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Sean Chinn’s Snorkel Journeys: Part 6 – Snorkelling with Pinnipeds

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In this ongoing series regular contributor and worldwide snorkel adventurer Sean Chinn shares his snorkel journeys.

Part 6 – Snorkelling with Pinnipeds 

Now I must be honest before I continue. On the three occasions I’ve shared the water with pinnipeds (twice with grey seals and once with California sealions) I was actually diving and not snorkelling. I know this is contradicting the idea of snorkelling with these amazing mammals but bare with me as I explain that it is very easy to snorkel with them.

Back in October 2016 I visited a place in the UK called the Farne Islands, famous for it’s grey seal colony. Located just a short boat ride from Seahouses, Northumberland. October is a great time of year to go visit the grey seals as they have not long had pups and the juveniles are bountiful. They are also super friendly and playful creating some amazing memories in the water. I quickly realised this was going to be a lot of shallow diving and although I managed to reach 20 metres on one particular dive. Most my time was spent in only 5 metres of water. On a couple of the dives I even just spent around 45 minutes bobbing on the surface as the seals would come playfully bite my fins and grab my legs. This is the reason I say it works so well with snorkel and you don’t actually need to dive here.

Two playful grey seals pause to check me out in the Farne Islands.

2017 saw 2 occasions in the water with these playful marine mammals. First was in March 2017 when we finished our liveaboard to Socorro and were picked up at the marina on our arrival. We made our way north from Cabo to La Paz, Baja California. Here we would visit the famous California sealions of Los Islotes. There was me thinking the grey seals were overly friendly and energetic in the water. Well the sealions took it to a whole new arrival. Constantly darting past with a mischievous look in their eye as if to say “ha ha, you can’t catch me!” They were so fast and agile in the water it was incredible to witness. They were also just as playful and would also gently bite at my fins or hug me as one selfie can confirm. Again, although I was diving there were plenty of snorkelers in the water too, enjoying the playful and mischievous side to these sealions.

A sealion playfully nibbles on my fins at Los Islotes.

In October of that same year I would again visit the Farne Islands for more fun with the grey seals. The weather wasn’t great this time and on the far side of the island to the open ocean the waves were particularly violent as they crashed into the island. We found a sheltered area protected from the rough seas. A flat calm cove where the seals seemed to have the same idea as us. With the seals also taking cover in the area it created an adrenalin fuelled couple of dives with a whole gang of seals out ready to play and tease. Almost immediately we were harassed and lovingly hugged as we entered the water. We spent a long time in the water and as I wanted to try some split-shots with the seals. I was at the surface for the majority of the time. This didn’t stop the seals coming to check me out as they found the dome on my camera housing very interesting.

A California sealion in Los Islotes. Their agility was impressive to witness.


Find out more about Sean, his photography and his trips at: www.greatwhitesean.com

Sean Chinn’s diving adventures started in a freezing cold quarry back in January 2011. Maybe the reason he wasn't instantly hooked! However, after an amazing trip to Indonesia in 2013, he realised he needed to see more of the underwater world. With no photography background, he enlisted some help in developing both his diving and photo skills. This kickstarted his adventures which have become something of an addiction. Seeing and photographing wildlife is Sean’s real passion in snorkelling and diving but he is always keen to try new ideas.

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Top 12 Snorkeling Destinations in Oceania – Part 1

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Encompassing over 8 million square kilometers, Oceania hosts some of the world’s most idyllic snorkeling destinations. There are untouched reefs and shallow wrecks, countless forest-draped islands, and volcanic landscapes with rich black sands full of weird and wonderful critters. With abundant marine megafauna, including manta rays, whales, dolphins, seals, sharks, and thousands of sea turtles, it is a paradise for every ocean fan. Read on for part I of our round-up of 12 great places to go snorkeling in Oceania.


Australia

Drop a pin on a map of Australia’s vast coastline and you will likely land close to some epic snorkeling spots. There are dozens of places to experience the best of Australia’s rich and varied underwater landscapes.

In the remote northern reaches of the Great Barrier Reef, there is a sea turtle nesting area that hosts more than 60,000 green turtles each nesting season. A little further south at Cairns, there is classic Great Barrier Reef scuba diving and excellent snorkeling, with reef sharks, friendly dwarf minke whales, and vibrant coral reefs teeming with fish. If you’re keen to try diving, this is one of the best places to get your diving license and then hop on a short liveaboard to explore.

