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Rift Safari
Travelling along the Rift Valley: Diving in Pemba
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WHERE AND WHEN:

In this section of our website we describe the diving sites in Pemba. As a general rule, the diving on the West side of the island is well chartered, accessible and in many places protected by the maze of coral reefs and islands while diving on the East Coast requires diving experience and excellent physical condition due to the depths and strong currents. Most of dives are wall and drift dives.
The very special dives you should not miss are the three gaps of Uvinje, Fundu, Njao and Misali island south-west: they all offer diversity of fishes, marine scenery, good coral health.

Winds and best months to dive:
Best diving months go from October to March.
The arrival of Kuzi, usually in April, brings an increase of rainfall and for about two months it can rain every day even if in between rains it is often sunny and temperatures are very pleasant. Starting from June this wind begins to become rather strong and until about mid of August it blows at a speed ranging from 11 to 22 knots with some rare days when it can reach 25+ knots which obviously influences visibility negatively and creates strong marine drifts above all in the southern and eastern dive sites. From September this wind fades more and more and October is probably one of the best month to dive in Pemba with a particularly calm sea.
Between November and December until March the monsoon swings from south - southeast to north - northeast always blowing parallel to the east coast [Kaskazi]. This is a much more gentle wind but still potentially able to create less ideal conditions for divers. The very best months for diving when Kazkazi wind is blowing are January and February.

Pelagic fish: If your interest is mainly on pelagics then you should know that these species like the cooler water. Best months to see rainbow runners, king fish, sailfish, yellow fin tuna, pilot jack fish, and big eyed jackfish are May to November when cooler water is coming up from the 800 m. deep Pemba channel.

Visibility:
Visibility varies with the wind and tides anyway thanks to its deepwaters in Pemba it tends to be excellent, much higher that the one in Zanzibar or Mafia, ranging between 20 and 40 m. and often increasing to 60 - 70 m. on incoming tide even during the rains. Plankton blooms are common in East Africa but Pemba is not often affected.

Marine migrations:
These concern only those divers who have got specific interests [whale sharks, marine turtles, whales].
Approximately we could say that the best months to encounter whales are August and September;
Five species of marine turtles occur in Tanzania’s waters. These include green, hawksbill, loggerhead, olive ridley and leatherback. Only two species [green and hawksbill] nest while little is known about the other three species [loggerhead, olive ridley and leatherback] however tag returns and accidental catches by local fishermen seems to demonstrate that they feed in Tanzania en route to nesting sites in Tongaland and Natal in South Africa.
The green turtle is the most common and widespread species in Tanzania. While low density nesting has been reported along the mainland coast from Tanga in the north to Mtwara in the south, the most concentrated numbers of nests appear to be on the offshore islands of Zanzibar, Mafia and particularly Juani Island and possibly the Songo Songo archipelago. The main nesting season is between February and July. Hatching occurs approx. 55 days after. There is evidence that some green turtles are resident while others are migratory moving to and from nesting and feeding grounds in Kenya, Seychelles, Comoros, Mayotte and South Africa.
Hawksbills are also widely distributed but are less abundant. The most important nesting sites in Tanzania are Misali Island, off Pemba, and Mafia Island. The main nesting season is during the northeast monsoon between December and April. Although no animals bearing tags from other countries have been recorded in the region, the hawksbill is a migratory species so it is probable that Tanzania harbours both residents and migrants. For more information link to SeaSense.
For whale sharks the best period seems to go from November to March, with February and March probably near the top of the table. Anyway sightings are rather rare. If you are interest in whale sharks then you should plan to spend some days on Mafia island which has a resident population.

Dive traffic:
At peak season [July, August, December, January and February] diving sites of Pemba will obviously have more visitors than in lower season however never as much as those ones of Zanzibar: diving in Pemba is mainly restricted to experienced divers and the few small lodge of the island hardly reach all together the same number of beds of one of the larger facilities in Zanzibar. Night dives are amazing with zero live aboard dive boats.

Divers experience:
Whereas Zanzibar is a low lying coral atoll, Pemba is a real island severed from the continent by sheer coral walls that drop down to over 300 metres. The west coast of the island offer diving sited suitable also to novice divers although it is true that most of sites are characterized by currents. The East coast is only recommended for very competent divers able to dive with deep mid-water [i.e. no reef reference] and to cope with very strong up and down currents. If you are not not confident about diving in 4 knot currents or if are unfit or if you are not a a strong swimmer then you should not get into Pemba's eastern waters.

Costs: following the below links you will access the diving centres web site, find their updated price list and last offers.

