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/ .

Migration from Stills to Video: DSLR to RED

Migration from Stills to Video: DSLR to RED

A few years back the appearance of DSLR´s capable of capturing high quality video made a lot of underwater photographers as myself explore the world of motion picture. For me this journey started with a Canon Eos 7D and exploring its video capabilities in between photo shoots using available light. From the beginning I was hooked by the prospect of being able to switch from stills to video on the push of a button… as where most underwater photographers out there.

Text by Nuno Sa

On the next year I started taking video seriously and stopped constantly switching from stills to video during a dive and rather chose what I was going for and preparing the equipment and settings accordingly. I changed to a Full frame 5DMKIII and added a couple of lights and an external monitor as well as starting to use low compression picture styles such as the cinestlye. Trying to get stabile shoots and neutral buoyancy on a underwater housing created for capturing stills was probably the biggest challenge for me and most UW DSLR video shooters out there. As many others I would search on forums looking for solutions and do a lot of experiences such as attaching buoys and adding side wings on the housing with some moderate success.

And then a new revolution started with RED introducing the RED Scarlet and a Canon lens mount as well as dropping prices on the Epic. Suddenly all forums where talking about these high end 4K cinema cameras and how they where now only a small fortune instead of a big one. The problem was there seamed to be no information out there of DSLR UW shooters making the change to RED. But when you watch footage of videographers such as Howard Hall shooting amazing footage with these cameras one could start dreaming on taking the next big step.

In my case the decision to go for RED came from meeting two well known videographers in a summer in the Azores, curiously they had pretty different feelings about working with cinema cameras. I first met Rafa Herrero, a well-known Spanish videographer in Santa Maria Island and he was nice enough to show me the inside of the beast and the results and logistics using it involved. As a many year user of Run n Gun cameras producing documentaries Rafa did warn me a lot about the logistics backing up huge RAW files involved as well as the whole post production of getting nice imagery out of RAW flat images. But I must say I was immediately drawn to this camera and its potential.

The final choice came when a couple of months latter a close friend of mine, Mauricio Handler, came to shoot sperm whales with me in the Azores. I then had a chance to try his camera UW and hear the opinion of someone that was coming from the same place as me… from DSLR to RED. Meanwhile I have bought two Run n Gun cameras for top shoots and to use as B cameras (Canon XA20 and Sony FS7) and I must say that for someone coming from the world of DSLR the RED is actually easier to use than smaller handheld cameras. In essence the RED is pretty much a DSLR on steroids as you will be doing basically the same adjustment UW using manual exposure and focus, as well as choosing basic parameters as aperture, shutter speed, frame rate and ISO as well as a low depth of field to work with (especially in macro shoots). Perhaps the biggest differences will be logistics wise, as you will be carrying a substantially heavier system as well as accumulating very large files (a good day of shooting in 5K RAW with a 7:1 compression and 50 fps can easily bring home 1 TB of footage and that is for little over 60 min of footage).

Perhaps one of the most significant aspects that one has to seriously look into before making the decision to chance systems would be exactly how much it will cost you. So far RED has kept the “modular camera” concept witch was one of the main reasons that made me go for this camera. In short this means you buy a brain and then attach several accessories needed to make the camera work (Side SSD for media, lens mount to attach lens, LCD for live view etc.…). So far the brain is “upgradable” so this means if you want to upgrade from Epic X to Epic Dragon you just send in the brain and now have a different camera but the same accessories and above all… the same housing. So of course for UW works this brings a big advantage as for example Gates has the same housing for the Scarlet, Epic X and Dragon. The downside is many people think the price of the camera is the price of the brain, however you can expect to about double the price (or at least add another 10 000$) just for a basic package. Another aspect to keep in mind regarding upgrades is that if you miss one you may be left out of the loop indefinitely (for instance if you don´t upgrade from Epic X to Dragon until a certain date you will then not be able to make the next upgrade, in this case the Dragon to Weapon upgrade).

As for Pros and Cons I would point out:

Pros:

  • The housing – Oh the housing!!!… Perhaps more than everything else having a perfectly balanced video housing that just floats horizontally in front of you with a nice 5” or 7” screen is going to bring beautifully stable imagery, with perfect pans, even when swimming like crazy after a whale.
  • Future proof concept – The RED is pretty much as future proof as it gets (shooting in 5K or 6k for Epic X and epic Dragon) but if you add the fact that is upgradable to the equation you have a camera and housing for the next decade (at least).
  • Frame rates – Choosing anything from 1 fps to 180 fps in 5K (in the Epic X) and even more than this if you upgrade brings you the chance to capture pretty much anything from time-lapse to verrrry slow-motion.
  • Shooting RAW – The amount of information you get in a clip for post production is simply amazing, but of course backing this up is a challenge and post-production is demanding. Also keep in mind RED cameras use RED media period.
  • From web to BBC – Going for a cinema camera does, of course, make you equipped to pretty much work for any kind of client from web based to full broadcast and cinema.
  • UW OLPF – Red has just developed an interchangeable OLPF (Optical Low Pass-Filter) system for specific uses such as low light or skin tone-highlight. The good news is they have just developed a H2O OLPF for underwater use that should deliver new color science in the blue channel.

