Dolphins ‘Popping’ in Ponta do Ouro, Mozambique…

Dolphins ‘Popping’ in Ponta do Ouro, Mozambique…

One of the most fascinating things about my work with the wild #dolphinsofponta  is being able to create a safe space were humans are able to observe this special species in their own environment.

Over the past couple of years I have filmed numerous events of a vocalisation I called tok, toking….Popping, a term coined by Richard C. Connor and Rachel A. Smolker in their article entitled ‘Pop’ goes the Dolphin, is of of those vocalisations that normally stops me mid swim! It’s done by the big boys and is sometimes followed by aggressive behaviours such as mock charges and open jaws!

In the coastal shallows of Shark Bay W.Australia three adult males were observed between 1987-88 in the company of one single female at a time. Over the period the female was seen to turn in towards the males and the authors concluded that popping is a threat vocalisation telling the female to stay close.

The series of low frequency pulse sounds are very distinctive and always accompanied by a series of bubbles. Through our in-water recordings in the Ponta do Ouro Partial Marine Reserve in Mozambique we are able to associate the popping with the bubbles and the individuals – and guess what – they are all males too!

Since 2008 we have recorded some 30 events of popping. Interestingly enough though, most of our events included large nursery pods with adult male escorts. It seems that popping is also used on this side of the globe to keep the girls together.

On the 27th September I filmed an event with RemmyBoy and two other same age males together with a juvenile male who were in pursuit of Maria a young female.  It did look like the young boy was getting a lesson in popping and herding – with Maria being the consort this time! The adult males however this time slowed for a bit of circle swimming and conscious interaction with me before heading off in pursuit of Maria once more.

The #dolphinsofponta are part of a longterm monitoring project that was started in 1997 by DolphinCareAfrica; the research & conservation arm of the Dolphin Encountours Research Center in Ponta do Ouro, Mozambique.

 

Reference: Connor, Richard & Smolker, Rachel. (1996). ‘Pop’ Goes the Dolphin: a Vocalization Male Bottlenose Dolphins Produce During Consortships. Behaviour. 133. 643-662. 10.1163/156853996X00404. 

You’re Doing it Wrong: Diving Ponta do Ouro

You’re Doing it Wrong: Diving Ponta do Ouro

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I remember my first dive in Mozambique. The site was called Playground, off of Ponta Mamoli, and the dive lasted just over twenty minutes. The reef looked like a bunch of boulders strewn over sand and through my chattering teeth, I couldn’t grasp what the big deal was. This was supposed to be a great dive site.

Text and Images by Clare Keating-Daly

That was back in 2009. I was diving within the newly declared Ponta do Ouro Partial Marine Reserve (PPMR) that stretched from the border with South Africa north into Maputo Bay. My sorry 3mm excuse of a wetsuit didn’t stand a chance against the late winter water temperatures.

Before coming to Mozambique, I’d been teaching diving in Southeast Asia, Thailand and the Philippines, and travelling to dive in Indonesia and Malaysia. Before that, I’d done my dive master training in Honduras. Not counting the sites affected by dynamite fishing, the reefs in Southeast Asia were stunning – they looked like something out of a glossy travel magazine. The crystalline waters of the Caribbean were taken straight from a tropical daydream. Divers, myself included, thought they were wonderful because of this, because we’d been taught what reefs are supposed to look like.

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Five years ago, on my first dive in Mozambique, I wasn’t impressed because the reef didn’t look like my idea of a classic reef. Where were the colonies of branching coral? Where were the layers of plate coral, and domes of brain coral? And what was with the water temperature? Where was my stereotypical reef? But today, the reefs of Southern Mozambique are, in my mind, some of the best in the world.

So what changed? Anyone can dive a tropical coral reef – they’re basically fool proof and you’re bound to be impressed. But it takes a little more finesse to dive sub-tropical reefs. In short, I was doing it wrong. Once I changed the way I dived (and got a 5mm wetsuit), I never wanted my dives to end; I learned how to dive the reefs of Ponta. In doing so, I have had some of the most remarkable dives of my life.

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If you’ve dived anywhere in the PPMR, that is, in the bays of Ponta do Ouro, Ponta Malongane, Ponta Mamoli, Ponta Techobanine or north, you’ve dived some world class sites. But you probably already know that. If you disagree, or if you’ve never dived the PPMR, maybe you need a little insider knowledge before your next trip.

In this two part series, we’ll start with five open water dives (18m and shallower) this issue and five advanced dives (+20m) in the first issue next year. Yes, we’re going against the rules of diving and doing the shallower dives first. Of the shallower dives, four are in Ponta bay and one is in Malongane bay. While there are some spectacular dives further north (Playground off of Mamoli being one of them) we’re sticking to the reefs you can reasonably request most dive operators to take you to. Diving reefs further north often takes a bit more organising. So, without further ado, here we go.

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Crèche
Ponta do Ouro, 10-12 metres
The story here is that Crèche is known for its abundance and variety of juvenile fishes here, that is, many species of sub-adult fish. However, you’re just as likely to see juvenile fishes on one healthy reef as another, which means there must be something else drawing divers back to this shallow reef again and again. Crèche is a favourite spot for new divers; a patchy reef with plenty of sand means that student divers or divers that haven’t blown bubbles for a while can settle, adjust their buoyancy, relax and generally stay off the reef. When relaxed, you use less air and at this depth, using less air means you could be in for a very long dive – the no decompression limit at 12m is 147 minutes! And, juvenile fishes aside, there is plenty to see on this reef. For me, the best part of Crèche is the cryptic stonefish (Synanceia verrucosa) found on the reef. It takes a trained eye to spot these masters of disguise, even if they’re right out in the open. Not to be confused with false stonefish or scorpionfish, these guys are the real deal. They can reach up to 40cm but are more typically around 27cm. But don’t get too caught up looking only at the reef. Dolphins often swim along this shallow line of reef, cruising in to investigate divers. Crèche is also known for its schools of crescent-tail bigeye and as a treasure trove of masks and snorkels dropped by student divers.

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Dive it right: Don’t touch the reef! Although they’re not common, there are stonefish on this reef. Stonefish are the most venomous fish in the world, not the best thing to run into on a dive holiday.

