Dive the Great Basses!

Diving in the Garden of Eden

Inter Monsoonal Diving - Mid March to Mid April

By Dharshana Jayawardena.
Depth:3 - 20 Meters

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Great Basses Light House
Great Basses Light House (2014)

An encounter with an Eagle Ray near Clark's Rock (2008)

As soon as we sink beneath the waves we know that this dive is going to be different. So much light & color. So much fish & coral. So many caves, over hangs, pinnacles, sandy plains, furrows, and depressions. So many of everything.

A White Tip shark circles us and slinks away into the distant gloom. An Eagle Ray swims right at us and vanishes to the deep blue. The visibility is near perfect. Shoals of Goatfish, Snappers, Trevally and Fusiliers surround as we sway like a pendulum in the powerful surge. Sometimes the currents are stiff. But it is a minor worry in this beautiful place.

For we are diving in the Garden of Eden.

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Map of Basses reef and the locations of the two light houses
Great Basses RidgeA Giant Trevally races along the reef (2014)

Great Basses WreckRemnants of a ship wreck on the sea side of the ridge (2014)

Great Basses AnchorRemnants of an ancient anchor on the sea side of Basses (2014)
Great Basses Formations
Intriguing limestone reefs and caves (2014

Prolific fish life at the East of Eden (2007)
Leather Coral Reefs at Great Basses Great Basses Formations

Clarks Hole - a window to an amphitheater of life (2008)

A Giant Trevally makes a pass by the Wilson's Amphitheater (2008)

Spadefish near the Clarks Rock (2008)

A type of Trevally, Snub-Nose Pompano's race by the Caves Of Light

The Caves Of Light (2008)

Blue Fin Trevally swim past the Caves Of Light (2008)

View from right under the reef. At 3M huge waves form clouds! (2008)

Waves crashing over to the landside of the reef (2007)

On the 22nd of March 1961, the most famous Sri Lankan in the world Sir Arthur C. Clarke and Mike Wilson discovered thousands of silver rupees (Silver Indian Surat Rupees) from the 24 gun ship. This ship belonged to the Moghul Emperor Aurangzeb (1658-1707, son of the the great Shah Jehan who built the Taj Mahal in Agra, India) which was sent off for trade in the far east but was sunk in a storm off the Great Basses. The fascinating account of the discovery of a ton of silver coins is recounted in the truly delightful
The Treasure Of The Great Reef by Arthur C. Clarke. This illustrated book is a must read for all those who dive in the Basses.

Left, a Surat Indian Rupee, reproduced from the
Treasure of the Great Basses Reef published in lakdiva.org

Great Basses is also famous for Mike Wilson's short
underwater documentary Boy Beneath the Sea.

Left, the cluster of one thousand silver rupees gifted to Smithsonian Museum by Sir Arthur Clarke in December 1961, Rupee, reproduced from the Treasure of the Great Basses Reef published in lakdiva.org.

An anchor we discovered right under the Lighthouse (2008)

The remnants of the Iron Wreck on the land side of the ridge (2008)

The Basses, derived from the Portuguese term "Baixios" for reef, is an approximately 40 kilometer long reef, starting 20 kilometers South-East (300 DEG S-E) of Kirinda with the Great Basses light house and extending right below Kumana and ending with the Little Basses light house.

It is often the view of many that the Basses is the best dive site in Sri Lanka. We would be hard pressed to disagree. We certainly rank it among the top dive sites in Sri Lanka.

Basses offers you many distractions.

