“There is nothing wrong with enjoying looking at the surface of the ocean itself, except that when you finally see what goes on underwater, you realize that you have been missing the whole point of the ocean. Staying on the surface all the time is like going to the circus and staring at the outside of the tent.” – Dave Barry
For some, there is no greater adventure than diving and for some, it is something still in their bucketlist but you will hardly find someone who didn’t find it refreshing, fascinating and challenging about venturing into the underwater world. As a general idea, people roughly know that scuba diving is a pleasurable water sport that involves diving into the deep sea with advanced and convoluted breathing equipment wearing oil skins. Many even consider scuba diving and snorkelling to be one and the same thing. To a great extent, the former is right but the latter is wrong; both these activities vary in many aspects. Featured Image : Niels-christian-wulff
The history of scuba diving is quite interesting; but still people hardly know of it. The biggest advance on the path to scuba diving came in the 16 Century, when people started using diving bells to pump air from the surface to the people underwater. Scuba diving as we know it materialised during and after the World War II. SCUBA stands for Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus. Scuba diving refers to breathing compressed air from a tank and then exhaling it into the water. Inventor of Scuba Diving, Jacques-Yves Cousteau has this to say about it :-
“From birth, man carries the weight of gravity on his shoulders. He is bolted to earth. But man has only to sink beneath the surface and he is free.”
A highly adrenaline-pumping, invigorating water sport; scuba diving is popular and amiable for many reasons. It gives you a first-hand access to an “underwater paradise” in the sea; i.e. the enchanting coral reefs, schools of fishes of innumerable shapes, species, sizes and colours, pristine; clear and turquoise water. It gives you rare chance to encounter and play with dolphins; whales, feed sharks, explore old, mysterious remains of ship wrecks at the sea bed.
Generally the clichéd scuba-diving destinations are the Caribbean islands or Australia; but for an authentic, in depth experience (quite literally) one should turn towards Asia! Asia is not only the ideal destination in terms of underwater beauty; but an experience that comes at an economic price. With huge coastlines in two major oceans at its disposal (Indian and Pacific), there is wide ranging scope of options to grab at and well-functioning infrastructure pertaining to the same. The five ideal scuba-diving destinations in Asia are:
Raja Ampat Islands, Indonesia
There’s a simple reason to dive here: the islands have the highest recorded biodiversity of fish and coral on Earth. Slip below the waters here and you could see a huge number of the total 1,074 fish species and 537 coral species during your dive time. Pygmy seahorses, turtles and sharks are all commonly sighted.
There are loads of different dive sites offering different experiences: there are some where soft corals and sea fans dominate and others where hard coral and sea grass beds are the main attraction. Corals can be found surprisingly close to the surface here, showing off their colours in all their glory. Image : Roy Singh
The ideal time to go is in the spring-summer months; i.e. the general breeding season of underwater animals of this area. The rainy season must be avoided as waters get murky and aggravated. Hotels here may not be that good as this is a budding tourist destination. However the culture of home-stays and back packing is common here amongst those who are vacationing off a strict budget. Those who wish to shell out a little more should go for resorts; they not only provide the decent equipment and training regarding scuba diving but are good value for money.
Andaman and Nicobar Islands, India
The coastal water surrounding the white sand islands of the Andaman are a heavenly abode of one of the richest coral reef ecosystems of the world. Here the coral reefs and underwater formations have been left untouched by human activities. It is a kaleidoscope of colours and coral. The elusive ribboned sweetlips is one of the colorful habitants of the Andaman Islands. These fish can grow up to 50 centimeters in length. They live alone in deep water and feed on crabs, shrimps and sea snails.
Feeding is facilitated by their bright colours, which camouflages them against the corals. To protect marine life that includes big game fish such as black marlin and sailfish, the Indian government has banned commercial fishing around the 572 islands that make up the Andaman Islands. Image : Yuri-Shlerin
The best time to go is from December to April. Barefoot scuba and Dive India are two famous and well-established diving centres present on the “Havelock Island”. As Andaman is the ideal location for all types of water and adventure sports; the equipment and training provided here is good-quality state-of0the-art at really affordable prices. It is the ideal and economic location for a memorable scuba-diving experience.