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Blacks
Ponta do Ouro, 15-18m
Take a look at your hand. Spread your fingers out. See that? That’s what Black’s is like, only bigger, about 40 metres wide. The main reef, your palm, bulges up from the sand punctured with little overhangs and covered with corals, some sea grass and sponges. From that about five thin fingers trail off in a southerly direction. While its possible to craft some good wide angle shots on Blacks, it’s structure and primary residents are better suited for macro photography. Be ready to get up close and personal with this reef, scouring it for the small stuff: frogfish, sea moths, long nosed pipefish, Durban dancing shrimp, paperfish, feather star shrimp. But don’t forget to keep an eye out for the scattered shrimp cleaning stations and cheeky black cheek moray eels. Because this small reef is surrounded by sand, it generally isn’t at its peak in large swell and in heavy current you’re quickly swept off of it.

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Dive it right: Take your time on this dive – it’s a small site but holds countless cryptic and camouflaged species. But be careful where you stick your nose, black cheek moray eels are notorious for biting divers on this reef. If you put a finger or two down to steady yourself, always look then look again!

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Doodles
Ponta do Ouro, 16-18m
Doodles may be the ‘house reef’ for Ponta do Ouro, it’s less than ten minutes from the boat launch, but it’s one of the greatest dives in the area. It acts as a sort of oasis in Ponta Bay with a diverse range of fish. Patrolled by resident potato bass, it runs about 200 metres long and on average it is about 20 metres wide. Close to the northern section of the reef is a cave system that is generally the hub of activity. This area is great for wide-angle photography. Don’t forget to check out the sand patches. Potato bass and at least four species of ray mosey around the sand near the cave area and easily photographed if approached cautiously. All of Doodles is well worth your bottom time. The usual algal reef suspects can all be found here, but Doodles often surprises with unexpected visitors like a weedy scorpionfish (Rhinopias frondosa), the odd thorny seahorse, thistle cowries, as well as numerous species of nudibranch – a macro photographer’s dream.

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Dive it right: Never pass up the opportunity to dive Doodles, even if you’ve feel like you’ve squeezed everything you can from it. You never know what you’re going to find on this reef, it can change day to day. Don’t get stuck looking down, manta rays, yellowfin tuna, bull sharks, whale sharks and other nomadic species are often spotted here.

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Drop Zone
Malongane Bay, 10-16m
There are some spectacular reefs in Malongane Bay and Drop Zone is one of them. This site, like some of the deeper sites in Malongane Bay that we’ll cover in the next issue, has some serious structure. Pitted with potholes and with gullies galore, the topography of this reef is stunning and a great option for those days when the current is cranking – the reef seems to never end. If you’re debating between macro and wide angle equipment for this dive, start with the wide angle. With schools of bluefin trevallies patrolling the ledges, potato bass lurking in backlit overhangs, and numerous cleaning stations with rubber lips queuing for service, there’s a lot of big picture kind of action on Drop Zone. But on that second dive, because you’ll have to come back, shoot macro. I’ve counted fourteen different species of nudibranch on this site – look close, it’s definitely possible to beat my record with all the Halgerda species slugging along. The leopard blenny are particularly friendly here as well.

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Dive it right: Something about Drop Zone makes it a hot spot for green turtles. They’re frequently sighted here, sleeping in a crevice, feeding on the algae and seaweed or dropping in for a shell deep clean from schools of butterfly fish fluttering for a snack. All sea turtles are endangered species, making the treat of seeing one that much more special.

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Steps
Ponta do Ouro Bay, 14-16m
Like the other reefs in Ponta Bay, Steps is patchy reef. The step-like ledges that give this reef its name hide reams of paperfish and their more cryptic cousins, frogfish. Camouflaged crocodile fish tend to hang out on the sandy inshore side of this reef, their mesmerising eyes certainly seeing you before you see them. For macro photography, scan the whip coral for tiny whip goby. Watch for busybody mantis shrimp clearing out their burrows and distressed damselfish defending their nests. Schools of larger reef fish congregate around the central cave area of this site and make great photography subjects. The topography around this area is also very rewarding for wide-angle enthusiasts. And be sure to check the sandy offshore areas of this reef. Giant guitar sharks are often, albeit briefly, spotted here. The length of Steps along with its north-south orientation makes it the place to dive when the current is cranking in either direction. On days like this, be sure to ask your divemaster if it’s possible to foray over to Steve’s Ledge, Steps’ southerly neighbour and another excellent dive site in the bay.

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Dive it right: Just because Steps is a long reef, doesn’t mean you need to try to cover it all in one dive. With all these reefs, you’ll get the most out of them if you take your time, but with all of Steps’ ledges and pockets, you’ll likely be rewarded for looking a little closer rather than trying to cover more ground.

The reefs in the PPMR don’t look like the reefs out of your average glossy travel magazine. On first glance, you may be disappointed. I was. But now that you have the insider information necessary to make your next Ponta dives your best Ponta dives, I bet you’ll start to see things a bit differently.

In the next issue, we’ll go deeper with five more PPMR dive sites. Check back here for insider knowledge on Pinnacles, Atlantis, Aquarium, Three Sisters and Kev’s Ledge all accompanied by plenty more on site pictures to whet your diving appetite.

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Funding research through Dolphin Eco-Tourism

Funding research through Dolphin Eco-Tourism

One of my first memories of dolphins was as a child, Conservation standing with my Granny on the veranda of her holiday home in Ramsgate, southern KwaZulu Natal. She had spotted dolphins frolicking in the waves and was jumping up and down in excitement shrieking with joy each time one of the sleek, silvery-grey, torpedo-like creatures cleared the waves.

Text and images by Angie Gullan – Founder Dolphin Encountours in support of DolphinCare.Org

This joy is often relived now with guests I take to meet the Dolphins of Ponta.

Later on in life I was to learn that dolphins were revered amongst ancient civilizations and to ‘swim with dolphins’ ranked top on bucket lists. I discovered that dolphins are highly intelligent and are, in essence, persons. I learned that they are befriend-able and if approached in the right way, with the right attitude, these sentient beings would never cease to amaze.

