From Shark Bait to Shark Warrior: Lesley Rochat Empowers the Youth

From Shark Bait to Shark Warrior: Lesley Rochat Empowers the Youth

It was the first day on the Wildlife Conservation Photojournalism internship with Lesley Rochat, which I was attending. Five other students joined me as we sat around a table in her beautifully hand-constructed house, perched high up on the side of a mountain, with windows circling us so that we could see the ocean roaring outside. It was some of the most spectacular views I had ever witnessed.

Lesley having fun with and empowering a group of young ladies – the future of our oceans!

Lesley positioned herself in front of us all as if she were going to give a presentation, but to our surprise, she began narrating a colorful and animated story of a little girl who ran off to the beach with her dog without permission. The story was about a little girl who thought she was fiercer and mightier than nature, who jumped into the ocean, and amidst all of this, reality struck, and she almost drowned. That little girl was her. Lesley went on with the story, telling us of how she conquered her fear of water but not before escaping yet another near-drowning experience, this time in a public swimming pool. She then began SCUBA diving only to discover yet another fear; the fear of sharks. “So extreme was my fear of sharks that my dive buddies nicknamed me ‘shark bait’,” she told us laughing.

The true inspiration of the story, however, started revealing itself when she explained that while real fear is a response to external threats to one’s life or wellbeing, the fear of sharks she was suffering from was nothing more than anxiety, emotions that arise from one’s own thoughts, not from external reality.

I anticipate, upon getting to know Lesley on a personal level, that this concept of fear and overcoming it has motivated a lot of her work and education initiatives, including her amazing shark conservation campaigns like ‘Rethink the Shark’, and her groundbreaking documentaries that cover the sad truth behind shark finning. Through defeating her fear, she went from being dubbed Shark Bait to Shark Warrior, defending those who cannot speak.

A group of children having fun while learning what lies beneath the surface of our oceans

Lesley’s passion to make a difference put her on the path of packing up her well-paying corporate career to found AfriOceans Conservation Alliance, a non-profit organization located in Cape Town, South Africa. AfriOceans has been involved in a number of exciting scientific research project, environmental awareness and educational initiatives that aim to empower the youth to become the voice of our oceans. Lesley’s inspiration to empower the next generation stems from her beliefs. She believes that handing over her skills in order to empower the next generation of Earth’s guardians is one of her main life’s purposes. She told me once, “The train of human destruction is steaming ahead, but if there are enough of us pulling in the opposite direction, we can, and we will slow it down.” She believes that what she is fighting for is much larger than herself, adding: “I want to help others become Shark Warriors by helping them develop the same skills, which have helped me to be successful in conservation. The more I can do that, the more chance we have at slowing down the deterioration of our environment.”

One education initiative that is particularly influential is her Swim like a Shark program. Most underprivileged children around South Africa do not know how to swim, despite them living within walking distance to the ocean. Additionally, a majority of these children are afraid of the ocean. When Lesley and I sat down to talk about this initiative and why she started it, I was reminded of that little girl who nearly drowned in the ocean that day. This program teaches basic swimming skills and helps saves lives while at the same time gives these young learners and opportunity to catch sight of the wonders that lie beneath the surface of the water. Lesley says, “The joy, excitement, and appreciation from these children speaks for itself. We’ve had children do the course who have wanted to come back again and again.” She laughs, adding, “We even had kids that were afraid of the kelp, thinking it would bite them, it was so cute. But after doing the course it was hard to get them out of the water!”

Myself and the group of ladies that attended the Wildlife Conservation Photojournalism internship with Lesley Rochat in December 2016

The program has managed to teach a handful of children but unfortunately, like with any non-profit, the challenge is always funding. Lesley mentions, “They [environmental education and awareness] are still quite low down on the list of priorities, in particular in Africa where they believe there are more important issues, such as AIDS and unemployment. So, the environment comes last, and looking for funding for it has become more challenging.” Faced with this challenge, Lesley recently kicked off a sustainable self-funding initiative called Shark Warrior Adventures, a responsible tourism initiative that offers watersports such as snorkeling safaris, sea-kayaking and stand up paddling guided tours. The aim is that Shark Warrior Adventures generates the funding needed to continue the Swim like a Shark program, which holds tremendous potential. It not only teaches the youth how to swim, but it empowers an admiration for the ocean, and opens up opportunities for children interested in ocean related careers.

Practicing photography skills that Lesley Rochat passes along to aspiring conservationists!