The cons:

  • The price – This is the big one and does make the other cons pretty irrelevant. A good housing, nice pro lights (15 000 lumens each or so) and a fully functional camera should go for around 50 000$ – 60 000$. Keep in mind this is for UW use only without a nice tripod, grips, cage etc.… for surface work.
  • Upgrades – This is pretty much the same as above. Upgradable cameras make them future proof but they are, unfortunately, expensive. At around 10 000$ per upgrade and you might need to make an upgrade until a certain date to keep your camera eligible for the next upgrade.
  • File size – Just like the upgrades one of the Red’s main advantages is also a bit of a downfall as you will, of course, spend a lot of time and money backing up your files. Fortunately the price per TB is dropping by the day and working in favor of RED owners. You can check online what a card will go for at http://www.red.com/tools/recording-time, but each of my 512 GB cards will go for around 30 min with my most common settings.
  • Post production – You can forget about using Red files without considerable post production work. That is what shooting in RAW is all about, taking a flat image with no contrast, sharpening, saturation etc.… and having the freedom to deliver the final image just like you want it.

In conclusion I would say that DSLR´s do make beautiful imagery and are good enough for many clients and uses. They are very light weight, handle low light conditions very well and can deliver amazing – ready to use – images with the right color profiles. I must say however that since I started with the RED system my 7D´s and 5D´s have been on the shelf.

Bellow you can check a couple of links and compare for yourself, the top one is the first production I made with the 7D and the second my first reel with Red Epic.

Using Canon 7D

Using RED

Alphonse Island

Alphonse Island

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Alphonse Group The Alphonse Group of islands are situated 7 degrees South of the Equator and 400 kilometers South-West of Mahe. This magnificent island threesome comprising of Alphonse, Bijoutier and St Francois, lie in the very heart of the Indian Ocean and form part of the Seychelles’ outer island group.

Getting There – Guests are required to fly into Mahe Island, Seychelles at least 4 hours before the weekly charter flight is scheduled to depart. A standard package includes the hour-long return charter flights between Mahe and Alphonse.

Flight Times – The flights leave Mahe at 11:00 from domestic departures on a Saturday and arrives on Alphonse at 12:00. It then departs Alphonse at 12:30 arriving back at the Mahe domestic terminal at 13:30.

Accommodation & Amenities – The rustic and comfortable accommodation is situated on the shoreline of the Eastern side of Alphonse Island. The main hotel complex consists of a reception area, beach bar, dining area, swimming pool, tennis court and main office. Guests stay in one of 15 privately spaced air conditioned bungalows or 4 one bedroom villas, offering every kind of comfort. The bar area, pool and lounge area provides the ideal venue to relax in the evening breeze after a day out in the sun and houses the restaurant serving freshly caught sea food of the highest quality.

Arrival Day On arrival you will be met by the Alphonse Island management team and transported to the hotel by golf cart. Indemnities will be signed followed by a comprehensive briefing on what to expect during your stay. Everyone will then be shown to his or her accommodation to settle in and unpack. Dinner is served at 19h30.

Normal Day – Breakfast is served from 6:00 – 9:00 am or on request. Lunch is served at 1pm.

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Diving – Alphonse Island Dive Centre and its team of professional international diving staff will make your experience at Alphonse resort a personal, safe and unforgettable one. The sheer drop offs, rich currents and abundant sea life that surrounds the Alphonse Group makes it one of the most exciting and diverse dive destinations in Seychelles. The pristine sites around both Alphonse and St Francois are famous for warm crystal clear waters, high coral cover, great visibility and a diverse range of fish species comprising of reef, pelagic and shark species. Daily encounters with Stingrays, Turtles, Moray Eels, Barracuda, Wahoo, Sharks, Tuna, Grouper, Snapper, Trevally make the dives extremely memorable. Alphonse’s range of dive sites are suitable for all categories of divers, which makes the area an exciting experience for both beginners and advanced who will enjoy our drift dives. Dive sites are easily accessible with typical boat travel taking ten to thirty minutes. The dive center also offers PADI Bubble Maker, Discover scuba, Open Water, Advanced and Specialty scuba courses.  Read more abut the dive sites here.

Diving Rates

  • Per Dive USD 120
  • Double Tank USD 220 5
  • Dive Package USD 550 10
  • Dive Package USD 1000
  • Includes all diving equipment

Diving Course Rates

  • Bubble Maker USD 110
  • Discover Scuba Diving USD 210
  • Scuba Diver / Open Water Diver USD 900
  • Advanced Open Water Diver USD 750
  • Speciality Courses USD 290 (2 dives) or 490 (4 dives)
  • Alphonse Island Eco Diver Package USD 1400 (10 dives + certification in 5 Specialties)
  • Includes all diving equipment

Additional Activities – The snorkeling around the coral heads within the safety of the lagoon is simply out of this world. Snorkeling equipment is available for hire at the dive centre. The kayaking along the edge of the island on a high tide gives guests the opportunity to see the magnificent bounty of turtles, rays, fish, and various other sea creatures, which call Alphonse their home. The cycling tracks around the island pass through coconut groves and lead to the various private and secluded beaches. You may wish to join our local experts on a nature tour or for watching the multitude of seabirds that can be seen about the atolls. You may spot dolphins when out on the water but specific trips can be also arranged and, if you are lucky, you may see several of the different whale species that frequent these waters.

Snorkeling Equipment Rental Rates

  • USD 10 per day
  • USD 50 per week
  • Loss of gear will be charged per item

Alphonse Guided Snorkeling Trip Rates

  • USD 45 per person, children under 11 free (min 2 paying guests)
  • 1 hour 30 min, includes snorkeling equipment (Children under 11 years must be accompanied by 1 adult per child)

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St Francois Guided Snorkeling Trip Rates

  • USD 85 per person, children under 11 free (min 4 paying guests)
  • 1 hour 30 min, includes snorkeling equipment (Children under 11 years must be accompanied by 1 adult per child)
  • Loss/damages of gear will be charged per item

Park Fee – There is a compulsory St Francois fly fishing park fee of USD 175 per week (USD25 per day) for anglers and USD 70 per week (USD 10per day) for non-anglers and divers, which is payable in cash when on the island. All packages exclude this park fee and these funds are given to the Island Conservation Society for the preservation of nature in the Seychelles.

