The Mafia island park is Tanzania's first marine park. Its reefs, preserved since 1995 with the help of the WWF, offer a range of corals and fish like no other in the Indian Ocean. With more than 460 species of fish and 52 genera of hard corals, the diversity of life is hard to match. Almost all the diving is at depth les than 30m (90ft) and therefore is a paradise for recreational divers.
There are over 400 species of fish in the park with variety of hard and soft corals with fabulous dive sites offering shallow reefs of immense beauty and richness. Almost all the diving is at depth less than 30m so its a paradise for sport divers. The reefs of the archipelago offer a staggeringly beautiful and varied display of marine life, the excellent condition and high diversity of the reefs. Most kinds of tropical marine habitat occur here, including exposed fringing reefs, rock walls, soft corals and algae-dominated reefs.
The excellent condition and diversity of the shallow reefs of the archipelago offer fabulous dives: walls, overhangs, tunnels, caves, swim-through are some of the varied features of the surroundings, a great playground for photo and video graphers indeed! Night dives, drift along the walls, wreck diving are another way to enjoy the diving here.
From the tiniest critter to the biggest fish of the planet, you will find it all: a rich and colorful array of invertebrates abounds on the reef: bryozoans, shrimps, featherstars, coral crabs, nudibranchs, flat worms and blue ring octopus, you name it! Frogfish try to keep discreet while anemone fish, parrot fish, butterfly fish, angel fish feed on the smaller species hiding amidst the delicate seafans, whip corals, giant table corals,and blue-tipped staghorn corals. Southern stingray, napoleon wrasse Clown triggerfish, unicorn and blue surgeons are common as well as yellow and blue-lined Kasmiri snappers, emperors, redlined and oriental sweetlips.Hawksbill and green turtles feed on seagrass and sponges. malabar, potato, honeycomb groupers, great barracuda, kingfish, bonito, wahoo, giant trevally and indian thread fin cruise in the distance, waiting for a good prey.In the blue, five-fingered jack ,dog-tooth tuna , sailfish, blue, black and striped marlin, dorado, and rainbow runner drift in the main channel.
Bottle nose and sometimes spinner dolphins are seen on the surface, while guitarfish and reef sharks lurk in caves beneath. Giant eagle rays and hammerhead shark are cherries on the cake and last but not the least, whale sharks encounters are likely to happen from october to march!
Seasonally grey sharks, and humpback whales can be spotted around Mange reef. "Kinasi wall" has a wide variety of hard and soft corals and abundant reef fish as it is a nursery area, not to be missed! "Tutia reef" for its coral formations and the diversity of fish species that have been identified here. "Mange drift" with the whales song as a soundtrack while you're diving. Other must: the arches and caves of "Dindini" and "Jina wall".
Most of the diving centers are part of a resort or lodge and are concentrated on the east side, in Chole bay. There is only one independent operator located in Utende. All of them offer training and guided dives, with a wide choice of dive sites and professional staff. Rental gear is available and in excellent condition. Some of the dive operators are close during the main rainy season.
Mafia is tide depending. In the bay, the visibility will be at its best on a incoming or high tide. Outside the barrier it is more stable and you will be able to enjoy some great and relaxing drift dives any time. The best diving period is from September to March. Wind may bring some choppy seas but most of the time, the conditions are very similar to the ones of a lake!
There is an extra fee of 20$/day for the marine park entry.
(By Diane Talbotier)
The archipelago of Mafia or "Chole Shamba" consists of one large island and several small ones. It lies in the Indian ocean, about 60km (36miles) off the mouth of the Rufiji River in Southern Tanzania. Its tropical setting and spectacularly diverse natural environment offer a laid-back and quiet alternative to busier diving hot-spots. For the ones who truly want to get away from it all and discover an unspoilt an magnificent underwater environment, Mafia is the destination.
The long island strip is basically divided in two areas: on the western side you will find dazzling aquamarine waters fringing on the powder-white sandy beaches with large palm groves and coconut trees that provide shade during your nap or reading session. There is some good diving there but the main action is on the other side; the east coast and especially Chole Bay offer some unique and spectacular reefs to all diver levels. The marine park encompasses most of the coast as well as the Mange, BweJuu and smaller surrounding reefs, guarantying a healthy and opulent marine life.
The regional airlines Coastal Aviation and Tropical Air offer a regular service from Dar es Salam and Zanzibar to Kilindoni airport. Flights take about 30 mn(Dar)/ 45mn(ZNZ). Ferries leave Nyamisati on Tanzania mainland at 2:00 pm daily and arrive at Mafia 4 hours later (officially). Recommended only for the most adventurous travelers, but a lot of fun!!
Mafia isn't developed as much as the surrounding islands Zanzibar or even Pemba, but you will find accommodation for your taste and budget: some B&B, inns, few backpacker rooms, eco-friendly lodges, boutique-hotels and 2 resorts offer quality and services. Most of them are clustered closely together within Chole bay and the rest is scattered between Kilindoni, the main town and the north west coast. Some of the resorts close in march-may,for the rainy season.
Mafia island is small so you will be surprised by how many things you can see and do: spend a day relaxing on the beaches of Bwejuu Island and Mange atoll, visit the Lighthouse at Ras Mkumbi; from there you can see as far as the Mrora forest, where you can find species that occur nowhere else in the world. With some luck you will spot the hypothetic pigmy hippo! Go snorkeling the ruins of the 12thcentury town at Ras Kisimani; experience an encounter with whale sharks; watch the sun sets on a dhow cruise. The skies of Mafia are perfect for stargazing. Its waters swarm with marine life and the diversity of the reefs makes the island one of the best diving destination in the Indian Ocean.
(By Diane Talbotier)