amphitheatre with parallel ridges placed like cascading rows of seats gently sloping downwards. The ridges are mostly sandy but interspersed every now and then with large boulders of corals. This is a fairly large dive site and needs to be dived more than once to see all of it. On the flipside, there is a lot that you can see here, even without covering the whole extent of it.

The sandy patches are great places to look for echinoderms (sea stars, cushion stars, brittle stars, sea cucumbers), molluscs and crustaceans. The boulders are where you see clouds of damselfish, fusiliers and cardinalfish. Reef fish are in good diversity and abundance here. Groupers keep territories around here and you can observe this behaviour unfold as you swim over the rocks.
We consider the Slope to be shrimp central. Look here for banded boxer shrimps, Durban dancing shrimps, ambon shrimps, marbled shrimps, glass shrimps, cleaner shrimps and several more. Forgot to mention how this site is also a great place to look for pipefish, scorpionfish, anemonefish, boxfish, giant clams, wrasses, barrel sponges, gorgonians and sea whips. There is the occasional sea turtle, Kuhl’s sting ray, Buford’s crocodile flathead and banded sea krait spotted here as well. To paint the water blue and silver, there are red-toothed triggers and mackerel always passing by.

As we shallow up towards the end of the dive, we pay a quick visit to the submerged pillars of a floating white lighthouse which is home to oysters, peacock mantis shrimps, schooling batfish and different species of lionfish. We like to end our dive at the shallowest ridge which lies at approximately 5 meters deep, best enjoyed during your safety stop!

If you are coming to us to fun dive, do your open water, advanced, underwater naturalist or deep specialities…we can take you to the wall 🙂

Pictures clicked at Dive Site: The Slope, Andamans

Dive Site: The Wall

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Dive Site: The Wall

DIVE PROFILE

MAX DEPTH: 30 meters | 18 meters | 12 meters, depending on diver certification level
AVERAGE DEPTH: 12-15 meters
BOTTOM TIME: 45 – 60 minutes

About the Dive Site: The Wall

This is a dive site for all seasons, all conditions and all diver levels.

The wall is located very close to Havelock Island and takes 10 to 15 minutes to get to by boat from DIVEIndia. It is one of the first dive sites to be discovered around Havelock back in 2004. We love the Wall because of its crazy topography, very unlike any of our other dive sites in the same vicinity.

We descend down to a ridge that lies between 10-12 meters below the surface. The ridge is a mix of coral rocks and sandy beds. Here we look for schooling, territorial or camouflaging reef fish, octopus, cuttlefish and squids, a host of macroinvertebrates, while also hoping to bump into the harem of Napolean wrasses resident at the wall.

The magical drop-off begins almost immediately, the moment you swim east of the ridge. The wall runs parallel to the ridge for about 80 meters and culminates at a cliff-like edge. We swim along the wall, admiring the scene like an art gallery with a variety of coral, hydroid trees, oysters, feather stars and small caves on display. Depending on the direction of the current and how strong it is, we either make our way back along the wall to where we started or we continue to the other shallower side of the ridge while we look for big groupers, snappers, sweetlips, parrotfish, butterflyfish, angelfish, moray eels, lionfish and enormous scorpionfish. But first, we spend a few moments at the cliff because that’s where the big-eye trevallies, giant trevallies and barracudas come in to hunt the schooling fusiliers, scads and mackerel, especially when the visibility is low. A sight to behold!

The wall is great if you are into big, schooling fish but also for those with an eye for macro life, be it molluscs like nudibranchs and snails, crustaceans such as commensal shrimps and crabs, crinoids or polychaete worms. If we are lucky, we might find an ornate ghost pipefish lurking behind one the feather stars along the wall!

December to March marks the octopus mating season here in Havelock, increasing the probability of finding octopuses in action-hunting, courting or mating. We like to give these guys some space so we can see their natural behaviours unfold.

