Alex recounts his visit and tells us how the island and its reefs left him feeling good about the world….
I was greeted at Mafia Island Lodge by David and his wife Danni, the couple that own and run the on-site dive centre. David is a Belgian who traded in his life as a computer code engineer in Brussels for a more adventurous life, and Danni is a Kenyan whose life has always been fuelled by wildlife. Their enthusiasm and love for Mafia was instantly recognisable and, as the next day would prove, completely understandable.
In the morning I headed off to the dive centre to start my adventure. One of the benefits of Chole Bay is that after a depth of 24 metres, you will need a shovel to get any deeper, making it a perfect location for long dives and warm temperatures. I dived in a 5mm shorty, but a rash vest would have been suitable for anyone who does not feel the cold too much.
David and Danni have a small fleet of boats made entirely by hand with local materials and a local workforce. The people who were working on one of the boats whilst I was there were all from Chole Island – a small island in the bay which used to be the capital of Mafia. They were incredibly friendly and told me about the colourful history of Mafia.
Our first dive location was around a set of underwater coral islands at a maximum depth of 19 metres and a minimum depth of 6 metres. After kitting up and rolling into the warmth of the blue beneath, I was instantly surrounded by a shoal of fish that were feeding. We steadily drifted around the coral and inspected each nook and cranny for new types of marine life. David had explained to me that the week before they had discovered a type of nudibranch only previously found in Malaysia, and the month before that they discovered three new fish to the area and two more nudibranchs.
It was at the second dive location that I realised how successful the marine park has truly been in Mafia. The coral was plentiful and the healthiest I had seen for ten years. The vast array of hard and soft coral was mind boggling. Clouds of fish drifted back and forth in the small swell wherever we finned. There were clownfish that had reached nearly 15 centimetres, parrotfish the size of barracuda, and moray eels the thickness of thighs!
Huge fields of hard and soft corals covered the seabed and spread as far as visibility would allow (about 30 metres on this particular day, but visibility can often be 50 metres). There was no sign whatsoever of any damage for hundreds, maybe thousands, of square metres. Some years ago a coral bleaching event affected Mafia Marine Park, but today there was almost no trace of this event. The only damage I could see to the coral was due to either waves in the shallows, or the coral becoming so big it collapsed on itself!
As we finned over coral fields we were followed by a small shoal of angel fish that were larger than the palm of my hand, and we even found a stonefish bigger than a rugby ball. Here in Mafia I was seeing fish at their maximum natural size, more coral than I had ever seen before, and a range of fish greater than I had ever witnessed! I even found half a dozen nudibranch egg sacks- something I had never seen before. They were like roses made from the softest silk you could imagine. The deep reds and yellows of the spiral eggs fluttered in the swell and added yet another vibrant layer to this underwater haven.
I can’t find the words to describe how great it was to see such a healthy area of coral after so many years of diving small reefs, damaged reefs, or no reefs at all. I was thoroughly impressed (still not a strong enough compliment) by David, Danielle and the whole Mafia Diving crew. Their devotion and admiration for the waters was clear to see and should act as an inspiration for all divers. Mafia is the undiscovered and undisturbed reef haven the world so desperately needs. Mafia is a scuba diving haven that deserves to remain remote and devoted to those who crave conservation and the simple life.
Whale sharks are seasonal visitors to the area from December throught to March. Isn't time you went to Dive Mafia Island?
If you would like to discuss an adventure to Mafia Island, email our Dive team today or call on 01962 302087.