Seychelles, as any visitor will attest is a world apart – not only because of its unique ethnic mix and exotic Indian-Creole cuisine, but also because of its geology. Situated in the Indian Ocean about 1,000 miles east of Kenya and Tanzania, the islands in the inner group of Seychelles are solid granite, the peaks of a submerged continent.
Huge gray boulders emerge like pachyderms along the shores of La Digue and Mahé, in startling contrast to the lapis sea. The sight of those stones creates a sort of cognitive dissonance. No matter where you dive along those two islands' coastlines, it looks like someplace else – the edge of some vaguely remembered mainland.
Among those rocks, beyond the cinnamon and vanilla that perfume Seychelles' open-air markets, lies some of the world's finest diving. Octopus and lobster, clownfish and wrasse – all make their homes amid colorful sponges and gigantic rubbery leather corals that rise from the reefs like frozen globs in a sea-blue lava lamp.
"The central Seychelles are the world's only mid-oceanic granite archipelago," notes Glynis Sanders, who, along with David Rowat, runs Mahé's Seychelles Underwater Centre. "Be- cause of this, perhaps, the diversity we get here is amazing. Marine biologists come back with a list of species as long as your arm – and that's after one snorkeling trip!"
Unlike such high-profile meccas as the Maldives or the Red Sea, which rack up tens of thousands of dives a year, Seychelles sees relatively few visi-tors. Because of that, the marine life is unusually tame. "I saw someone who was shooting underwater video of a sea turtle," says Sanders, "and the turtle just came right up and looked into his mask. And two days ago, at a site called Shark Bank, a shoal of eagle rays swam among the divers."
One of the most magnificent denizens of Seychelles is the whale shark, a gigantic but harmless creature that feeds on plankton. Last year, researchers at the Seychelles Underwater Centre counted up to a dozen of these amazing creatures in a single day. For most divers, even a single whale-shark sighting would be unforgettable – a prized encounter on these Islands of the Third Kind.