It is within the framework of Festisub that we met Gianni Di Marco. This Swiss discovered diving in 1992 in Mexico. Immediately seduced, he passes his patents and begins to dive here and there. Ten years later, it then becomes obvious that diving had to take up more space in his life. From then on, he passed his professional levels until he became a PADI, SSI and TDI Instructor. Diving brings him his share of dreams and he has since done everything to transform them into reality. So when this discreet character told us about his adventure, we wanted to share it with you.
Do you know someone who has dived in Mohéli before? In general, the answer to this question is negative because the island of Mohéli, little developed in terms of tourism, has only received a tiny number of divers. The vast area of the Mohéli Marine Park, created in 2001, which covers the entire southern part of the island up to the 100 m isobath, has enormous potential for sites to be discovered. The first player to systematically explore dive sites, Laka Lodge Plongée has already identified a large number of them and drawn up an initial inventory of the species that are found there. Here we invite you to discover the natural universe of Mohéli's unique richness! Whales, sea turtles, at sea and on their spawning grounds, mantas, dugongs, dolphins, killer whales and sharks are the representatives of what you will undoubtedly encounter among the largest. But the "little one", nestled in a reef of extraordinary variety, is not to be outdone and it is far from having revealed all its secrets. On land, the forest allows you to observe endemic populations of bats, Linvingstone fruit bats, threatened with extinction, rare birds and populations of lemurs which come to meet us as far as the outskirts of the villages.
Welcome to Mohéli, one of the last remaining spaces to discover in the world of diving!
Video: Alefa Production
To be the first to dive into an unknown destination ...
When I went to the Comoros for the first time, it was to lay the foundations for a land trip for nature lovers, to discover the nesting areas of sea turtles. The smallest of the 3 islands of the Comoros, the island of Mohéli, is known to be a sanctuary for green turtles (Chaelonia midas) and its reputation suggests that, all year round, there are dozens of turtles per night that one can observe there.
Before going there, I collected a lot of information and by the way, my diving instinct roaring in me, I also typed in google "dive comoros".
And where do we find out? Almost nothing. Apart from a reference to a dive center north of Moroni (Grande Comore) which quickly turns out to have stopped its activities, it's the void, the mystery! Yet, located close to Mayotte, between Madagascar and Mozambique, it seems impossible that these islands are full of wonders to explore for diving?
I sought more and discovered that the island of Moheli is considered as the pearl nature of the archipelago; much smaller than its two sisters (Grande Comore and Anjouan), the small island has a wild and forested southern slope in primary locations; I discovered that since about 10 years a marine park had been created, covering all the southern marine space of the island, constituted of a broad plateau where successive basins and shoals and from which emerge a cordon of islets volcanic and some rocks on which the waves of the Indian Ocean come to break. On "Google Earth", I observed that the entire coast of the island is surrounded by a fringing reef cut by small channels often leading to large mangroves.
The irregular coast has a succession of promontories of dark volcanic rocks covered with vegetation and sandy beaches which seemed idyllic and on which no habitation generally appeared.
My curiosity and my interest being strengthened, I explored some forums where cyber-adventurers related their excursions to the Comoros and in particular to Mohéli. They described a colorful and rich reef, encounters with moray eels, rays, turtles and sometimes reef sharks. But all confirmed the information: no active diving centers on either island. I was determined to study the issue and once there to have the heart net.
It was with this idea in mind that I went to the Comoros in 2012. While organizing and preparing the ground trip project, I gathered as much information as possible on diving.
All converge towards the same conclusion: while in Mayotte the diving offer had already been widely developed, the independent Comoros, because of the weakness of their tourist development did not offer diving centers in the islands of the archipelago.
However, once in Mohéli, a sea excursion with a little snorkeling was rather a nice surprise. While we were already on the way, the captain of the boat asks me what interests me. I replied: "It's up to you to make me discover what is most beautiful!". His response casually gave me chills: "You want to go see the mantas?". And it wasn't a bluff. After 10 minutes of navigation, I found myself in a small bay where 2 beautiful manta rays were swimming. Camera, fins, mask and snorkel, I dived and joined them in an exclusive ballet of more than 20 minutes, just them and me! Mohéli welcomed me in the most beautiful way!