Emergencies:
The nearest decompression chamber is located at Matemwe on the northeastern coast Zanzibar however in case of need one will be transferred to Nairobi. Do not take any risk while diving here and remember that you cannot buy dive insurance in Tanzania.

AREAS, SITES AND DIVING CENTRES:

1. PEMBA NORTH:
It offers a variety of diving sites some of which are suitable also for beginners.
This area deserve at least 3 or 4 days.

If you are looking for a good level of accommodation the you should stay at Manta Resort. The lodge has got its own diving centre named 360°.

An alternative is to stay with Swahili Divers which you should consider to book by yourselves. We can anyway assist you with air transfer up to Pemba from all Tanzania National Parks.

Most of dive sites reported below are dived only by Manta Resort and Swahili Divers except Fundu Gap south; Manta point, Njao gap which can also be dived if you stay at Fundu Lagoon on the southeastern side of the island.

Diving sites in Pemba off its northwestern coast
Diving sites in Pemba off the northwestern coast

The Swiss Reef: depth 26 - 32 m. For experienced divers only [3 dive sites].
This is a system of sea mountains running parallel to the wall and offering three different dive sites. The reef has been the target of dynamite fishing in the past but it is now showing signs of recovery. Divers can enjoy drift diving over the system going from one mountain to another discovering its amazing reef life. Eagle rays, lion fish and trevally are often seen here along with unicorn fish and fusiliers. Chances to sight big pelagics and turtles are good.

Shimba hills: for novice divers [2 dive sites]
The last corner of the Shimba Wall breaks into two forming a sandy bottom valley at 12 m. depth with lots of barrel sponges and anthias, red sea sweetlips, fusiliers, red tooth triggerfish and other reef fish.

The Edge: only for experienced diver with Deep Divers Certificate [5 dive sites]
This is the last wall before Pemba island drops into the Pemba channel. It starts at 30 meters and falls down steep. On the top of the wall
huge barrel sponges and spiral corals grow up to two meters in length. This is a great place for encounters with Napoleon wrasse, potato grouper, cubera snapper, big pelagics, turtles and even white tip reef shark.

Njao Gap North wall: depth 5 - 18 m. For novice divers [2 dive sites] [recommended]
Situated just northwest of Njao Island, this is an interesting and dramatic dive site featuring lovely coral garden slopes from 5 to 18 m before dropping away into the deep blue of the wall. Currents can be strong. Best enjoyed when drift-dived, allowing the north bound current to sweep you through the gap into the lagoon, with no risk of getting lost. Giant sea fans, green and hawksbill turtles, large napoleon wrasse and a lot of titan trigger fish makes this site memorable. Visibility is usually excellent.

Hawksbill turtle, Pemba

Njao Gap South wall: depth 5 - 30 m. For Open Water Divers [2 dive sites] [recommended]
A sheer vertical wall that dips down to deep depths. Njao Gap South is best dived using the current to sweep you inside. Sightings include large napoleon wrasse, giant groupers, moray eels and turtles in the cabbage corals which abound. This site is well known for its variety of corals such as mushroom, whip, gorgonian sea fans, pulse and green tree. Sometimes you can see Manta Rays as you enter the gap but nowadays sightings are becoming more and more rare. Recommended for night dives.

Mobula ray

Mandela wall: for novice divers
This wall runs parallel to Njao Islands south wall. It features a shallow platform that gently falls from 4 to 12 m. with extraordinary table coral formations on the top of the wall and anemones cities. The wall continues to gently fall down, all covered of lettuce coral, gorgonian, and sponges till 25m depth. Occasional pass of pelagic fish like Tuna, Wahoo etc.

Spanish dancer, Pemba Mantis shrimp

Coral garden: for novice divers
This is a platform of coral protected from currents situated between the end of Mandela Wall and the beginning of Fundo Gap with plenty of marine life. Sightings include, but are not limited to, pipe fish, banded boxer shrimps, commensal fish, imperial partner shrimp and eels. Good possibilities to see Napoleon fish, Nassau Groupers and Torpedo Rays as well.

Manta Point: depth 40 m. For experienced divers only [2 dive sites]
Manta point is essentially a chain of three seamounts, topped by gardens of purple anemones and is so named due to the high number of mantas once found in this location. Nowadays mantas can be seen occasionally but the abundance of fish on this reef still makes it a superb dive with plenty of corals as well. From January to March it is possible to see devil and eagle rays in groups of up to 15 individuals. They visit this spectacular coral pinnacle for cleaning purposes or just to glide past in their graceful way, filter feeding as they go, sometimes at surprisingly shallow depths. Visibility varies from about 20 to 40 metres. A whole range of marine life from fusiliers to jackfish and surgeon-fish might be seen here along with occasional reef sharks and turtles.