If you are coming to us to fun dive, do your open water, advanced, underwater naturalist or deep specialities…we can take you to the wall 🙂

Pictures clicked at Dive Site: The Wall, Andamans

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Dive Site: Peel Lighthouse

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DIVE Site: Peel, Lighthouse

DIVE PROFILE

MAX DEPTH: 12 meters
AVERAGE DEPTH: 8-10 meters
BOTTOM TIME: 45 – 60 minutes

About the Dive Site: Peel Lighthouse

We discovered this dive site not too long ago, when stormy weather prevented us from venturing out to our sites further out. Our dive team’s fearless leader at the time, Vikas Nairi, decided to explore the seas for reefs that are closer and storm protected. That is how this beautiful patch of reef was found, sitting quietly around a floating red lighthouse ten minutes outside of DIVEIndia.

This reef is circular, surrounded by sand on all sides. It experiences some of the strongest currents we’ve felt, during tide changes around new and full moons. Some of the biggest barrel sponges, fan coral, soft coral and hydroid trees we’ve seen close to Havelock have also been here, thanks to these infrequent strong currents.

Just like with our dive site the Slope, we swim through the pillars of the floating lighthouse to look for beautiful feather duster worms, cowries, slugs, moray eels, lionfish, puffers, crustaceans and schooling fish in the blue.

This dive site is great for long shallow dives as well as drift dives depending on the current affairs.

The sand patch around the reef is a common resting site for Kuhl’s sting rays. In search of sting rays we often come across nudibranchs, flounders and a good diversity of beautiful goby-shrimp partnerships.

The owners of the Full Moon Café contributed their age-old cycle and scooter to this dive site some years ago, as artificial structures to support more reef life. We’ll take you there 🙂

Irrespective of the dive conditions, currents and visibility-wise, there is always a lot to see and experience, for certified divers of all levels as well as folks still learning to dive.

Pictures clicked at Dive Site: Peel Lighthouse, Andamans

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9 Best Places (Dive Sites) to Scuba Dive in 2018

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9 Best Places (Dive Sites) to Scuba Dive in 2018

  • Maldives
  • Raja Ampat
  • Komodo
  • Sri Lanka
  • South Africa
  • Egypt
  • Maldives
  • Andamans

Maldives: A destination that is on every divers bucket list and with good reason. Pretty much THE place to go to for sightings of enigmatic pelagic fish. The mantas of the Maldives are rightly famous, with their playful curiosity making dives with them highly memorable. It doesn’t end there. Visit during the high season for a good chance to spot whale sharks too. Famous dive sites like Maya Thila, Hafsa Thila, Miyaru Kandu cover a range of underwater terrian, from beautiful reefscape, to narrow channels through which currents rush bringing in large predators like grey reef sharks, nurse sharks, devil and eagle rays and other predatory animals.

Accessible to all levels of experience, year round, the experienced diver who wants something different should consider an itinerary that takes in the islands of the Southern atolls.

 

Raja Ampat: The epicentre of biodiveristy for tropical waters, the numbers for this destination speak for themselves. Called a ‘species factory’, the archipelago boast 1300 species of fish, 600 species of hard coral, 700 species of mollusc, 13 marine mammal species and more. Above water, the varied topography of the islands around MIsool make for extremely photogenic memories. With new species being discovered constantly, Raja Ampat offers plenty of surprises for divers who make the long journery to this part of western Papua.

Consider: If you have the time, try and explore the area around Triton Bay which is slowly getting more and more attention for it’s endless fields of soft coral, and resident pilot whales.

 

 

Komodo : Like Raja Ampat, but with the volume turned up to 11. It may not have the same number of species as Raja Ampat, but Komodo makes sure you never forget your dives there by making sure to throw everything possible at you on any given dive. Max currents? Check. Big stuff? Check. Little stuff? Check. All on one dive. Check! Encompassed within one of the largest marine protected areas in the World, there is no end to the number of dive sites that one can explore here.

Consider: Most land based operators and liveaboards operating out of Labuan Bajo are an economical way to explore the Northern side of the park, but spending a little more can get you on a liveboard that will explore the North and Southern side of the park that has extremely different diving and a different range of species.

 

 

Sipadan : One of the most famed coral reef drops off in SE Asia, and probably one of the best destinations to observe turtles. Dive along sheer vertical walls that drop to 600 metres while marvelling at the massive schools of barelling baracuda, and trevalli. Keep an eye out for grey reef, and hammerhead sharks at depth, and then on your ascent try and keep a track of the number of turtles you see. Finish your dives by listening out for the huge school of bumphead parrot fish crunching through acres and acres of gorgeous coral coral reef.

