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/ .

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

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.

Inaugural Silence of the Sharks set to be South Africa’s biggest underwater protest

Inaugural Silence of the Sharks set to be South Africa’s biggest underwater protest
Image credit - Inyoni-Photography
Image credit – Inyoni-Photography

The fifth annual Paddle Out for Sharks conservation platform, connecting humans with the oceans, will this year be held in conjunction with the international Silence of the Sharks underwater protest being held at Scottburgh (Aliwal Shoal) and Shelly Beach (Protea Banks) on the KwaZulu-Natal South Coast on Saturday, 4 June.

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Endorsed by UGU South Coast Tourism, the Silence of the Sharks and Paddle Out for Sharks initiatives will also celebrate World Oceans Day on 8 June, centred around the theme of ‘healthy oceans, healthy planet’.

Image credit - Alan Walker
Image credit – Alan Walker

Image credit - Alan Walker
Image credit – Alan Walker

“The ocean serves a number of vital purposes, regulating temperature, providing life-giving oxygen and a home to an incredible array of wildlife,” explained Justin  Mackrory, CEO: South Coast Tourism. “To ensure the health of all future generations, we need to ensure that our oceans are protected.”

Mackrory said residents on the South Coast are made aware, on a daily basis, of the beauty of the ocean and the need for its preservation.

“We have some of the best big animal diving in the world,” he explained. “Aliwal Shoal has been named one of the world’s top 10 dive sites and Protea Banks attracts thousands of international divers every year. These initiatives coincide with the proposed expansion of the Marine Protected Areas at these two dive sites on the KZN south coast and play an important part in keeping awareness about our oceans alive and encouraging people to become proactive in the protection of sharks and marine life.”

Paddle Out for Sharks, which was first held at Aliwal Shoal in 2011, is supported by the surfing community, conservationists, anglers, divers, paddle skiers, scientists and environmentally-concerned individuals. Following the surfing tradition of ‘paddling out’ in memory of a fallen surfer, the event echoes that spiritual element, highlighting the plight of sharks.

Image credit - Dori Moreno
Image credit – Dori Moreno

“The Paddle Out for Sharks is proud to cooperate on our fifth annual paddle out in 2016, with Silence of the Sharks at the south coast venues. As a grassroots movement that aims to raise awareness of the plight of sharks, we see a synergy with Silence of the Sharks, who are also trying to provide a ‘voice for sharks’,” commented Amanda Barratt, Paddle Out for Sharks Organiser.

The same sentiment flows through the Silence of the Sharks protest which started with a Red Sea dive in December 2015 where about 100 divers went to a depth of 20 metres for half an hour in protest of the mass disappearance of sharks. The dive will be emulated at various locations across the globe, with South Africa’s single event taking place on the KwaZulu-Natal South Coast, set to be the biggest underwater demonstration ever held in South Africa. The initiative will end on 23 October 2016 with a dive in Cyprus.

According to David Pilosof, underwater photographer and diver who has been leading the Silence of the Sharks initiative since 1972, the number of blacktip reef sharks has dwindled by 93 percent worldwide, the number of tiger sharks has decreased by 97% and bull sharks by 99%. Every year, 70 million sharks or more are hunted globally, particularly in the Far East, although the European Union and United States have not made shark fishing illegal.

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Sharks have roamed the oceans for 400 million years and are understood to be linked to the health of all our oceans. Despite this, the decimation of sharks for shark fin soup, with some sharks finned while alive and then thrown back into the ocean to drown, continues. Many sport fishermen also target large sharks, effectively removing slow reproducing animals, vital to all conservation, merely for trophies.

Internationally renowned marine videographer, Mark Addison, who hails from the South Coast and will be participating in the event, said: “The greatest threat to sharks on our coast is ourselves, in all of our destructive incantations. It is truly sad. I am of the opinion that the opportunity for debate and timeous intervention has truly passed but the time for action is always now and within each and every one of us.”

Addison’s daughter, Ella, herself an experienced scuba diver, will also be participating in the event along with a number of like-minded school friends.

The Silence of the Sharks protest forms part of South Coast Tourism’s Sardine Season campaign which includes a number of family-focused events. The annual Sardine Run along the KwaZulu-Natal coastline, dubbed ‘the greatest shoal on earth’ is one of the most significant natural migration phenomena globally.

