Just Another Day in Paradise
Story & Photos: John Kerr
It was a joint special birthday treat, my bus pass had safely arrived and the good lady’s was to follow shortly. Where too was the cry !. After some quick research on the monsoon seasons the chosen destination was the Meeru Island Resort located in the northern atoll region of the Maldives. A direct flight from Glasgow via Dubai had us standing at the ferry terminal in what seemed to be jig time for the 1 hour boat ride to the Island. Little did we appreciate that just across the newly constructed bridge lay the 2nd to Tokyo as the densest populated city in the world. Male (pronounced Maalay) being an island of 2.7km by 1.2km in size with a population of 126,000 people, the capitol of the Maldives which consists of 20 atolls, with 1,190 islands, 200 of which are inhabited and 112 island resorts hosting a total population of 408,000in total. The rightful concerns regarding climate change and potential impact on this beautiful part of the world are well documented so on a lighter note I will say that with a height above Sea Water Level of 2.4 metres my decision to join the Maldivian mountain rescue team with “T” shirt provided was and easy one.
The Euro-Divers Meeru dive centre having being contacted in advance were standing by, the paperwork was quickly completed and with a 10 dive package being signed off by the good lady I was good to go. The centre which was exceptionally well equipped provided access to 50 dive sites (classed easy, medium to very difficult) by boat rides ranging from 45 minutes to two hours, options for a 1, 2 or 3 (all day) dives, a single night dive if there was enough interest, and the use of Nitrox for those suitably qualified all being available. Thanks to the team at Scotsac for putting me through the BSAC Nitrox course – I finally got to put this to good use. The dive selection process could not have been simpler, you putting your name against the choice of the dive options being made available for the following day (full details of
these sites being given in the available book), turning up at the allocated time for the boat departure and double checking that all of your dive equipment was in your storage box which had already been brought on board, this numbered box having been allocated on your registration for storage of weights, wetsuits, BCD, etc..
Both the safety briefing’s on boarding the dive boat prior to departure and dive briefing being carried out approx. 20 minutes prior to arrival were comprehensive and detailed. Options for the actual planned dive were kept open until arrival at the chosen location and only agreed after a quick entry and final check by the dive leader on the current strength and direction all of which was subject to the vagaries of both the tidal and ocean currents was the actual entry point and planned dive agreed. Oh - don’t you just love mother nature ! .
So we were off - 28 degree water temperature, +25 mtrs visibility and a couple of white tipped reef sharks to greet this virgin to the delights of the Indian Ocean. Yes the currents ranged from ok, to medium/strong and the reef hook was used on more than one occasion but as a reward for the 10 dive sites visited with the sloping walls reaching up from the sea bed, small crevices to explore, latticed sea fans, soft corals and sponges, giant clams, very large shoals of reef fish, sting rays, sharks (White tipped, Nurse and Leopard), White Lined Lion Fish, vividly coloured Oriental Sweet Lips, Bat fish, Parrot fish who you can actually hear gnawing the algae off the rocks, various types of Grouper, Turtles (Green and Hawksbill), Napoleon Wrasse, Moray Eels and the delightful Maldives Anemone fish with their special coating protecting them from the poison coating of the anemone, then acting as bait for the other fish to be enticed into this venomous trap – the reward being a share of the spoils. These named were just but a few that made the diving absolutely stunning.
As an additional bonus the Euro Divers office also hosts a representative from the Maldivian Manta Ray Project (MMRP) which was established in 2005. Founded by Dr. Guy Stevens the MMRP is the charity’s flagship research project and after more than a decade of research across this island nation has evolved into one of the largest and longest standing manta conservation groups in the world. It consists of a country wide network of dive instructors, biologists, communities and tourism operators with approximately a dozen MMRP staff spread across several atolls. Since its inception the project has identified over 4,300 different individual reef manta rays, this allowing researchers to record and identify key patterns within this population over time, giving invaluable information on our understanding of these animals. Jessica (Jess) based in Meeru who has the unenviable job of attending both the weekly snorkelling and diving trips with the mantas share her knowledge with infectious enthusiasm at Manta trust and Meeru Divers weekly presentations on the Tuesday and Thursday evenings respectively
On a more worrying note and has been well reported through the media following the “Blue Planet” series plastic is now a major issue. I had sailed the oceans for 15 years in the merchant navy and never really saw any evidence of this problem but did see it first hand during this holiday. It was straight out of the David Attenborough nightmarish scenario – I can only assume that there had been a storm at sea with a change in currents, as on wakening one morning the lagoon off the island was littered with floating plastic debris consisting of bottles, bottle tops, straws, spoons, etc. – all of which was coated in some form of marine growth – this therefore not being a new addition to the oceans. The beach was duly cleaned up and the following day (and for the remainder of the holiday) you would never have known. The hotel complex is doing their own bit by issuing glass fresh water bottles for the complex rooms and bars, the water being produced from the desalination plant on the island, by doing this they are reducing the plastic bottle consumption by 230,000 per year, it is becoming ever more clear on a daily basis that we are all going to have to do our bit if this monster is to be put back in the bottle (glass).
Special mention has to go to the Euro Divers team at Meeru who were all extremely knowledgeable, enthusiastic and helpful and at the risk of repeating myself the diving was indeed truly stunning, mother nature did have her say with the currents playing their part in ensuring that I did not get to dive with the Manta’s on this occasion but with the “piece de resistance” for me being both the pod of dolphins that passed us by during a snorkelling excursion to turtle reef with the good lady and the 6 meter safety stop of my last dive of the holiday. Could it be the dolphins were saying – hurry back the Manta’s will be waiting ?