It’s isn’t all just about Sipadan though, the surrounding islands of Mabul, Kapalai, Mantabuan and Sibuan offer avid divers the choice of relaxed dives where they can check off their macro species sightings, as well as some speedy drift dives over gentle sloping reef.

 

 

Sri Lanka : A dive destination that typically isn’t on most people’s radar, the best diving is on the west coast, and solely focused on wrecks. Dive amongst the wrecks of modern cargo carriers, peep through the port holes of historic World War 1 & 2 wrecks, swim through the skeletal remains of ships that haven’t even been identified. It’s isn’t all just lumps of old metal though. The richness of the Arabian Sea means that these dive sites have healthy resident fish populations, as well as beautiful soft coral colonies. In recent years, there has also been an increase in whale shark sightings too, all of which make the short hop over to this gorgeous island worthwhile.

 

 

 

South Africa : Possibly, THE destination to go to for sightings of enigmatic large predators. The diving around Aliwaal Shoal is famous for massive schooling fish populations, resident Ragged Tooth sharks, and the chance to dive with hammerheads, tiger sharks and bull sharks. Come June and July, and the season for the Sardine Run begins. Dubbed the largest show on Earth, this is an incredible natural event that allows divers and snorkellers witness penguins, gannets, sharks, dolphins and whales hunt a bait ball of millions and millions of sardines.

Consider : Exploring the vast coastline of Mozambique, famed for it’s whale shark and manta ray encounters.

 

 

Egypt : Reefs, wrecks and pelagics. Three things that Egypt has a lot of. With the choice of land based or liveaboard diving, all to dive sites that boast crystal clear water, this stretch of the Red Sea is a great way to add to your dive count without breaking the bank. Descend the deep walls of Brothers, Daedulus and Elphinstone for a chance to spot hammerhead and oceanic white tip sharks. Sail the northern waters on a wreck specific tour and dive the wrecks of SS Thistlegorm, Roalie Moller, Salem Express, and more. With inumerable dive sites to choose from, the liveaboards here are a great way to get up to 20 odd dives on a trip and give your dive count a huge boost.

Consider : The more adventurous can try a liveaboard in Sudan, the less explored part of the Red Sea.

 

 

Bali : It may not have the bucket destination cachet like Komodo or Raja Ampat, but what Bali does have going for it is easy access from India, a seemingly endless amount of choice of accommodation and dining options to suit all budgets, and by our reckoning the prize for the most varied diving you can do in a week. The waters of Padang Bai are great for courses, and fun divers looking to sight macro and wide angle classics. A short van drive to Amed lets you walk into the famous USS Liberty wreck dive and glimpse a piece of World War 2 history. Boat across to Nusa Penida and you may get lucky with sightings of Mola Mola and Manta rays. Drift along the coralline walls of Nusa Lembongan in strong oceanic currents. ONce done, return to your luxurious resort and while away time doing as you please. Preferably with a cold Bintang beer. 😉

 

 

 

Andamans: We’ll be up front: When it comes to any particular type of diving, there are better places in the world. Macro? Go to Lembeh. Big fish? Go to South Africa. Sharks and turtles? Go to Sipadan (and we do – join our Outbound trips to these destinations!).  However, when it comes to having everything in one place, the Andamans are  very hard to beat. You get a lot of macro, including exotics like mimic octopus and ambon scorpionfish; large schools of pelagics (tuna, trevally and more) as well as regular sightings of sharks and mantas. In addition, the reefs are home to a very high variety of marine life – despite being physically close to Thailand, the marine life here is more similar to that of Indonesia, which isn’t surprising, as the Andamans are geographically an extension of those islands.

 

And because there is no large-scale commercial fishing here, not only do you get variety, you get quantity as well. You won’t see a few barracudas – you’ll see a school of hundred. Thirty or forty trevally are a regular sight swooping through the reefs in attack formation. And the biomass on the reefs is amazing as well – rivers of snapper and fusiliers flowing around divers on many of the sites. It is the sort of diving where there is stuff to see the entire dive. And because the reefs are always changing, the sites are very repeatable. You can go to the same site for 5 days in a row and have a different dive each day!

