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When it comes to scuba diving in Mexico, most divers think instinctively of the Caribbean dive sites of the Yucatan. However, Mexico’s Pacific coast also offers some spectacular sites- including some of the best liveaboard diving in the world. The Nautilus Explorer is one such liveaboard, offering luxury trips ranging from a week to two weeks in length. The itineraries of the Nautilus Explorer incorporate the very best of the Mexican East Pacific, and act as a gateway to treasures that include Guadalupe Island, the Revillagigedo Archipelago and the Sea of Cortez. While Mexico’s east coast is defined by its colorful reefs and thriving tropicals, the west coast is the domain of big animal encounters and even bigger thrills. The adventures offered by the Nautilus Explorer accordingly revolve around some of the underwater world’s most sought after characters- from giant manta rays, to great white sharks and colonies of playful sea lions. Best of all, a trip aboard the Nautilus Explorer means encountering these magnificent species in consummate luxury. The vessel is designed to offer absolute comfort and safety, with spacious staterooms, a separate dining room, and a main salon stocked with bar, entertainment centre and library. On the top deck, guests can soak up the Mexican sun between dives, or relax at the end of the day beneath the stars whilst enjoying the vessel’s freshwater hot tub. The Nautilus Explorer is a gastronomer’s fantasy, with professional chefs serving up fine cuisine at every meal; truly, this is a liveaboard that offers the last word in luxury dive travel.

Jessica-Vyvyan-Robinson
Of course, all the luxuries in the world mean very little without the addition of excellent diving. Fortunately, the Nautilus Explorer’s various itineraries offer such incredible underwater sights that the only hardship is choosing between them. For those that wish to get up close and personal with one of the ocean’s top predators, the Guadalupe cage diving trip seems like the obvious choice. Twenty hours by boat from the west coast of Mexico, Guadalupe Island is the very best place in the world to encounter great whites in their natural habitat. Between the months of July and November, the island is home to some of the biggest white sharks on the planet- giving you the chance to observe them in crystal clear water sometimes boasting over 45 meters/ 150 feet of visibility. The water conditions combine with the curious nature of the great whites to make this trip and underwater photographer’s dream come true; especially because the Nautilus Explorer uses a submersible cage as well as a conventional surface cage. For those that would rather dive cage-free and still come face to face with some of the ocean’s largest creatures, perhaps a trip to the Revillagigedo Archipelago and the famous island of Socorro is more your style. Here, giant mantas come within touching distance of divers, whilst shark species including silky sharks, Galapagos sharks, and schooling hammerheads are also often spotted. From January to April, Socorro is home to over 1,200 migrating humpback whales, and an encounter with these incredible cetaceans is always a possibility at this time.

As well as Guadalupe and Socorro, the Nautilus Explorer travels to several other incredible destinations in the Mexican East Pacific. From diving with sea lions and watching for whales in the Sea of Cortez, to exploring the rarely-visited Clipperton Atoll, the potential for adventure with this liveaboard charter is virtually unlimited. For those that simply cannot choose between the once-in-a-lifetime itineraries of the Nautilus Explorer, do not fret- at certain times of the year, combo trips are available that allow divers to explore two or more destinations on a single voyage. Please enquire for further details of single and combo trips, so that we can help you choose the Nautilus Explorer experience that will make your time on Mexico’s ‘other’ coast truly unforgettable.
Jessica-Vyvyan-Robinson