The coastal waters off the east African seaboard are home to populations of semi resident Indo-Pacific, inshore bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops aduncus). These gregarious dolphins are different from their larger and more robust oceanic counterparts Tursiops truncates, the common bottlenose dolphin, in that they freckle on their bellies and have a longer and more slender beak.

The Dolphins of Ponta are one such population. Some 250 individuals live within a complex cross border network which traverses the towering ‘duned’ coastline and surrounding reef structures that makes up the Ponta Partial Marine Reserve in Mozambique and bordering the World Heritage site of iSimangaliso in South Africa.

Ponta do Ouro is home to the country’s first dedicated dolphin interaction and research project that was developed in the mid 90’s under the auspices of Dolphin Encountours. With the guidance of both scientific and spiritual advisers the special inwater program was developed to fund ongoing research through taking like-minded tourists to encounter dolphins in their natural environment.

The eco-tourism project served the growing need of people seeking to swim with dolphins as well as the need to assess the populations of marine mammals that frequented the area.

Priority number one was to create a safe space for human-dolphin encounters to take place and through the specially developed Dolphincare code of conduct this was made possible. Standard operating procedures were developed which included comprehensive pre-encounter briefings, snorkelling instructions and the collection of baseline data by means of a database that was compiled in collaboration with various institutes, mainly the Natural History Museum of the University Eduardo Mondalane in Maputo. As time passed we learned from the dolphins and were better able to understand, anticipate and distinguish different behaviours and postures, which offered a form of communication between them and us.

This understanding has led to some profound encounters with the Dolphins of Ponta. Some of these encounters leave one in a state of absolute bliss, finding both human and dolphin engaging in what seems to be a time of just being together.

If the situation arises a bout of seaweed interaction may take place and some energetic circle swimming will be had with people the individual dolphins know. They have been observed chasing sharks away from human swimmers and individuals have shown us the art of hunting and eating red-fang trigger fish. Mums and calves are observed in private time together where specific behaviours are taught and if something unusual happens to be in the area, the inquisitive dolphins will venture off to inspect, often leading us to wonderful sightings hidden down below.

Sadly the encounters sometimes leave us with a heavy heart as we realize and see first hand the impact human beings have on our finned friends. Mozambique’s pot of gold lies not only in tourism but in gas and oil exploration and industrial coastal development which will have adverse long term effects on marine mammals. Coastal tourism in Mozambique is growing exponentially and as its famed underwater kingdoms and fishing hotspots become accessible, more and more encounters with humans and their vessels are inevitable.

During the early 2000’s I was out guiding a dolphin session when we located two dolphins, one known to me as Spin. Spin was a young dolphin that enjoyed engaging with us. She was always the first on the bow and the first to initiate a circle swim.

On this day though, things were amiss. As the boat approached her, distressed vocalizing was heard and as I slipped into the water I could see why; the little dolphin was wrapped up in fishing line! I slowly unwrapped her, but found no way to remove the very large hook, which was by now deeply embedded in her belly. This was the last time I saw little Spin.

The DolphinCare.Org’s database comprises thousands of images, observational records, sound recordings and video recordings of semiresident dolphins and other marine mammals that frequent the area. Individual dolphins have their own files where relevant events are recorded with some of the individuals first being observed in the area when the project was in its pilot stage. Dolphin Encountours, the German Dolphin Conservation Society and volunteers primarily fund the project.

For more information on encountering the Dolphins of Ponta or finding out about how you can get involved and help the project please visit:

www.dolphin-encountours.com in support of www.dolphincare.org

Paul Hunter

Paul Hunter

Besides being a solutions architect by day, Paul Hunter is co-founder of African Diver Magazine and a very enthusiastic underwater photographer. In fact, Paul’s love of underwater photography was his inspiration for co-founding African Diver Magazine – in his own words “the three African destinations that I really enjoy diving and photographing – Mozambique where Inhambane Province is great for awesome reefs and shooting mantas and whale sharks, the Red Sea because of the clean water and abundance of photographic material and lastly South Africa which, I believe offers everything from sharks, mantas, whales sharks, wrecks and abundance of reef and fish life”.

Paul began shooting underwater in 2001 with a Sony Cyber Shot. Since then he has worked with many camera systems and has now settled on a Nikon DSLR/Sea & Sea package. His passion for underwater photography has seen him take on various leadership positions, all aimed at building the community of southern African underwater photographers.

The two main leadership positions worth noting are, as chairman of GUPS (a community of underwater photographers based in Johannesburg) and as lead organiser of the annual Sodwana Shootout underwater photography competition.

Like most underwater photographers, Paul was drawn to the art by a need to share his underwater experiences with non-diving family and friends. And like most underwater photographers this developed into a deep passion for photographing the ever-changing underwater flora and fauna at his local (and favourite) dive spots.

These days the responsibility of fatherhood restricts Paul’s underwater shooting expeditions yet he manages to make at least one diving trip per year count and he’s hoping that as his children get older his diving trips will increase in frequency.

Paul’s worked through all the genres of underwater photography; macro, super-macro and wide-angle. But his favourite genre is wide-angle underwater photography, mainly because it’s the most challenging.

While southern Africa and the Red Sea inspire Paul’s underwater photography he lists Wakatobi, Indonesia and Sipadan, Malaysia as his favourite non-African destinations. And he’d really like to go to the Galapagos islands, Papua New Guinea, the Azores and Micronesia sometime in the future.  On his bucket-list though is to photograph humpback whales in Tonga and sperm whales in the Azores.

Paul’s images reflect his passion for Megafauna but also for wide-angle reef scenes and marine animal behaviour and can be seen from this selection.

