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Treasures of Pondicherry

Treasures of Pondicherry
A bearded scorpionfish lurks in the sand looking like a piece of rubble, Photo Credit: Umeed Mistry
03 Min Read

Off Pondicherry lies a spectacular muck diving site so, catch a fabulous glimpse of the underwater life

Over the last decade a number of dive centres have been opened around the country. The ones located at islands predominantly offer diving in coral reefs. And typical reef life, with its vibrant coral structure and fish, are what most divers expect to find.

But some of the mainland operations are uniquely situated in places where sand flats and seagrass beds are also on offer. Sure there are certain kinds of coral (generally a smaller selection than around India’s islands), but in these spaces, the habitat along with the fish and critters found resemble what is internationally referred to as muck diving.

One such destination is Pondicherry. With a gently sloping, seemingly non-descript sand flat stretching a few kilometres eastward into the Bay of Bengal, Pondicherry’s pockets of underwater life tend to form around areas where the presence of a few rocks, and maybe some coral, offer some amount of shelter. Weighing down tree barks, coconut fronds and other similar materials around these smatterings of rock is what the fishermen of Tamil Nadu have done for generations. This increases the population and variety of creatures that seek refuge in what can otherwise be a featureless expanse of sand and water.

Enter a group of divers keen on bringing scuba-diving training and tourism to the area. The founders of Temple Adventures decided to work on one such fishing site off Pondicherry, and over the course of a decade have transformed the patch into an astounding artificial reef with a variety of different creatures. Scorpionfish, flounder and garden eels hunker down in the sand. The sunken vans, rock stacks and beer crates provide a substrate for numerous barnacles, coral, and other encrustations. The waters immediately around these structures are teeming with cardinalfish, different species of wrasse and damselfish, lionfish, rabbitfish and angelfish. Further out, trevally, snapper, fusiliers and moonfish swirl about in large schools. Even rare critters like the frogfish and seahorses—the kind that make muck diving popular in Southeast Asia—are found in the area.

The effort taken to create and maintain Temple Reef has paid off. With enough of sturdy substrate and plenty of shelter on offer, a host of corals, barnacles, and several fish species have taken up residence. This has proven to be a win-win situation for both local fishermen and dive shop owners

Seahorses are considered a relatively rare find, and are always a source of excitement for divers and underwater photographers. This one gives a sassy sideways eye-roll in its inimitably shy manner

This moray eel will spend a significant amount of time in the area, availing of the cleaning services of the banded boxer shrimp and wrasse. And when it gets hungry, there are plenty of fish in the ocean

A lionfish swims over one of the rock stacks. Ropes leading to a large buoy near the surface keep the submerged rocks in a pile, creating greater relief above the surrounding sand flat. Closer to the surface, trevally and moonfish cluster around the ropes

Many solitary creatures strike up relationships of convenience to survive. Here, a crab about as big as a one-rupee coin takes refuge pressed up against an anemone. The anemone can recede into its burrow but more often than not, it sits with its stinging tentacles spread out, offering some protection to the crab

A rabbitfish leaves the proximity of the sunken structures to nibble on a jellyfish floating in mid-water past the artificial reef

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