Our Journey: 1st Dive Shop in the Andamans

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DISCOVERING HAVELOCK:  THE EARLY DAYS

It was a small island, about 2 hours by boat from Havelock, with high, rocky crags, occupied only by a pair of nesting eagles and some egrets, all of whom watched with mild curiosity as our boat got closer.   None of the islanders knew much about it or what to expect around it – diving and snorkeling were absolute novelties back then – and all I had to go on was a sea chart, whose topography hinted that the reefs around this island, called South Button, would be different.   Despite my best efforts to stay calm and focused on the exploration, I could feel my excitement mounting.

The water itself was a bright azure, with gold flecks of sunlight reflecting off it, inviting me in while remaining mysterious – even so close, I still couldnt tell what lay on the bottom, about 80 feet below the boat.   What fascinating corals were underneath?   What reef fish would I see? Would there by any sharks swimming by?   Would there be any turtles or manta rays passing by?    

A short while later, I jumped in the water, did my safety checks and gave the “all ok” sign to the boat crew before starting my descent to the bottom: in a few seconds, I would see what secrets the ocean bottom held here!

People with a desire for exploration and discovery live in the wrong era these days.   With virtually the entire world viewable with your finger-tips, thanks to Google Maps, the days of Dr Livingstone and Lewis and Clark are well and truly behind us.

However, to an extent, the oceans present the one remaining frontier where discovery is still possible; but even here, exploration usually involves either a substantial bank account or wealthy backers: boats, crew & equipment are not cheap.   Moreover, the diving industry is reasonably mature and in most places, the days of exploration and discovery are in the past, as most of the dive spots have already been found.   However, the dream remains alive: every scuba diver – an explorer in his/her own way – has visions of going out diving and discovering a new reef or a new dive site, and seeing something that no other human has seen before.

Thus, when a chance trip to the Andamans in 2000, and a few trips out on local hired fishing boats showed me the undiscovered, untapped potential of the place, I was hooked. I took a year off work and spent 6 months here, diving and exploring the blue waters.

Havelock was, in a word, magical – truly pristine in every sense of the word, with only a handful of hardy backpackers making their way over. Life went on, and the fact that a visitor or two had been deposited on the island was of no consequence. There were a handful of rooms available for rent, most of them right on the beach, and unless you brought your own fish, meals were whatever the owner’s wife had cooked (or been persuaded to cook) that day.

Those were truly frontier days – there was no mobile or internet connectivity on the islands, I’d go out on small fishing boats and explore based on intuition derived from looking at sea charts and speaking to fishermen.     On the way back, we’d string a line in the water and catch a trevally or a barracuda, which would be grilled for dinner that night.   Rise with the sun, go out exploring, come back and sleep shortly after sunset.

And in those 6 months, the urge for discovery fueled me to dive like a man possessed, going out daily.   That made for some interesting and some scary times.   I remember going out early one morning to see if we could track whales, which should have been moving up the coast at that time of the year.   We went out into the open sea in a small fishing canoe and started searching – and soon found not a whale but a monster of a storm that came upon us suddenly.   The foaming waves were welling at over 2 meters, dwarfing our tiny canoe as we turned tail and fled before the storm’s wrath.   We made it back ok, but all our gear had been washed off the boat.   And I got a talking-to from both the fisherman and his wife, for my hare-brained obsession with diving, and was advised to give up all this madness, get married and settle down with a respectable job instead.

Sadly, that advice rolled off my back and I kept the exploration going.   And thus it was that a fine sunny summer day found me getting in the water not far from South Button island.

The anticipation didn’t last long – the moment my head went into the water, the first thing I was a large sea snake, gliding by me in crystal clear waters.   I watched it for a while and slowly started descending to the bottom.   Before I could get there, a school of barracuda came swimming by me, slowly and elegantly, their curious eyes watching me as they passed by.   And then, I saw the bottom and my jaw almost dropped: below me, was one of the biggest and varied coral garden I had seen anywhere in the world.   It extended out for about 300m ahead and about 30m wide, with corals growing so thick that I couldn’t see the ocean floor.   And swimming around in this were hundreds upon hundreds of the most colorful and varied fish I had ever seen – far more than in the Caribbean and Egypt, two of the world’s most popular dive destinations, and orders of magnitude better than anything in Thailand.   And best of all – I was the first person to actually see this nature’s wonder.   I still get goose-bumps at the thought.