Nine months later, after acquiring a 140L / min compressor, 8 x 12L aluminum blocks and packing the necessary equipment to start diving operations in a remote location, sending them and received not without some difficulties… here I am in the process of inflating the first blocks!
The dive center was set up in a room in an annex of the hotel reception and restaurant. Shelves have been fitted out for stabs and suits and a diving base with a platform for depositing blocks and rinsing equipment has been built on the beach, near the departure of the boat.
The boat is a polyester boat of 6 m. Initially powered by a 15 CV engine, we will quickly add an 2ème engine and an 2ème bench to transport the 5 divers that we can ship.
Most of the exploration areas are located not far from the hotel, at 15 or 20 minutes of navigation. The bungalows of Laka Lodge located on the edge of the small "town" of Nioumachoua, in the center of the south coast of Mohéli, face the islets. This string of islands and volcanic rocks offers an exceptional panorama. Their carved borders where, under crystal clear waters, appear the varied colors of the reef and where scintillating clouds of fish have to offer many promising diving sites.
So we leave for a first dive on the southern tip, facing the open ocean. For this time, I'm accompanied by Marc Allaria, a professional photographer from Mayotte who stays for a few days in Mohéli, his friend Raïma Fadul who deals with Marc from the environmental association Moaraise Atoll, and Ambre Malet, the technical assistant of the Marine Park of Mohéli.
We leave the boat by a rear seesaw on a bottom of about 30 m and descend into transparent waters until we approach the bottom. A few coral potatoes sheltering anemones and sponges color the picture. The lobsters wave their antennae here and there and, surprised, little hawksbill turtles move away from us in a few flaps of their fins. We play a bit with the clownfish, unearth some nudibranchs, Marc takes pictures, but the minutes go by without big surprises… I'm a little disappointed, it's pretty, but it lacks life and variety.
Back on the boat, we analyze our impressions. We know that few dives have been made in the area. On this site, we had no information. It is clear that we must continue the dives to understand the development of the reef, the areas with the best potential and explore them thoroughly.
Confident, so I will chained the dives. Based on the stories of fishermen, who dragged their palms between 0 and 15 m in every corner of these waters, but also through the cross-checking of information and scrutinizing satellite images of "riflemen", we will target areas, search for caves, faults, drop offs. And the good surprises will begin to arrive. We will observe our first white tip reef sharks, discover white coral and gorgonians covered drop offs. We will gradually get used to the clouds of riflemen that accompany us throughout our dives and the sweet song of whales that rocks us. Indeed, it will not be rare, from August to October, to cross the path of the humpback whales which, after their long recovery from the cold waters of Antarctica, come to give birth in the calm waters of Mohéli and take care of their calf. Several times we will make a stop and a cautious approach in PMT and marvelous memories will be engraved in our memories.
Turtles are everywhere, almost every dive. Helped by chance we can even observe mating.
The dives are varied and colorful.
Schools of snappers, barbets, surgeons and jacks accompany us. Lots of lobsters, crabs, morays, scorpion fish are waiting for you and with patience we also end up discovering the discreet leaf fish. Over the 60 dives that I will do in the region, helped by my friend Laszlo who will come to assist me throughout the month of October 2013, we are going to reference a good fifteen of the varied and interesting sites.
Moheli Laka Lodge
The Mohéli Laka Lodge is located on the south coast of the island of Mohéli, in the heart of the Marine Park. A large wooded park welcomes the visitor along a paved path. Coconut palms, papaya trees, mango trees and huge bunches of bamboo between which fly many common fruit bats and magpie crows immediately create an atmosphere of earthly paradise.
The visitor is greeted on the large terrace of the restaurant with a welcome juice. The hotel offers a series of 8 bungalows all overlooking the sea, with 2 small individual terraces, larger double bungalows, the studios, and a beach front maisonette comprising a 2 bedroom apartment and a "suite". »Panoramic of good standing.