Over and above the watersports division of Shark Warrior Adventures is the photographic diving expeditions which Lesley leads to numerous destinations worldwide, as well as the internship courses she runs such as the one I attended. She has already extended her educational internships to the East Coast of the United States, empowering me and five other young ladies, all of whom are students at Coastal Carolina University. By working closely with Lesley on the Wildlife Conservation Photojournalism internship, she is helping us become leaders in enriching the public in understanding environmental issues. The course is truly unique in that we are learning from a leading conservationist and globally respected, award-winning photographer and filmmaker. Some of her awards include Africa’s Most Influential Women in Business and Government Awards, Global Oceans Society, Women Divers Hall of Fame, International League of Conservation Photographers, and she was also 1 of 16 women chosen internationally for ‘Women of Authentic Power’ in Oprah Magazine.

Lesley is handing her knowledge and skills that she has gained over twenty years of being a conservationist over to us, and that is candidly something that you cannot receive anywhere else. She sees long-term goals for the courses, saying, “My aim for these courses is to grow my own army of warriors, and students like yourselves are going to be the next generation to make a difference. You are already on your paths to your careers, and if I can guide you and help you gain broader skills, then that is an accomplishment.” Through multiple articles, blogs, and posts on social media platforms, I have already seen my work having an impact. The Wildlife Conservation Photojournalism course has encouraged me to do more, and keep working as an environmental photojournalist. Lesley has equipped me with the necessary skills to join her army of warriors, and I stand tall, fighting beside her, for those who cannot speak.

To learn more about supporting Lesley Rochat, Swim like a Shark, the Wildlife Conservation Photojournalism course, and other courses coming up soon, visit http://sharkwarrior.com/, http://www.aoca.org.za/ and http://www.lesleyrochat.com/ .

Dive Sites of St. François

Dive Sites of St. François

As our nature demands, humans have always been curious creatures which love to explore and discover the world around us. This sense of adventure stays with us even if we decide to escape to an island paradise. And what could be better than exploring an underwater world while in a remote corner of the Seychelles?

Located in the warm waters of the Indian Ocean, the Seychelles remains one of the most exquisite destinations and arguably one of the best scuba diving destinations in the world. Giving you access to this new and wondrous underwater world is Alphonse Island situated in the Outer Islands of the Seychelles.

A stay at Alphonse Island gives guests access to 30 sublime scuba diving sites scattered amongst the remote islands surrounding it. This includes the beautiful St. François and its glorious flats which are home to some of the most incredible pelagic species. These stunning creatures can be viewed by walking the sandy stretches or diving into the deep blue surrounds of the Atoll.

Reaching these remote sites means jumping onboard one of our dedicated diving vessels, the Amirante Cat or Zanbren. Purpose-built with 225hp, these vessels will get you to the dive sites in no time and they are equipped with all your diving gear as well as towels, snacks and drinks. So sit back and let our dedicated dive team take care of you as you explore the wonder-ful dive sites that surround St. François:

Trigger Hill
Location: 20 minutes by boat, North-East St. François
Depth: 8 – 18m
Trigger Hill consists of a sharply slanting hill with three main coral rivers that run from the seagrass beds at 7m to the sandy slopes located at 18m and beyond. The coral bommies here act as a cleaning station and many resident schools of fish can often be seen here, including large Napoleon Wrasse, Blue and Yellow Fusilier, Humpback, Bluelined and Bohar Snapper as well as the shimmering Bluefin Trevally. Species like Camouflage and White-blotched Grouper live deep within the crevices of the coral, while smaller specimens rest casually at the base of the coral allowing for a closer look. Divers will often see Garden Eels peering out from their burrows in the sand galleys along with Seychelles Anemonefish, Moray Eels and Yellowmargin and Titan Triggerfish. Golden Trevally, Green Jobfish, Whip Rays and Nurse Sharks venturing from the sandy slope is also a common sight.
Special Feature: This site is named after the Yellowmargin Triggerfish which build their nests and lay eggs here. They can often be seen undulating in the water column above as they fiercely protect their territory. Trigger Hill is a great site for general observation of fish behaviour.

Bluelined Snapper and Bluefin Trevally

Three Sisters
Location: 20 minutes by boat, North St. François
Depth: 15 – 25m
This site, as the name would suggest, holds 3 large coral patches which lie on the flat sandy bottom at 20 meters. A variety of Grouper and Snapper species densely populates these ‘sisters’ and as such the dive starts by discovering and appreciating the abundance and diversity of fish here. Divers will also get to see Garden Eels and Yellowmargin Triggerfish on the surrounding sand where they make their respective burrows and large nests. The dive here is ended at a raised reef in the East which sits at about 13 meters. Here there is a colourful aquarium-like cleaning station where Yellowfin Goatfish, Onespot Emperor, Bluelined Snapper and Napoleon Wrasse congregate. Alternatively, guests can choose to start the dive on the outer wall which is covered in purple Sea Fans and extends to a sandy shelf at 30 meters. When gazing off the wall, there is a big chance of seeing big fish out in the open blue.
Special Feature: Three Sisters holds something for every kind of diver with its combination of calm patch reef, aquarium-like cleaning station and deep drop-off.

