We are in the Kisite Mpunguti marine park, just off Shimoni on Kenya’s south coast, home to over 250 species of marine life. We arrived mid-morning, driving from Diani through coastal villages. The sun is beating down, its rays reflecting off the waves like silver pennies.
Gathered on Shimoni Pier, we search the sea to catch sight of the dolphins that swim in the channel between the mainland and Shimoni. Rare humpback whales are also occasionally spotted here.
Less than a kilometre away, the buildings on Wasini Island shine in the sunlight, next to the islets of Kisite and Mpunguti, covered in forest. Our dhow cuts towards a sandbar that emerges at low tide.
Snorkelling is easy and so gratifying. Living coral gardens are amazing: grey, soft pink, green and yellow gardens of staghorn, brain, mushroom and other corals, with sea plants dancing in the water around them. To date, 45 corals have been identified in the park, stretching 4 kms along the reef from Mpunguti to Kisite.
A pair of dolphins swim alongside the dhow, leaping playfully into the air before swimming just below the waves. But our bare shoulders are hot, and we are looking forward to the cool ocean. We slip into the pristine water, goggles and snorkels in hand, and wade to the hot, sandy shoreline to adjust our gear. Then it’s a short swim to the coral gardens.
They are alive with spaghetti anemone and myriad fish with dainty, lacy fins and tails. Colourful angel, zebra, butterfly, snapper, trigger, parrot and shoals of tiny darting silver fish search the plants for succulent titbits to eat. Curious multicoloured fish, large and small, join us near the surface. It’s like swimming in a sea of jewels.
Below, a large red star fish rolls in a warm current and, with a flashy twirl of its dark, serpentine body, a ribbon eel disappears under a shelf of coral.
The coral is healthy, with new outcrops sprouting everywhere. An octopus skims the seabed on long, rubbery tentacles, and a crab scuttles away from us.
It is calm and silent beneath the waterline, but there is movement all around us, and we keep a wary eye out for moray eels, harmless reef and tiger sharks, and shoals of bonito and frigate mackerel. The whole area is a feast of glowing colour and dancing seaweed. Pure magic!
The best time to snorkel is two hours either side of the low tide
Most hotels on the South Coast can arrange for snorkelling trips
Carry plenty of water and sub block, and wear a hat
By Carole Argwings-Kodhek
Smartlife Magazine October – December 2011