You can see more of Paul’s images on www.paulhunterphotography.com

Tofo, the place of tranquility

Tofo, the place of tranquility

Five hundred kilometers north of the Mozambique capital, Maputo and just over 20 kilometers from Inhambane lies the quant beach village of Tofo. It consists of about 40 houses and a small market, which is surrounded by coconut plantations and the most amazing turquoise ocean. It has a stunning beach stretching for 8 kilometers, which is great for swimming and long soul soothing walks. Most of the bars and restaurants are along this stretch of beach making everything very accessible. There is also Tofinho beach (or little Tofo) just around the point which is more secluded and great for surfing and fly fishing. Tofo beach is wonderful with white sands and clean blue water that is warm making it fantastic for swimming and attracting an abundance of marine life. Breathtaking sunrises over the Indian Ocean are something well worth getting up early for as it is a sight to be admired. At night all the restaurants and bars turn on their lights which bring this little town to life. Nothing is too far, so it’s an easy walk on the beach to most places. It is perfectly safe to walk on the beach day or night. Be cautious of the jellyfish when they are around as they can administer a nasty sting. They do however provide great photographic opportunities.  Tofo has some of the best diving in the world and is truly spectacular. It offers divers everything from graceful Mantas to an abundance of macro reef life and pelagic sea life. The biodiversity of the area is amazing! It’s one of the only places in the world where you can see the world’s largest sting ray- the Small Eyed Sting Ray. It’s also home to about 20% of the world’s whale shark population. The combination of all the above makes for great diving.

Text and Images by Paul Hunter

The two main diving operators in Tofo are Diversity Scuba and Tofo Scuba. I decided to dive through the latter. I found Tofo Scuba to be a well run operation with friendly and polite staff that try and cater to everybody’s needs. The facilities were clean and practical with ample space to kit up. The wash up area has four different washbasins for different equipment, which is always good for photographers. The venue also has a restaurant on the beach that is perfect for that breakfast or lunch after your dive. The thing that impressed me the most was the level of detail to each dive briefing. This really helps so that there is no confusion before or during the dive, everybody is on the same page. The reefs are in good condition; however it has been growing in popularity for many years, resulting in more and more divers visiting these reefs. The dive centre is strict on their no touching policy, also the code of conduct for swimming with a variety of animals.  With a cylinder full of Nitrox and my housed camera I was ready for my first dive to the famous Manta reef. The boat ride took us about 45 minutes as the ocean was very choppy. I was hoping luck would be on our side as no manta had been spotted in the area for the last month. But it wasn’t to be and we unfortunately didn’t see the elusive manta. The visibility wasn’t great either, but we did however get to see plenty of snappers, large moray eels, crescent tailed big eyes and hundreds of blue red-fang trigger fish. The topography of the reef was awesome with numerous pinnacles, canyons and gullies. It was only after the dive that I realized that this reef has so much more to offer than just Mantas. This is a reef that one could dive many times and never get bored. This is definitely an advanced dive as the depth varies between 21m and 26m and should be treated as such.

The following day the conditions had improved and it was decided to try another reef called Hogwarts. This was another fantastic reef with unbelievable topography and fish life. Every gully and pothole seems to be filled to the brim with glassfish and Lionfish. Large schools of snapper and triggerfish hover just off the reef. Two giant frogfish the size of a small dog we spotted towards the end of the dive. What amazed me was that even though large in size they were so well camouflaged that we would have not seen them if it had not been for the dive guide. On our accent to the safety stop a squadron of sixteen Devil rays flying in formation past us twice. This was also to be a memorable dive.

I woke on the Thursday morning to perfect conditions and the most amazing sunrise. I had this feeling we would see Manta today and we did. We returned to Manta Reef only for me to miss the initial sighting of the Manta, I was devastated! To make up for this we got to see a Dragon eel, which was a first for me. It had the most astonishing colours I had ever seen on an eel. Towards the end of the dive a few of us got to spend 15 minutes with a Manta. We were instructed to hang in mid water below the cleaning station as not to frighten it while it circled above us over and over. It was truly an allinspiring experience to spend time with such a majestically creature. Unfortunately we had run out of time and had to return to the surface only to be accompanied by another two Giant Mantas. It was disappointing to leave them, as they seemed to be doing what I call the “Manta dance” where they do loops with each other. We returned to Manta reef two days later to once again have another Manta sighting. I was the only one to see the Manta as it appeared out of the blue. It was gliding effortlessly in the current and I was struck again by the incredible grace and beauty. I managed to maneuver myself into position to take my best Manta image to date. It gave me one fly by and disappeared into the distance just as it has appeared not to be seen again.  Manta Reef had lived up to its name and definitely rates as on the best reefs I have dived on.

Returning to shore after the dive there was a lot of hype about a whale shark that had been spotted by another dive boat. We quickly signed for the ocean safari in the hope of getting a chance of swimming with it. We spent 90 minutes fruitlessly searching for the proverbial needle in the haystack. On the way home our guide miraculously spotted the whale shark to our delight. We all quietly entered the water and managed to get a quick glimpse as it swam by, it was an enthralling experience for all especially for the first timers. Overall the diving in Tofo is fantastic. The conditions were great and the sightings plentiful from schooling jacks, devil rays, turtle and leopard shark, a lot of moral eel and this is just to name a few. The combination make for a wonderful diving holiday and well worth the trip.

Accommodation
Tofo has a wide range of accommodation from rustic beach chalets to luxury three bedroom houses all along the bay. We had selected Casa Barry lodge to be our home for the duration of our stay. The lodge is situated on the southern end of the bay directing on the beach. Our accommodation was in the form of a casita (reed hut) which consists of a single room and a basic bathroom with shower, toilet and basin. It was rustic but clean and spacious.  The only complaint that we had was that they were built close to each other. The staff was very friendly and helpful. Fulltime security guards patrol the lodge and the beach giving you the peace of mind knowing that you can swim without worrying about your belongings on the beach or your valuables in your casita.  The lodge offers a full restaurant and bar facility that overlooks the whole bay which is great for sun-downers. They offer simple meals from hamburgers and pasta to more extravagant seafood platters. All the seafood is purchased fresh from the local fisherman. The lodge is also a sponsor of the Manta Ray and Whale Shark Trust as well as the home to the Manta Ray and Whale Shark Research Centre. Tofo is one of the best places to dive with Giant Manta rays and swim with Whale Sharks all year round.  Both Dr Simon Pierce (whale shark biologist) and Dr Andrea Marshall (specialist in manta rays) are resident to the Casa Barry and give regular presentations at the lodge. These we found to be very informative, interesting and is well worth attending. Dr Andrea Marshall has recently had her documentary aired as part of the BBC Natural World series.