Napoleon Wrasse

Rat Rays
Location: 25 minutes by boat, South-West St. François
Depth: 8 – 25m
Rat Rays is the name given to the channel entrance of St. François Atoll. This site is situated within the main tidal flow in and out of the large lagoon which makes it a highway for various fish moving between the lagoon and the open water. Outside of this channel, Spur and Groove Coral formations give way to ravines of white sand that cascade over the edge of the drop-off which surrounds the island. St. François and its curving beaches are home to a plethora of birds and the surrounding shimmering waters are a hotspot for Green Turtles, pink Whip Rays and Greater Barracuda. Large Napoleon Wrasse and Milkfish can often be spotted hovering in the blue edge of the drop-off.
Special Feature: A lot of action is created by an array of diverse species congregating around the mouth of the channel as the tides rise and fall.

Pink Whip Rays

Mantam North
Location: 25 minutes by boat, West St. François
Depth: 7 – 20m
The coral assemblage at Mantam North with its flat gently sloping bottom resembles that of a patch reef. However, at 10 to 18 meters patches of sand are scarce due to incredibly high coral cover. Here the copious undulations of Hard Coral lead divers through a myriad of reef fish with occasional protrusions of large bommies which are thick with Bohar and Black Snapper as well as Fusilier. Divers will often spot Nurse Sharks here as they patrol the reef. Mantam North makes for a great training site with the depth limit at 18m where the coral finally meets the sand. The relaxed ambience at this site allows divers to get close to Giant Moray Eels and Lionfish that inhabit the deep crevices in the reef.
Currents at Mantam North: Currents are generally mild which makes it ideal for underwater photographers who like to document even the smallest of fish.
Special Feature: This is the best site for those who like to get up-close to the variety of reef fish for photography or behavioural observations due to lack of currents.

Giant Moray Eel

West End
Location: 30 minutes by boat, West St. François
Depth: 12 – 40m
West End holds a sloping reef which extends from 12 to 40 meters with most activity seen at 16 meters. Dense schools of Bluelined Snapper, Bluefin Trevally and Humpback Snapper are found around the reef and during low tide countless large Green Sea Turtles can be seen as they move from adjacent flats. The wall of the reef extends to a second plateau which is deeper than diving limits; it is here that a number of sharks reside and from where they follow the wall up to visit divers at the site. Large Grey Reef and Nurse Sharks are the most common at the site with the latter even more so in the shallows. Spur and Groove Coral formations stretch out towards the south with large aggregations of fish such as Bohar Snapper and Chub. Depending on the season, Manta Rays are most seen at this particular site, if not on the dive then feeding with Milkfish at the surface.
Special Feature: West End is close to the south of St. François where a number of Sharks and Rays are commonly seen. It also has the added benefit of beautiful coral and an abundance of fish to complement it.

Nurse Shark

Swiss Garden
Location: 35 minutes by boat, South St. François
Depth: 12 – 20m
Swiss Garden is the farthest dive site at the southern reaches of St. François Atoll. The site is a well-known historic fishing ground for local individuals with many reports of thriving populations of big pelagics, yet this is a site rarely dived. This remote site is one for the explorers out there as you never know what you might see. The bottom is a flat, steadily sloping reef comprised of mainly Hard Coral. A flurry of marine life covers the coral ridges and bommies that are interspersed with the flat seabed. Dives here have offered up incredible sightings of Giant Trevally (GT), Dogtooth Tuna, Nurse and Bull Sharks, Whip and Manta Rays, huge Green Turtles and schooling Milkfish.
Special Feature: The site is only visited per request by those who wish to explore waters which few others have dived before.

Bull Shark

Wouldn’t you like to dive into a world of wonder with the Alphonse Diving Team? Book your scuba diving experience today!

 

Back Pain FAQ

Back Pain FAQ

 

I have a student who has a neurostimulator for back pain. What exactly is a neurostimulator, and are there any implications for diving?

