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  • Writer's pictureSarina Harper

Scuba Diving in Mauritius: Healthy Reefs, Crystal Waters, and Resident Dolphin Pods!

Updated: Sep 10

Six years ago, I met my husband Adam while scuba diving near an uninhabited island off the southwest coast of Costa Rica, Isla del Cano. We’d each ventured there for the chance to swim with giant manta rays and, with scuba luck on our side, while descending along the line in the strong currents, two enormous mantas gracefully swam around our small group. When both of us depleted our air early due to that excitement, we surfaced before the other pair of divers and swam back to the boat. Once aboard we got to chatting, and fast forward six years, and we’re happily married and living in England! Living in the UK doesn’t give us ample chances to dive in tropical waters though - so, as our sixth anniversary of meeting each other underwater approached, we decided a scuba trip was in order.

Not a dive goes by where I’m not immensely appreciative to witness such a magnificent part of our planet. I’ve seen vibrant, healthy reefs, teaming with life most only see in documentaries. But I’ve also seen marine life entangled in garbage, litter spread across the sea floor, and surfaced from dives only to come face to face with masses of floating plastic. Equally, I have seen a similar level of land-based pollution throughout my travels, especially in developing countries. Noticing these sad results due to negative human action has become part of modern travel. That, combined with the evolving impacts of climate change, has resulted in my goal to visit and capture these changing areas of our planet before they change even more, or worse, disappear.

Clear turquoise waters surrounded the island

As Adam and I had already planned for a major trip later in the year, we looked for a budget-friendly destination with diverse marine life and dreamy white beaches; scuba diving in Mauritius seemed to fit the bill!

Though most who travel to this Indian Ocean jewel stay in the resorts dotted along the coast, Mauritius is actually the perfect choice for an independent trip. Adam and I were able to rent a car, stay in apartments and have incredible meals around the island. We enjoyed heading out and exploring after our morning dives, eating late lunches at laid-back beach bars then checking out stunning beaches - and all the French bakeries, of course!

Excited for our first dive of the trip!

For the first half of our 8-day trip, we stayed near Flic en Flac as we’d heard great things about diving off the west coast. Highlights could even include sightings of resident dolphin and whale pods, both of which I hadn’t seen yet while diving. Considering our last dive was in Italy, in February, I was really looking forward to the warm seawater. We were diving with Sea Urchin Diving Center, a woman-owned, environmentally conscious dive shop that I 100% recommend! Once aboard the dive boat, I felt instantly closer to home, the ocean quickly sparking excitement as I anticipated what I would discover once submerged.

On the first day, we did two impressive dives: Tug II and Snake Reef. Not only was the visibility terrific, but we saw a huge variety of macro life and enjoyed minimal current. Snake Reef was in great condition, vibrant and colourful, while the sunken tug boat assumed its role as a reef and was teeming with an astonishing variety of life.

As we scanned the reefs large scorpionfishes appeared; they’d actually been there the whole time, with their monstrous expressions frozen and their bodies camouflaged against the coral. We spotted a weedy scorpionfish on the sandy bottom, seemingly a piece of floating seaweed, its shining eyes the only giveaway that he was a masterfully disguised fish. Lionfish were abundant, their gloomy expressions in contrast to their stunning displays. After years of diving in the Caribbean and the eastern coasts of the Americas, it was refreshing to see lionfish in their native environment. They are an invasive species in the Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea, therefore widely hunted in an unsuccessful attempt to control their rapidly multiplying numbers.

Adam swimming into a cave

The next day we dove at one of the famous sites in Mauritius: Cathedral. This dramatic dive is not for the claustrophobic though; drop-offs connected to huge boulders create fascinating underwater arches and caves to swim through. Highlights included large schooling fish, hidden shrimp and lobster, a porcupine fish relaxing in a nook, and a rare electric blue juvenile emperor angelfish.

Between our days of diving, we hired a boat (with Lydia Boat, highly recommend) to see if we could swim with some of the dolphin pods that frequented the coast. Waking at 4 a.m. to drive an hour south didn’t do much to ease our jet lag, but swimming with these creatures in the wild is something I’d dreamt about doing for a long time, so the alarm was set!

The sun began to rise as we cruised over the island’s barrier reef, and as the fresh salty air hit my face I grinned from ear to ear. Our amicable boat driver and guide Navy, who clearly wasn’t phased by the early hour, passionately began explaining what our day ahead had in store. As we bounced over waves, he told us that we might see spinner dolphins or bottlenose dolphins, and described the differences between them and the pods’ behaviour.

After searching for about twenty minutes, we struck silver; the silver bodies of at least 40 dolphins were gliding past our boat! Due to the large pod size and their colouring, we deduced they were spinner dolphins - and they were moving quickly! The early morning sun illuminated the sky in yellows and oranges, and as we gazed out to sea we could see the silhouettes of their arcing bodies surfacing as they travelled northward. As this scene unfolded before me, my inner monologue seemed to take on a warm, soothing tone as a result of watching way too many David Attenborough documentaries.

Fins on, mask secured, snorkel in my mouth and camera in hand, I sat on the back of the boat ready to jump in. Navy was quick to react and positioned the boat so that we could align with the pod the next time they surfaced for air. Upon slipping into the shockingly blue ocean, we found ourselves surrounded by spinner dolphins who seamlessly navigated around us clumsy humans.