The day’s events will start at 8am with the Paddle Out for Sharks participants gathering at back line off Scottburgh Beach where flowers will be laid. Thereafter, the Silence of the Sharks participants will be invited to jump off the boats and form a group in the water holding banners. Following a countdown, the divers will descend one to two metres with the banners. Scuba divers will then descend with the banners to a 10 meters depth.

For all ocean lovers and shark advocates wanting to get involved in this impactful campaign but not wanting to get wet, there will be land-based activities at both Scottburgh and Shelly Beach/St Mike’s (Protea Banks). The Harley Owners Group (HOGS) Durban Chapter will also be joining in the demonstration by riding from Durban to Scottburgh, gathering at the tidal pool on Scottburgh Main Beach which will provide the perfect viewing point to watch proceedings. Shark Scientist Jessica Escobar will be giving a talk to the crowds that gather, explaining the event and the plight of sharks. Everyone is welcome to attend and encouraged to bring deck chairs, binoculars and flowers.

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

Stunning Sodwana Bay

Stunning Sodwana Bay
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Launch for a dive in Sodwana

The summer of 2001 was my first dive trip to Sodwana bay. For my first dive, we launched just after 7am and already the African sun was high in the sky. Our dive boat skipped over the calm ocean en route to our dive location – a reef called 7-Mile. After a 30-minute boat ride the skipper brought the boat to a stop and immediately organised chaos broke out as everybody grabbed for fins and masks. One by one, the skipper helped everyone kit-up before maneuvering the boat to the exact location above the reef using landmarks. At first I was not convinced that anybody could locate a reef using landmarks and triangulation but to this day I have never been dropped incorrectly. The skipper then counted down 3-2- 1 and we all rolled backwards off the boat in unison. We were greeted by a kaleidoscope of colour and large schools of goatfish and blue banded snapper which hung in mid-water above the reef.

Text and Images by Paul Hunter

Cresent-tail Bigeye
Cresent-tail Bigeye create great contrast with the blue background

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Lionfish flaring for a great image

Glassfish
Thousands of Glass fish surround divers

There were so many fish I felt like I was in an aquarium. From that initial moment I knew Sodwana was a special place and have since never been disappointed. That dive went on to be one of those spectacular dives with large moray eels, turtle, nudibranches and much more. To this day, 7-Mile reef is still one of my favorites with its many swim throughs, over- hangs and mushroom rock.

Over the past 6 years I have spent diving holidays in Indonesia (Bali, Wakatobi, Bunaken, Lembeh), the Red Sea (North and South) and Malaysia (Sipadan), and after every trip I realise what Sodwana and South African diving has to offer. I believe diversity is the word I’m looking for. Don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoy diving internationally and will continue to as long as it offers something different. However, for me, these international destinations seem to be lacking something. I call it the “wild factor” which I believe diving in South Africa offers. On any given dive in Sodwana you have a good chance of seeing manta, turtles, whale shark, numerous other shark species and dolphin plus an abundance of macro subjects. And that’s just underwater. The entire bay is surrounded by a massive sand dune covered in a dense coastal forest which offers plenty other animal life.

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Leopard shark on the sand

I believe diving in Sodwana can compare with any top dive destination in the world due to its variety of coral reefs, phenomenal sea life and all year round good visibility. The reefs of Sodwana are regarded as the southern most coral reefs in the world and the only tropical dive site in South Africa. Divers are exposed to more than 1200 species of fish on the many reefs. The point I’m trying to make is reinforced every year at the Sodwana Shootout. Each
year, while viewing the images of all the contestants I’m blown away at what is available right here on my doorstep. I ask myself the same question every year: “why do I do international trips when I have all this diversity right here in the country I live in”.

