Corals, invertebrates and dazzling fish – blue surgeon, comical parrot, butterfly, lion, large and small angels, snappers, groupers, barracudas and jackfish – all enjoy Sri Lanka’s warm coastal waters, yet the island has yet to become renowned as a diving destination. Much of the coastline, particularly in the southwest, was adversely affected by ‘bleaching’ in 1998 but was not seriously damaged by the tsunami in 2004, and most reefs are now recovering well.
To find the clearest waters, take a boat away from the coast; further out to sea visibility of up to 25 m is possible, especially in the morning. A wealth of marine life can be seen at popular sites such as Negombo and Hikkaduwa. The south coast is even better, with wrecks in the bays at Galle and Weligama. From April to June, Dondra to Tangalla are fine in calm seas, while the more adventurous should enquire about the Great and Little Basses off Kirinda, made famous by Arthur C Clarke, before setting sail. Some of Sri Lanka’s most spectacular sites are on the east coast, where the wreck of HMS Hermes, a Second World War aircraft carrier, lies in good condition buried deep off Passekudah Bay, near Batticaloa.