Pulau Sipadan, Malaysia
Pulau Sipadan is the only oceanic island in Malaysia, and before 2002 was the subject of an intense territorial dispute between Malaysia and Indonesia. It’s rated by many dive journals as one of the top dive destinations in the world. One of the island’s unique features is a turtle tomb, an underwater limestone cave that features many narrow tunnels and chambers containing the remains of green sea turtles that have become trapped and drowned.
Walls crammed with colourful life and activity, sharks, turtles and vast schools of fish such as barracuda and jacks, and all the while the possibility of seeing something really exciting such as hammerheads or thresher sharks; this is what scuba divers from across the world flock to Pulau Sipadan to see. What makes the island special is the density and variety of marine creatures in such a small location. Image : Soren Egeberg
Any time is a good time at Sipadan, but April to December is the best time to plan a visit. In order to visit this tiny island, tourists stay on either of the nearby islands of Mabul or Kapalai, or on the more distant mainland of Sabah in the port town of Semporna. From Mabul Island and Kapalai, guests are taken the 25 to 30 minutes to dive at Sipadan. Both of these islands offer some exciting macro dives themselves with many unusual critters to discover, and they complement the spectacular main attraction of Sipadan very well.
Similan Islands, Thailand
The Similan Islands, located about 50 Kilometers west of Khao Lak, Thailand; are composed of nine granite islands washed by a clear blue tropical ocean and blessed with some of the world’s finest beaches. Listed as one of the ten best Dive sites on earth, Similan Diving is quite simply the best dive region Thailand has to offer. Famous for huge rocky dropoffs on the Western side, long coral reefs on the East side, and everything in between!
Staying on the Similan Islands can be done three ways. Tents and bungalows provided by the Similan National Marine Park, On a diving liveaboard or an overnight tour boat. As the only place to stay on the Similans are run by the National Park system, bookings can be hard to obtain – in which case, one must stay in Khao Lak and do daytrips. Image :- Matcenbox
The best time to visit (for consistently great weather if one loves the sun) is between October and May. The summer months of July and August are customarily very pleasant, although it tends to rain in the evenings. September is not usually the best time on the islands, as the seas are usually too rough for swimming (or diving) and rain fall is widespread. With regard to water clarity on the Similan Islands, the water is actually clearer during the summer months; the islands are too far offshore to be effected by freshwater run-off.
Tubbataha Reef National Marine Park, Philippines
Declared a world heritage site by UNESCO in 1993, the Philippines’ Tubbataha Reef National Marine Park is crawling with marine life. Sharks, turtles and reef fish can often be found congregating around the atoll. The UN describes the area as “a pristine coral reef with a spectacular 100-meter perpendicular wall, extensive lagoons and two coral islands.”
Since divers discovered Tubbataha in the late 1970s, it has become recognised as one of the most remarkable coral reefs on our planet. The CNN travel website, cnngo.com, ranks it among the top eight dive sites in the world.
Because of its isolated location, Tubbataha can only be visited on a liveaboard boat. Divers can experience the reefs’ dramatic underwater terrain, awe-inspiring biodiversity and encounter large marine animals such as sharks, turtles and manta rays. The park contains roughly 10,000 hectares of coral reef, lying at the heart of the Coral Triangle – the global centre of marine biodiversity. Scientists have been visiting these reefs since the 1980s, and their research has shown that Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park is home to no less than 600 species of fish, 360 species of coral (about half of all the coral species of the world), 11 species of sharks, 13 species of dolphins and whales, 100 species of birds and nesting Hawksbill and Green sea turtles. Phew !! Image :- Venera Varbanova
Tubbataha’s dive season is just three months long, running from mid-March until mid- June. At this time of year diving conditions are usually optimum – clear skies, calm seas and visibility between 30 and 45 meters. From Manila, divers take one of the regular flights to Puerto Princesa. Dive operators’ usually transport their guests from the airport to the pier, just minutes away, where their boat awaits. It takes around 10 hours to get to the Park from Puerto Princesa. Most dive boats leave after dinner and arrive in Tubbataha early the next morning. Some slower vessels leave the wharf earlier in order to arrive at Tubbataha by first light.