Scuba Diving In Madgascar And Deep Sea-fishing
The islands of the Southwest Indian Ocean are famous for their wonderful white beaches and warm, translucent waters brimming with colourful reef fish and dramatic corals. In short they are a diver’s paradise. All offer a range of diving opportunities but it is the underwater scene off Madagascar, the wild, Red Island, that is the least explored and therefore, perhaps the most exciting. Madagascar has escaped the ravages of mass tourism that have affected Mauritius and Seychelles and although coral bleaching, following the 1998 El Nino warming, has affected some of the shallower, more protected sites there are promising signs that the reefs are recovering.
Diving in Madagascar is well controlled and the dive schools listed below are professional. Nevertheless scuba diving equipment is not always available in the full range of sizes and makes, so bringing your own dive gear is a sensible precaution. There is also no Hyperbaric chamber.
Diving in Madagascar is concentrated around the islands of Nosy Be in the northwest, Île Sainte Marie in the east, and around Tulear in the south.
The corals – both hard and soft – off Nosy Be are in good condition particularly on the edge of the Mozambique Channel. Huge extensive reefs surround the popular tourist island of Nosy Be including Five Metre Bank, Grand Banque d’Entrée and Banque de Tortue (Turtle Bank) and at their edges are exciting walls and drop-offs.
All dives are boat dives but most are just a short distance from the launch site. For novices there are the easy dives in the channel between Nosy Be and neighbouring Nosy Sakatia – some starting at only a metre depth. The six sites here also make excellent night dives.
For experienced divers there are some exciting drift dives, wall dives and even the wreck off Amatoloka. For those with more time, some of the best sites, such as the Mitsio islands and Greg’s wall in the south, are best visited by live aboard yacht.
Visibility around Nosy Be varies enormously according to the tides and the weather but is usually around 20-30 metres. Temperatures are around 26-30 degrees C and there is little in the way of a thermocline.
October to December is probably the best time for diving, with April and May also excellent. Avoid the rainy season – usually late December until March.
The marine park of Nosy Tanikely, a half hour journey in a speedboat from Nosy Be, is one of the most popular dive sites. The shallow waters around the picture perfect island are clear and brim with a vast kaleidoscope of colourful corals, starfish, anemones and tiny fish. Turtles regularly entertain and divers may even spot an elusive sea horse.
However its popularity is also a down side – this is one of the few places in Madagascar where you wont be diving alone – expect hoards of day trippers armed with masks and snorkels on the shallow reefs.
Charlie’s Point and La Piscine just of Nosy Sakatia, are perfect sites for novice divers, night dives and for dive training. In addition to colourful coral you are likely to see giant cucumbers, turtles, sponge crabs and, at night, exquisite Spanish dancers. Sea horses, lionfish, stingrays and hawksbill turtles are regular visitors to nearby Olaf’s reef.
More experienced divers will enjoy the extensive reefs west of Nosy Be. These are a long way off-shore and can experience strong currents so are not suitable for novice divers.
Seven Little Sharks, right on the edge of the drop off enjoys good visibility and is particularly rich in corals. Sightings of large kingfish, white-tip, hammerhead and grey nurse sharks are common on the incoming tide.
Atlantis Point, near Banque de Crabe is a flat reef, just off Andilana, which drops off on all sides. This pristine, and rarely dived reef has amazing coral and a huge variety of fish. Leopard shark, turtles, mantas and eagle rays are regularly sited and those in the know say that this is even better than the better known ‘Greg’s Wall’ in the south.
It is the underwater topography as much as the marine life that attracts divers to Le Grotte. The three big bommies, at about 27m, have sea arches that you can swim through and as you work up to the main reef incredible sea fans sway in the current. Sea fans are also the attraction at Gorgon Valley.
A sighting of an elegant manta ray is always on a diver’s wish list, and the chances of having a vast ray pass over head is quite high at Manta Point particularly during September when they can be seen feeding on plankton. Other attractions of this beautiful site include colourful sea fans, big grouper, huge schools of humphead parrot fish, unicorn fish and the usual colourful Moorish idols and coachmen that are found all over the reefs of the area. If you look carefully, however, this site reveals macro creatures such as little gobies and shrimps lurking in the crevices and tiny garden eels in the sandy sea floor.
If you don’t have time to get up to Mitsio, Angel’s Point is very similar to the Four Brothers. Highlights include amazing hard and soft corals, fire gobies, angel fish and skunk clownfish.
THE MITSIO ARCHIPELAGO
The Mitsio Islands approximately 25 miles north of Nosy Be are wild and unpredictable; perhaps the crème de la crème for dedicated divers who charter a yacht, or camp out on the islands and spend their whole holiday diving the numerous and varied sites. The five main islands, Grand Mitsio, Nosy Lava, Nosy Ankarea, the Quatre Freres (Four Brothers) and Nosy Tsara Bajina also offer interesting post diving adventures. Both hard and soft corals are in good condition and the waters support a large diversity of reef fish. Moray Eels peek out from their crevices and large pelagics such as barracuda, kingfish and tuna are regularly sighted.
About eight nautical miles west of Gand Mitsio lies the sea mount of Castor Shoal. The top of the reef is about a mile wide and two miles long, with some good wall diving at the edge of the drop off. Attractions include leopard sharks, magnificent table-top corals, black tree coral tree and large schools of game fish. On the drop-offs you are likely to see eagle rays, marble rays and even the odd manta ray.