The southern Great Barrier Reef hosts Australia’s best-known manta ray hotspots, Lady Elliot Island and Lady Musgrave Island. Diving in Australia isn’t just about the Great Barrier Reef though. There is excellent snorkeling close to many of Australia’s coastal towns and cities.

You can snorkel with beautiful weedy sea dragons near Melbourne, go cage diving with great white sharks off Port Lincoln, or swim with enormous stingrays in Port Philip Bay. Ningaloo Reef’s many whale sharks are one of the top reasons to go snorkeling in Australia, but you will be spoilt for choice wherever you choose to explore.


New Zealand

New Zealand may be a lot smaller than Australia, but it packs a punch when it comes to snorkeling. With over 600 islands, 44 marine reserves, and the 9th longest coastline in the world, snorkeling in New Zealand is diverse, unique and fascinating.

Sun-soaked Northland is the best place to start your snorkeling trip in New Zealand and features the famous Poor Knights Islands. These unique islands were rated as one of the world’s top ten dives by Jacques Cousteau and offer sub-tropical snorkeling among sun-dappled kelp forests that huge shoals of fish and stingrays.

Further south, the Mercury and Aldermen Islands are a summer playground for Aucklanders and tourists alike. This picture-perfect area is dotted with white sand beaches and has fantastic warm-water snorkeling. There are volcanic rock formations with an abundance of marine and birdlife. Seasonal visitors include whales, bronze whaler sharks, makos, marlin and other prized finds.

You can go swimming with wild bottlenose, common and dusky dolphins in the Marlborough Sounds or head south to Kaikoura to meet some ocean giants. Kaikoura is one of the only places in the world where you can see sperm whales all year and is a great place to go swimming with seals. Make sure you spend a few days there to snorkel the coastline and join a local boat tour to meet Kaikoura’s albatrosses, dolphins and sharks.


Fiji

Fiji is a classic destination in Oceania, offering a wealth of forest-draped islands and snorkeling highlights worthy of any bucket list. If you’re looking for a destination that has something for every snorkeler, and plenty for non-snorkelers too, Fiji could be for you.

Viti Levu, the main tourism hub and largest of all Fijian Islands, is famous for its bull and tiger shark diving, and has beautiful coral reefs for snorkelers. Go island hopping from Viti Levu and you’ll be immersed in a world of rainbow-hued soft coral landscapes, pelagic fish, and manta rays. You could easily while away your days simply drifting over Fiji’s many thriving coral gardens.

Just make sure you leave some time to explore topside. The friendly Fijian welcome, excellent jungle hikes, lush rainforests and waterfalls are not to be missed.


The Federated States of Micronesia

Micronesia is high on the wish list for many divers and consists of over 600 islands strewn across the western Pacific Ocean. This stunning destination is best-known as a wreck diving mecca and hosts dozens of World War II wrecks calm lagoon waters.

The wrecks of Chuuk Lagoon are renowned among divers and some of the wrecks are accessible to snorkelers. This calm, warm lagoon was the site of a fierce battle in World War II that resulted in hundreds of ships, planes and submarines sinking. The wrecks remain there to this day and are covered in rainbow-hued corals and surrounded by fish. Diving among the tanks, trucks and airplanes of this special lagoon brings history to life in the most vivid way.

As well as an enviable list of wrecks, Micronesia also has countless shallow reefs, manta rays at Yap, and some of the world’s most pristine snorkeling at Kosrae Island.


Palau

Palau is a snorkeler’s paradise with dazzling coral gardens and over 1300 fish species. Made up of 340 coral and volcanic islands, this stunning destination offers exceptionally good snorkeling.

The Rock Islands hosts the most popular snorkeling spots in Palau and can only be accessed by boat. This UNESCO World Heritage Centre is dotted with forest-draped islands surrounded by coral reefs. There are diverse underwater landscapes to explore, including drop-offs, walls, channels and sheltered bays.

With over 1300 fish species, 700 coral species and numerous prized critters, there is plenty for underwater naturalists and photographers to enjoy at Palau. Being the world’s first shark sanctuary, Palau’s waters are also busy with sharks.


Kathryn Curzon, a shark conservationist and dive travel writer for SSI (Scuba Schools International), wrote this article.