Neurostimulators are surgically implanted devices that have some similarity to cardiac pacemakers. Used for chronic pain as well as other conditions ranging from gastrointestinal problems to Parkinson’s disease, they are implanted under the skin and have leads (wires) that run from the device to the areas in need of stimulation. Neurostimulators used for chronic back pain are often placed in the abdomen or upper part of the buttocks, and the leads are placed in the epidural space near the spinal cord. As with other implanted electrical devices, there are some issues divers should consider relative to both the device itself and the underlying medical condition.

An important consideration relative to the device is the pressure rating. These particular devices are often rated only to an ambient pressure of 2 atmospheres absolute (33 feet/10 meters of seawater). Medtronic, one manufacturer, states that exceeding this pressure could lead to degradation of the system. Furthermore, exceeding the recommended maximum pressure could lead to changes in the way the device works or cause it to fail, which would require surgical removal and reimplantation. People with neurostimulators can determine the pressure rating of their system by reviewing in the literature provided to them the sections that address sports and other activities. They can also get information by calling the toll-free number on the device identification card and providing the serial number.

Another consideration that shouldn’t be overlooked is the underlying reason for the device. That condition must be evaluated with respect to any potential problems with diving.

Scott Smith, EMT-P

Nasal Decongestants FAQ

Nasal Decongestants FAQ

I’m a beginner diver, and I have difficulty equalizing my ears. I have heard that I shouldn’t dive if I use nasal decongestants, but is it safe to dive if I use nasal steroids?

It is very common for new divers to experience difficulty equalizing their middle-ear spaces. As you gain experience and learn the techniques that work best for you, you will find equalization easier in general. There is little scientific data regarding any specific medication and diving, but based on the known side effects of steroid nasal sprays, there is little reason to suspect they would be problematic for divers.

Even though the fast-acting nature of decongestants can be appealing, there are several reasons why steroids may provide a safer option. Swelling and inflammation of the cells lining the Eustachian tubes, middle-ear space and sinuses may lead to occlusion and barotrauma. The mucous membranes lining these structures are vascularized, and decongestants provide a short-term solution to congestion by constricting the blood vessels in the mucous membranes, which decreases swelling. When the decongestants wear off, however, the blood vessels are no longer constricted. The aftereffect is that the blood vessels will swell and may become more engorged with blood than before, which is known as the rebound effect. Unlike decongestants, steroids do not act as vasoconstrictors, so there is no rebound.

Another disadvantage of decongestants is that they are only intended for short-term use and may lose effectiveness with habitual use. The steroid fluticasone propionate and similar medications, on the other hand, are intended to be used over substantially longer periods of time than decongestants. If you plan to use a nasal steroid, it is important to start using the medication at least a week before your dive, because it takes about this amount of time for the drug to reach maximum effectiveness. In general, nasal steroids are considered safe to use when taken as directed and may be quite effective at preventing ear barotrauma for those who have difficulty equalizing.

Marty McCafferty, EMT-P, DMT

Dive Sites of Bijoutier Island

Dive Sites of Bijoutier Island

One of the most notable attractions of the Seychelles, besides its spectacular scenery and remote location, is undoubtedly its diversity. Made up of a collection of 115 islands and hosting an intricate ecosystem of abundant marine life, it really is like no place on Earth. And it is this beautiful mosaic of nature that has drawn nature-lovers and adventurers alike to explore the wonders that the Seychelles hold.

The soft sunsets and inviting islands scattered across the region are accompanied by hardy species which has stood the test of time. From fierce game fishing species to ancient Aldabra Tortoises to thriving coral reefs, the species here have adapted with the times and are an inspiration to view. Although experiencing all the sights from land or a boat might suffice, diving into this underwater realm and viewing these species in their natural habitat is something very special indeed.

When choosing to stay at Alphonse Island in the Outer Islands of the Seychelles, guests get to experience these aquatic treasure troves in a variety of remote destinations. One of these destinations is the little gem of Bijoutier Island.

 Located a short boat ride away from the main Island, Bijoutier Island is surrounded by a number of excellent scuba diving sites to be explored. Let’s dive right into the Dive Sites of Bijoutier Island:

Napoleon
Location: 15 minutes by boat, North-West Bijoutier
Depth: 16 – 30 meters
This site holds an open water raised reef with large formations and many deep crevices which often serve as hiding spots for Nurse Sharks and Octopuses. The reef is covered with beautiful sea fans and schools of Bluelined Snapper, Humpback Emperor and Yellowspot Emperor can often be found in the cuts created by the coral contours. Nudibranchs and Flatworms sit at the top of the coral heads where they feed in the prevailing currents. From here the reef slopes down to a field of Tubastrea Coral (also known as Sun Coral or Orange Cup Coral) and then drops suddenly to great depths. This drop-off is where you’ll be able to spot the likes of Hammerhead, Whitetip Reef and Silvertip Sharks as well as large Napoleon Wrasse, Giant Sweetlips, Batfish and even Bumphead Parrotfish.
Currents at Napoleon: Currents can be quite strong which makes it best suited for experienced divers. A blue water drift and slow ascent is best to reach this spot.
Special Feature: Schools of Fusilier often swarm overhead and you might even spot Dogtooth Tuna and Bluefin Trevally feeding. Also keep an eye out for the special kinds of Nudibranchs, Snails and a variety of Moray Eels.