Activities
There is plenty to do in and around Tofo besides diving.  We managed to squeeze in a sunset horseback ride along the beach, through the coconut plantations and small villages. The guide was very knowledgably providing insight on the area. While on the relaxed horse ride we passed Mango Beach where we later returned for cocktails; this is the perfect end to any day.  They have a lovely bar that looks out over the ocean and the sun setting over the Mozambique mainland.  A trip to Inhambane is also a great way to experience a little bit of the Mozambique history. It is one of the oldest cities in Mozambique that still has colonial styled building, cathedral, museum, and beautiful old mosque.  Also pay a visit to the central market which sells fresh fruit, vegetables and fish. If you have the energy and time you can learn to surf and kite board as lessons are available.

There are plenty of bars and restaurants in the area. Too many to mention all here are the few we visited:
• Dinos Bar is located right on the beach near Tofo Scuba. It has a good food, good music and a vibrant party atmosphere at night. The menu is varied and includes lots of different dishes from pizzas and schwarmas to grilled fish and prawns or a beef kebab. They also have great cocktails.
• Casa de Comer is just off the beach near the market, the atmosphere is French bistro/Mozambican café.  We found it to be cheaply priced, great menu in a lovely setting. Sitting almost on the street, yet with the ambiance of the restaurant you get to watch the locals passing & dine on superb cuisine.
• This small bar and restaurant is located 5km out of Tofo at the junction of the roads to Inhambane and Barra Beach. Bar Babalaza offer good food including their famous crab curries and delicious prawns. Although not on the beach, it’s a great place to sit and chat in the shady front garden while you wait for their fresh bread to bake.

P is for Paradise – Paradisiacal Pomene.

P is for Paradise – Paradisiacal Pomene.

P is for Paradise – Paradisical (there is such a word now) Pomene. The feeling of paradise washes over me under the clear blue sky, as I glide past the flock of pink flamingos with their upside down heads gracing one of the sandbars in the gin clear water of the Pomene estuary. I’d been here before, many years ago when I was lucky enough to be a founding explorer on reefs only frequented by fisherman and spearos. In those days I wasn’t an underwater photographer and hadn’t been able to capture paradise on film, and so I find myself back in central Mozambique to see if paradise remained and was still as perfect as in my memories, in this day and age of cellphones , diary mania and credit crises.

Text and Images by Andrew Woodburn

Picture looking down off the boat into 50m of water and seeing the pinnacles you’re headed for, clearly on the bottom. We backwards roll and I turn , exhale and freefall into indigo blue picking up the pinnacles above which I identify the shapes of eagle rays and large bass moving in formation and so get jolted into the frenzy of preparing the camera so that by the time I reach them I can record their presence. This is 3 sisters (3 deep pinnacles off the northern end of deep Zambia shoal) which in my opinion has to be the premier pinnacle dive in Southern Africa. These are no gentle bumps like deep pinnacle off the Pontos (southern Mozambique’s well known dive destinations) but distinct structures rising from 48m at their base and topping off at 30m covered in black coral. The green coral trees release clouds of goldies, coachmen and reef fish which provide the attraction for hunting pelagic game fish and larger marine species such as manta arriving for cleaning.  I think I’ve been the first diver to slot the keyhole at 35m , a nearly closed hole in the reef between the first sister and the second which will be impossible if a strong current is running. The dive is over all too quickly since diving at 35m destroys my bottom time and forces me up so as to avoid decompression penalties. Ascending from 35m I can clearly see the boat on the surface, ripples diffracting the cloud patterns in the sky above and red fang trigger fish silhouetted in the midwater.  Since we are so far from the Pomene estuary (20km) it’s ideal for double tank dives and so we snorkel on shallow Zambia (6m deep in the middle of the ocean) where sailfish swims past the boat its sail distinctive above the surface. We select the Trojan dive site for a second shallower and more traditional reef dive which runs along the inside edge of Zambia shoal meeting sand at 24m and rising up to 15m giving wonderful amphitheatres of reef structure. I loved finding turtles, bass and shoaling fish which provided my immersion into their world on their reef. For the first time ever I found a large plate coral with a coral tree growing right out the centre of it graced by an obliging bass for a great photo. The reef itself is named after a piece of structure which when viewed side on resembles a horse’s head.  I was enthralled by my days diving and excitedly shared the experiences that evening while my wife, Clara and I washed the sun down with cold 2M beers on the stunning pool deck outside the bar. Little did I know, that wasn’t all Pomene had to provide.

Waking up after a comfortable night’s sleep in our tent I peeked out to see the ocean not a hundred meters away in the pleasant morning light with not a breath of wind on the water. We launched out the river mouth again and headed to sites off the old Pomene hotel which sits in ruins a top the “Barra falsa” point, not used since the 1970s and still a bone of contention between prospective investors for refurbishing, and the Mozambique government who are demanding a hefty fee in US dollars for the development rights (We visited the ruins one afternoon and saw the blowholes in action). As we arrived we circled the dive site and I was lucky enough to free dive the legendary Playstation reef to test for current and visibility. On my descent I was greeted by a mature gray reef shark of over 2m at 12m down. What an honour since on most well dived reefs these creatures are normally absent and on some days this particular set of reefs can be un-divable with ultra strong currents (think stronger than Aliwal shoal on a bad day) and bad visibility due to their sitting off a major point. Pomene Playstation is a 5star reef with fantastic features including a mini cave network, large reef structure with deep cracks, sandy fish filled arena, overhangs, swim thru’s and a manta cleaning station on the south side visited by reef fish and hunting game fish continuously. At 24m it’s a good intermediate dive site providing world class diving with enough bottom time to enjoy a 60min dive allowing us to cover most of the reef. After I surface from this dive I just can’t wait to do it again, it’s almost too much to absorb in one experience and if we are lucky we also get whale shark interaction which congregate off the Pomene point.  On this day due to clam conditions I get a second double tank treat and added “Steps” to the dive sightseeing tour.  Steps is fascinating since I’m sure it adds credibility to the theory that ancient civilizations cut rock from sites that are now subterranean in order to build great wonders of the world. Drifting along in the current I fly over multiple 90 degree cuts in rock layers just too geometrically perfect to be natural. I don’t know, go dive it for yourself to decide.  The fissures and blocks are now home to moray eels galore and on the deep areas impressive vertical walls stack up from 36m towards the surface.