Spa – There is a small spa situated in close proximity to the main swimming pool that offers massages and various other treatments. All massages can be booked in the bar area the night before.

Head Lamp – Although the roads between the accommodation and hotel are lit, it’s wise to have a headlamp for when you are riding your bike at night.

Casual Wear – Everything is informal on the island and guests should dress casually at all times and feel free to attend dinner in casual clothing.

Weather – The Seychelles is typically hot and somewhat humid with the midday temperature hovering at 35 degrees Celsius. Evenings are also invariably warm with the exception of the first and last few weeks of the season, when there may be a strong, cooling breeze. Water temperature ranges from 27 – 29 degrees Celsius.

The Fishing and Diving Season at Alphonse – The main diving season runs from early October to the end of May.

Hours of Daylight – Due to its proximity to the equator, there is no real twilight in the Seychelles. The sun rises quickly at around 6:15 a.m. and sets with equal swiftness at about 6:30 p.m. This varies by only minutes throughout the year, giving nearly a full 12 hours of daylight for 365 days a year.

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From Scene of Accident Medevac Insurance – All guests are required to obtain “From Scene of Accident Medevac Insurance”. Details will be requested prior to arrival on the Island. Alphonse Island and agents cannot assume any financial responsibility for consequences incurred if this has not been obtained.

Travel Insurance – All guests are required to obtain travel insurance that will cover any costs incurred due to flight delays for any reason. Any guests planning to dive will be asked to provide their travel insurance details as proof of cover for diving activities. This is often included in general travel insurance policies but should you wish to dive deep, please check any depth restrictions.

Indemnity Form – All guests are required to sign an indemnity form once on location. Divers booked on courses must complete the Medical Statement prior to diving, this is provided prior to arrival in case you need to arrange medical clearance for diving from your physician.

Inoculations & Health – No inoculations are legally required for entry. However, you may want to check with your local immunization and inoculation clinic for their recommendations on health precautions for travel to the Seychelles. Some travelers elect to protect themselves against hepatitis A with an immunoglobulin injection (short- term protection) or the longer lasting vaccine. Other inoculations may be required if you are planning a trip extension to parts of Africa.

Water Consumption – There is a desalination plant on Alphonse, and water from the faucets is safe to drink. We do not stock mineral water to reduce plastic waste and will only supply it when specifically requested prior to arrival.

Luggage Restrictions – Check in luggage is strictly limited to 15 kg or 33 pounds per person, and 5kg or 12 pounds carry-on luggage. Remember, that all diving equipment is provided so you will only need to pack cameras for diving. It is not possible to load extra luggage, it will have to be repacked and left on Mahe until your return. Please adhere to the limits. It is suggested that lighter soft-shell luggage is used. Pack a separate bag with excess equipment to avoid having to repack at the airport. There is left luggage storage at the airport and you can arrange for your tour operator in Mahe to store excess luggage while you are on Alphonse Island.

Communication on Alphonse – Each chalet has a phone service, operated via satellite.

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Internet Connection – There is a wireless connection in the bar area and a network cable connection in the Internet room. There is no charge for their use.

Electricity Supply – The Island has 24-hour electrical current (240 volt, 50 cycles AC) with British plug points. A European electrical current adapter (3-point, square-pin) is necessary.

Contact telephone Number – Alphonse Island: 00248 422 9700 (GMT+04:00). When dialing internationally, precede with appropriate access code.

Gratuities – Tipping is never mandatory and if you wish to show appreciation to the staff and require a suggested amount based on an average which guests normally tip then please use the below amounts as an indication.
General hotel staff approximately USD 250 per person per week or USD 35 per day as a guideline. This is to be left at reception upon departure for equal distribution. The diving staff has a slightly varied amount, which can be suggested by the manager of that activity when on location. We suggest a USD 20 per dive guideline for the diving team, which is given to the respective manager at the end of the week and will be divided up by the dive team and skippers. Any gratuities will be much appreciated by the staff and we thank you for your generosity.

Currency – You do not need to change your € (Euros) or US$ (US Dollars) into the local currency. The hotel accepts US Dollars and all major credit cards except American Express. Credit cards carry an additional 5% bank fee, which will be added to the total bill.

Duty Free Allowance – 200 cigarettes or 50 cigars, 1 liter of spirits and 2 liters wine.

Cancellation Policy

  • A 10% fee shall be levied if cancellation is made more than 180 days prior to arrival.
  • A 10% fee shall be levied if the reservation is moved to an alternative date within the same season.
  • A fee of 50% shall be levied if cancellation is between 180 and 90 days prior to arrival. A fee of 100% shall be levied if cancellation is 90 days or less prior to arrival.
  • All cancellations & provisional bookings must be confirmed in writing.

We hope the above information helps to enhance your trip to Alphonse Island. Should there be any further assistance you require, please do not hesitate to contact us at reservations2@alphonse-island.com.  You can also visit the Alphonse Island Website to obtain more information.

 

A new diving experience in Seychelles

A new diving experience in Seychelles

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A new ‘unique’ diving experience is now available in Seychelles as Alphonse Island makes its debut into the luxury travel sector, offering guests experiences that can’t be found anywhere else in Seychelles.

The island, known as one of the best fly fishing destinations in the world, has made significant modifications to appeal to the lucrative luxury diving travel market. One of these modifications is the opening of a brand new dive centre.