It doesn’t seem possible that a remote island paradise could be found just 25 minutes from a busy international airport- and yet, Loloata Island Resort in Papua New Guinea is proof that such places do exist. The resort is only a short journey by taxi and boat from Port Moresby’s Jacksons Airport; however, the stresses of urban life fade away immediately upon arrival and serenity reigns supreme. Loloata Island offers the discerning diver the best of both worlds- convenient accessibility, combined with the opportunity to escape to a place defined by its unparalleled diving and its relaxed pace of life. Ringed by shallow reef and dressed in the emerald green of dense tropical vegetation, the island stands as a testament to nature’s beauty; whilst the resort itself offers the very best in Melanesian hospitality. There are two types of room available at Loloata Island Resort- those located directly on the beachfront, and those elevated on the side of the single hill from which the island gets its name. All rooms have private facilities and balconies complete with an ocean view- whilst guests will have the chance to sample delicious local specialties at the sumptuous meal time buffets. Loloata Island Resort is an excellent choice for those with non-diving traveling companions, too. Alternative activities on the island include bushwalking, birdwatching, fishing, snorkeling, indulging in sightseeing tours and shopping trips to Port Moresby- and of course, simply soaking in the delights of the island’s pristine beaches.
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However, it’s also true that this destination epitomizes everything that one could hope for from a scuba diving vacation. Papua New Guinea dive resorts are the gateway to the incredible underwater sights that this tiny nation has to offer, and Loloata Island Resort is no exception. Papua diving is famous for its incredible biodiversity, boasting ten times as many coral species as the Caribbean and twice the number of fish species found in the Red Sea. The islands that make up the country are washed by the waters of three seas, and reap the benefits of a truly diverse ecosystem as a result. Loloata Island is famous in particular for the astounding number of macro species found amongst its dive sites; and for the numerous World War II wrecks that haunt its shores as a result of its proximity to Port Moresby. Loloata Island Resort is well equipped to offer visitors the very best of Papua New Guinea scuba diving, with two specifically appointed dive vessels, an extensive array of rental equipment, and excellent facilities that cater to every pre- and post-dive need. Dives are offered three times a day, with the option for additional night dives upon request. Within easy reach of the island itself is the smaller Lion Island, which is famous for its impressive hard corals and for its incredible muck diving opportunities. Underwater photographers and macro enthusiasts alike will delight at the chance to come face to face with myriad species of rare pipefish, nudibranch, cuttlefish and squid, all in the shallows of the island’s dive sites.
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Loloata itself also offers some spectacular diving, from wrecks like the MV New Marine and the MV Pacific Gas that are literally thriving with life; to the sheer wall of The Big Drop, which offers the chance to see everything from large pelagics to tiny pygmy seahorses. Diversity is certainly the name of the game when it comes to scuba diving in Papua New Guinea – something that Loloata Island Resort showcases at every turn. Diving is possible year round at this destination, although the months with the calmest seas and the best visibility are October to December, and April to May. Water temperatures range from 25 C/ 76 F to 30 C/ 86 F, whilst visibility depends largely on the specific site and time of year.
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Dr Sylvia Earle South Africa Hope SpotsIn 2009, world renowned oceanographer and conservationist Dr. Sylvia Earle was awarded the TED Prize, given annually to an individual with a vision to change the world for the better. With the funds she received with the prize, Dr. Earle founded the marine conservation organization Mission Blue, through which she subsequently launched her Hope Spot initiative. The purpose of this initiative is to create a global network of marine protected areas (or Hope Spots), each one chosen because it is considered critical for one reason or another to the future health of the oceans. There are currently 51 Hope Spots in existence, and this December will mark the launch of the first six in South Africa.

Scuba diving in South Africa is renowned for being amongst the best in the world. It is also amongst the most diverse, as is to be expected from a country that boasts no fewer than 136 distinct ocean habitats. Together, those habitats are home to over 11,000 marine species, of which a significant amount are found nowhere else on Earth. The key to South Africa’s biodiversity is its unique location at the confluence of three oceans, where warm and cold water currents meet and allow for the existence of temperate and tropical species alike. The imminent launch of South Africa’s first six Hope Spots pays tribute to the country’s astonishing marine resources- and underlines the importance of conserving them.

The locations chosen as South Africa’s flagship Hope Spots are False Bay, the Cape Whale Coast (near Hermanus), Knysna, Plettenburg Bay, Algoa Bay and Aliwal Shoal. Each have been selected for their environmental importance- for example, the Knysna estuary is home to the endemic Knysna seahorse, whilst the African penguin colonies that live in Algoa Bay account for 43% of the global population of these endangered birds. Each of the South African Hope Spots were also chosen because they are ideally positioned to facilitate the involvement of local communities- a concept that is central to the South African Hope Spot initiative and which makes these Hope Spots in particular so special.

Currently, 23% of South Africa’s 3,100km coastline is protected by government sanctioned Marine Protected Areas. However, because there is no real collaboration with or inclusion of local communities, the rules and regulations of these MPAs are tenuously enforced at best. South Africa is a country where countless impoverished people depend upon the ocean for their livelihoods, and where the majority of the population lacks the awareness or the opportunity to contribute to marine conservation efforts. If the new Hope Spots are to succeed, and to be sustainable in the longterm, they must address human issues as well as environmental ones.