My favorite Sodwana dive spots

9 Mile Reef is the furthest and takes about 40 minutes, depending on the conditions. The great thing about this trip is that there is a good chance of seeing and possibly swimming with dolphin and whale shark, and in season humpback and southern right whales. The dive site comprises some small walls, caves, overhangs and pinnacles. This reef is best known for the “Green Tree”; a coral tree that stands tall, surrounded by goldies and other fish. The maximum depth is 22 meters on the sand
and average depth about 18 meters. Due to its distance from the launch site, the reef is not dived often so is in pristine condition. The marine life is diverse and includes most of the tropical fauna typical of the region as well as big schools of passing game fish.
7 Mile Reef, just 25 minutes from the beach, to me, the most scenic reef in Sodwana. The maximum depth is 24 metres and the average around 18 metres. This reef is in immaculate condition and is populated by every type of fish imaginable. There are large schools of snapper and goatfish that hang in mid-water. Their yellow bodies contrast against the blue water making for unbelievable visuals. The reef is well known for the amphitheatre and mushroom rock. Also have a look out for turtles, rays, kingfish and much, much more. This is definitely not a dive spot to be missed.
• About 20 minutes from the beach lies 5 Mile reef. This reef is well known for ‘pothole’ which is an amazing spot for macro photography opportunities and it never disappoints. Also have a look around the top of pothole and on the sand around it. I have come upon numerous surprises here. 5 Mile is a flattish reef with spectacular plate and stag horn corals. Just inshore from 5 Mile at a depth of approx 20 metres is Ribbon reef. This a also a great reef for macro sea life and is named after the ribbon eels that reside here.
2 Mile Reef is only about 5 minutes by boat from the beach. It is a very large reef with numerous places to dive. The reef ’s depth ranges from 8–10 metres to 16–18 metres with an average of 12 metres. Some of the spots you can dive are: Chain, Pinnacles, Caves and Overhangs, Coral gardens, Four Bouy and my favorite, Antons. This reef has many gullies, ledges, pinnacles and outcrops. I have seen everything from turtles, schooling jacks, reef shark and many more. The thing I like about 2 Mile is the diversity of the coral and fish life.
Quarter Mile Reef is basically just behind the breakers and about 12 metres deep. In the summer months this reef is home to ragged tooth sharks that come here to gestate. This dive can only be done when the conditions are right. So if the conditions and season are right I would highly recommend it.

Whaleshark
Plenty of Whale sharks can be spotted in Sodwana during the correct season

Two other reefs that I have to mention are Stringer and Bikini as they are both awesome dives. Stringer lies between quarter and 2-mile reef. It consists of 2 reefs – small stringer and big stringer. Small Stringer is a round piece of coral which attracts a lot of juvenile fish. Big Stringer is more of an elongated reef. It is normally dived on the shore side and when conditions are calm. The other reef I want to tell you about is Bikini. It runs parallel to 2 Mile and is mainly flat . My favorite location on this reef is the Ledge, which is a fair-sized cleaning station. The macro photography opportunities here are world-class. It’s a deep dive and therefore more suited to an advanced diver.

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Let me tell you a little about Sodwana now. Sodwana Bay or, “little one on its own” in Zulu, lies in the heart of Maputaland. It is also situated within the Greater St Lucia Wetland park, South Africa’s first World Heritage Site. Both Maputoland and the St Lucia Marine Reserve are linked to form a continuous protected area stretching 150 kilometres on land and 3 nautical miles out to sea. Sodwana is easily accessible by a 4 hour dive from Durban and 7 hours from Johannesburg.

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Conditions are generally good throughout the year with the best diving from April to September. Visibility can be up to 30 metres on a good day and the average is around 14 metres. The weather is typically subtropical with water temperature above 20°C reaching as high as 29°C in summer.

All the dive sites of Sodwana Bay are named according to the distance from the launch site. The majority of the dive sites are shallow, with an average of around 18 metres. There are however several deeper sites available for those qualified.

It is not only diving that makes Sodwana an exquisite destination. There is also snorkeling, bird watching, hiking, turtle viewing and much more. With its scenic beauty and close proximity to some world-renowned game reserves, Sodwana Bay is the perfect destination for divers who would like to experience the wilder side of life.

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Sodwana is more than just diving, it can be an adventure. A must do is turtle viewing at Sodwana Bay. Five known species of turtle regularly visit Sodwana. Two of which, the Loggerhead and Leatherback, visit every year during the summer months (November to March) at night to lay their eggs. To experience these creatures coming ashore to nest is an incredible sight. Even more incredible is when you get to experience the hatchlings struggling to survive the furry of predators. This event only takes place in a few places in the world. Maputoland boasts the longest running protected program for turtles in the world. Night turtle tours are provided during December and January. Departure times vary with the tide.

Muzi Pans
Just a short 35 minute drive from Sodwana is Muzi Pans which is an little oasis away from the crowds and easily accessible via a tar road. The pans are situated on the Mkhuze river floodplain between Mkhuze Game Reserve and Lake St Lucia. The pan is home to Nile crocodile, hippos and an abundance of bird species. On a good day up to 100 different species can be seen here. The area does have Zululand Birding Route trained local bird guides who can assist you with birding in the area and a guided canoe trip can also be taken on the pan with trained canoe guides. It is well worth the effort to visit Muzi Pans.