The islands feature exceptional turtle sightings with very healthy breeding populations covering both atolls. Divers can expect huge schools of Bluelined Snapper, Humpback Snapper, Bigeye Trevally and even Batfish to join them on their diving experience.

The reefs are still untouched, pristine and teeming with activity with many species of Moray, as well as small macro such as nudibranchs and shrimp species. Divers will be able to marvel at dramatic drop off walls covered in forests of gorgonian sea fans, while the plateaus feature a high percentage of hard coral cover. Drift dives are common with reef hooks used for divers to stay in the right spot.

Have you always dreamed of swimming with dolphins? These beautiful creatures often grace divers with their presence on the excursions. But, the activity doesn’t stop there: the islands’ Giant and Bluefin Trevally populations are very healthy with a ‘wolf pack’ often attacking reef fish with nurse sharks. Also Hammerhead, Silvertip, Bull Shark and Grey Reef sharks can often be seen during the dives.

Courses offered at the new dive centre include the full PADI suite from Open Water to Divemaster as well as the ‘Discover Scuba’ Diving course. All the courses are focussed around underwater appreciation and conservation. Later this year, the dive centre will also start featuring Nitrox dives as well as the opportunity to go on an overnight trip to the far South of the Seychelles.

Besides the diving centre, the island also has a great number of other ‘unique’ experiences on offer.  The Alphonse Group of Islands comprising St Francois, Bijoutier and Alphonse islands, are considered the most remote, pristine and unspoilt group of islands in the Seychelles. Travellers will be able to embark on nature conservation walks to the uninhabited islands of Bijoutier and St Francois. They’ll be able to have a unique experience by overnighting on A’Manni – a Catamaran yacht in the St Francoise lagoon, or discover the expansive flats surrounding the Alphonse atolls as well as participate in conservation-related activities.

 “We are offering something exceptional. In today’s travel industry, people want more than a private plunge pool and butler. They want to explore, discover and create memories that will last a lifetime and that’s exactly what Alphonse Island offers,” says Keith Rose Innes, Managing Director of Alphonse Island.

Alphonse Island taps into the ‘Real Seychelles’ where everything is still raw, flawless and untouched, says also Amanda Lang, Marketing Manager Alphonse Island.  “Alphonse Island is not just another Island resort; it is a destination where the real luxury lies in the experience.”

Even though the real luxury of the island is expressed in the uniqueness of the experiences on offer, the island has also heavily invested in the upgrading of its facilities. All twenty-one Beach Bungalows and five spacious Beach Suites on the island have been extensively refurbished to create a more ‘barefoot luxury’ feel with new colours and new furnishings. Also the beach bar and the restaurant have been entirely revamped.

Rates for the forthcoming 2016/2017 season can be obtained by contacting marketing@alphonse-island.com

For more information about The Seychelles, visit http://www.seychelles.travel/

Ivan van Heerden

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!

Pelagic Magic

Pelagic Magic

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Diving with the denizens of the deep Divers in Cape Town are truly blessed. Not only do we have the luxury of having two coastlines to choose from (ensuring almost year round dive-able conditions) but we also have the option of venturing offshore foriving with the denizens of the deep Divers in Cape Town are truly a mind-blowing blue water experience. This is an almost unknown part of the Cape Town dive experience, probably more due to the option not being well known, than anything else.

Text and images by Jean Tresfon

Unlike the frigid waters of the Atlantic, or even the temperate waters of False Bay, the pelagic waters offshore of Cape Point are usually warm and clean. And for the Cape Town locals I don’t mean 14ºC and 5m visibility!

We’re talking about 22ºC plus and 30m visibility. Most of the diving is done in the area known as the canyon (named after the sea floor geological structure) which is approximately 22 nautical miles south west of Cape Point and lies smack in the heart of the tuna fishing grounds. The sea floor here lies at 600m deep so bottom times are fairly limited! Most diving is done on snorkel, and in certain instances tanks can be used but all of the diving is done in no more than the top 10m of water. The trip out takes about 2 to 3 hours depending on the weather and the departure site. It is possible to leave from Simonstown, Miller’s Point or Hout Bay. The sea can get fairly rough out there so it’s best to make sure that motion sickness tablets are taken prior to departure. Target species are mainly the blue sharks and the mako sharks, but yellowfin tuna and longfin tuna sightings are fairly common and we’ve even seen sperm whales and killer whales out there! The blue sharks are the most widely distributed animal in the world and are found in deep waters from the surface to 350m down. They grow to a maximum length of just under 4m and a maximum weight of about 200kg, but most of the local sightings are of much smaller individuals. The mako sharks are obviously also found in deep waters from the surface down to 150m. They grow to a maximum length of 3.5m and 450kg, but once again most local sightings are of smaller individuals. The mako is one of the fastest fish in the sea and has been known to leap clear of the water. Both of these shark species are stunningly beautiful when seen in their natural environment.

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Diving with these animals is completely safe as long as certain protocols are followed and common sense prevails. Gloves are definitely recommended as bare hands closely resemble prey items. All shiny objects attract a nibble from the sharks and should be kept to a minimum. Gaps between wet suit pants and booties should be avoided or covered and flailing of arms and hands is definitely a no.  Hands should stay on the camera or arms should be folded if not taking pictures. Photographers should be aware that the sharks find the strobes very interesting, especially when the capacitor is recharging after a shot has been taken. It is a good idea to always keep an eye on what is happening around you. Photographers in particular should not keep their eyes glued to the viewfinder; rather they should take frequent looks behind, below and above. The sharks are masters at sneaking up unseen from behind and seem to always know which way you are looking. Divers should be cognisant of the fact that these are wild animals and you are a long way offshore and far from any medical facilities. The point is to have a fun and safe interaction. If at any stage you feel uncomfortable then by far the best idea is to leave the water, rather than allowing the situation to escalate.

