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Stella Maru
Trou Aux Biches
8 Apr 04.

We had agreed to meet at 7pm at the aquarium car-park. Don’t bother looking for the aquarium there isn’t one there any more, but everyone knows it as “the aquarium” and have not got around to calling it something else.

For once we were all pretty much on time. Things can be a little tricky sometimes especially when people are coming straight from work. The omens were looking good. Even the sunset was stunning, almost straight from the palette of Cezanne.

We were briefed, loaded up Jackie’s pirogue and set off. Stella Maru is not far outside the reef so it was only 20 minutes or so before Jackie was looking for the transit points. He had been out earlier in daylight to drop a shot on the site, and, as it happens, went almost straight to it even in the darkness.

Kit up, checks, over the side, down the line. For the first 15 metres or so, just back-scatter. Then the Stella Maru almost stepped into the limelight on our right hand side. She’s an old fishing trawler, damaged by fire in the early 80’s and then sunk as an artificial reef in 1987. She came to rest on her starboard side, but a heavy cyclone kindly pushed her upright. She now stands square on her keel, between 20 and 26m, on sand just outside the rocks and coral. She’s a favourite dive site in Mauritius, and we’ve been there several times, but this was my first time at night.

Almost immediately we descended we were greeted by a couple of squid. As we moved to the stern there was a lobster (langoustes) caught full on in the torchlight on the side of the ship uncertain where he could hide. At the stern, the deepest point, one can sometimes in daylight see garden eels a little way off, but I didn’t spot any by night. On the starboard side, where the wheelhouse had collapsed we got a very welcome surprise. There used to be a huge giant moray living on the Maru, a favourite amongst all divers, tourists, guides and locals, but she’s not been at home for a while. We found her sleeping in a (large) fold of steel which was open in such a way that we could see most of her body. Enormous. She didn’t even mind the small pat given to her by one of our group.

As we moved up onto the deck an emperor angelfish was startled out of the forward section and swam between us. On deck I noticed a pair of Yellowhead butterflyfish huddling together. I’ve been trying to learn some of the many species of butterflyfish in the Indian Ocean, so to see a pair and instantly know them was a result. There was little to see in the holds, a bit odd, as they are normally full of soldier-fish and big-eyes and lion-fish. On the other hand, there were loads of fish, snappers mostly, above the wreck, which I wasn’t expecting at night. We all met on the stern deck as planned, us and our new buddies - 4 more lobsters a bit surprised by the intrusion.

From the wreck we moved onto the coral ascending slowly eastwards from 18m – 12m and passing over a large Titan triggerfish fast asleep in a hole. It’s a good thing it was asleep as its nest is nearby and it has been known to be a bit annoyed by these bubbly things disturbing it. We had to dim our torches to help out an electric ray dazzled and bumping into the coral. And I felt sorry for the poor octopus who had ventured out from his rock and was suddenly caught in the open by the cross-beams. He didn’t seem to mind that much, though, he just stayed still hoping we’d go away and so we did.

After 50 minutes I was starting to feel the chill. I get cold easily, and we were beginning to get into slight surge, so I called time. An easy ascent, a relaxed safety stop, and out to be greeted by the boat. Back in, out with the thermos and hot coffee under the stars.

As Thursdays go, it could not have gone better. I just wanted to share the experience.


ps happy easter to you all
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