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.