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People viewing the photos often comment on how brave or crazy we are to swim with sharks. The reality is that if done properly there is very little danger. The animals are beautiful and it is a privilege to be able to share their space. Once a suitable area has been found, normal procedure is for the operator to lay a chum line of chopped sardines in the water. The sharks work their way up the line towards the source of the scent trail. It is not uncommon to have five or more blue sharks in the water at one time along with a mako or two. Opportunities abound for great interactions and this type of diving is a photographers dream. The sharks are fairly bold and swim right up to the divers allowing for stunning image making. Obviously there are no guarantees in nature and it is also possible to spend a whole day out with no sharks.

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My first trip out to the deep was with veteran operator Chris Fallows of Apex Shark Expeditions. Chris has been doing this for a long time and really knows his stuff. With many divers on board he prefers to use a cage, less for protection from shark bite and more for keeping the divers close to the boat in the current and being able to put the sharks right in front of the divers. On this occasion the tuna and sharks were plentiful and we all had about half an hour each in the cage. Although this is without a doubt the safest way to conduct these dives I found the cage to be quite limiting from a photographic perspective. You cannot move around to change the angle of the sun and arrange all elements of the composition to your satisfaction. I did however get some good results, and Chris and his assistant Poena have an incredible knowledge of their subject.

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My second trip out to the tuna grounds was with Steve Benjamin of Animal Ocean. Steve is a qualified ichthyologist, and probably the most enthusiastic guy you will ever meet. This was not my best ever trip, through no fault of Steve’s. I did not take any motion sickness tablets and the sea was particularly rough on the day. I spent several hours lying in the bottom of the boat wishing that I could just die quickly. Steve just never gives up, and ordered me into the water with all my excuses falling on deaf ears. There were five blue sharks and two makos under the boat and he would not let me go home without a photograph. Steve does not use a cage but always has a safety diver (usually himself) in the water to watch his clients’ backs and to get them out of the water if the sharks behaviour changes. Steve is a really experienced guide having worked the sardine run with Mark Addison of Blue Wilderness for many years, and it really shows.

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My latest pelagic trip was on the inaugural charter to the deep run by Grant Whitford of Blueflash Charters. This was probably also my best trip in terms of shark interactions, but it is possible to have too much of a good thing and some valuable lessons were learnt that day. We ended up with just two divers in the water with seven blue sharks and a mako, and took some stunning shots. Both the mako and two of the blues seen on this trip had fish hooks stuck in the corner of their mouths and were trailing strands of fishing line. Just another stark reminder of the over-fishing of our oceans, were another reminder needed.

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For those wanting some tips from a photographic perspective:

1. Use a high shutter speed to freeze movement.
2. Use a wide angle lens and get close. 3.If possible use a strobe(s) to light up the sharks from below.
3. Try using a motor drive and take bursts of several shots as the animals approach.
4. Use other divers to lend scale to the photos.

One thing is for certain… you will come back with a changed perspective on what the media continually labels as mindless man-eaters.
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All the images from the DUC Shootout 2016

All the images from the DUC Shootout 2016

The 6th DUC Shootout took place between 1 February and 3 May and for the first time permitted images from inland diving venues. The DUC Shootout is one of three fantastic underwater photography competitions held during the year in South Africa. The theme of the competition is to provide a platform for underwater photographers to showcase their favourite dive sites throughout Southern Africa.

This year, the judging was convened by Allen Walker, a highly skilled and award winning SA shooter. In a first for the DUC Shootout, Allen arranged to have 5 international judges on his panel for the 2016 event. All 5 of the judges are highly acclaimed awarding winning photographers.

The judges are:

  • LIA BARRETT
  • ADAM HANLON
  • ELLEN CUYLAERTS
  • PAUL COLLEY
  • SUZAN MELDONIAN
  • MICHEL LONFAT

From the East Coast to the West Coast, to deep wrecks, to shallow rock pools, Coelacanths, shark diving, whales, pristine coral reefs and their inhabitants and (for 2016) the inland waters of Southern Africa. Here are the winning images arranged by category: advanced, intermediate and novice.

Overall winner:

Overall winner. Kate Jonker.
Overall winner. Kate Jonker.

Advanced:

Advanced 1st place. Jean Tresfon
Advanced 1st place. Jean Tresfon
Advanced 2nd place. Kate Jonker
Advanced 2nd place. Kate Jonker
Advanced 3rd place. Jenny Stromvoll
Advanced 3rd place. Jenny Stromvoll
Advanced 4th place. Arne Gething
Advanced 4th place. Arne Gething
Advanced 5th place. Jean Tresfon
Advanced 5th place. Jean Tresfon

Intermediate:

Intermediate 1st place. David Welch
Intermediate 1st place. David Welch
Intermediate 2nd place. Tracey-Lee Featherstone
Intermediate 2nd place. Tracey-Lee Featherstone
Intermediate 3rd place. Kerry van den Berg
Intermediate 3rd place. Kerry van den Berg
Intermediate 4th place. Gemma Dry
Intermediate 4th place. Gemma Dry
Intermediate 5th place. Raoul Cosica
Intermediate 5th place. Raoul Cosica

Novice:

Novice 1st place. Craig Hurn
Novice 1st place. Craig Hurn
Novice 2nd place. Alexander Kock
Novice 2nd place. Alexander Kock
Novice 3rd place. Craig Hurn
Novice 3rd place. Craig Hurn
Novice 4th place. Franco Cremona
Novice 4th place. Franco Cremona
Novice 5th place. Fred Fourie
Novice 5th place. Fred Fourie

Copyright notice:

Please note that the images displayed on this page are the property of the authors and copyright vests with the author. The authors have given permission to use the images in promoting the DUC Shootout only. This permission has been granted only to the Durban Undersea Club and its media partners. You may not use the images for your own purpose or any other purpose. Please respect the authors’ right to ownership.

