Scuba Diving in Zanzibar
The dive sites off the coast of Zanzibar are many, varied and suitable for all levels of experience. The most famous is Mnemba Atoll Marine Park, a reserve where fishing is banned to help stop the destruction of the reef. Marine park fees are paid by all and the money goes back into the local community to help the same fishermen who have had to go else where. Recently a new boat was added to their fleet courtesy of the marine park fees. The scheme works too, there are large schools of fish to be seen here and a chance to see lots of turtles (the current record is twenty one turtles on a single dive!)
Next is Leven Banks. This huge dive site with some strong currents comes up from the deep to within around fourteen metres from the surface and is where you are most likely to see big fish. Schooling barracudas, big sting rays and the occasional shark can often be seen passing in the blue. Even if the big guys don’t appear this is still an excellent site with large fan corals, schools of snapper and Moorish idols floating motionless as you are pushed along by the currents. A very good dive for advanced divers.
The local reefs are also worth a visit. Ranging from ten to forty five minutes away they can easily be reached in a morning or afternoon and still give you plenty of time to relax on a beach afterwards and work on your sun tan. Some of these reefs are stunning, with a large array of coral to be found and lots of smaller creatures such as nudibranches and mantis shrimp hiding in all the nooks and crannies.
Beautiful though the island of Zanzibar is there would be no reason to dive here if there was nothing to see. Luckily Zanzibar’s reef, sand channels and rock formations are home to hundreds, if not thousands of different species of marine life. Creating the back drop for these animals there are many different types of hard and soft corals and sea anemones, sea whips, sea cucumbers and much, much more. Even the sandy parts where there is no coral are teaming with life.
Most people will come away happy if they see something big while on a dive. In Zanzibar there is a good chance you’ll come across some larger animals while on dives, particularly if you go to Leven Banks or Mnemba. Schooling barracuda are often spotted at Leven along with sailfish, dorados and wahoo, all of which make it a popular spot for big game fishing too. At Mnemba we see dolphins on almost every trip and, when they want to play, we jump in and swim with them which is something that you’ll never forget. Whale sharks migrate past Zanzibar twice a year and are often spotted outside the reef. It is still a bit of a mystery where exactly they go but with new tagging techniques hopefully we’ll soon find out. Humpback whales come through around the same time and you can see them from the boat swimming along with their young.
The turtles at Mnemba are a beautiful site. They have become so used to divers that they will just sit there and eat seaweed while you watch them. Eventually, they’ll get bored or need to breath and start swimming off to the surface and it is then that you’ll see all the remora sucker fish stuck to them, hitching a free ride on their backs. The die site Wattabomi is home to dozens of turtles, but they are not the only attraction. The site is also a good place to find guitar sharks. These creatures are a cross between a sting ray and a shark and as a result are very long and flat. They sit on the sand blending in until you swim past and startle them, causing them to swim away with the graceful swaying of the tail seen on sharks all over them world
For those of you who like the smaller creatures you won’t be disappointed. The reefs are teeming with nudibranches and flatworms of all different shapes, sizes and colours. From the bright red Spanish Dancer to the tiny wart slug you will almost certainly find things that are not in any of the fish books. Remember the look closely at the whip corals for the cheeky whip gobies. These tiny fish are almost see through and don’t like leaving the whip so when they see you they run away up or down, but never through the water so you can have great fun playing peek-a-boo when you find them a few seconds later!
One popular resident of the ocean around Zanzibar is the lion fish. This colourful creature appears to be covered in feathers, but they are actually used to hide which way the fish is facing to confuse their prey. They are related to the infamous stone fish, which hides among the coral and wait for his prey to come close before striking. This difficult to find fish is so well camouflaged it can sometimes be hard to see even when somebody is pointing straight at it. Easier to find is the stone fish’s cousin, the scorpion fish. Still experts at camouflage but not quite as invisible as the stone fish.