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Tuesday, 20 December 2016 06:33

Diving Reunion Island - You've been Missing out on Humpbacks, Dolphins, Wrecks and Incredible Macro!

Reunion is a French island in the Indian Ocean, about 530 miles east of Madagascar. It is volcanic in origin and one of the volcanoes is actually still active, and known as the “Piton de la Fournaise". The volcano is a major tourist attraction and is located within the Reunion National Park, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Reunion Island is young, meaning the lagoons are small and not very deep. But what the lagoons lack is made up for in the open ocean. Since the island rises out of deep water, it’s a magnet for whales and boasts healthy reefs teeming with colourful fish. The water temperature varies from 23 C in winter to 30 C in summer.

Above the surface, Reunion is covered in steep mountains, and as a result, is known worldwide for its hiking trails. The locals are laid-back and welcoming. Getting to Reunion is easy – there are three flights a week from Johannesburg, which take about 4 hours.

When to Visit Reunion

Reunion is a great dive destination year-round! But if you want to see humpback whales, winter is the best season (June to October). Every year, the humpbacks come to breed and give birth near our shores, with the most action happening from mid-August to mid-September.

Dive conditions are generally better during the summer, with the highest visibility and warmest water... but it's the rainy season so there are some rough days. That said, visibility is very good 80% of the year and dolphins can be found around the island all year.

Why Should You Dive Here?

1)  Because Reunion is relatively unknown in the diving community, even though it's home to so much marine life.

2)  Because in the morning you can swim with whales or dolphins and in the afternoon you can shoot nudibranchs and other macro subjects and then enjoy a cocktail on the beach during sunset.

The Diving in Reunion

Reunion offers a wide variety of dive sites. Just beyond the reef there are large flats, beautiful steep walls and shipwrecks. Photographers will tend to shoot wide-angle in the morning because conditions are calmer. In the afternoon, macro and the shallower dive sites will delight you with their wealth of corals, sponges, reef fish and critters. This is a great opportunity to work on ambient light underwater photography.

The greatest coral and marine life biodiversity is found on the west coast. There are also lava flows on the south side of the island, which are visited by some dive centres. These sites are exposed to current, however, and for experienced divers only.

We also have some wreck diving at Reunion. The most famous is the Hai Siang at 55m deep . When the ship sunk it landed on its side, but then was righted by a cyclone. It's a very fun dive with a descent straight through the blue water column. Photographers can set up wide-angle or possibly ultra wide-angle (14mm).

Other popular deep wrecks include The Navarra at 50m, The Sea Venture at 45m  and Antonio Lorenzo at 38m . These are deep dives that require special training; however the photo potential is incredible. There are also some great wrecks in shallower water covered with abundant marine growth, fish and other exciting critters.

The macro diving is world-class at Reunion Island, with a wide range of biodiversity. The dive sites are usually found on the outer slopes of the barrier coral reefs, but you can also find some extraordinary encounters in the lagoons. Harlequin shrimp are observed in lagoon by free divers, so it’s certain that scuba divers can find them. There are also many colourful nudibranchs waiting to be found and photographed.

Reunion’s Most Popular Dive Sites

The Caves of Maharani: An original site in about 15m , which includes a series of cracks and caves adorned with skylights. On this dive, wide-angle is preferable in the morning when the position of the sun is best. Divers regularly see kingfish over one meter in length, making close passes while hunting. Lionfish are under the overhangs waiting for unsuspecting prey.

Passe de l’Ermitage: A cleaning station and meeting point for turtles and eagle rays. The turtles visit the cleaning station daily while also using the lagoon for shelter at night. The extensive seagrass beds provide an abundant food source.

Grand Tombant de la Point au Sel: This is one of the best dives at the island, but reserved for experienced divers since the current can be violent and unpredictable. There are great wide-angle opportunities with regular sightings of huge schools of jacks and pelagic fish (swordfish, marlin, and tuna). Less frequently, divers will encounter a whale shark, hammerhead sharks or manta rays.

Cap la Houssaye: THE site for macro photography. On a regular dive you will see nudibranchs, mantis shrimp and ghost pipefish as well as turtles, barracuda and more. There is a huge meadow with sea slugs of all kinds, but beware of scorpion fish camouflaged on the bottom as they await passing prey. Visibility is average but this is not a problem for macro.

Reunion offers a wide variety of diving mixed with stunning topside landscapes. This small French island should be on every underwater photographer's destination list!

Interested in travel to Reunion Island?

Travel with Options can help you book the perfect dive experience.

Travel with Options is a full service dive travel agency. Let our expert advisors plan and book your personal "dream vacation". Run by divers, for divers.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Gaby Barathieu is a passionate underwater photographer based on Reunion Island. He and photographer Yann Oulia run the Reunion Underwater Photography website and Facebook page, sharing the incredible diving and wildlife encounters in the waters near their home. View their photography at www.RUP.re  or on their Facebook Page.