The South African Hope Spots will be facilitated by Mission Blue’s South African partner, the Sustainable Seas Trust (SST). SST’s focus will be on making the Hope Spots fully inclusive, and on making marine conservation a concern not only for scientists and conservationists but for every South African- regardless of their race, income, profession or age. In order to achieve this goal, the Hope Spot committees in each location will be comprised of representatives from the worlds of science and academia, but also from business, politics, agriculture and the local community. The Hope Spots will focus particularly on education outreach programs, thereby teaching the children of today why we must conserve the marine ecosystems of tomorrow.

This month, the Hope Spots will be officially launched by Dr. Earle, who will embark on a ten day tour from Cape Town to Durban to promote the initiative and meet with community members in each location. When the tour is over, the real work will begin- in the form of action days and citizen science programs that will give members of the general public the chance to contribute to valuable conservation research projects. The December tour will coincide with the launch of a coffee table book created by SST and celebrating the relationship between humanity and the ocean. The funds raised from its sales will go directly into an education fund, which will be available for the Hope Spot committees to use to produce education materials and organize activity days for local schools.

The ways in which the Hope Spots will involve people from all echelons of society are almost endless- from enlisting the help of dive centers in each location to monitor underwater data buoys, to connecting isolated research groups working in the same area. As an international initiative with the backing of Dr. Earle and Mission Blue, the Hope Spots will attract attention and funding to little-known conservation projects within their remit. Eventually, SST aims to construct an education centre in each Hope Spot location, to allow as many schoolchildren as possible to be reached and inspired. Overall, the goal of the Hope Spots is to incentives South Africa as a nation to care about the future of its marine environments, by involving them in the fight to save them.

If the Hope Spots can succeed in this, Dr. Earle will have realized her vision to change the world for the better- and South Africa’s dive sites will remain some of the most impressive on the planet.

There’s no doubt that the whale shark is not only one of the most charismatic marine species in the world, but also that it is one of the dive community’s very favorites. Perhaps it’s the combination of its great size with its peaceful, docile nature; perhaps it’s the challenge that they offer underwater photographers, or maybe it’s just the sheer wonder of swimming alongside one of the ocean’s most enigmatic, impressive creatures. Whatever their charm is, it’s a fact that the whale shark holds the number one spot on many divers’ bucket list, and that each year, thousands of people travel far and wide just to encounter them in their natural habitat. There are a few very special places on this planet where whale sharks are seen with rare reliability; here is a list of five of our favorites*.

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1. Isla Mujeres, Mexico
The prospect of scuba diving in Mexico holds many attractions, not least of which is the world’s largest whale shark aggregation. The Quintana Roo province is home to several fantastic spots for encountering these magnificent animals, but in recent years the island of Isla Mujeres has earned a reputation as the best of them all. In 2009, 420 whale sharks were spotted simultaneously from the air in the waters near the island, setting a record for the most ever seen at one time. Drawn by the spawning of the little tunny, the whale sharks can be seen at Isla Mujeres from June to September, in clear, deep water. Although never guaranteed, visitors during those months are likely to see several sharks on a single trip, while common sightings of manta rays and other passing pelagics provide an added bonus.

2. Praiha do Tofo, Mozambique
This idyllic beach town in Inhambane province undoubtedly constitutes one of the highlights of diving Mozambique. As well as offering spectacular reefs with a staggering level of biodiversity, Tofo is a true mecca for whale shark fanatics. There, local operators run ocean safaris to meet the area’s sharks and mantas, which are present in the area year round. Although Tofo can’t match Isla Mujeres for the sheer number of whale sharks that grace its waters, October to March certainly sees impressive concentrations, sometimes numbering more than twenty individuals. Tofo is a special place in its own right, however- thanks to its remote location and its relative lack of development, whale shark encounters here are likely to be among the least crowded and therefore most natural in the world.

3. Donsol, Philippines
Philippines diving is famous for shark encounters- namely, for the thresher sharks of Malapascua Island, and for the whale sharks of Donsol and Oslob. Visitors to the Philippines have a choice when it comes to seeing whale sharks- on the one hand, they can be seen from time to time at many of the country’s dive sites on scuba. For those wanting a more concrete probability of seeing the giant fish, however, the towns of Donsol and Oslob provide whale shark hotspots on Luzon and Cebu islands respectively. While Oslob may boast a greater number of sharks, they are enticed to the area because they are fed by local fishermen- a practice that is controversial in terms of its impact on whale shark populations. If you’re looking for a more organic and more conservation friendly experience, make your way to Donsol instead. As an added bonus, the Philippines is definitely a good choice for those on a budget, where whale shark tours are amazingly affordable.