Fundu Reef: for experienced divers only [recommended]
Fundu Gap is a solid coral drop off that starts at 3-6 m and drops down until it disappears into the big blue. A current called “the Fundo Express” transports you past huge waterfalls of corals such as broad leaved coral, brain coral, sponges and soft coral and plentiful fish life often hiding in the caverns. Kingfish, jacks, barracuda and napoleons are present with humphead parrotfish and sweetlips swimming around the yellow fans. The reef has an abundance of barrel sponges and the coral mounds that pepper the sandy plateau support good populations of anemone fish.

The crack: for experienced divers only
The Crack is a massive vertical crack dividing a wall in two. The wall starts at 7 m and falls down to 45 m. The crack is situated in the narrowest part of the gap. The wall is one of the most amazing ones you will ever see. It’s full of sponges of the most variable colours and forms, the cliff is 90 degrees and is a perfect location to spot big potato bass, Nassau groupers, Cubera snappers, barracudas, batfish, napoleon wrasses and occasional devil rays. Please note that The Crack is only diveable when the right weather and tide conditions apply

2. PEMBA CENTRE:
The cluster of little islands and islets offer a vast array of diving sites to enjoy. Misali Island is also located in this section of the west coast offering not only several diving sites but also amazing opportunities for snorkellers.

The only facility located here if Fundu Lagoon operating its own diving centre.

Diving sites in Pemba off the central western coast
Diving sites in Pemba off the central western coast

Uvinje gap southern wall: depth 6 - 40 m. For Open Water or 1 star [recommended]
This is a fun site to dive with large overhangs, swim-throughs and brilliant coral forming the sheer fall. There is a good variety of large and small fish including kingfish, jacks, barracuda, napoleons, humphead parrotfish, moray eels and stonefish. Visibility ranges from 40 - 50 m making it good for snorkeling.

Sailor's eyeball Feather star

Uvinje gap northern wall: depth 60 m. From Advanced or 2 star onwards [recommended]
The top of the Northern wall starts at 7 m and slopes down in terraces to below 60 m. The coral on the north wall is in excellent condition. With visibility from 20 - 40 m the wall harbours many types of coral including lettuce, tabletop and large anemones, gorgonians and fan corals are surrounded by the thousands of ever-present goldies. Mantas and spotted eagle rays are known to frequent the area as well as giant reef rays and hawksbill and green turtles. Schools of tuna and barracuda and large napoleon wrasse have been seen here and it is a great reef for nudibranchs and flatworms. The current can change frequently at this site and the dive can be spent zigzagging along the reef.

Kokota corner: depth 20 m. For Advanced or 2 star
Kokota Reef is a gently sloping shallow reef with a sandy floor covered with coral outcrops. The reef is an ideal spot for night dives when you should see active sea urchins crawling along the sand, feather stars, hermit crabs and shrimps feeding and more.

Kokota overhangs: minim level required Advanced or 2 star

Kishane: minim level required Advanced or 2 star

Holy cow: minim level required Open Water or 1 star

Table mountain: minim level required Open Water or 1 star

wowowo: minim level required Open Water or 1 star
Another wall dive falling from 6 to 30 m. Large gorgonians and fans, whip corals decorating its cliffs, schools of black snappers and black spotted snapper, sweet lips and coral pinnacles on undulating bottom with sandy gullies, loads of green tree and hard corals attracting smaller fish to hover on.

Mapinduzi: depth 45 m. For Advanced or 2 star
The top of the wall is 8 m to 10 m, then a nearly vertical wall slopes down to around 45 m. In Kiswahili mapinduzi means revolution, the name was given after the unpredictable and strong current on this particular site, hence we recommend to dive here with incoming tide but note that this point is on the outside edge so strong currents can push you into the wall. Look for giant groupers, shoals of barracuda, mobula rays, eagle rays, big eye trevally massive napoleon fish, sometimes hump head parrotfish.

