Diani Beach

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Diving and snorkelling in Kenya

Kenya's coastal waters are warm all year round so it is possible to dive without a wetsuit and have a rewarding dip under the wave almost anywhere.Most of the diving bases are located at Malindi,Watamu or on the coast south of Mombasa.Diani Beach is probably the most popular area.There are centres here which will provide training to PADI leader level.For underwater photogrphers,in particular,the immense coral reef is a major draw-the landscape is spectacularly varied,with shallow coral gardens and blue-water drop-offs sinking as deep as 200m and,as there are few rivers to bring down sediment,visibility is generally excellent.If you plan to do a fair bit of snorkelling,it makes sense to bring your own mask and snorkel though they can always be rented.The Dive Sites of Kenya and Tanzania,by Anton Koornhof is highly recommended,and also covers sites suitable for snorkelling.For fish identification,A  Guide to Common Reef Fishes of the Western Indian Ocean and Kenyan Coast by Kenneth Bock . Another good book is Coral Reef Fishes -Indo-Pacific and Caribbean by Ewald Lieske and Robert Myers .

Most obviously,the beaches are the launch pad for one of the most beautiful coral reefs in the world,rated in the top three by experienced divers,along with Australia's Barrier Reef and the Red Sea.With breathing apparatus you can do some spectacular dives ,including night and wreck dives,but even with the most limited equipment-a snorkel and a mask- you can still enter what really is another world,either taking a boat or swimming out to discover sections of reef for yourself.The three most spectacular zones,enclosed in Marine National Parks,are far to the south off Wasini island,the area between Watamu and Malindi,and in the extreme north,off Kiwaiyu island.


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Diving on the South Coast : Many South Coast hotels in Diani Beach and a good number along the North Coast,have dive centres,where you can do everything from a basic beginner lesson plus assisted dive to a full course  giving you an internationally recognized PADI qualification.(Open Water,Advanced Open Water). If you have already scuba certification,single dives are are cheaper.You can nearly always take a free dip in the pool wearing diving equipment,to test your affinity-most people find breathing under water curiously addictive.Before choosing a centre,take time to compare the equipment of several companies,and ask them about their environmenal policy,safety procedures and general experience . They should at the very least have up-to-date PADI ( Professional Association of Diving Instructors) or BSAC(British Sub-Aqua Association) accreditation, and ideally be affiliated to Scuba Schools International SSI . One of the oldest and best established outfits,with an excellent reputation and good equipment,is Diving the Crab in Diani Beach : The only company offering state-of-the-art Nitrox technology, which mixes nitrogen and oxygen to reduce decompression complications and enable longer dives.

Responsible snorkelling,diving and fishing : Kenya's coral reefs are among the world's most beautiful,and fragile,ecosystems.A reef is a living entity:every branch or cluster of coral consists of thousands if not millions of individual living organisms called polyps,growing ever outwards as the older ones die and become covered in new growth.Coral grows extremely slowly,some species taking over a decade to expand  a couple of centimetres.Solid though it seems,coral is extremely sensitive,and even something as seemingly insignificant as a small change in sea temperature - such as happened in the 1997/98 El Nino event - can have disastrous effects.Even now,many sections of Kenya's reefs have barely begun to recover,and large sections appear grey and dead.Equally disastrous are human pressures,whether through accidental pollution or more deliberate activities.The damage caused by careless trawling and anchoring is obvious.Less obvious are the potentially damaging results of snorkelling and diving ,so a few rules worth bearing in mind . If you have not dived for a while ,take a refresher course at one of the PADI schools at the beach hotels,and practise your buoyancy control in the safety of a swimming pool.  When mooring a boat,ensure that you use established mooring points to avoid damaging the coral with anchors and chains.If there are no buoys,drop your anchor well away from the reef, and swim in.  Dive and swim carefully,never touching the corals,no matter how solid they appear.Even gentle abrasions can kill some polyps and all coral suffocates if covered with silt or sand thrown up by a careless swipe of fins or flippers close to the sea floor. For this reason,some companies do not provide fins for snorkellers.If you do wear them,always be aware of where your feet are ,and use only your hands to swim when you are close to anything.If you are an inexperienced diver,keep a good distance from the coral to avoid crashing into it.  Do not touch or feed anything ,as your actions may cause stress to the animal, and interrupt behaviour.Although several companies encourage it,it is best not to feed fish.In some species,it encourages dependency,can change their behaviour: just like baboons on land ,some fish can become aggressive , and it destabilizes the food chain . Do not collect marine souvenirs.Souvenir collecting of shells,coral and starfish disrupts the ecosystem and is illegal in Kenya,and in most countries ,as is all trade in sea-turtle products.Getting caught - whether in Kenya or at your airport of arrival - can land you in serious trouble. Similarly,although they are widely for sale,you should not buy any of these items.With no market,people will stop collecting them .Note that the shellfish will have been killed to provide the shells you are offered .

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The Watamu Marine National Park stretches stretches along the coast from the Blue Lagoon to Mida Creek.Its total exclusion zone for fishermen has not been greeted rhapsody all round .On the other hand ,tourists come in larger numbers every year and Watamu evidently evidently has not gone far wrong in identifying their needs .This is prime snorkelling and diving territory,highly rated even by professionals,as the reef is in excellent condition and the water usually totally clear. Harmless whale sharks visit the area regularly, a highlight for any diver.I you have never taken a swim before ina shoal of coral fish,the spectacle can be breathtaking:every conceivable combination of colour and shape is represented. It seems impossible that fish should take such forms.The ostentatious dazzle of some of them,especially the absurd parrot fish can be simply hiliarious. The most common destination is the coral gardens , a two kilometres offshore,where the boat drifts,suspended in 5-6m of scintillatingly clear water.Here,over a group of giant coral heads,where fish naturally congregate and where offerings of bread have obviously further encouraged them,you enter the unusual park.A booklet called The Watamu Snorkeller's Guide by Richard Bennet is available Hemingway's Fishing Centre,with a map of the coral off Watamu,articles of the main type of fish,and suggested snorkelling routes.Alternatively,you can get a laminated colour chart of the most common coral fish to take along to identify them . If you can dive to the sea floor,you will get an intense experience of sharing the undersea world with the fish and the coral. Watch out for the small harmless octopuses that stay motionless until disturbed and then jet themselves across the seabed - they are brilliant masters of disguise,altering their form,texture and colour to fit their surroundings .Above ,the boat's hull creates a deep shadow which,associated with food from the passengers,attracts thousands of fish.As you return to the surface,they move out of the way in mysterious unison,each one avoiding all the others n a kind of natural light show of fantastic beauty.If such adventures are not your forte, the glass bottoms of the boats provide an alternative view - but it is often a rather obscure and narrow one. 


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