Lake Sibaya – Mabibi
Another great location to visit is Lake Sibaya, with its 100 kilometres of untouched shoreline. It is South Africa’s largest freshwater lake measuring 70 square kilometres. The lake lies within the Isimangaliso Wetland Park and is now a World Heritage Site. It provides a habitat for birds, mammals and marine life. This lake has the second largest population of hippos and crocodile in KwaZulu-Natal and is also an important habitat for many bird species. In dry spells, Lake Sibaya is the only source of water for birds and mammals in the area. The entire wetland also supports many of the rural people who in many cases are totally dependent on the water resources. If you are into bird watching then Lake Sibaya is the place for you with 279 species recorded at the lake alone. This wetland is very important for breeding, roosting and feeding. Some of the species you can expect to see are red and white breasted cormorants; pied, giant and malachite kingfishers; fish eagles and a variety of herons, darters and egrets. Waders include white-fronted sand plover, black-winged stilt, avocent, greenshank and spoonbills. Also recorded at the lake are the much sought-after pel’s fishing owl, pygmy goose, palmnut vulture, flamingo, woodward’s batis and rufousbellied heron.

Game viewing or safaris for our international readers
Another reason I have always thought Sodwana to be an international destination is that it offers visitors the chance to do some world class diving and then also experience some of our country’s best game parks. Just think, you can dive in the morning and in the afternoon be on a game drive viewing the Big 5. It does not get better than that.
There are numerous game parks close to Sodwana.

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Below are some of the better-known ones:
Hluhluwe Game Reserve is one of the oldest reserves in Africa . It is also well known for its role in rhino conservation. The park stretches over 96 000 hectares and is home to the Big Five as well as more elusive animals, such wild dog, giraffe, cheetah and Nyala. The northern section of the park is known for the diverse range of both animal and bird life. Guided walks are also available and best to do early morning or late afternoon.  Numerous types of accommodation are available. Hluhluwe is located in a low risk malaria area so visitors should consult their doctors before visiting.
Thanda Game Reserve is a private reserve and lodge that offers ultimate luxury and world-class service. They offer 9 luxurious villas in the main lodge and 4 large luxurious tents in the tented camp. Thanda offers the Big Five and much more. The game restoration project has been successfully launched and the reserve is witnessing its 4th breeding season since the land was purchased in 2002.
Phinda Private Game Reserve is located in the lush Maputaland region in northern KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Phinda comprises of 23 000 hectares (57 000 acres) of prime conservation land. They offer an abundance of wildlife including Africa’s Big Five (lion, leopard, elephant, black and white rhino, buffalo) and over 380 bird species. Guests can look forward to exciting game-drives in open 4×4 safari vehicles led by experienced rangers and Zulu trackers Phinda has seven safari lodges which all offer sophistication and style in the African bush.

Head over heels – snorkling with seals

Head over heels – snorkling with seals

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With their sleek streamlined bodies, sinuously flexible spines and frenetic flipper action, Cape Fur Seals (Arctocephalus pusillus pusillus) are one of nature’s most gifted swimmers. Like playful puppies they frolic in the Cape’s kelp beds and around the abundant reefs but hunt in deeper water. Curious, even mischievous, by nature they investigate everything that floats or swims in the Cape’s waters.

Text and images by STEVE BENJAMIN of ANIMAL OCEAN

Duiker Island is a protected island in the Atlantic Ocean, off Hout Bay near Cape Town. It is roughly 77 by 95 metres in size, covering an area of about 0.4 hectare and is home to a variety of sea birds and up to 15 000 Cape Fur Seals. It is also the perfect spot for photographers, divers and people interested in getting close to marine life to interact with these eccentric and fun-loving seals.

Duiker Island as seen from the air
Duiker Island as seen from the air

Animal Ocean, owned by zoologist, marine guide, skipper and scientific commercial diver, Steve Benjamin has been leading focused seal snorkeling trips to Duiker Island for the past 4 years. His is the only company to focus solely on this activity. This means that on any given summer day you can find the Animal Ocean team heading off to the island. It also means that Steve and his team know it better than anyone else.