Réunion Island

Réunion Island

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Situated some 805 kilometres (530 miles) east of Madagascar and around 200 kilometres (130 miles) south-west of Mauritius lies La Réunion in the Indian Ocean. Reunion is a French island that stands out from all the others. It’s an island where you can dive prestige reefs, walk in valleys full of waterfalls and visit an active volcano all in the space of one day. It is a mountainous island and is known worldwide for its hiking trails, mountain bike trails and paragliding.

Text and Images By Gaby Barathieu

Reunion-Map
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Volcanic in origin with one volcano, “Piton de la Fournaise”, still active this island rises 3 069m straight out of the ocean and has thousands of valleys surrounding its active volcano. The entire island is covered in mountains and the waters provide some of the best dive sites the Indian Ocean has to offer.

The volcano, “Piton de la Fournaise”, is a major tourist attraction and is located within the Réunion National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site. It sits 2 632m above sea-level and is active with regular eruptions. These volcanic activities provide spectacular viewing and what makes it even more amazing is that you can safely approach the lava flows from previous eruptions.

Geologically, Reunion Island is relatively young and consequently its lagoons are small and not very deep. The island however, rises from deep water and is a magnet for whales, whale sharks and other pelagic animals. Fed by deep ocean currents, it boasts healthy reefs that teem with colourful fish. The coral forms a discontinuous reef of about 15km to the west and south of the island.The Island is 39km long and 45km wide, covering a total area of 2 512km. Réunion is considered an “overseas extension” of France and is therefore included in the European Union. This means the currency used on the island is the Euro. The principal towns are Saint-Denis, the administrative centre; Saint-Paul, the first “capital” and Saint-Pierre the most southerly town.

The water temperature varies from 23C degrees in winter to 30C degrees in summer. The locals are laid-back and welcoming. Getting to Réunion is easy with daily flights from Paris, which take about 11 hours.

There are more than150 species of coral and 500 species of fish to be found which makes for relaxed and enjoyable diving. The eastern and southern sides of the island are known as the wilder sides of the island.

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Most of the dive operators are situated on the northwestern side of Reunion, where there are three main areas for launching boats. These dive centres are situated in the harbours, where boats are ready and waiting to take you out on the warm, quiet waters of the western side of the island.

La Réunion is an all-year destination. But if you want to see humpback whales, the austral winter (June to October) is the best time. Every year, they come to breed and give birth near our shores with the best action being from mid-August to mid-September.

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Dive conditions are generally better during the summer months with the best visibility and warmest water. However, this is also the rainy season so the weather can “close in”.

Dolphins are to be found around the island throughout the year and visibility is very good for mostly 80% of the year.

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Because diving Réunion is relatively unknown (and because of the distance to get there) La Réunion is a great dive destination if “frontier diving” is your bent. There’s nothing like diving places where few get to go.

Réunion offers a wide variety of dive sites. Just beyond the reef there are large flat reefs, beautiful steep walls and shipwrecks. Photographers tend to shoot wide-angle in the morning because conditions are calmer. In the afternoon, the shallower dive sites will delight you with their wealth of corals, sponges, reef fish and critters. This is a great opportunity to work on ambient light and macro underwater photography.

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The greatest coral and marine life biodiversity is found on the west coast. There are also lava flows on the south side of the island, which are visited by some dive centers. These sites are exposed to strong currents, however, and for experienced divers only.

We also have some wreck diving at Réunion. The most famous is the Hai Siang at 55m deep (181ft). When the ship sunk it landed on its side, but then was righted by a cyclone. It’s a fun dive with a descent straight through the blue water column. Photographers can set up wide-angle or possibly ultra wide-angle (14mm).

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Other popular deep wrecks include The Navarra at 50m (164ft), The Sea Venture at 45m (148ft) and Antonio Lorenzo at 38m (125ft). These are deep dives that require special training, however the photo potential is incredible. There are also some great wrecks in shallower water covered with abundant marine growth, fish and other exciting critters.

The macro diving is world-class at Réunion Island, with a wide range of biodiversity. The dive sites are usually found on the outer slopes of the barrier coral reefs, but you can also find some extraordinary encounters in the lagoons. Harlequin shrimp are often observed by free divers in the lagoons, so it’s certain that scuba divers can find them. There are also many colorful nudibranchs waiting to be found and photographed.

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With great visibility and warm tropical waters, what more could a diver ask for?

With 40% of its approximately 2500 km2 territory classified as World Heritage Site by UNESCO, Reunion Island offers an amazing mix of authentic cultures and wild nature. As soon as you arrive on the island, you will feel and see the extraordinary variety of cultures that coexist in perfect harmony. From Asian cuisine to creole markets, from Buddhist traditions to Tamil, Islamic or Christian rituals, Reunion is a melting pot of cultures.

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Réunion’s Most Popular Dive Sites

The Caves of Maharani: An original site in about 15m (49ft), which includes a series of cracks and caves adorned with skylights. On this dive, wide-angle is preferable in the morning when the position of the sun is best. Divers regularly see kingfish over one meter in length, making close passes while hunting. Lionfish are under the overhangs waiting for unsuspecting prey.

