The Pigeon Island National Park is one of the two marine national parks in Sri Lanka. Located 14 kms North of Trincomalee in Nilaveli, the island is about 1 kilometer away from the shore. The second marine national park is in the South, in Hikkaduwa.
The island gets its name from the Rock Pigeons inhabiting the place. Of the two islands found close to each other, the big and small Pigeon Islands the larger one is surrounded by an impressive reef. Tickets are at the Wild Life Conservation office in front of the Anilana Hotel. A boat ride costing 2500 LKR, can be arranged just a little beyond that with the private boat service. The boats also rent snorkeling and diving gear. (You should ideally be dressed in your swim/ diving wear at this point, beyond this you will not find decent changing/ bathing place)
A twenty-minute ride across the sea you can easily arrive at the Pigeon Island where the Wild Life coast guards will guide you to places that have the greatest attractions. It’s worthwhile to leave early to the island to beat the crowds and try to enjoy at least a few hours of snorkeling in the shallow reefs. Around mid-day the place becomes busy and thick with tourists and locals.
Corals are amazing creatures. Until you have spent time observing them closely you would never believe they are alive. Obviously it’s hard to get to know them well because they are rare or to relate to them because of their strange names. (Acropora, Montipora, Faviidae, Mussidae) They form a hard stony calcium carbonate structure of a reef upon which lives a thin living structure that’s vibrant in colour.
Having spent about an hour in the shallow water where beautiful corals grew and delightful bright fish roamed we took a short break on the benches underneath a shady grove. At the Wild Life guard hut, a lengthy poster of marine fish and corals featured most of the specimens we had seen.
The island is covered with thorny bush and rocks. The few available gnarled trees are sought by everyone for a little bit of shade while on shore. Groups of people ventured into the jungle, in the center up the rocky surface is the highest point. While the salt water dripped and dried on our bodies the skin was already burnt that I opted to stay back instead. The Sun was scorching hot. There was no cover for those who went up after a while.
Next we were going to explore the deeper sea, hopeful of spotting some sea turtles and shark. To have a local diver alongside was a big advantage when moving on to the ocean. In addition, there was a sense of security swimming with someone confident of the depth and currents. I chose to have my orange life jacket on me. I used a snorkeling mask but chose not to try the flippers. Getting on to the water with your flippers on requires you to walk backwards to avoid tripping over the long tips. Instead I was going to swim gently and allow the current to take me forward.
The underwater scenery changed with the vast depth. Yards of corrals could be viewed like light bulbs at the carnival, in a multitude of colours. At times my imagination would dispel the existence of water and I felt I was floating in a beautiful garden. Everything was not visible at once but you need to keep moving forwards and taking the bends. A green turtle swam up from the bottom. It was reaching the sun drenched surface to kiss the air. Shafts of light dappled on the water spreading scaled patterns similar to the pattern on its shell. Other divers who spotted it were milling around the turtle but it appeared to be accustomed to visitors. When time was right it dived in and swam into the deep.
Another highlight of our trip underwater was the sighting of a rare black-tipped shark as we rounded off the ocean in a large circle. It was a juvenile. I had this feeling we were too far out in the deep ocean but the local diver kept guiding us towards new terrains that was spectacular and seductively beautiful. We felt drawn towards the perimeters of the underwater garden. Shoals of small fish made their way in rivulets threading into the scenery. Everything else stood still and utterly silent. Immersed in water and probably feeling a little weightless we felt fishes ourselves.
The best times to visit the Pigeon Islands is during May – September. Visitors are advised to avoid the monsoon season when seas are rough.