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Snorkeling In India: 5 Great Reasons to Go There Now

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With its white-sand beaches and tropical islands, India is a must-visit snorkeling destination, but it doesn’t get the attention it deserves. There are isolated coral reefs, numerous shipwrecks, remote atolls, and shallow coral gardens that host an eye-popping array of marine life. With India recently opening its borders to fully vaccinated travelers, now is the time to explore this incredible destination before the rest of the world finds out.


1. Choose from numerous idyllic destinations.

With over 8000 kilometers of coastline and 1382 islands nestled in the Indian Ocean, India has a huge variety of destinations and world-class snorkeling spots. The best time to visit India’s top destinations varies, meaning you can find somewhere in India to indulge your inner mermaid at almost any time of year.

The Andaman Islands are surrounded by bright blue waters and fringed with isolated coral reefs, making them one of the best places to go snorkeling in India. It is a tropical paradise destination with thriving mangroves that support diverse marine life and extraordinary birdlife.

Havelock Island and Neil Island are two of the most exceptional snorkeling spots in the Andaman Islands and are regularly rated as two of the best places for scuba diving in India.


2. Snorkel among vibrant marine life in crystal-clear waters.

Sitting in the warm Indian Ocean, India’s snorkeling sites host a dazzling array of life, including abundant tropical reef fish, lionfish, moray eels and prized critters. Manta rays, whales and dolphins are also seen in India’s waters.

Sea turtles are regularly spotted cruising the reefs and nest at many of India’s islands, including at the Lakshadweep archipelago.

Kadmat Island (Cardamom Island) in Lakshadweep is all about turquoise seas, white sand beaches and encounters with numerous sea turtles.  With healthy seagrass beds and coral reefs to explore, it is a mecca for marine life. Make sure you leave time to visit this impossibly idyllic island.


 3. Explore endless golden beaches and castaway islands.

India’s islands are easily on a par with better-known island destinations such as the Maldives and Mauritius. There are swathes of golden and white sand beaches to explore, plus numerous untouched coral reefs and remote atolls.

Bangaram Atoll is entirely surrounded by coral reefs and the continuous nature of the reef makes it one of the most interesting places to snorkel at Lakshadweep. As well as gorgeous corals, Bangaram hosts Princess Royal, a famous 200-year-old shipwreck that attracts divers from around the world.

Sitting on the west coast of India by the Arabian Sea, Goa is known for its long beaches and lively nightlife. But if you step back from the bustling bars, you will find picturesque snorkeling sites and a destination rich in culture and history.

There are several snorkeling spots to choose from at Goa, with Grande Island being one of the most popular. The water can be cloudy around Goa but the shallow coral gardens, abundant fish life, and underwater shipwrecks make up for it.


4. Visit the chic ‘French Capital of India’.

Puducherry’s crystal-clear waters are enough to attract any keen snorkeler to explore this well-known French colonial settlement and the surrounding area.

Above water, Puducherry is a quaint destination with a French Quarter of bougainvillea-lined streets, colorful colonial villas, and sophisticated boutiques. You could easily while away a couple of days there.

Below water is equally as eye-catching, with a huge range of marine environments along Puducherry’s vast coastline. There are unexplored coral reefs and shipwrecks, plus famous dive sites that also offer great snorkeling.

Aravind Wall at Puducherry is a popular snorkeling spot that is renowned for its diverse marine life. As well as numerous vibrant reef fish, there are lionfish, eels, rays, parrotfish, and crustaceans. If you visit during February or March, you might even see a passing whale shark.


5. See the second tallest Shiva statue in the world.

Netrani Island (Pigeon Island) is one of India’s best-known snorkeling spots and sits off the famous temple town of Murdeshwar. Shaped like a heart, it is also known as ‘the heart of India’s diving’ and offers world-class snorkeling with excellent conditions.

There are rarely any currents at Netrani, making it an ideal destination for snorkelers who like easy conditions or want to earn their Open Water Diver certification.

Start your days by exploring Netrani’s diverse coral landscapes then visit the fascinating Murdeshwar temple, which hosts the second largest Shiva statue in the world. At 123 feet (37 meters) tall, the statue is an impressive sight.


When is the best time to go snorkeling in India?

The best time to go snorkeling in India depends on which area of India you are visiting:

  • Andaman Islands: November to April.
  • Lakshadweep: October to May.
  • Goa: October to May.
  • Puducherry: February to April, September to November.
  • Netrani Island: October to May.

Kathryn Curzon, a shark conservationist and dive travel writer for SSI (Scuba Schools International), wrote this article.

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