Passe de l’Ermitage: A cleaning station and meeting point for turtles and eagle rays. The turtles visit the cleaning station daily while also using the lagoon for shelter at night. The extensive seagrass beds provide an abundant food source.

Grand Tombant de la Point au Sel: This is one of the best dives at the island, but reserved for experienced divers since the current can be violent and unpredictable. There are great wide-angle opportunities with regular sightings of huge schools of jacks and pelagic fish (swordfish, marlin, tuna). Less frequently, divers will encounter a whale shark, hammerhead sharks or manta rays.

Cap la Houssaye: THE site for macro photography. On a regular dive you will see nudibranchs, mantis shrimp and ghost pipefish as well as turtles, barracuda and more. There is a huge meadow with sea slugs of all kinds, but beware of scorpion fish camouflaged on the bottom as they await passing prey. Visibility is average but this is not a problem for macro.

Réunion offers a wide variety of diving mixed with stunning topside landscapes. This small French island should be on every underwater photographer’s destination list!

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About the Author

Gaby Barathieu is a passionate underwater photographer based on Reunion Island. He and photographer Yann Oulia run the Reunion Underwater Photography website and Facebook page, sharing the incredible diving and wildlife encounters in the waters near their home. View their photography at www.RUP.re or on their Facebook Page.

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Useful stuff:

Language:French; Creole is widely used

Currency:Euro

Time:GMT +4

Climate:Tropical

Natural hazards:Cyclones (November to April); active volcanoes

Diving season:Year round

Water temperature:27C/80F (Jan-March), 23C/73F (July-Sept)

Air temperature:22C (Winter), 27C (Summer)

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Azores – An oasis in the Atlantic

Azores – An oasis in the Atlantic
Devil rays (mobula tarapacana) Santa Maria Island

In the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, almost half way between the United States and Europe, lie the most remote group of islands in the Atlantic ocean, The Azores. For the many species that migrate the Atlantic, the Azores is an oasis in a big blue desert. The Azores is at the epicenter of the cold and nutrient-rich currents of the North and the warm waters of the Gulf Stream from the South. These currents meet to create an upwelling resulting in an explosion of life every year.

Text and images by Nuno SÁ

The beginning of this cycle starts with the spring “bloom” as the water gets warmer and fills with microscopic algae, giving it a greenish hew. This attracts the biggest and smallest of the ocean’s animals. This microscopic algae, or phytoplankton, attract zooplankton, which in turn attract and serves as nourishment to giant travellers crossing the ocean. Blue, fin, bryde’s, sei and minke whales arrive, stopping in these nutrient rich waters, to gather strength and food in order to complete their migration north to the cold Arctic waters. During their visit to the islands, these large baleen whales meet the Azores’ resident giant of the seas, the pods of sperm whales that hunt for squid in the deep waters that surround the archipelago.

When the first days of summer arrive the water gets clearer by the day, yet the food chain continues with the microscopic plankton giving way to large bait balls of fish and the multitude of predators that follow. As the warm summer breezes arrive so do the more tropical species such as large pods of Atlantic spotted dolphins, pilot whales, loggerhead turtles, devil rays, blue and mako and whale sharks and finally, the large schools of fish.

Loggerhead turtle Santa Maria Island

The archipelago of the Azores comprises nine islands and lies over five hundred kilometres (approximately three hundred and ten miles). These nine islands are the most isolated in the North Atlantic, situated one thousand, three hundred kilometres (approximately eight hundred and seven miles) from the southwestern coast of mainland Portugal.

Diving is possible at all of the islands of the archipelago and encompasses shore dives, cave dives, wreck dives and the Azores highlight – diving on distant underwater mountains (seamounts) where dozens of manta rays and big schools of fish are a common sight.

The archipelago can be divided into three groups – eastern, central and western. Within each group, the islands are in close proximity to each other (just four miles from Pico to Faial in the central group), but each group can be up to over a hundred miles away from the next. Yet, each island is so different from the other that it is hard to describe them as group. What they do have in common is peace and quiet, breathtaking volcanic landscapes and cows everywhere … roads included.

Underwater, these islands are as diverse as they are on the surface, with blue sharks at one island and whale sharks at another. Or a World War II shipwreck on one island and 15th and 16th century wrecks on another. Coastal dives are however, rather similar throughout the archipelago. Because the islands are of volcanic origin the islands underwater rock formations are very impressive, with large arches that originate from ancient lava flows and deep caves that inter-connect to several chambers.

Typical sea life includes large dusky groupers, curious triggerfish, and several species of nudibranchs, morays and octopus amongst the rocks. Colorful red hogfish are normally more common at greater depths of twenty meters or more where the black coral (Antipathella wollastoni) branches are also quite common.

Many small and colourful species such as peacock wrasse, parrotfish, Azores chromis (Chromis limbata) and Mediterranean rainbow wrasse can also be seen. Large shoals of pelagic fish such as guelly jack, almaco jack, yellow mouth barracuda, Atlantic bonito or, for the luckier, a majestic devil ray, a turtle or an ocean sunfish are occasionally sighted on coastal dives. But the offshore underwater seamounts are definitely the place to visit for big pelagics and are what makes the Azores a unique diving destination.

Azores Highlights
Some of the most well known diving experiences in these Islands are the Princesa Alice offshore seamount, and diving with blue sharks in high seas. Both these dive experiences are to be found in the central group of islands and are done from Pico or Faial Islands. Diving offshore seamounts is among the best diving these islands have to offer and the Princesa Alice dive is definitely second to none. Located about forty-five miles from Faial Island (three hour trip) this seamount erupts from a depth of in excess of five hundred metres to around thirty-five meters below the surface.

