I LISTEN TO THE BRIEFING as the staff carry our equipment, emergency oxygen and my camera to our small boat, and we head to the first dive-site, Magic Rocks. The name is inspiring. I back-roll in, take my camera, start the descent – and the magic starts!
It’s difficult to concentrate on my camera with so many fish surrounding us. The diversity and abundance is disconcerting.
On the dive I notice most all those fish species you expect to see in the Indian Ocean – the yellowback fusiliers, powder blue surgeonfish, melon butterflyfish and regal angelfish.
Then, after a great day’s diving, I return to the resort to download my memory card and find that something is bothering me.
Many of the fish are similar to those I have encountered in places such as the Maldives but, after a careful review, I can’t seem to find some of those I’ve photographed in the classic Indian Ocean ID books.
Fortunately the resort has other books specific to Madagascar and the Mozambique Channel. This is where I find my mystery species… or not.
Clockwise from top left: This anemonefish looks like a singer; mongoose lemurs are easily approached with an offering of bananas; scalefin anthias have a purple spot on their pectoral fins; mesmerising crown jellyfish.
Now I understand what was bothering me. Some species are very similar to those listed in the book, but still seem a bit different. This is the case with the moray eel Gymonthorax hansi, which could easily be confused with the Gymnothorax albimnarginatus.
When I ask Jon and Richard about this, they point out that virtually nothing is known about the underwater realm of Mohéli or its levels of endemism, as very few scientific studies have been undertaken on its reefs. I am under Mohéli’s spell!
On subsequent dives, it just keeps getting better. Time spent under water is never long enough. Visibility is usually 25m-plus and sometimes 40m-plus when we’re further out from the coast.
Such vis helps us to appreciate the impressive size of the many schools we encounter.
I’m reminded that I’m in Africa when I hear the name of the next dive site: Mchaco! (Bird Islet). When we get closer, the smell explains the name – thousands of boobies and other bird species call this rock home.
On Mchaco, the schools of fish are abundant. Unicornfish appear by the hundreds, fusiliers by the thousands and snapper pass before us in an endless parade.
We end the dive on a portion called Shark Passage. I feel like a kid in a candy store!
After a short encounter with grey sharks and giant trevallies the dive comes to an end and I do my safety stop. While decompressing, I look up to see a large school of needlefish that hugs the surface of the ocean. I have to be disciplined and end these three interminable minutes before heading for the surface, where I frantically swim in an attempt to capture images.
While not a huge success in terms of needlefish shots, my reward is a short visit from three large tuna. As it turns out, tuna appear on almost every dive in the area.
Although the large animals stand out, critter enthusiasts will also enjoy the dives. After close inspection of the reef, I find many species of nudibranch as well as various crabs sometimes hidden in the cauliflower coral.
Frogfish, our guide’s favorite critters, are present at several sites, and a location that begs to be explored further in terms of muck-diving is the one that starts at the end of the resort’s beach. You simply walk down the slope on the private beach inside a protected bay.