2020 wasn’t a great year for anyone, so to combat this the MRCI staff and volunteers decided a trip was needed to get everyone in the right mood for 2021. Piling the Spirit of Malala high with diving gear, cylinders, cameras, and food we set off to the remote Mitsio Islands, 70 kilometres to the north of Nosy Be, for a weekend of diving and exploration.
A 5-hour journey from Turtle Cove, the Mitsios are comprised of around a dozen islands, with several of these being grouped together as the 4 Brothers. Each of the Brothers is made up of towering grey basalt cliffs topped with lush vegetation, with a huge array of seabirds wheeling and circling around them. With the sun already sitting low in the sky as we arrived, we decided our first stop would be Nosy Ankarea, where we snorkelled along the local reef system and walked among the baobabs growing just a few dozen metres back from the shoreline. As we returned to the Spirit of Malala the seabirds were replaced by Madagascan Fruit Bats, who came gliding off the cliffs in search of fruit and flowers to feed on, their orange-tinged fur seemingly glowing with the light of the setting sun.
Following a top-class meal prepared by Chef Fred and a good night’s sleep on Grand Mitsio, the only permanently inhabited island in the group, we set off early the next morning for our first day of diving. Arriving at the first site, one of the 4 Brothers, we started off with a deep dive for those qualified and began exploring the reefs and corals that had been so highly rated by everyone we spoke to. And they did not disappoint.
For several of our divers this was their first ever attempt at the Giant Stride entry and following a little bit of coaching from the staff they were entering the water like pros. Everywhere you looked there was a different amazing encounter, with huge schools of fish at every site, dozens of stingrays, turtles around every turn, and even a few wary Octopus peeking out of their dens to watch us pass by. The Mitsios had something for everyone and being an avid lover of macro life and photography, they gave me the opportunity to tick off one of my top marine wildlife encounters, with a huge Peacock Mantis Shrimp happy to pose for me in his burrow towards the end of our 2nd dive.
With an evening spent eating a traditional Malagasy meal of rice and fresh fish, with a couple of cold beers to go with it, we bunked down for our last night in the Mitsios. In the morning we set off for Nosy Toloho, the site of our final dive of the weekend, to finish off our trip in style. Nosy Toloho provided us with a fantastic wall dive where schools of surgeonfish and barracuda swirled around, and huge Longfin Spadefish trailed us throughout the length of the dive, chasing our bubbles and bumping our fins.
With the kit and cameras packed, Captain Abdou turned the Spirit of Malala around and set the course home, but not before we were treated to a final meal of freshly caught mackerel and a last cold beer. The Mitsios did not disappoint and from the seabirds to the shrimp it was a fantastic trip that I would recommend to anyone who visits this amazing part of the world.
Author: Pádraig O'Grady
Photos: Chris Scarffe & Michel Strogoff/ Copyright Madagascar Film & Photography, and Pádraig O`Grady
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