Secret Reef
Location: 15 minutes by boat, North-East Bijoutier
Depth 15 – 25m+
Secret Reef is a long stretch of open water raised reef that runs along the North-East of Bijoutier. Towards the South the coral ridge breaks up into separate mountainous structures with sandy valleys in-between. The edges of these structures are covered in Tabulate Corals and this is also where you’ll find schools of Bohar Snapper and Napoleon Wrasse. Towards the North the ridge continues as a gentle slope covered with pink Sea Fans where you’ll often see schooling fish such as Snapper, Emperor, Jack and Barracuda. There is also a mini-wall with beautiful coral formations which develops towards the North and provides shelter to Giant and Blackcheek Moray Eels and Nudibranch. 
Currents at Secret Reef: As the site begins at 16 meters, it is strongly affected by currents. This site is also best for experienced divers.
Special Feature: Some of the rarer Grouper species such as Smooth and Blacksaddle Coral Grouper can be sighted on the wall. Large schools of Batfish and a variety of Fusilier species tend to patrol the drop-off and will often encircle divers.

Theatre
Location: 15 minutes by boat, South of Bijoutier
Depth: 9 – 40m+
Theatre site holds a crescent-shaped raised reef with a prominent Anthia-covered ridge (at 9m) along the southern facing wall which drops vertically to depths deeper than 40m. The ridge acts as a guide to Amphitheatre and into the lagoon for passing species such as Manta Ray, Bumphead Parrotfish, Hammerhead Sharks and Milkfish. The wall itself is covered in purple Sea Fans with overhangs and undercuts that are waiting to be explored. It is also a popular spot for Golden, Bluefin and Giant Trevally as well as Black Jack that cruise along the wall. At the bottom of the wall in the deeper water, Bohar and Black Snapper, and Smooth Grouper coalesce into larger groups. Another great feature of the site is a deep water promontory covered in encrusting coral which extends and alluringly drops again to depth beyond the realms of recreational diving – a great spot to stop and wonder.
Special Feature: The magical and mysterious scenery of the Theatre’s wall makes it a favourite amongst divers. The site also lies over a lagoon entry point allowing for unexpected sightings of large fish.

Arina
Location: 20 minutes by boat, South Bijoutier
Depth: 7 – 16m
Arina is a flat sandy arena covered sporadically in coral bommies teeming with fish. The massive structures are some of the most singular outcrops of coral in the region and allow divers to fully appreciate how these creatures grow up and outward into mind-boggling creations. Schools of Fusilier and Bigeye Trevally swarm the water column and blankets of Bohar and Humpback Snapper engulf the tops of the coral bommies. A congregation of coral pinnacles, mini-caves and crevices house Giant Moray Eels and Octopuses. Bommie hopping is the game of this dive and the surrounding sand patches is home to many Whip Rays, large Camouflage Grouper as well as Gobies and Shrimp. On the right tide, the water can be incredibly clear and brightly reflects the white sand below.
Special Feature: The lack of currents and flat-bottom at this sheltered lagoon site makes it perfect for independent discovery and exploration for buddy groups.

Drop-off 109
Location: 10 minutes by boat, West Bijoutier
Depth: 12 – 40m
The reef at Drop-off 109 reaches up to 12m above the surrounding sandy areas and extends out over the slope to create a remarkable drop-off. The area holds a wide variety of beautiful Sea Fans and Hard Coral accompanied by schooling Snapper which makes it an especially scenic dive. This site is also frequented by Giant Sweetlips, Indian Lionfish, juvenile Emperor Angelfish and various Pufferfish.
Special Feature: If you can tear yourself away from the vibrant scenery of the beautiful reef, you may spot Dogtooth Tuna and Silvertip or Whitetip Reef Sharks cruising up the drop-off from the depths.

Who would’ve thought that this tiny gem of the Indian Ocean could hold such wonders? Book your scuba diving experiences at Alphonse Island today and get to explore these wonders for yourself.

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