Offshore dives in high seas are completely unpredictable, but big groups of curious devil rays and big shoals of thousands of large pelagic fish, such as yellow mouth barracudas, jacks, and especially Atlantic bonitos, are among the main attractions. Several species of shark, ocean sunfish or manta rays are also among the most sighted species. Of course, with the Azores being home to over twenty different species of whales and dolphins, the trip to Princes Alice always includes some ocean travellers such dolphins, sperm whales or loggerhead turtles.

The Azores is also one of the few places in the world where you can dive with one of the sea’s most beautiful predators – the blue shark, and Pico and Faial are the birthplace of this new activity. Diving with blue sharks is done “in the blue”, either snorkeling or scuba diving, and is definitely an unforgettable experience. Just minutes after a container with bait hits the pristine water subtle shadows can be seen shooting from hundreds of meters deep straight to the surface.

Cautious and elusive at first but settled as their confidence grows, these predators of the deep are extremely curious. They approach and inspect every diver, sometimes even lightly brushing divers with a tactile test along the shark’s sensitive lateral line. On a typical dive divers are surrounded by eight to fifteen of these beautiful predators of the high seas, with the occasional elusive mako shark showing up for a quick visit.

Santa Maria Island situated in the eastern group, is probably the Azores best kept secret. It is a small island with white sandy beaches and is completely off the beaten track boasting whale sharks and groups of devil rays just thirty minutes from the harbour. Although big groups of devil rays are typically seen on offshore seamounts, Santa Maria is the only island of the Azores where you can see dozens of these majestic animals slowly gliding around divers on a daily basis just three miles from the coast. This happens in a place called Ambrósio, and you can literally see up to fifty devil rays on a single dive, as well as large shoals of pelagic fish … topping it off with the occasional whale shark.

Up to three years ago whale sharks were a very rare sight and mostly described by tuna fisherman after encounters in high seas. However since 2008 the biggest fish of the sea has chosen the island of Santa Maria to spend the summer. Nonetheless spotting this colossus is not for the
faint of heart, as they usually appear about six miles from the coast, which involves setting aside a day to search for them and being prepared for many hours out at sea. But when you do get lucky the experience is priceless; pristine blue water several hundred meters deep, shades of sunlight descending beneath you and a massive whale shark followed by hundreds or thousands of tuna hitching a ride through the Atlantic.

Around twenty-five miles south from Santa Maria (or about forty-five miles north from São Miguel) are two of the Azores most well known offshore dives – Formigas and Dollabarat. Formigas is a series of small rocky islets in the middle of the ocean where a small and uninhabited lighthouse was constructed to prevent ship collisions (unfortunately there were many before it was built).

Dollabarat is an underwater seamount just three miles from Formigas, so making the trip usually involves diving at both sites. What both dives have in common is amazing visibility (up to forty metres and more) and the chance to see big shoals of oceanic pelagic fish such as wahoo, yellow mouth barracudas, jacks, and Atlantic bonitos, as well as devil rays, hammerhead sharks and the occasional manta ray or whale shark. Between dozens of devil rays at Ambrósio, going out for the whale sharks, taking a trip to Formigas and Dollabarat (including a few species of whales, dolphins and sea turtles on the way there), and a few sunsets at Praia Formosa beach, it is no surprise that the divers who are lucky enough to have these experiences like to keep this island a secret.

Aside from the abovementioned highlights, each of the nine islands of the Azores has excellent and different dives. The western group (Flores and Corvo) being the most remote of the islands is known to have breathtaking landscapes, the most pristine waters and is the best place to see large groupers. Terceira Island in the central group is the top place to see 15th – 16th century wrecks, and São Miguel Island on the eastern group is home to the Azores’ most famous wreck dive – the World War II Liberty Ship – DORI.

Visiting the Azores: The Azores’ nine islands offer world-class diving, amazing landscapes, fewer tourists and a lot of peace and quiet. With reasonable coastal dives and the chance of unique experiences on offshore dives, the Azores offers dives for every taste and level of experience. However thinking you can visit all of the Azores “highlights” in just one trip is simply an illusion.

The distance between islands means you should plan some of the more isolated ones as a destination on its own. Yet it is possible to dive in two or three islands in a one to two week trip and still have time for whale watching and sight seeing.

When to go: July to September are the months with the warmest water, best weather, best visibility and best chances to sight pelagic species. Water can get as cold as 16 – 17cº in the winter, and is a pleasing 25cº in the summer. Air temperature, not surprisingly, approximates the water temperature since the islands are very small and hugely influenced by the surrounding mass of water.

Getting there and around: There are airports and daily connections between all the islands, as well as regular boat connections in the summer. TAP (www.tap.pt) and SATA (www.sata.pt) have direct flights to the Azores from Lisbon and several other European capitals as well as Boston, Oakland, Montreal and Toronto. There are 2 official boat operators in the Azores as well as plenty of private taxi services. Transmaçor (www.transmacor.pt) only operates in the central group, while Atlanticoline (www.atlanticoline.pt) connects all the islands. Boat connections work very well in the Western Group (Flores and Corvo) and also between the “Triangle Islands” in the central group (Faial, Pico and São Jorge) with several daily connections. However moving between any other Islands can sometimes be very time consuming and it’s well worth taking a flight. However if you don’t mind taking a day off for the trip it can be very nice (and cheaper) to take a boat trip along the Islands.

Other than that just relax, and get into its easygoing ambiance. After your first visit I am sure you will feel you have discovered a small paradise in the Atlantic.

Devil rays (mobula tarapacana)

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