Snorkeling with the seals is unlike any other activity you can do in South Africa. This is a chance to interact and get nose-to-mask with a large marine mammal that WANTS to play with you. Steve often thinks that this activity is more for the seal’s entertainment than the guests.

The regular and non-interactive way to see the seals
The regular and non-interactive way to see the seals

There’s no training requirement and (unlike shark diving) no baiting. It is a completely natural interactive wildlife experience in which the wildlife comes to play with you, because it wants to.

Seal snorkeling trips run from October to the end of April. The rest of the year it is too rough and too cold — the seals are civilized and don’t like to swim unless its a nice warm day, unfortunately, for them warm water is 14C! During the months of November and December, when the males are mating and the females giving birth, is when the most seals are found at Duiker Island.

Regular tourists visiting the seals from the various vessels that provide non-interactive viewing
Regular tourists visiting the seals from the various vessels that provide non-interactive viewing

Cape Fur seals are different from true seals in that they have small ears and propel themselves with their front flippers — we don’t have true seals in South Africa. Cape Fur Seals eat fish; mainly pilchards and anchovies but they will opportunistically eat octopus, crayfish, reef fish and even small sharks. They are adaptable and intelligent. Fortunately they won’t eat snorkelers, but they may playfully nibble your fins.

The seal pups leave the safety of the island and enter the water during March and April, after being born in December. The pups are incredible to snorkel with and often interact with and play with snorkelers. It is an underwater photographer’s dream assignment.

The trip to Duiker Island from Hout bay harbour is 3 km’s and takes about 5 minutes by boat. Duiker Island is named after the cormorants that used to cover the island before the seals took over about 30 years ago. It is a low-lying island that can get waves washing over it during winter. The areas where the snorkeling takes place is shallow (maximum depth of 5m) and surrounded by a kelp forest. The island offers great protection from the prevailing strong summer wind (the southeast) but is susceptible to swell brought in from the open ocean. Trips are sometimes cancelled because of the swell and resulting wave action on the island.

A curious seal spy-hops to observe
A curious seal spy-hops to observe

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Seals crowd the island shore

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Seals in their kelp environment

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A seal leaps clean out the water

Duiker Island is not known for shark activity and the Animal Ocean team have never seen any around the island. The main reason that the Atlantic coastline is low in shark numbers is because it is so cold. While sharks can handle cool waters they prefer the warmer temperatures of South Africa’s east coast (the Indian Ocean).

If you’re an underwater photographer then this is the ultimate close-encounter-low-gear marine experience. If you’re a naturalist in love with marine life then you will love being in the water with these amazing creatures.

Animal Ocean provides all the equipment you will need to get in the water. They provide 5mm wetsuits with hoods, gloves, booties, fins and masks. The Atlantic Ocean water is cold at 10C – 15C, so be ready for a shock when you hit the water. However, your amazement at seeing the seals will quickly take over and you’ll forget about the cold water. Rest assured though, when you return to the boat you’ll be given hot chocolate and warm water down your wetsuit.

Animal Ocean respect the seal’s space and do not go close to the island, which is protected, and tell guests not to touch the seals (although they will choose to come close to you). Each trip is managed with two guides in the water with you and the location to snorkel is marked by a big red buoy. The seal snorkeling normally takes about 40 minutes, when the cold water forces a return to the boat. The whole trip takes about 2,5 hours including initial meeting, getting equipment, the boat ride, getting in the water and returning.

Animal Ocean is a Trip Advisor award winning operation and guests have written some wonderful comments.

Brian Hope, South African – I’m born and bred in Cape Town and this was honestly one of the best experiences I have ever had in the Mother City

Natasha Ruscheinski, Holland – This was one of the most awesome snorkeling experiences I’ve had.

Monique S, Belgium – What a great experience! The crew was very nice and relaxed, although safety first … so everything was explained very well, before we plunged into the water.

Booking can be done through the online booking form on the website www.sealsnorkeling.com where further information is also available.

Pure Apnea

Pure Apnea

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Pure Apnea is a dynamic international freediving organisation founded in 2012 on the idea that freediving is both a sport and a recreational activity which demands the highest levels of physical performance and excellent teaching ability from its instructors. The organisation currently has 7 branches active in Europe, Africa and Asia and has freediving professionals from 13 countries in its ranks. Pure Apnea Instructor Qualification Courses (IQC) have been held in a number of countries including the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Croatia, the Philippines, Indonesia and South Africa, with more scheduled in the near future.

