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Scuba diving in the Andaman Islands

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The seas around the Andaman islands are some of the world’s most unspoiled. Marine life is abundant, with an estimated 750 species of fish existing on one reef alone, and parrot, trigger and angel fish living alongside manta rays, reef sharks and loggerhead turtles. Many species of fish and coral are unique to the area, and fascinating ecosystems exist in ash beds and cooled lava based around the volcanic Barren Island. For a quick taste of marine life, you could start by snorkelling; most hotels can supply masks and snorkels, though some equipment is in dire need of replacement. The only way to get really close, and venture out into deeper waters, is to scuba dive.

The undisputed home of diving is Havelock, with seven centres up and running at the last count, but there’s already one small operation on Neill as well. The premier dive centres are Andaman Bubbles (t03192/282140, whttp://www.andamanbubbles.com), next to partners Wild Orchid on Beach #5, and Barefoot Scuba Dive Resort (t9566 063120, whttp://www.barefootindia.com) on Beach #3; both offer excellent equipment, nitrox diving and mainly Western instructors. Andaman Bubbles should also be operating on Neill by the time you read this and Barefoot have plans for Long Island and South Andaman. Two other PADI-certified centres are Dive India (t0319 2214247, whttp://www.diveindia.com), based at Island Vinnie’s on Beach #5, and Ocean Pearl (t03192/282228, whttp://www.dive-andaman.com, a relative newcomer up at Beach #2. The aforementioned centre on Neill is India Scuba Explorers (t9474 238646, whttp://www.indiascubaexplorers.com) at Neill Kendra.

Prices are very similar at all the centres, with dives for those already certified running around Rs2000 for one tank, Rs3500 for two; more economical packages, often including accommodation and food, are available for multiple dives, while Discover Scuba introductory days go for Rs4000–5000. Courses cost about Rs18,000 for a basic four-day PADI open-water qualification, Rs13,500 for advanced or Rs45,000 to go all the way up to Divemaster, including all the tanks.

Underwater, it’s not uncommon to come across schools of reef shark, which rarely turn hostile, but one thing to watch out for and avoid is the black-and-white sea snake. Though these seldom attack – and, since their fangs are at the back of their mouths, would find it difficult to get a grip on any human – their bite is twenty times deadlier than that of the cobra.

Increased tourism inevitably puts pressure on the delicate marine ecosystem, and poorly funded wildlife organizations can do little to prevent damage from insensitive visitors. Ensure your presence in the sea around the reefs does not harm the coral by observing the following Green Coral Code while diving or snorkelling:

  • Never touch or walk on living coral, or it will die.
  • Try to keep your feet away from reefs while wearing fins; the sudden sweep of water caused by a flipper kick can be enough to destroy coral.
  • Always control the speed of your descent while diving; enormous damage can be caused by divers landing hard on a coral bed.
  • Never break off pieces of coral from a reef, and remember that it is illegal to export dead coral from the islands, even fragments you may have found on a beach.
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