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.

SZ-POFS-0-copy

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.

UP-POFS-7

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.

Head over heels – snorkling with seals

Head over heels – snorkling with seals

AD15

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

AD4
Seals crowd the island shore

AD1
Seals in their kelp environment

AD8
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

AD15

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.

AD4

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

Diving Eilat

Diving Eilat

AD00017

Squeezed between the Arabian Peninsula and the continent of Africa, the Red Sea pushes northwards and splits into two gulfs at its northernmost point. The Gulf of Suez connects the Red Sea with the Mediterranean Sea via the Suez Canal whilst the Gulf of Aqaba separates Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula from the Arabian Peninsula and comes to rest at the busy port and popular tourist resort, Eilat.

Text and Images Ilan Ben Tov 

Eilat is Israel’s southernmost city and home to some forty-six thousand people. It has an arid desert climate with low humidity moderated by its proximity to a warm sea with almost all-year- round excellent diving conditions.

Because Eilat is located at the northeastern tip of the Red Sea it offers great diving conditions. Whilst the busy port and intensive tourist industry has had an impact on the coral reefs and beaches the southern shore still provides excellent diving opportunities; from artificial reefs, such as Tamar reef, and sunken wrecks (the wreck of the Sufa) blooming with underwater life, to the northernmost coral reef in the world.

Most dive sites are accessed from the beach and don’t require a diving boat – simply walk in to the sea from the marked entrance on the beach and dive the site.

Tamar Reef

AD00015
This artificial reef is a macro photographer’s paradise. Originally created in an attempt to attract underwater life, the artificial reef has been a resounding success attracting divers and sea life in abundance.

AD00012

Located in front of Deep Siam Dive Club, at a depth of only 6 metres and on a sandy slope, Tamar Reef is full of life. It has become a permanent home to many small reef fish, juvenile barracuda and other predatory fish and a myriad shrimps and critters that hide in the crevices.

AD00013

Here, the macro underwater photographer will happily use up bottom time being lost photographing critters and fish in relative ease.
But for divers who prefer to explore there is a deeper area that slopes away from Tamar reef and there are nearby coral formations just waiting to be explored.

Coral reserve
Coral Beach Nature Reserve runs from the Yam Suf Hotel to the Underwater Observatory and is a splendid option for deep and shallow dives.

Entry to the water is possible from either of the two jetties inside the nature reserve or from the small beach at the reserve’s northern boundary next to Deep Siam dive club. There is an entry fee and a it is mandatory that you receive a briefing from a nature reserve ranger before diving.

AD00010

Coral bommies and pinnacles teeming with underwater life break the shallow sandy seafloor’s topography. The two largest pinnacles are known as Moses rock and Joshua Rock
and both slope to a depth of 30 metres from a shallow point of only 6 metres. Whilst the pinnacles are covered with large hard corals, a fringing reef runs the length of the reserve at a depth of 2 to 3 metres. This makes for an excellent long shallow dive or the perfect finish to a deep one.

A typical dive profile entails entering from the jetties and locating the spectacular Moses Rock and Joshua Rock at a depth of 6 metres. Once found it is pleasant descent over dense coral beds where the view is pure blue. The westward return trip offers lovely spots for safety stops and ultimately the reserve’s lovely home reef leads back to the easily recognizable jetties.

AD00002

The marine life is plentiful with varied clouds of fairy basslets decorating the coral formations where there are many cleaning stations where cleaner wrasse groom groupers, goatfish, morays and even the occasional barracuda.

Blue spotted stingrays can be found in the sandy areas around the rocks and anemones with attendant anemone fish can be found in every coral formation. Peep into the rock crevices
and you will find a rich selection of shrimps and crabs.

Wreck of the Sufa (Satil)
This is a wreck of the Sufa missile boat that served in the Israeli navy and was sunk in order to serve as artificial reef. The wreck lies on a sandy bottom at a depth of 24 metres and is one of Eilat’s most popular dive sites for both day and night dives.

The dive starts near Marina Divers Dive Club from the marked access point and is followed by a steep drop to around 7 metres, where a large coral formation lies. From the coral formation proceed to the east and the seafloor slopes gently to 18 metres. In this area the sea grass is dotted by little coral islands and at night it is a perfect place to view Cuttlefish hunting in the sea grass.

AD00011

AD00001AD00004
AD00009AD00003

The wreck that lies parallel to the beach at a depth of 22 to 24 metres. The wreck can be semi-penetrated at several locations at the bow (18 metres) and stern (21 metres).

The bridge of the wreck starts at a depth of 12 metres and is covered with red soft corals. It plays host to a large number of small fish with lionfish and glasys sweepers taking refuge
between the soft corals from time to time. During your ascent from the dive octopus, sea urchins and sea cucumbers are often found and observed by divers doing their safety stop.

