Under the Sea

Himal Kotelawala sits down with the founders of Colombo Divers, and discovers an amazing side to Colombo that lies just beneath its shores, Underwater pix courtesy Colombo Divers

A lesser known fact about Sri Lanka is that it boasts of some amazing and truly out of this world diving sites and a large number of these sites are located right here in the waters near Colombo.

This may seem unusual since most of the dive sites are found down south, but founders of Colombo Divers beg to differ saying there’s more to Colombo than meets the eye. “When diving out there, I often wonder how many people in Colombo even think about what amazing things are out there,” says Nishan Perera, co-founder of Colombo Divers.

In their own words, the only recreational diving center in Colombo - Colombo Divers, offers individuals a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of exploring not just the regular coral reefs, but also the surprisingly numerous shipwrecks that can be found along the shores off Colombo.

Nishan Perera who is a marine biologist says some of these wrecks are among the best in Sri Lanka. “There are excellent shipwrecks. We have the Cargo wreck in Dehiwala, a ship that sank in 1993. It’s still intact, it’s very large and you get a lot of marine life in its vicinity.

We have seen whale sharks, dolphins and eagle rays there. This is a part from the World War II wrecks,” he says pointing out that a Japanese Zero Fighter off Bambalapitiya, from the days of the 1942 air raids, is another attraction.

The team behind Colombo Divers is Nishan, who is currently studying for a PhD in seahorses, together with his friends and diving buddies Ajith Fernando, a dive fanatic and an expert in shipwrecks, and Dharshana Jayawardena, who plays many roles while working as a software engineer and editor of diversrilanka.com, he is also an underwater photographer.

“We became friends through diving and we use to dive together a lot. I introduced the other two to diving in Colombo. I did my first dives in Colombo and the diving here is good. But in Sri Lanka diving has traditionally been a tourist activity so dive centers are usually found in tourist locations like Hikkaduwa, Bentota, Unawatuna, etc.

Many people in Colombo go to those places to dive. So, we were discussing starting a small dive center here and with the end of the war we managed to do it. And since we know the dive sites here very well we thought we should share them with others. It’s really just an expansion of our passion for diving,” says Nishan.

So what is special about Colombo when it comes to diving? According to Nishan, the place is home to some great marine life, and diving here is easy compared to other areas in the country because facilities are easily available, and the fact that there’s no dynamite fishing in Colombo also helps. The diving centre could be found at No. 43/17, Sea Beach Road, Mount Lavinia.

“In the South the reefs have been blasted by illegal dynamite fishermen,” says Nishan. “Diving is, surely, the only possible way to be truly be one with the abundant and hauntingly beautiful underwater flora and fauna that thrives in the Colombo seas.” Nishan tells us that the creatures that dwell in the water are easy to see and to approach, unlike their land counterparts.

Colombo Divers offers its customers proper marine biology dives, and does not just take them on a guided tour, says Nishan. Beginners can take up a diving course with Colombo Divers, which Nishan says will guarantee quality and attention to detail. The diving center follows the PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) standard when training potential divers and its basic course is known as the Open Water Diver which can be completed in four to five days’ time at a cost of Rs. 45,000 which completely covers the expensive PADI original text books and diving equipment students are provided with.

“Sadly, diving is not cheap,” he says, “but it’s a bargain, considering you’re provided with the right training and the best, high-end equipment at no additional cost.”

Just how dangerous is it, though? Surely, diving is not for everyone? The biggest danger is what is known as Decompression Sickness which is caused by nitrogen bubbles forming in your blood.
“Basically, nitrogen in the air we breathe is absorbed into our blood under pressure.

The deeper you go, and the longer you stay, the more Nitrogen forms in your blood. So, we have standard time limits for different depths, and there are maximum ascent rates when coming up. But if you follow the rules you are safe,” he says reassuringly.

The sea is home to all kinds of creatures, and some look very dangerous indeed. We ask Nishan about the dangers these creatures pose, if any.

“Well, marine animals are much safer than land animals. You can’t walk up to a lion or an elephant in the wild but you can swim next to a big shark or a whale. Sadly sharks are rare in Sri Lankan waters. They’ve all been killed for meat and shark fin soup,” he says.

“There is so much we are just learning and there’s so much we don’t know – species being discovered, places being explored, etc. Somehow the ocean is alien to many people who are more fascinated with space than the ocean. To many people the ocean is a dumping ground and a place to get food from.

The oceans also regulate our climate. They generate employment and security, but it seems humans have lost their link with water. The oceans make the world tick, really,” he says.

And finally, Nishan says that diving can be done by most people, while the Colombo Divers’ recreational diving courses are open to those from 10 years and above.

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