The limited supply possibilities and the almost total lack of restaurants in the small towns or villages of Mohéli mean that Laka Lodge offers a unique formula in full board.
The meals taken in the restaurant, on the terrace, consist mainly of local food made of fish, chicken, rice and vegetables. The breakfasts usually offer homemade bread, eggs and fresh fruit juice.
Laka Lodge has its own private beach. A large crescent of sand of 300m approximately going from one rocky spur to the other. A series of wooden deckchairs are available under palm umbrellas for lounging or reading.
Canoes can be rented to explore the flat or to go to another beach. The islets are accessible in about twenty minutes.
Each bungalow is equipped with a private bathroom with shower. The electricity supplied by the village is generally available from 15h to 23h.
The Laka Lodge has its own generator. Wi-Fi internet access is available in the restaurant. Hot water can be obtained through "hot-water bags" which, heated in the sun during the day, provide a good hot shower after dives.
Excursions and land activities
Observation of sea turtle nesting and hatching
Without a doubt, the most extraordinary land excursion to Mohéli is the one that will transport you to the nesting beaches of the sea turtles east of the island. Itsamia Sanctuary, world-renowned, includes 5 ranges on which biologists' observations are concentrated.
The first two easily accessible from the village of Itsamia can count up to several tens of turtle lifts per night. These are mainly green turtles (Chaelonia midas) that can reach up to 1.50m for more than 200 kg that come to lay on the beaches that saw them born. The observation is carefully controlled. They are done with a trained local guide for that. It is not uncommon to observe the hatching of baby turtles who, after their 4 stay at 6 weeks in the sand, will brave the surveillance of the many predators to return to the sea.
Observation of humpback whales
Laka Lodge offers half-day humpback whale watching tours. Based on the information from the fishermen, the boat will explore the tour of the islets, maybe even go to the high seas to find these giants.
If a meeting is not absolutely guaranteed, the chances of observing it from August to October are very high. When a meeting takes place and conditions allow (whale behavior, sea conditions), divers can get into the water in groups of two under the supervision of the guide and go swimming with the whales.
Free diving with dolphins and deep sea fishing
Sea trips are also organized to meet dolphins. These elegant mammals are found on the high seas, where sardine schools meet.
These groupings also attract tuna, these trips are often combined with angling parties which usually bring back a few striped bonito or yellowfin tuna for dinner.
With luck, schools of tuna will themselves attract larger predators and it is not uncommon to see a large shark like a longimane shark for example.
Course and freediving / freediving excursion (dolphins, reef)
Mohéli's crystalline waters in places and the rich coral development of the reef make the practice of freediving ideal. The diving center offers freediving training which, combined with outings in the natural environment, will allow you to approach marine fauna in a different way and will promote interactions and observations that scuba diving does not allow.
Trek in the forest
On the heights of Nioumachoua, along the rivers or on the steep slopes, forest trails allow you to explore the southern slope of the island. The hike begins in areas used by local agriculture. We can discover plantations of pepper trees, cocoa trees, clove trees, take a piece of cinnamon, taste all kinds of plants that our guide will make us discover and enjoy the intoxicating scents of ylang ylang plantations.
Through the large trees, we will discover families of endemic lemurs (Lémur mongoz), refreshing waterfalls and the view from the top of the island will reward our efforts, admittedly, to get there.
Livingstone bats sighting
Local guides take us through the forest to discover the nesting boxes of Livingstone fruit bats. Hanging from the branches of large trees, they take turns flying to fetch the fruits that constitute the bulk of their diet.
The interest of these observation hikes is, among other things, to promote the promotion of this threatened species and to participate in raising awareness of the importance of controlling deforestation. Along the way, a qualified guide will show us the agricultural plantations scattered throughout the forest, allowing us to grasp the diversity of tastes and scents of the plants that often make up part of our meals.
Diving activity is currently possible from the end of July to the end of October when Gianni is present on site, but this should change shortly.
It takes around 3100 euros for a 10-day / 9-night package including airfare, transfers, accommodation, full board and 15 dives.