Ship Wrecks

Reproduced from the Maritime Archaeology in Sri Lanka 1960-1997 by Gihan Jayatilaka

- Little Basses: The 40 gun frigate Daedulus sunk 2nd of July 1813
- Great Basses: Flute Overness sunk in 1704
- Great Basses: Alette Adriana sunk in the 1760's

Also see special reports on Marine Archeology for more information

The powerful surge has also carved out many delightful caves in the limestone rocks (2006) - by Nishan Perera
The Bottle Wreck - land side Great Basses  
Bottle Wreck Bottle Wreck Anchor
05/04/2014: We explore the mysterious bottle wreck remnants on the land side of the Great Basses Ridge. This wreck is very badly deteriorated because of the shallow water and residual surge conditions. The wreck is almost integrated into a reef and the only well defined objects are two large anchors. Please do not remove any fragments of crockery you may find and just leave it there for others to see. If everyone collects a piece the future generations will not see anything there.
Bottle Wreck Anchor Bottle Wreck
Limestone formations and marine life  

Interesting formations near the Caves of Light (2008)

The view through Clarks Hole - the Wilson's Amphitheater (2008)

The Wilson's amphitheater as seen from Clarks Hole (2008)

Wilson's Amphitheater (2008)

Wilson's Amphitheater (2008)

Big waves pound the Great Basses ridge as we end the dive (2008)

Pompanos race over the ridge (2008)

An interesting object on the landside - is it an anchor? (2008)

East of Eden (2007)

East of Eden (2007)

East of Eden (2007)

East of Eden (2007)

The shallows, 15M or less provide a lot of colorful sights (2007)

Visibility is very rarely bad at the Basses. The surge & current very strong.

Anemonefish on the landside of the ridge (2008)

Domino Damsels on the land side (2008)

Anemonefish struggle to live under the ridge (2007)


The Great Basses light house was designed and built in 1867 by Sir J. N. Douglass under the advice of Michael Faraday. The granite blocks were shipped to Sri Lanka and then assembled over a period of 2 to 3 years during the lull in the monsoons.

Natural Formations
The Basses are full of strange sandstone reefs carved by the strong tides. The seascape is a delightful variation of geographical oddities. Ravines, pillars, pinnacles,caves and crevices. Also in certain channels, the surge creates long stretches of very artificial looking furrows.

Rock formations East of Sinbads Caves (2007)


Effects of powerful surge (2007)


Fauna and Flora

Last but not least this is the place to see fish! Groupers, Gray Sharks, Tuna, Angelfishes, Rays, Giant Maori Wrasses (Napoleons), Snappers and millions of other denizens of the ocean. Undoubtedly the Basses are the foremost place to dive in Sri Lanka. A must do for every diver who sets foot in Sri Lanka. You haven't dived until you dived the Basses. What an amazing place rich in Beauty, Marine Life and with a firm foot hold in history. In his book "The Treasure of the Great Reef", Arthur C. Clarke recounts the encounters with three large Groupers (Potato Cods) Ali Baba, Sinbad and Aladin. The divers befriend the groupers and are amazed by their individuality and uniqueness. The end, however, is shockingly sad. Arthur C. Clarke reports that a different group of divers (underwater "sportsmen") took advantage of the groupers familiarity to humans and promptly impaled them to their death with their spear guns.

Magnificent creatures such as these three Groupers are a rarity and needs to be protected. We appeal to the underwater sportsmen to spare precious, rare and large species and not hunt them for food or sport. A selfish reason: A single large species in death may cost $50 on a plate. The same specimen alive will fetch thousands of dollars of tourist revenue to the simple and poor folk around the coast of Sri Lanka who depend on tourism. If you are diver please don't be a hunter for sport. Hunt for food if you wish. For sport, there are plenty of big rats in Sri Lanka and not necessarily under the gutters.

We also urge sports spear fishermen to pick challenging targets such as swimming Trevally while free diving and not sitting ducks in the form of friendly Groupers or Napoleons while SCUBA diving. You only require hand eye coordination skills of a toddler to spear a friendly grouper at close proximity while SCUBA diving. Really its no big deal so please be A.W.A.R.E (#7)

Parrotfish at the Ridge (2007)

When can you dive the Basses?
All good things are hard to get and so is diving in the Basses. The conditions are good for diving only during a brief window normally from 15th of March to 15th of April. The surge and currents could be quite strong here so it is only recommended for fairly experienced divers (Divers comfortable with strong surf, surge and currents). Diving at Basses can sometimes be described as swimming in a washing machine! It is definitely a good workout.

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Photo Credits: (c) www.DiveSriLanka.com - April 2006, April 2007, April 2008