Mafia Island, Marine Park: “A Diving and Snorkeling paradise”
Chole Bay – a Diving and snorkelling paradise
It is a vast circular bay over 50 sq km in size with a depth varying from 1 to 28 metres, and a tremendous variety of coral, fish and other marine species. An important feature of Chole Bay is that the water is continuously exchanged as fresh ocean water flushes in through Kinasi Pass every flood tide. This may one reason why the extensive coral reef areas in Chole Bay largely survived the calamitous coral bleaching that obliterated corals in most other parts of the Indian Ocean in 1998. This happened when sea temperatures in the Indian Ocean became unusually high as a consequence of the “Ël Nino” in 1997-98. As a result, Chole Bay’s coral reefs remained largely intact and even the damaged areas are regenerating well.
Another crucial feature of Chole Bay is that it is shielded from both of the annual monsoon winds by surrounding islands. Most other diving destinations in the western Indian Ocean, including Zanzibar, Pemba and Kenya are exposed wither to the NE (Kaskazi) or the SE (Kusi) winds and diving is therefore seasonal. In Chole Bay, it is possible to dive throughout the year. The fact that the bay provides a sheltered marine environment throughout the year has been appreciated by local fishers for decades, and now increasingly also by SCUBA divers. For these reasons Mafia Island, for so long a well-kept secret amongst international tourists, is gradually acquiring a reputation as a world class SCUBA diving destination. It is a chance to witness at first hand the full spectacle of Mafia’s rare marine life.
FRONTIER’S diving guide to the multi user marine park, Mafia Island This diving guide was compiled by Frontier, a U.K. based non-profit making organization, whose objectives are to implement practical projects contributing to the conservation of natural resources. For this reason, Frontier, in collaboration with Tanzania’s University of D ar es Salaam, formulated A Management Strategy for Mafia’s Multi User Marine Park. Since 1989, Frontier volunteers continue to prepare the necessary groundwork.
The spectacular reef systems around Mafia’s waters have been moulded by climatic and geological events. Mafia is a recently formed group of delta islands whose separation from the Tanzanian mainland, dates no further than the Pleistocene Period. They have been overgrown by corals through geological time. This deposited limestone has since been exposed to a combination of a fall in sea level and rising of the East African continental plate, thus forming the land mass of the Mafia Island group. The evidence of this can be seen by the outstanding dead coral rag which tower above the water line and are home only to some of the islands’ bird population. These old coral rags are especially visible at the mouth of Chole Bay, protected by the outer fringing reef system which minimizes the impact of the Indian Ocean swell. The fringing reef systems are characterized by a shallow, back reef on the landward side. To the seaward side is a slow growing reef front. At Mafia most areas of the fringing reef are accessible to divers, depending on the weather.