4. Cenderawasih Bay, Indonesia
Cenderawasih Bay is probably the least well-known destination on this list, and one of Indonesia’s best kept secrets. In a country famous for its diving, Cenderawasih Bay is something of a phenomenon located on the northern coast of Papua to the far east of the archipelago. There, whale sharks gather to feed from floating platforms used by local fishermen to sift small baitfish from the water- incredibly, the fishermen and the sharks seem to happily coexist and the bay is home to some very large sharks, with an average size of 40 feet. Because the sharks are so busy taking their taxes from the floating platforms, visitors can get very close indeed. The bay is also home to some beautiful sights typical of diving Indonesia, with highlights including dugongs, World War II wrecks and an incredible array of marine life.

* It is worth noting that in each of these places, whale shark encounters happen via snorkel, rather than on scuba.

Imagine a country made up of over 900 lush volcanic islands, a third of which are uninhabited; where cultural identity thrives, where the land is a tangle of tropical rainforest and the ocean is a wonderland of colorful reef and historic wrecks. If in your mind’s eye you are seeing a scattering of emerald islands ringed with white gold beaches and sapphire seas, you’re probably imagining a place that looks a lot like the Solomon Islands. Located 1,200 kilometers northeast of Australia in the southwest Pacific, the Solomon Islands are a true adventurer’s fantasy- a place that remains untouched by urban development and the taint of pollution, and where nature still revels in all its considerable glory. From tiny atolls to more significant islands, the country’s interior offers plenty of opportunities for exploration, from tumbling waterfalls, to thick jungle and colorful local villages. The real reason to visit however is for the scuba diving in the Solomon Islands, which offers pristine reefs, adrenaline-fueled big animal encounters and some of the most impressive, evocative wreck diving in the world. Best of all, thanks to the remoteness of these magical islands, there are no crowds either on land or underwater, leaving visitors free to experience the Solomons in peace.
Soft-Corals
Although diving in the Solomon Islands boasts crystal clear seas, warm water temperatures and unparalleled marine life, the country’s most unique underwater attraction is its Second World War wrecks. The seafloor around many of the islands is littered with ships and aircraft that were the casualties of the Solomon Islands campaign of 1942- 1945, in which Allied forces struggled to stop the Japanese advance into the South Pacific. In particular, the Battle of Guadalcanal sent many vessels to a watery grave, and diving around Guadalcanal Island today is therefore an unforgettable experience for any wreck-diving enthusiast. There, troop carriers, transport ships, submarines and planes can all be found, each of which now provides a stunning backdrop for the wealth of marine life that has transformed the wrecks into living war memorials. Tulagi Island is another wreck-diving hotspot, with many wrecks located just off the beach where Allied naval bombardments and amphibious landings happened simultaneously on 7th September 1942. All of the Solomon Islands’ wrecks are protected under National Heritage listings, and the salvaging of any artifacts is strictly forbidden.
A diver explores the wreck of the Soltai 61 that lies vertically jammed against a reef, Solomon Islands.
Although wrecks form a significant part of the Solomon Islands’ attraction, the country’s waters are also home to a vibrant array of marine life. Sheer walls, impressive pinnacles and thriving coral reefs provide excellent sightings of species ranging from the tiny pygmy seahorse to the giant manta ray. Schools of humphead parrotfish and angel fish can be seen moving across the reef, while the deeper water is patrolled by shoals of hunting trevally and barracuda. Popular dive sites for spotting these beautiful creatures include Tulagi’s Manta Passage, named for obvious reasons; the coral gardens and steep drop offs of Uepi; and Shark Point, a sloping reef 25 minutes from Munda where grey reef and silvertip sharks are usually seen. Macro species are rife at the Solomons’ muck diving sites, where mantis shrimp, harlequin snake eels and ghost pipefish can all be found.
Uepi
There are two ways to experience the stunning and varied dive sites of this Pacific destination- either from a luxury dive resort, or with a Solomon Islands liveaboard charter. Dive resorts provide an opportunity to focus on one particular area whilst also enjoying terrestrial activities and land-based comforts, while liveaboards like the MV Bilikiki and the MV Spirit of Solomons are an excellent way to get the absolute most out of your Solomons experience by diving as many sites as possible. However you choose to discover these unique islands, one thing is for certain- doing so is sure to be one of the best decisions you’ll ever make.
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