Average depth 10m to 40m. The distance from the mainland, unpredictable conditions and presence of the walls makes this better suited to advanced divers.
THE RADAMA ARCHIPELAGO
The Radama Archipelago consists of four primary Islands, Nosy Kalakajoro, Nosy Ovy, Nosy Antany Mora and Nosy Valhia, although beautiful islands to visit the diving around this islands is not very good due to generally poor visibility. Diving in this area is concentrated on the edge of the channel, which comes within three nautical miles of the islands.
The diving here is primarily wall diving thus recommended for the more advanced diver, the wall depth rage from 12m to 60 / 80 m plus, this give us spectacular drops with gigantic Gorgons, crevices and tunnels, here one can expect the unexpected, which is normal for wall dives, large tuna, white tip reef sharks, barracuda and on the smaller side There is an amazing diversity of Anthiases. Please note that this is one of the further dive sites from Nosy Be, thus involving at least one full day or one full night’s travelling.
DEEP SEA FISHING
Joz-Joz has been operating around Nosy Be for the last six years. We have one of the best fishing guides on board with over 25 years of game fishing experience, including live-bait rigging. Fishing in Nosy Be offers many diverse fishing techniques from jigging, trawling, popping, live-baits and bottom fishing.
There are three main fishing areas: Grand Entry Bank, Serpent Bank and the Castor Banks, ranging from 15 NM to 45 NM.
Grand Entry Bank produces good fishing between the months of March and April and between August and September when the Yellow Fin Tuna pass through the channel. The drop-off at Grand Entry Bank starts from 20m going down to 1000m, making it good for jigging for big GT’s and Dogtooth Tuna. Trawling also produces Marlin and many sailfish in the months of August and September. On any good day, boats can land between ten and twenty sailfish.
Serpent Bank is a coral reef bank that is approximately 20 NM away from the base and offers a wide range of game fish and good bottom fishing. Some record Kingfish and Marlin have been caught in this area. Best times for game fishing in this area are between the months of April to June and September to November. Sailfish can be caught all year round in the basin of this area.
Grande Castore Bank is a coral reef which rises from the depths of the ocean over 45 NM offshore, from depths of 3000m up to 15m. Producing large amounts of fish, it makes an excellent fishing ground. This area is however 2 ½ hours away from the base. Jigging produces excellent results with record numbers of Kingfish caught. During one trip, over 70 Kingfish alone were tagged and released on jig, not including the Dogtooth Tuna, Green Job Fish, Rosy Job Fish and Grouper. October to December has proven to be the best fishing times for this area, with crystal clear waters – sometimes over 50m visibility – you can see the fish attacking the jig at depths of over 25m. Large numbers of whales, dolphins and even the occasional False Killer Whale can be seen here.
Rods and tackle ranging from light to heavy tackle and lures. However, please bring your own terminal tackle.
Live Bait Wells
Down- and Out Riggers
Modern Navigation Station
Ile St. Marie
Diving is predominantly off the west coast of Île St Marie in the narrow, sheltered channel between the island and mainland Madagascar. The coast here is protected by a close-in reef but visibility is never more than 20 m due to the run-off from rivers. Although the corals are not as colourful as those around Nosy Be there are some large coral tables and plenty of reef fish. One of the most popular sites, Lakana, a small sea-mount, is decorated with black coral, sponges and nudibranchs. Huge crayfish lurk in the overhangs whetting your appetite for your seafood dinner. Fire-fish and crocodile fish are easily spotted.
Humpback whales are regularly spotted between July and September and divers will often hear their eerie song. Whale watching trips can be organised through the Princess Bora hotel.
The popular surfing haunt of Ifaty, just north of Tulear, has attracted divers for some time and there are half a dozen dive schools. Diving is principally in the two passes that link the large lagoon in front of the resort to the open sea. A major attraction is the white-tip and black-tip reef sharks, which are regularly seen at spring tide at Le Balcone.
Diving from Anakao, a small resort to the south of Tulear, is less tide dependent than at Ifaty and the visibility is generally better. It is definitely a place for the adventurous diver – new sites are being discovered all the time and you will have the opportunity to dive areas yet to be described in the site guides. Many of the best sites are off Nosy Satrana, a good half-hour boat-ride away. Mangoro, is superb, a labyrinth of arches, tunnels and caves which shelters large shoals of squirrelfish and the ubiquitous crayfish. Butterfly fish and damsels abound and anemone fish aggressively guard their territory. Similar topography is to be found at Les Grottes where a vast porcupine fish is the star attraction. An excellent dive for novices and snorkellers is off the small island of Nosy Ve, three kilometres offshore. Dive packages often include lunch and a half-day on the island, a breeding ground for red-tailed tropic birds.
Rainy season begins around the end of November and lasts until April. Cyclones occur from mid-January to mid March and are particularly prevalent in February. Apart from February, Madagascar is a popular year round destination with peaks at Easter, Christmas and July/August. A particularly nice time of year to visit Madagascar is September – November. It’s just before the start of the rainy season, there aren’t too many travellers about and it’s not too hot.
No vaccinations are necessary for entry into Madagascar however, it is recommended that one is vaccinated against Hepatitis B, Typhoid, Diptheria, Tetanus and Polio. Malaria prophylactics are a must.
A tourist visa is required by all foreigners entering into the country irrespective of nationality and can be valid for a maximum of 90 days. Visa’s can be obtained on arrival or at the Malagasy Embassy or consulate in your country. Visa requirements – passport valid for 6 months after departure date from Madagascar and valid return or onward ticket.