When the Going Gets Tough!!
by John Kerr
The coldest winter in 8 years, the biggest snow fall in recent times what else is there to do?
Well if it’s good for the Canadian Snowbirds, it will do for me ! – fly south to the sun & heat, (albeit in our case only for 1 week) and where else but to what was becoming our 2nd home, the island of Sal, Cape Verde (4 times in 5 years now). You know you are becoming a local when the good lady abandoning myself with the luggage is greeted by the reception staff with a welcome back and the query – “where’s the big man”.
Three days diving was the plan and Cabo Verde with the 0820 pick-up in the morning we were off. The dive sites were fast becoming as familiar as our favourites in Loch Fyne but that’s as far as that thought goes. Air & Sea water temperatures being 24 and 21 respectively (cold at this time of the year), visibility +15mtrs and abundance of marine life on both the reefs and wrecks resulted in six fantastic dives.
The two wreck dives this time were the “Kwarcit” known as the Boris which was sank in January 2006 and now lies a short boat ride from the pier at 28mtrs, upright and with the hull intact and the Santo Antão which sank in a storm 1966 and now lies broken into three sections at 12m of water. The nooks and crannies provided by both provide an excellent home for the numerous different fish species, very large shoal of spotted burrfish and two big stingrays which I was lucky to see this time.
The reefs 3 Grotes (caves), Farol, Lost Anchor, Caldaia-Boloma (starting at a large Boiler of a very old steam ship) and Dunas were all visited and did not disappoint. There was shoals of fish and soft coral at every turn to give the colours and natural habitats for the numerous indigenous nudibranch’s, the a male nurse shark skulking under the reef shelf, a “greater locust lobster” content to sit on the reef wall for a photo-shot, lots of Moray eels (Golden Tail, Black & Honeycomb) either swimming in the open or content to show off their dentures, the unusually shaped Scrawled Filefish, the beautiful Spotted Trigger fish” showing incredible markings, similar to the cross section of a Kiwi fruit in way of the pectoral fins and for the “piece de resistance” - two cuttlefish hovering and feeding right before me.
The bad news is that this will no longer be an easy holiday option with TUI stopping the direct flights from Glasgow this October. This is extremely disappointing as here was a destination which with a 6 hour direct flight gave us access to islands with guaranteed weather, friendly people and great diving in waters extremely well stocked with marine life – it’s a flight option that will hopefully return in the near future.
Postcard from the Edge
When the Going Gets Tough!!
by John Kerr
Story & Photos: John Kerr
It was holiday dive time again and we were off to the wonderful island of Sal, Cape Verde. Only 6.5 hours flying time direct from Glasgow to a choice of 22 dive sites, ranging from the easy dive reefs for the novices (8-10mtrs) to the more challenging(+30mtrs), wrecks and last but not least the caves, sea temperature of 23 deg C and visibility from 15 to 20 mtrs, don’t we just love it !!
This was our 3rd visit in four years and we were really looking forward to both the direct flight from Glasgow (had to drive to Manchester in the past) and seeing what the refurbishment of the Riu Palace entailed. The travel option made a huge difference to the holiday and with the rooms now having the Spirit Optic bar in the room and Prosecco on tap, the non-dive days lazing by the poolside were well taken care of.
As before the team at Cabo Verde Dive centre were on the ball with the pick up from the hotel at 0820 sharp being the order of the diving days, returning approx. 1300hrs after 2 boat dives. The exception to this being the cave dives which involved a slightly earlier pick up and 1400hr return to cater for the 40 minute car journey.
The marine life is plentiful and fantastically varied. Huge shoals of fish, large and small reef, sting rays, nurse shark, swimming with a cuttlefish (or should I say trying to keep up with it), Nudibranch’s, three types of lobster (green, red and the local “Slipper”, sometimes known as the bulldozer), trumpet & puffer fish, various types of Moray eels being some of the most memorable features of this holiday.
Oh!, we did manage to squeeze in the dive on the wreck “Boris”, this starting life as the Kwarcit a Russian fishing trawler which made its appearance off the coast of Cape Verde transporting illegal workers from Senegal. She was sunk in January 2006 and is now a fantastic artificial reef sitting upright and intact at 28mtrs with shoals of Jack fish, the odd stingray, nudibranch and a large “Slipper Lobster hiding under the stern quarter of the hull.
And as before my favourite - The Caves. The wind on the west coast had eased and the dive centre had managed to get the required number of divers for the journey (min 5) and we were off for the 40 minute car journey. The first dive site is known as the “Dois Olhos”, translation “Two Eyes” which from the photo is self explanatory. The second dive was “Regona”, this being a labyrinth of caverns of various dimensions, connected by horseshoe shape tunnel that eventually emerge into open sea. The backdrop and lighting in way of the natural openings in the lava rock is stunning as you work your way swimming along the passages carved over the millennium’s, marvelling at the diversity of the marine life in front of you, be it the crustaceans (various species of crab, shrimps, the 3 types of lobster), nudibranchs, morays swimming in the open, jacks & trumpet fish by the score.
To conclude another fantastic holiday with some great dives, wet suits for the hardy, 23 deg C sea water temp and 28 deg air temp, although – thought I would never have seen it, there were three people (German) diving in drysuits, this leading to great debates on the need for a pee-pee on a two hour boat dive, apologies for my German translation. Huge and varied marine life and some great support from the team at “Cabo Verde” dive centre. Many thanks to Hendrik, Davi and Moacir as dive team leaders who always ensured that I didn't miss the obvious.