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New dive trails ‘could be overwhelming for amateurs’

SINGAPORE — While the two new dive trails at the Sisters’ Islands Marine Park announced by the National Parks Board (NParks) in June have generated interest among nature lovers, experienced dive guides said divers have to be prepared for challenging conditions.

New dive trails ‘could be overwhelming for amateurs’

A shore at the Sisters' Islands Marine Park. TODAY file photo

SINGAPORE — While the two new dive trails at the Sisters’ Islands Marine Park announced by the National Parks Board (NParks) in June have generated interest among nature lovers, experienced dive guides said divers have to be prepared for challenging conditions.

Poor visibility and possibly strong currents could be overwhelming for inexperienced divers, and such dives should be held in small groups, they said. 

While locally organised dive trips usually head out to Pulau Hantu, also among Singapore’s southern islands, dive operators told TODAY that they expect conditions at Sisters’ Islands, which are to the east of Pulau Hantu, to be similar.

Owner of Diving Solutions James Costello, who has been diving locally for 12 years, said visibility around Singapore waters, including sites such as Pulau Hantu, averages between 2m and 3m because of heavy boat traffic that stirs up sand and silt, from land reclamation, in the water. 

And while Sisters’ Islands are slightly further out from the mainland, owner of dive centre Friendly Waters Dave Yiu said visibility is dependent on the time of the year, and it could sometimes be even worse than at Pulau Hantu.

“Sisters’ Islands, the way it is positioned, can (result in) channel and rip currents during spring tides and that can be very challenging or dangerous for divers who are not really experienced,” added Mr Yiu, who has been diving for over two decades. 

A pilot project by NParks as part of a broader Marine Conservation Action Plan, the two circular dive trails — which will be ready for public access by end of next month — will be at different depths, complete with 10 underwater signboards along each trail providing information on the marine biodiversity. 

The Shallow Trail will take divers around coral reefs and sandy habitats at a maximum depth of 6m, where they can observe giant clams, sea anemones and clown fishes. 

Coral rubble and rocky and silty habitats, reaching a maximum depth of 15m, at the Deep Trail will showcase sea fans, sea stars and the recently re-discovered Neptune’s Cup Sponge. 

The pilot is for NParks to assess the suitability and functionality of the trails. By its own estimation, NParks said visibility at the dive trails is expected to be between 1m and 5m, depending on weather conditions. 

Participants will also be required to at least have an Open Water certification. 

Dive groups should be kept small for safety, with about three to four divers paired to a dive guide, operators said. 

“Dives around Singapore are usually more common on weekends. If let’s say (different) dive shops … are going to be there at the same time, all you need is a 15-minute gap between one dive group and another dive group. I think it all boils down to how other dive shops work with one another to come up with a proper system,” said Mr Rafi Majid, owner of The Dive Company. He added that dive operators have a similar system at Pulau Hantu. 

The market price of a half-day trip out to Pulau Hantu with two dives currently ranges between S$90 and S$100. While prices for a similar package to Sisters’ Islands have yet to be announced by NParks, Mr Rafi noted that fuel costs may be slightly higher as it is further away compared with Pulau Hantu.

Mr Costello also said there are only about two dive centres that charter boats out to the islands, where other centres have to buy spaces on the boats for their customers. “That puts the emphasis on the boat operators to manage this more than the dive centres.”

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