Getting back from the dives I had pretty much thought that diving here couldn’t really get much better till that evening talking with Joe and Natalie the managers and Dave and Jill the Barra Resort owners I learned a little secret. I was informed that Neville Ayliff the Sodwana legend , fish life guru and diver extraordinaire was becoming part of the team at Pomene later in the year and would bring with him his wealth of experience, fishy facts and diving leadership that was a crucial part of developing Sodwana into the diving destination it has become. I’m sure Neville will have years of work ahead of him to do more exploration in this region. In addition the resort has built an artificial reef in the estuary just off the dive centre where seahorses abound and macro critters dominate in the sea grass. Not to be outdone by my experiences so far Joe also showed me photos from 2006 of dugong in the estuary mouth which had me scanning the water on every exit and entrance from the river from then on.

Pomene lodge occupies a unique spit of beach separating natural mangrove forests and a freshwater estuary which feeds around the spit into the Indian Ocean through a tidal estuary. In fact the spit probably doesn’t get more than 2m above high tide at any place and during the devastating cyclones in past years, has lead to knee deep waves washing through the reception door and out past the pool into the estuary. At any one time while walking on the spit I am able to see the aquamarine ocean out one eye across the squeaky white sand beach and out the other eye the reflections off the estuary in different stages of tidal flux. This place presents a sensory overload to me, with visuals representing travel brochure images of coconut palms, blue sea and white sand, warm tropical breezes cooling the sun’s rays on my skin, the waves from the ocean crashing in my ears and the smell of untainted air.

This paradiscal environment delivers feelings of peace, space and makes me feel like the only person on the planet. Pomene has traditionally been known as a secret fishing destination and over the last few years more and more diving has been done exploring and identifying awesome reefs. Not only does Pomene has two of Southern Africa’s best reef dives but will soon be home to one of Southern Africa’s best known dive personalities and a- fishianardos…Neville Ayliff, I’m not sure it gets better than this.

This ideal location is unique in that it provides a delicate mix of the olden day’s sodwana camping atmosphere, but even better since you get to camp with the beach as your front door step. Each campsite comes with a fresh water tap, braai facilities and electrical point. Most sites have thatched barracas which can accommodate fridges and all your camping tables/ food and are fitted with lights for the evening.  This destination offers basic to beyond expectation -camping, self catering group chalets and top end water chalets, all backed up by a professional dive operation.  The self catering chalets offer 6 and 8 sleeper options in large rustic thatch lodges which although basic still bring the sea straight to your door step. Each self cater chalet is serviced with bedding, cutlery, crockery a freezer and mosquito nets. The chalets range from ocean view to sunset and the den a grouping of four double rooms en-suite. I even met some fisherman who had driven from Port Elizabeth to Pomene towing a boat, that’s about 4 days of dedication each way.

But that’s not all, the pride and glory of the resort are the Water chalets, and our room became affectionately referred to by my wife as the “water palace”.  Double rooms en-suite , built Mozambique style on stilts with reed roofs serviced by raised walkways are an architectural feature facing out west over the lagoon. Our room had an almighty double bed within a billowing mosquito net covered with fresh sheets and an airy duvet. Power points for charging the camera gear and a balcony with the most brilliant sunset vista over the estuary and private stairs down to the squeaky white sand covered by tidal waves running up between the stilts at high tide.

Pomene also provides family activities including Horse riding, quad bike adventures, sunset cruises, fly-fishing, shore fishing and offshore fishing on the famous Zambia banks. We met friendly travelers and divers in this off beat corner of Mozambique and enjoyed the finest fish caught that day and prawns from the restaurant at reasonable prices after enjoying cold 2M on the deck. This was a great adventure providing a delicate mix of paradise supported by some of the more necessary amenities such as power (generator driven from 8-12 and 4-10pm) hot water showers, a small shop and even a satellite tv for those important rugby matches or soap operas but far enough away not to be intrusive. The central lodge area also provides a pool table, bar area and rim flow fresh water swimming pool. So I’d recommend saddling up the 4*4 (yep you need a 4 wheel drive to get through the last 2 hours of beach sand track) turn north at Maputo and keep on going till Masinga (approximately 700km) before falling off tarmac, or fly in directly from Jhb South Africa via Inhambane . Pomene Lodge is part of the Barra Resorts group supported by the same infrastructure that services the Barra lodge and Flamingo Bay Hotels in Inhambane. 

So since the trip was planned to experience the diving at this far flung piece of paradise let’s cut to the chase. I think that Pomene is blessed with two of the best dives in the Southern Africa. Three sisters the leading pinnacle dive and Pomene Playstation a spectacular site competing with the best I’ve seen worldwide. In short this piece of paradise will definitely be on my must visit list again and I’ll be salivating at the thought of what Neville will find and add to the already abundant selection of world class diving.

 

The wreck of Rio Sainas

The wreck of Rio Sainas

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In the early hours of 11 March 2013 the, 35 meter, 300 ton fishing vessel “Rio Sainas” made her final journey to the bottom of the sea. She was under tow after spending nearly 3 weeks on the shore at Zavora, Mozambique; the result of losing power and drifting in a high wind before running aground on the sandy beach. Fortunately for her crew and for the environment, she ran aground on sand, right between two rock reefs. Had she hit the reef the crew would have been in real trouble considering the state of the sea and her fuel and oil may well have leaked out of a damaged hull, posing a considerable pollution risk for the area.

Text by Jon Wright

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Initial attempts to re-float her by her owners proved futile and she was declared a total loss by their insurance company.The salvage company Subtech were called in and they began the arduous task of cleaning her up so she would not pose any threat to the environment. Over the course of 10 days more than 35 tons of fuel and oils were pumped off and several tons of debris was removed before she was deemed fit to be towed out to sea. It took several attempts to free her, each pull from the large tugboat resulting in small gains, with the salvers having to wait patiently until the next high tide to try again. Working day and night in foul weather they finally won the battle on the afternoon of 10 March, freeing the stricken vessel in 20 knot winds and 3 meter swells.