Text by Daniela Daines

With the growing number of diving organisations offering freediving certification courses the question sceptics ask is, “Why another freediving organisation?”

Pure Apnea’s co-founder John Daines answers, “Standards and development!”

“Daniela Daines in her element” - image by John Daines
“Daniela Daines in her element” – image by John Daines

John explains that the recent commercialisation of freediving has resulted in a downward shift in standards; especially at the instructor and instructor trainer levels. Traditional scuba organisations have realised the monetary potential in offering freediving courses alongside scuba courses and are quickly growing their freediving instructor numbers. They are achieving this by setting very low instructor qualification standards.

“Some international scuba diving organisations are certifying freediving instructors who are barely able to free dive to 20m deep. This is the depth that our Level 1 beginners are reaching on a 2-day course!”

He goes on to say that, in an attempt to compete, some older, well-established freediving organisations have lowered, and in some cases abandoned, their instructor and instructor trainer requirements.

“Scuba diving has the World Recreational Scuba Training Council (WRSTC) which ensures international consistency in minimum course training standards amongst its member organisations.”

Freediving however has no equivalent body, which means organisations offering freediving certification courses can lower their standards as much as they want. It also means that establishing accurate course equivalencies between various freediving organisations is extremely difficult, due to the vast differences in student and instructor standards,” John explains.

Pure Apnea Education Ladder
Pure Apnea Education Ladder

One of the primary reasons that Pure Apnea was established was to offer a high quality alternative in defiance to this downward trend. Pure Apnea firmly believe that ensuring students receive the best and safest instruction starts by demanding the highest levels of freediving ability from its instructors. Pure Apnea proudly states that it now sets the standard in freediving education and backs this up with the toughest instructor qualification requirements of all the freediving organisations.

Pure Apnea’s education system is designed to guide students through all the phases of learning from complete beginner to master free diver. Their teaching materials are well designed, but more importantly up-to-date with the latest sports and science developments the world of freediving has to offer. Students wanting to become freediving professionals can enroll in an Instructor and Master Instructor Qualification Course. The latter requires a 60 meter free dive for qualification. This ensures that Pure Apnea master students are guaranteed instructors who can do what they teach.

Dynamic without fins - image by Mark van Coller
Dynamic without fins – image by Mark van Coller

Besides high educational standards, the development of freediving as a sport was the other key reason for Pure Apnea’s establishment. While two other freediving organisations currently ratify competitive freediving records and provide rules and regulations for these events, Pure Apnea believes that the high costs and overly bureaucratic systems of these organisations make running freediving competitions very difficult particularly small events that do not have world record status. Pure Apnea requires that all instructors complete a judge course and gives judges the authority to train assistant judges. They believe that this has decreased the costs and barriers of running local club and national freediving competitions.

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John gives his own country South Africa as an example. Prior to Pure Apnea starting freediving competitions there in 2012, only 1 freediving competition had been held locally since 2006. In the past 2 years, 7 new national records have been set in various Pure Apnea competitions and a successful national championship was held in 2013.

While developing freediving as a sport at grass roots level is of vital importance to Pure Apnea, it also has its sights firmly set on future world record status events. “Although Pure Apnea is already over 2 years old, we have intentionally held back on ratifying world records up until now,” John says. The reasons for this were the necessity to first develop experience amongst the Pure Apnea judges and also to refine the competition rules. Pure Apnea believes that it is now ready for world records and is running its first world record status competition. The Pure Apnea Dynamic Bi-fin World Championship 2014 will take place on November 8th and will feature 2 competitions held on the same day, one in the Northern Hemisphere and the other in the Southern Hemisphere. At the conclusion of the event, the overall Men’s and Ladies’ winners will be awarded the title of World Champion in the Dynamic with Bi-fins discipline.

When asked about future developments in Pure Apnea, John replied, “We are developing new and exciting certification courses for 2015, the most important being our Recreational Free diver and Surf Apnea courses.”

In conclusion Pure Apnea’s co-founder says, “While the growth of our organisation is important to us, our goals remain to provide high quality freediving education and to facilitate, organise and support freediving competitions without succumbing to the temptation of lowering our standards.”

Free immersion Beth Neale - image by John Daines
Free immersion Beth Neale – image by John Daines
Nic Heyes safety diving for Annelize Muller - image by John Daines
Nic Heyes safety diving for Annelize Muller – image by John Daines
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