Ivan van Heerden

I have always been drawn to the sea. A year in Australia in 1988 opened the underwater world to me and I have never looked back. I graduated from the University of Natal with an Honours degree in Aquatic Entomology in 1993. Thereafter I restored a classic wooden yacht and sailed her over to the Caribbean in 1995. For the next 15 years I was fortunate enough to dive and photograph the Virgin Islands, the Bahamas as well as places like Fiji, Hawaii and Guadalupe Island in Mexico. My family and I returned to South Africa in 2009 and I rediscovered Aliwal Shoal.

My photography really started in early 2001 when I bought a Sony 3.2 megapixel point and shoot camera with an underwater housing. While I sometimes wanted to yell, in frustration, due to the shutter lag it taught me invaluable lessons in composition, patience and how to approach the subject. Eventually I reached the limitations of the camera and made the move to a housed DSLR, a Nikon D100 subsequently replaced by a D200.

I was fortunate to be taught by Mauricio Handler, principle assistant to David Doubilet for many years as well as a Nat Geo photographer in his own right. Mauricio’s time and patience were invaluable and I learnt more each time we travelled together: from shooting Great Whites in the crystal clear but cold waters of Guadalupe to the tropical splendour of Fiji. Mauricio likes to push the limits with light, shutter speed and storytelling and I learned a great deal from him.

With Aliwal shoal in my backyard I am now focussing on bringing all that this amazing reef system has to offer to my picture taking. The shoal rightly deserves its place in the top dive sites of the world despite its reputation for current, bad viz and rough launches. Very few places on the planet have the mix of cold and warm water and the resulting unique ecosystem. Every time you dive the Shoal there is something new and exciting to see.

In telling Aliwal’s story through the camera lens, my hope is to try to bring the importance of conserving this unique ecosystem to the fore. Despite being part of one of the first MPA’s in South Africa it is under daily threat from pollution from Sappi Saicor and the fact that KZN Sharks Board has indiscriminate gill nets and drum lines within the MPA is equally worrying. Educating the public is easiest done through a visual medium.

The next chapter in my photography journey is to become bubble-less. Re-breathers, in my opinion, are going to open up a whole new range of sites and photographic opportunities in South Africa. I can’t wait to do my first 3 hour dive on Umzimayi Wall!

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