As she had run aground bow first, she was being pulled from the stern with the plan being to relocate the massive hawser to the bow for towing away from Zavora. However sea conditions had deteriorated so much, it was not possible to launch the small boat needed to carry out this operation and the tug and tow had to sit it out at anchor in the bay. The next morning, we awoke to a much calmer sea, but with only one boat floating on it. We can only assume the tired old ship was taking a lot of water over her stern in the heavy sea and her not very watertight hatches were unable to cope. At some stage during the pitch black, stormy night, she slipped beneath the waves.

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In the short time she has been on the bottom she has already become an aggregation point for many species of fish, including several sightings of a 2 meter brindle bass which we are hoping will be a long term resident. Juvenile fish of various species are finding a home here and we often see trevally, cuda and other game fish hunting around her. A vessel which, during 40 years of operational service, killed so many marine organisms is now sheltering and nurturing these same animals providing a new habitat for life in Zavora.Their loss became our advantage; now the Rio Sainas is Mozambique’s newest wreck and at only 9km from our launch, it’s on our doorstep. Lying in 33 meters of water, with a 35 degree list to starboard and coming up to 19 meters she is a perfect dive site for recreational divers. The scour by the propeller goes down to 35 meters and there is plenty of scope for penetration for the more experienced diver. It is possible to enter the aft deck hatch, proceed through the pristine (but not so spacious) engine room and exit by the galley one deck up. From there, you can enter the crew accommodation, proceed up one deck and into the wheelhouse.

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Rio Sainas was engaged in deep sea lobster potting at the time of her grounding but had previously been involved with long lining – divers’ most detested fishing practice (the crew told us they had been shark finning at one time). She was under a Mozambican flag, crewed mainly by Filipino’s and owned and operated by Pescamar, which itself is owned by a Spanish fishing conglomerate. She had 3 FADM (Mozambique armed forces) personnel on board and was armed with 3 AK47’s and a PKM machine gun, the mount of which is still clearly visible, (to the rear of the superstructure on the starboard side) to act as protection from possible pirate attack.

So, one down, so many to go! While we can be happy that there is one less fishing boat in the channel, we must also do our part. Knowing that the food we eat comes from sustainable resources, and does not involve the exploitation of less fortunate people is the least we can do ethically. For our own health, we must also take a stand against current industrial food production practices such as the over-use of pesticides, hormones and the increasing dominance of genetically modified ‘Frankenfoods’. Eventually, we consumers call the shots. If we stop buying fish from the red list, it will not be economically viable to catch it. What is needed is a common consensus, we only have power in numbers. The future of the sea and indeed, the land, is in our hands.

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One less fishing boat plying its trade in the channel means the oceans get a break, albeit until the next one comes along. And as the aging fishing fleet sinks and becomes home to ocean life it means fishing companies are forced to reconsider their options and economics. For divers, it’s a bonanza – something to explore, something to attract fish life and something to be marveled at.

Zavora is home to two marvelous diving wrecks – the Klipfontein and now, Rio Sainas. A fortunate intersection of shipping misfortune meets ocean life to create a diver’s dream dive.

Malaria prevention and prophylaxis

Malaria prevention and prophylaxis

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DAN receives many inquiries from members regarding malaria. Indeed malaria has become an increasing problem due to drug resistance. As divers venture deeper into the African tropics they incur increasing risk of contracting malaria. Lack of medical facilities, transportation and communication add additional complexity to managing this medical emergency.

Three DAN members have required evacuation by air over the last three years due to malaria. Understanding malaria prophylaxis and general preventative measures is therefore of the utmost importance. The following section covers the most important considerations in selecting and using malaria prophylactic measures and medications. The treatment of malaria, which is complex and requires close medical supervision, falls outside the scope of this document.

The three commandments of malaria prevention and survival are:
1. Do not get bitten
2. Seek immediate medical attention if you suspect malaria
3. Take “the pill” (anti-malaria tablets/propftylaxis)

Do not get bitten

  • Stay indoors from dusk to dawn
  • If you have to be outside between dusk and dawn – cover up: long sleeves, trousers, socks, shoes (90% of mosquito bites occur below the knee)
  • Apply DEET containing insect-repellent to all exposed areas of skin, repeat four-hourly
  • Sleep in mosquito-proof accommodation: Air-conditioned, proper mosquito gauze, buildings/tents treated with pyrethrum-based insect repellent/insecticide
  • Burn mosquito coils/mats
  • Sleep under an insecticide impregnated (Permacote®/Peripel®) mosquito net (very effective)

Seek immediate medical attention if you suspect malaria

  • Any flu-like illness starting 7 days or more after entering a malaria endemic area is malaria until proven otherwise
  • The diagnosis is made on a blood smear or with an ICT finger prick test
  • One negative smear/ICT does NOT exclude the diagnosis (repeat smear/ICT diagnosis is made, another illness is diagnosed or the patient recovers spontaneously – i.e. from ordinary influenza)

Take “the pill”

There are several dangerous myths regarding malaria prophylaxis:

  • Prophylaxis does not make the diagnosis more difficult
  • It does protect against the development of cerebral malaria
  • Is not 100% effective – hence the importance of avoiding bites
  • Not all anti-malaria medication is safe for diving
  • Malaria is often fatal – making prophylaxis justified
  • Anti-malaria drugs, like all drugs, have potential side-effects, but the majority of side-effects decrease with time
  • Serious side-effects are rare and can be avoided by careful selection of a tablet or combination of tablets to suit your requirements (Country, region and season)

The following drugs are available for the prevention of malaria:

Doxycycline (Vibramycin® or Cyclido or Doryx®)

Used extensively in the prevention of Chloroquine resistant malaria. About 99% effective. Not officially recommended for use in excess of 8 weeks for malaria prevention, but it has been used for as long as three years with no reported adverse side effects. Offers simultaneous protection against tick-bite fever.

Dosage: 100mg after a meal daily starting 1 to 2 days before exposure until 4 weeks after exposure. Doxycycline should be taken with plenty of non-alcholic liquid.

Side effects: nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, allergy, photosensitisation. May cause vaginal thrush infections and reduces the efficacy of oral contraceptives.