Big EyeTrevally and Barracuda at Mapinduzi

Misali Island: depth 5 - 40 m. For all levels [recommended]
Misali island was set up as part of a Conservation area in 1998. There is a non-extraction zone on the north and western parts of the island and only a limited number of fishermen are allowed to camp here for short periods of time. As a result the marine life and the quality of corals are excellent: there is more than twice the number of coral genera that can be found anywhere else in Tanzania all concentrated around the island. Hawksbill turtles nest on its beaches and there is a population of resident dolphins. Sightings of other fish include barracudas, kingfish, wahoo, tuna, jacks, rays, scorpion fish, leaf fish, frog fish, crocodile fish, humphead parrot fish, cuttle fish, eagle rays, to name some of them. Misali Island has a number of local reefs which we are listing below and it is highly recommended for snorkelling as well:
Terraces: minim level required Scuba diver
Coral mountain: minim level required Open Water or 1 star
Based on submarine eminence, it is not a mountain but a wall that rises from below 80 m. up to 5 m. The wall slopes gently down to 20mtrs then it steeps off to undiveable depths and waters stays deep and dark blue. The whole wall is covered by pristine diversity of corals mainly table corals and cabbage or rose corals where shoals of fusiliers, unicorn fish, pullers, cave cleaners. Giant triggerfish are spotted here, potato groupers hiding under small overhangs. Green and hawksbill turtles can also be encountered. Because the reef is so pristine, it becomes homes to small unusual marine life like leaf fish, mantis shrimps, cleaning shrimps, nudibranches. Look in blue for big marine life like massive napoleon wrasse, blue fin trevally and on sandy area for kuhl’s stingrays and torpedo rays. Rain ball runners and king fish do wonder about too along with occasional humphead parrotfish. Look under table corals for puffer fish and scorpion fish, lionfish and many more ... The site is suitable for beginners and experienced divers. There's always a current but most of the time it is an easy one. Best dived with incoming tide for better visibility.
Fungu patcha: minim level required Open Water or 1 star
Paulos peak: minim level required Advanced or 2 star
Coral garden: minim level required Scuba diver
It is located at the southern end of coral mountain reef where the shallows are very beautiful and covered with hard corals. It's a very good spot for beginners, as introduction to wall diving and for snorkellers as well since depth ranges from 4 to 2 m. It flourishes a remarkable abundance of marine life: schools of surgeon fish, many lines snappers, black snappers, hump head snappers, moray eels, long spiny lobsters, octopus, sting rays nudibranchs, fusiliers and many more.

Flatworm, Pemba Brain coral, Pemba
Misali beach: for beginners
Purple baobab: minim level required Open Water or 1 star
Shombo: minim level required Open Water or 1 star

3. PEMBA SOUTH:
The handful of dive sites situated along the southern coast of Pemba Island can be dived with 710 the diving centre at Fundu Lagoon which is open also to guests staying at the very rustic and remote Pemba lodge set further south on Shamiani island.

This side can only be dived from October to March.

Diving sites in Pemba off the southern coast
Diving sites in Pemba off the southern coast

Lighthouse: minim level required Advanced or 2 star
Another wall dive. On low tide hard corals come up right next to the surface. A strong northerly current is common here. Loads of barracudas, potato bass, napoleon wrasse and many more.

Panza reef: minim level required Advanced or 2 star

Panza wreck: minim level required Advanced or 2 star
In 1967 the Paraportiani was sunk off Pemba Island, Zanzibar. The 94 m. cargo ship, transporting wheat from Romania to Jeda, was diverted around the African coast when the Arab-Israeli conflict closed the Suez canal. Shortly before the end of the voyage, the ship lost its radar and echo-sounder and ended up navigating by traditional methods in unfamiliar waters. Strong and unpredictable currents forced her onto the reef. Unlike many other wrecks this one is extremely photogenic thanks to the clarity of the water and good lighting conditions and it is covered with colourful marine growths, soft corals, and sponges. The funnels create interesting tunnel to swim through, where large fish such groupers and napoleon wrasse hide. It has to be dives on slack tides and even then you can find strong northerly currents that swirl around the wreck.

Panza wreck

Emerald reef: depth 30 m. For Advanced or 2 star
This reef is set on the southernmost point of Pemba Island and it is subject to strong currents. It offers a different mix of plants and corals and derives its name from the green coral covering the reef itself. There is a gentle slope from 7 to 30 m where many large brown marbled grouper are found along with damsel fish, goldies and fusiliers. A large school of giant barracuda frequent the area and Rainbow runners and spanish mackerel also cruise by. The average visibility on this reef is 30 m.


Swiss reef Shimba hills Njao gap south Njao gap north The edge Mandela wall Coral garden Manta point Fundu reef The crack Manta resort Uvinje wall Uvinje gap Kokota corner kokota overhangs Kishane Holy cow Table mountain wowowo Mapinduzi Terraces Coral Mountain Fungu patcha Kijiji mnara Paulos Peak Coral Gardens Misali Beach Purple baobab Shombo Fundu lagoon Pemba Lodge Lighthouse Panza reef Panza wreck Emerald reef