Diving in Mafia Island which is some 150km south of Zanzibar has some sites that rank up there with those on Pemba. The diving is almost entirely focussed around Chole Bay and from September to March it is possible to dive the walls outside the reef that protects the bay. Inside this reef, there are up to 10 different sites and outside the reef, there are many more so enough good diving for at least 4 to 5 days. Best to stay at Chole Mjini where Jean is probably the most experienced diver in East Africa.
Wall with caverns, in the mouth of Chole Bay. Mafia’s most famous dive site. This has it all. Big critters, spectacular corals, exhilarating drift dive or a relaxing stroll through the park. You choose. For experienced divers (or beginner divers under professional supervision).
At the mouth of Chole Bay, where the sheltered bay meets the open ocean there is a deep, narrow channel through shallower coral on each side. To the south, the reef slopes quite gently down to a depth of about 15m and then drops vertically to almost 30m. This wall, and especially the caverns at its base, is home to large Potato Cod, Giant Grouper, Rays and Morays Snappers and Sweetlips predominantly, and of course, where they go the predators go too. Barracuda, Trevally, Cobia, Tuna and the occasional shark prowl, solitary or in schools, on the lookout for a snack. In the middle of the Pass is one of the best places to see a variety of elasmobranchs; Giant black-spotted ribbon-tailed rays are common but Whale sharks, Eagle rays and Manta rays are seasonal visitors (late December through March is best). At times huge volumes of water flow through the pass and the current can hit 4 knots, so it is usually best dived at slack water (on the Neap tide for best visibility) or as an exhilarating drift dive.
Steep reef face inside Chole Bay, from 5m down to 25m, the slope gradually becomes gentler and gentler and the dive finishes in a shallow coral garden. Suitable for all certified divers. Nearby outstanding snorkelling site, mainly at low tide.
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If your SCUBA is a bit rusty and you don’t feel up to tackling the Pass right off then this is the must-do dive in Mafia. About 300m before the pass, inside the bay, there is a truly gorgeous reef and this dive site is so highly rated because of the incredible riches of corals, other invertebrate animals and fish that you will encounter here. The ease of access and safe, sheltered location and the obliging currents, which gently propel you along all add up to a world-class dive. This is not usually a dive for adrenaline junkies. It is almost always a very mellow dive, although at full throttle (more than an hour after a spring high tide) it can be an exhilarating drift. You usually drop in at the SouthEastern end where the reef slope is almost a wall and then move with the prevailing current Northwards and Westwards. Slowly the reef fore-slope becomes less steep and the corals rapidly change from current-tolerant soft corals, Gorgonians and Whip corals at the Pass end, to more and more hard corals, first dominated by massives and then foliaceous, columnar and branched until finally, you find yourself in shallow gardens of tabular and staghorn Acropora and gold-hued fire coral. The fish fauna is mostly typical reef inhabitants, with a huge variety of multi-coloured Wrasses, Parrotfish, Damsels, Surgeons, Triggerfish and Anthiases, some of which you may never have seen before. That doesn’t mean there are no big fish here, big Wahoo and Barracuda cruise off reef and fair-sized (2-3 ft) Greasy Cod and Malabar Grouper are abundant. The problem is that you are likely to miss many of them because you are drawn into focussing all your attention on the details of a fabulous coral reef.
Wall with caverns and caves outside Chole Bay. Experience is recommended because sometimes outside the bay the seas are huge and a bit intimidating to the uninitiated and seasickness can be a problem. The dive itself, however, is not technically difficult.
Dindini has over the years provided some of the biggest rushes. It is only accessible seasonally and even then only when the ocean obliges because it is directly in front of surf-pounded cliffs. A local fisherman is wary of visiting Dindini when the Kusi blows (the monsoon from July through September) so this site (and nearby Mlila) have always enjoyed an extended closed season. As a result, there is a lot of fish, big fish, small fish, sharks, rays and also turtles. This is one of the better places in Mafia to see sharks (Reef sharks and occasionally Bull sharks, deeper-down), when the visibility is good, which it usually is from November through March and also good for big Groupers and very occasionally big game fish like Tuna, Sailfish and Marlin. The wall itself is a three-dimensional treat, with many caverns, u-shaped tunnels and some deep, unexplored caves. It’s safe to enter the bigger caverns to see what huge denizen is waiting inside and sometimes when you emerge from a short tunnel, you find that some curious critter has come much, much closer than they normally would. There are no strong currents to contend with and, once below the surface and below the surge zone the conditions are “peachy”. The surface conditions and presence of strong surge, combined with the fact that most of the dive is at twenty-odd meters and there are tunnels and caverns to negotiate and there is the occasional appearance of a big shark or other large creature to contend with, is why this dive is recommended for the experienced. The dive ends with an extended off-gas back on the top of the wall, which is daubed with really spectacular powder blue, purple and pink Alcyonaria soft corals and teeming with fish, especially Red-toothed Triggerfish and a variety of Surgeons.