Seeing these beauties in such proximity made time stand still, and I only hoped my camera, which started recording before I entered the water, was capturing what I was seeing as I tried to simply enjoy the moment.

After spending around an hour with the pod, we headed to a stunning snorkelling spot just off the coast. The winds had picked up, and as a result, the swell became enormous. Deep in concentration, Navy masterfully led our tiny boat over the ocean’s heaving surface, his eyes searching for a break to ride the waves closer to shore without capsizing us. After an adrenaline-filled few minutes, we were inside the reef that protected the coastline once again - but the surface wasn’t the only place that got our hearts racing.

After a couple of dives we were looking forward to a leisurely snorkel for a change, however, the current was so strong that we ended up unexpectedly drift snorkelling! My camera rendered useless in these conditions, I switched it off and let the ocean carry me over the pristine reefs. Clownfish darted in and out of their anemone homes, lionfish proudly displayed their manes which fanned in the current, puffy starfish, which looked so similar to stuffed animals I had to double take, clung to the seabed, and my husband was hopefully floating somewhere nearby!

After a visually stunning ride, our boat came to the rescue - it was time to hunt for our lunch.

Crystal Rock
Crystal Rock

Jetting to a calmer area of the bay, we jumped in the crystal blue water once again, this time armed with a bucket and spear. We collected anemones, oysters, lobster and fish, then cruised over to an uninhabited island where we would barbecue our catch. While I felt a pang for taking creatures from the ocean, we were responsibly taking only what we needed from the sea to satisfy our bellies. Once ashore, we sampled local rums (the passion fruit one was delish!) and cooled off in the sparkling sea while awaiting our barbecue feast on the beach.

Speaking of food, Mauritius cuisine is a hodgepodge of the different cultures that have called the island home for centuries. Chinese, Indian and Creole dishes were abundant, with seafood dominating most menus. On our anniversary we splurged on a delectable meal at a Peruvian restaurant called Inti. Our meal was inventive and beautifully prepared; it was a great preview of what we expect to enjoy during our trip to Peru in the autumn.

For the second half of our trip, we stayed in the northeast, where a different type of diving awaited.

As we drove through the jungle-clad interior from our apartment towards the dive centre, torrents of rain fell, flooding the dirt roads. Crystal Divers Mauritius’ location is lush, with tropical flora surrounding their thatched roof buildings. We checked our gear and chatted with the super-friendly team who briefed us on the day's dives. Conditions on our side, we were able to visit the sites we requested: Confetti Bay and The Wall. Luckily the rain had tapered off, and we enjoyed a sunny ride out to Coin de Mare island.

This uninhabited island is known for its wall dives, and we were excited as it would be quite different from the dives we did off the west coast. Wall dives are fabulous because you can find all sorts of critters hiding in nooks as you scan the vertical wall. At 40m, these walls were relatively shallow compared to ones I’ve dived before (Turks and Caicos, 2,200m!) but nonetheless covered in abundant life. Giant hermit crabs peeked from their shells, alienesque shrimp scuttled about, and giant purple sea fans stretched out to sea. As I scanned the reef below, I spotted what looked like suckers, or maybe it was a rock…no, no, they were definitely suckers attached to a nearly camouflaged octopus! Swimming over to grab Adam (they’re one of his favourite creatures to see diving), I nearly struggled to return and point the octopus out to him. We watched as it morphed between a rock and an animal, changing colour to blend into its surroundings, and I felt immensely grateful to be able to appreciate this wondrous display.

The other three sites we dived - Merville Patches, Aquarium and Confetti Bay - were more macro-focused and we spotted incredible critters. Highlights included a weedy frogfish nestled amongst the coral, a colourful mantis shrimp, a rare ghost pipefish, a leaf scorpionfish and the usual abundance of eel and lionfish.

All that diving really works up an appetite, and luckily Mauritius has an abundance of beachside lunch options. Ordering fresh, lightly battered calamari became a daily habit, followed by whatever fresh catch was brought in that morning. Pair that with a frozen rum cocktail and we were in heaven.

After our seafood lunches, we would nap and read at the sugary white beaches, but the mermaid that I am couldn’t stay on land too long. Every day I took advantage of swimming leisurely laps in the bath-like sea - a far cry from my weekly swims in England! Floating in the water, I felt I’d travelled back in time, to a point when the oceans were cleaner. I realised I hadn’t enjoyed swimming at a beach like this in a very long time.

Clear waters around Mauritius
Clear waters around Mauritius

In fact, the beaches in Mauritius were the cleanest I’d been to in the past decade; from pollution and plastic in the waters of Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand to the explosive blooms of sargassum seaweed around the Caribbean and Americas, these waters were a glimpse of how gorgeous our seas can be if we work to protect them.

As I glanced around, I took in the groups of locals who were picnicking on the beach, a popular weekend pastime. Kids squealed with delight as they splashed in the shallow waters, and older ones played chicken or catch with each other further out. I hope that they will be able to enjoy the diverse marine life and healthy reefs off their island as much as I did on my precious eight days spent there.

Large crab on the beach
Large crab on the beach

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