Blue Bay must have been stunning once if the giant skeletons of long dead coral are anything to go by. As far as we could ascertain there is still no management plan in place for the park and apart from policing of boats to check permits, it seems there is very little active management going on. Probably somewhere between 75-90% of the coral is dead..... this seems to be the result of construction, firstly of the hotel, quite unbelievably, built on the coral atoll (Ilot Des Deux Cocos) in the bay, and the associated dock on the land side and secondly by the extension to the airport's runway.... both project caused enormous amounts of silt to be washed over the coral leading eventually to huge die back...... The bay is situated right at the end of the runway and the planes roar over head on a regular basis from early morning until later into the evening.
There are still fish.... the ever present sergeant fish and a few other reef species but certainly not in the abundance that must have thrived there once. The glass bottom boats and snorkelling boats still charge back and forth across the bay (not that carefully or slowly sometimes) and tend to throw food into the sea to get the fish swarming around the boat or snorkellers..... I guess if you've never snorkelled or seen anywhere pristine then you may be impressed by this. There are some anemones, including some quite large ones in places, and there are numerous small ones in crevices in the damselfishes' algae gardens.
The best places we found to snorkel (at hide tide and watching out for nips from the aggressive and territorial damselfish) were between the dock for the hotel and the coast guard station, quite close to the shoreline. There is live coral in this area, although some of it shows signs of boat and/or trampling damage. There is also more live coral if you swim out to the reef from the shore if the waves aren't crashing over too badly, but there are two things to watch for if you do this.... first is the boats flying up and down between the shore and the reef, so if you do swim out make sure that you have a buoy or marker.... (We improvised and used children's footballs that were still in their nets fastened onto us with nylon string.... the other thing is that there can be a bit of a pull from left to right when the tide is going out and a lot of water is coming over the reef. If you are snorkelling around the atoll then don't venture too far towards the outlet as again there can be a bit of a pull here at times. The difference in lowest and highest tide is less than a metre but does make the difference to being able to swim over parts of the coral or not.
The water temperature is great but there can be cold areas (with poor visibility)c near the shore as a lot of fresh water seeps out and up from the porous rocks. Be watchful for scorpion fish (stonefish) close to the shoreline as we did see them when we were coming back in from snorkelling several times.
Something else to watch for unfortunately is theft from the beach... if, like us, you plan to snorkel for a while and from the shore then be very careful what you leave on the beach, especially early in the morning, I think the guys that clean the beach first thing may have stolen shoes, a fin bag and other bits and pieces from us whilst we were out of sight....
The best time to snorkel there is first thing in the morning before the boats start plying their trade and stirring all the sand up and before the sun gets too strong. We found the best place to snorkel from was to turn left when you got onto the beach and walk as far along the beach as you can get, swim round to the left, passed the hotel's boat dock (watching for their numerous boats) and then head towards the coast guard station.... the best coral is there a short distance from the shore. If you swim passed the coast guard station along the shore towards the markers there are a large shoals of fish. Despite there supposedly being a ban on fishing, we did come across several cage traps in the park.
The best thing that we saw was an amazingly colourful (and rare) sea slug (no photo unfortunately) and it was worth the constant damselfish attack to see it..... on the damsel fish, some do peck at you (quite hard sometimes) but mostly they bat you with their tail whilst making a tapping sound, we found just saying 'boo' to them quite loudly (with your snorkel in) quite effective..... certainly gave us the chance to take photos on their turf!
There are signs of coral regeneration, which is positive, but without stronger management of the park and the policing of users, it may not be enough to allow the park to return to its former glory.
We were so disappointed with the state of the coral in the marine park (and we were there for a month) that we hired a car and dipped in and out along the entire coast looking for places to snorkel. Flic en Flac was good at low tide and if it wasn't too windy and wavy but again there is a lot of freshwater pushing up in places and with that comes the fast growing corals, damselfish and their algae gardens.
In other places, such as Belle Mare etc there is just too much speedboat activity to be able to snorkel from the shore safely. The best places we found were down on the south west coast.... and up at Lafayette on the east coast. Although given the closeness of the reef in both locations the tide can blast you along the shoreline at high tide and the water, although calmer, can be too shallow too swim across the coral at low tide.
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