Use in pregnancy: unsafe (as is scuba diving). Also, avoid during breast feeding and in children younger than 8 years of age.

Doxycycline is DAN’s first choice recommendation for divers in areas with choloquine resistance/”resistant malaria”.

Chloroquine (Nivaquine ® or Daramal ® or Plasmaquine ®):

Contains only chloroquine. Must be taken in combination with Proguanil (Paludrine ®)

Dosage: 2 tablets weekly starting one week before exposure until 4 weeks after leaving the endemic area Contra-indications: known allergy, epilepsy

Side effects: headache, nausea & vomiting, diarrhoea, rashes, may cause photosensitivity (sunburn – prevention, apply sun block)

Use in pregnancy: safe (note scuba diving is not considered safe during pregnancy)

Proguanil (Paludrine®)

Must be taken in combination with chloroquine (Nivaquine® or Daramal® or Plasmaquine®) Dosage: 2 tablets every day starting one week prior to exposure until 4 weeks after

Contra-indications: known allergy to Proguanil. Interactions with Warfarin (an anti-coagulant incompatible with diving)

Side-effects: heartburn (tip: take after a meal, with a glass of water and do not lie down shortly after taking Proguanil) mouth ulcers (tip: take folic acid tablets 5mg per day if this occurs) loose stools (self-limiting – no treatment required)

Use in pregnancy: safe but must be taken with folic acid supplement. 5mg per day (note scuba diving is not considered safe during pregnancy)

The combination of chloroquine & Proguanil is about 65% effective falciparum malaria. Although not a first choice, its relative safety and limited side effects may justify its use in certain individuals.

Atovaquone / Proguanil (Malarone ® ; Malanil ®)

Registered in South African as a causal prophylaxis in February 2004. Safety in diving has not been established. Preliminary data suggests it may be safe for pilot and divers.

Effective against Malaria isolates that are resistant to other drugs.

Controlled studies have shown a 98% overall efficacy of Atovaquone / Proguanil in the prevention of P. falciparum malaria

Dosage: 1 Tablet daily for adults, starting 24 – 48 hours prior to arrival in endemic area, during exposure in endemic areas and for 7 days after leaving the endemic area only.

Dose should be taken at the same time each day with food or a milky drink.

Contra-indications: Known allergy to Proguanil or Atovaquone or renal impairment (i.e., significant renal disease is likely to be incompatible with diving). Safety in children < 11kg has not been established.

Side-effects: Heartburn (Tip: Take after a meal, with a glass of water & do not lie down shortly after taking Proguanil); mouth ulcers. To date Atovaquone has been well tolerated and the most common adverse reaction being headache.

Use in Pregnancy: Safety in pregnancy and lactating women has not been established. (Note: SCUBA diving is not considered safe during pregnancy)

The safety of Malanil has not been confirmed in diving. Accordingly, even though preliminary data suggests that it may be safe, we are not able to recommend it. Doxycycline remains the first choice for divers diving in Africa where there is resistance to chloroquine.

Mefloquine (Lariam® or Mefliam®)

About 90% effective Dosage: one tablet per week.

Side effects: may cause drowsiness, vertigo, joint aches and interfere with fine motor co- ordination (making it difficult to exclude DCI in some cases)

Pregnancy: probably safe in early pregnancy and may be used with confidence after the first trimester of pregnancy. May be used in breast feeding and babies weighing more than 5kg.

Mefloquine is considered unsafe for divers and pilots. It is contra-indicated in epilepsy but us a good first choice for other travellers

Pyrimethamine/Dapasone (Maloprim® or Deltaprim®/Malzone®)

No longer regarded as effective but still recommended in Zimbabwe

Sulfadoxine and Pyrimethamine (Fansidar®)

No longer used as a prophylactic.

Quinine (Lennon-Quinine Sulphate®)

Not used for prophylaxis but is the backbone in the treatment of moderate and severe malaria. Serious side-effects are not uncommon during treatment.

Arthemeter (Cotexin®)

fte “Chinese drug”. Available in some areas of Africa. Not for prophylaxis. Used in combination with other drugs in the treatment of mild to moderate malaria.

Halofantrine (Halfan)

Not used for prophylaxis and best avoided for treatment.

Recommended malaria drug prophylaxis in DAN Southern African region (Africa and Indian Ocean islands)

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* In situations where the risk of contracting malaria is low, (e.g. in cities, air conditioned hotel or when rainfall has been low, etc.) the traveller may be advised to take no drug prophylaxis but stand-by treatment mus t be carried unless medical care is readily available. Personal protection against bites must be adhered to at ALL TIMES.

# high risk people include babies and children under 5 years, pregnant woman, elderly people (and greater than 65 years), people with suppressed immunity (e.g. diabeties, etc)

Notes:

  1. The above mentioned recommendations were compiled from material supplied by the National Department of Health and Worldwide Travel Medical Consultants.Prohpylaxis significantly reduces the incidence of malaria and slows the onset of serious symptoms of malaria
  2. All anti-malaria drugs excluding Mefloquine are considered compatible with diving
  3. Like with all other medications, anti-malaria drugs should be tried and tested on land well in advance
  4. If unpleasant side-effects occur, please consult your diving doctor
  5. Whether or not you take prophylaxis, be paranoid about malerial Malaria can presrnt in many ways varying from fever or diarrhoea to flu-like symptoms. Always inform your doctor that you have been in a malaria area. Symptoms can start within 7 to 14 days from first exposure until 30 days (and rarely even months) after leaving a malaria area.
  6. No single medication is 100% effective and barrier mechanisms (personal protection against bites e.g. mosquito repellents, nets, protective clothing, not going outdoors from dusk to dawn) must be
  7. Any strange symptom occurring during or within 6 weeks of leaving a malaria area should be regarded with suspicion and requires medical

If you think that you may have malaria or are concerned about unexplained symptoms after visiting a malaria area, contact DAN immediately on 0800 020111 or +27(0)11 242 0112.

Frans J Cronjé, MBChB(Pret), BSc(Hons) Aerosp Med
Albie De Frey, MBChB(Pret)
Hermie C Britz, MBChB(Pret), BSc(Hons) Aerosp Med

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