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Diving in Sri Lanka started thousands of years ago in order to exploit the rich oyster banks in the Gulf of Mannar. Nowadays it is the rich marine life, coral reefs and ship wrecks that are the attractions of this undersea world. Over 10 places ideal for diving can be found. It is important to have precise planning and timing - in order to have a gratifying diving expedition in Sri Lanka. Generally the November to April period offers optimum conditions for diving off the south west coast, while the rest of the year corresponds with the east coast season.

There are some who come away from a diving holiday in Sri Lanka disappointed, mostly because they have encountered poor visibility. It is important to know the best times of year to visit the different dive spots around the island as water clarity changes not only according to monsoon seasons but also more localized factors such the presence of estuaries and currents. A rewarding diving expedition to Sri Lanka can be had, but it requires careful planning and impeccable timing.

Mount Lavinia - On calm days during the November to March west coast season a dive off Mount Lavinia Beach can be a rewarding experience as there are usually a variety of exotic fishes to be found.

Akurala - A headland with a fringing coral reef and sea breakers near Akurala offers splendid rock and reef diving two and an abundance of fishes. Moreover, there are two shipwrecks to explore, the Earl of Shaftesbury, which sank in 1893, and the nearby Conch, which sank in 1903.

Hikkaduwa - Although Hikkaduwa is the dive centre on this coast, the reason for it being so - the wonderful reef with its amazing fishes - has long since been devastated by environmental degradation and the sheer number of visitors, both above and below the surface. Consequently, it is better to use Hikkaduwa as a base and dive further south at Dodanduwa and the reefs off Gintota and Ralagala. In early 1956 the Greek freighter Aenos, carrying 6,000 tons of manganese, struck Ralagala and sank. The first divers to visit the partly submerged ship were Arthur. C. Clarke and Mike Wilson.

From the beautiful bay of Weligama it is possible to see porpoises, harmless grey sharks, dog-toothed tuna, groupers, caranx, snappers, angelfish, skates and rays. The one limitation in diving here is that the ocean is often rough and the currents very strong. As a result only around 50 days per year are available for diving, from early March to mid-April.

East Coast Diving - Tirrukovil, off the coast of Batticaloa

At a point some five miles from the coast the Hermes plunged beneath the waves and came to rest in 30 fathoms of water. There she stayed, a memorial to all those who perished with her, until the early 1960s, when Mike Wilson and a number of famous international divers such as Peter Grimbel, Stan Waterman, and Ron and Valerie Taylor, explored this remarkable wreck...

Trincomalee - Until recently Trincomalee could not be considered as a dive site because it was one of the major theatres of the civil war, being the location of a vital Sri Lanka naval base. With the coming of peace, however, Trincomalee may once again become an important dive site, although with the navy presence there it does not have the relaxed atmosphere of other places in the island. Provided there are no security restrictions Trincomalee is one vast diving resort, encompassing lots of bays, rocky islands and coral reefs.

In 1962 in the sea at the foot of Swami Rock an important marine archaeological discovery was made when Mike Wilson came across the sacred lingam of the nearby Tirukonesvaram temple when making the film Ranmuthu Duwa. The lingam, which had been thrown into the sea when the Portuguese sacked the temple, was recovered from the sea bed and reinstated. There are many columns and pieces of stonework of the old temple that can still be seen on the sea bed. In addition, there are the remains of a Portuguese galleon of Elephant Island. Trincomalee is good for diving between mid-March and September, except for a spell in June and July.

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