Fast forward some years.   My sabbatical from work became a career change to start DIVEIndia, and thus, Havelock had its first professional dive center.     We searched for, and discovered more world-class sites which we named after our dive professionals at the time – and as word of Johnny’s Gorge, Dixon’s Pinnacle and Jackson’s Bar started to spread, the diving in the Andamans started to grow as well.

Interesting anecdote about Dixon’s Pinnacle – we discovered it on what was the 8th or 9th drop on that day.   And we managed to save the wrong coordinates in the GPS.   The next day, I took a couple of divers out there, who were all excited by the prospect of this amazing site… and ended up diving a rock that was about 2 feet high and 3 feet across. Hmmm, this sure looked a lot bigger yesterday, I thought to myself while my bemused divers gave each other looks as if to say “ok, this really is not THAT interesting”.  So on the surface interval that day, I had to go “discover” Dixon’s Pinnacle all over again.

And not long afterwards, the frontier days started to come to an end.   More dive centers set up shop, and diving has now become an industry, with an ever-increasing number of visitors coming to experience the underwater world: and with good reason.  Right here in our background, we have some of the best diving in the world – no need to leave India!

There are places elsewhere in the world which may be better in any given area: more big stuff (sharks, mantas, etc), a great variety of soft corals, or more macro life (the amazing array of incredibly colored and shaped critters).   But very few places combine the same range of species – everything from tiny to giant – in one place, and especially in such high densities.   The absence of excessive fishing (long-lines, large nets) has meant that the fish density in the Andamans is higher than most places in the world.   A dive could turn up a couple of sharks, a large turtle, a few hundred barracudas, a few giant groupers, a school of twenty trevally hunting on the reefs, a few tuna in the background and of course, all the usual denizens of a reef: fusiliers, octopii, butterflyfish and angelfish, wrasses, parrofish and the ever-popular clownfish.   And this would constitute a typical dive!

And the best thing is, this underwater world is accessible to virtually anyone over the age of 10 who is in good physical health – starting from a half-day introductory dive with an instructor for those who just want to have a taste of this world, to 2-4 days certification/training courses for those who want to learn to dive and do it on a regular basis, to 6-month instructor courses for those who have found their nirvana underwater!

However, Havelock still represents only a fraction of the underwater world in the Andamans.   Neil Island, just to the south of islands, has escaped the notice of most visitors, and still retains the same untouched look and feel of Havelock from a decade ago.     And then there are the entire uncharted north Andamans, especially the atolls on the western coast of the islands, where my research indicates the presence of a few shipwrecks, and where the whale migration comes very close to the islands.     So while the frontier may have moved, it isn’t gone – and I for one am already planning our next exploratory expedition to the north, where a Japanese ship was sunk by Allied bombers during World War 2, and should be resting in 45m of water, a snapshot of the past awaiting re-discovery!

 

[Vinnie is a NAUI Course Director, SSI Instructor Trainer and PADI Staff Instructor, and has been awarded the Platinum Pro rating, given by an independent committee to only a handful of the most experienced instructors in the world.   He is the founder of DIVEIndia, the oldest and largest dive center in the Andamans, and has been diving in Havelock since 2000]

The arrival of leopard sharks in the Andamans

Posted by | Dive Sites, General | No Comments

Posted by Vandit Kalia |

Back when I first came and dived the Andamans in 2000-2001, there were a lot more sharks here. For example, Minerva Ledge used to be full of sharks – the question wasn’t whether you see any, but how many and how many species.
Compared to back then, the number of sharks have decreased significantly. In fact, finding Johnny’s Gorge and Jackson’s Bar was a big morale booster for our team, as it showed that there still were some sharks left.

However, some positive shark news – this season, we have started seeing a lot more leopard sharks. I dont think I saw *any* leopard sharks in my first 4-5 years in the Andamans… and for the next few years, I think it was only a few sightings every season.
But this season, they are regulars – we’ve been spotting them at Parr Ridge a lot, and also on Pilot Reef and South Pilot Reef. These are all sites that are accessible to divers of all certification levels and experience, as an added bonus!