The marine life on the way to the wreck and on the wreck itself is plentiful. Expect to meet yellowtail barracuda, angelfish, moray eels and the occasional octopus.

At night the bridge is often covered with basket stars.

Wreck of the Yatush

AD00006

This is a small patrol boat that lies at a depth of around 30 metres in the coral reef. It is best dived as the first dive of the day since visibility is better in the morning and currents are weaker.

The dive starts in the marked area in front of Aqua Sport Diving Club where you descend to a depth of 4 metres and follow the sandy slope gradually downwards in a direction of approximately 45 degrees from the starting point. When you reach the drop- off, at a depth of around 6 metres, you will notice that the area is populated with garden eels – an excellent place to do your safety stop when you return from the dive. From here you descend to
a depth of 27 metres and then keep north at a depth of 24 to 27 metres until you see a small ship wreck. The wreck’s bow faces east, and it lies on a sandy and grassy bottom with scattered coral clusters.

AD00005

A big group of glassy sweepers live inside the wreck and can be seen swimming in formation. Cleaner shrimp live in a cleaning station inside the small wreck and if you are lucky you will see them grooming a yellow-mouthed moray eel. Outside the wreck you can see patrolling lionfish and sometimes, big coral groupers swim by.

When ascending, from the stern, up the sloping seafloor you pass two striking coral formations (at 18 metres and 12 metres) that rise from the sandy floor. It is worth investigating these formations since they host plenty of life.

Princess (southern) Beach
The location is at the south beach in front of the Princess hotel. With a sandy slope and a depth of around 20 to 22 metres you pass striking coral formations at around 6 to 8 metres and there are several large table corals at around 20 to 25 metres.

Entry to the dive site is possible from either of the two jetties at the Princess Hotel beach or from marked areas on the beach itself.

AD00008

Diving usually starts by descending to a sandy slope that in some areas hosts colonies of garden eels, and then to a depth of around 10 to 15 metres to various coral formations.

Sea grass covers the slope at depths of 15 to 30 metres and you can find several large table corals at a depth of 20 to 25 metres. Look closely at the table corals and you will see that they are populated with yellow lemon gobies. Look too under the corals where sometimes you will find a big puffer fish hiding.

In the second half of the dive you will want to explore the coral formation in the shallows as these are filled with shrimps and small fish.

AD00007

Marine life of this site is abundant with corals both hard and soft, plenty of cleaning station with Cleaner Shrimp and Wrasses, the jetties are an excellent place to do your safety stop because they team with life.

Dive Clubs
There are many dive clubs in Eilat, most of which are located in the Almog beach area at the southern beach. All dive clubs have dive schools that offer dive courses, from basic to advanced levels. At all dive clubs you can rent scuba gear and join a guided dive to one of Eilat’s diving sites. The larger dive clubs usually have a dive shop.

Nitrox is available in all large dive clubs and Nitrox courses are avaiable at all dive schools.

Manta Diving Center
Located in Almog beach, Manta is Eilat’s biggest dive club. Situated in the Yam Suf hotel, the club provides top facilities – from a swimming pool that is used for dive courses (and a great warm place to hang between dives) to a sauna that has the same function in the winter months. The only disadvantage is that the club is located across the road from the beach and getting to the sea requires crossing the road with your gear.

Deep Siam
Located on the beach in the Almog beach area this excellent club has the best location in Eilat for the entrance to the Coral Reserve. It is in front of Tamar Reef and near the wreck of the Yatush. Its facilities are not of the same level as Manta’s but are decent and access to the sea is easier.

Aqua sport
Located on the beach in the Almog beach area, Awua Sport is walking distance from Deep Siam. This is Eilat’s first diving club and it is located in front of the wreck of the Yatush and in walking distance from Tamar Reef and the entrance to the Coral Reserve.

Sigala Diving School

This is a boutique diving club managed by Sigala, an experienced dive instructor. It is a great place to learn diving because of the personal approach and the small size of the dive groups. The club also has on-premises accommodation.

Getting there

By plane
Eilat Airport (ETH) is right in the middle of the city. Flights to Tel Aviv are frequent and take only 50 minutes. The cost of a one-way trip is around NIS 250. Charter flights via the Ovda International Airport (VDA) (65 km – 40 miles) and nearly a 50 min drive from town) are also an option.

By bus
Egged Express buses drive from Tel Aviv (390/394) and Jerusalem (444) to Eilat hourly. The trip takes around 5 hours and costs NIS 78 one way (60 for students) or NIS 133 for a return ticket. It is advised to buy tickets in advance because assigned seating is in use. All buses in Eilat leave from the Central Bus Station on HaTemarim Boulevard.

By car
There are a couple of ways to drive from Tel Aviv to Eilat. One is via Mitzpe Ramon. Another nice alternative is from Tel Aviv to the Dead Sea via Arad – stay a couple of days there or just make a short stop and
then continue to Eilat. It takes approximately 5 hours from Tel Aviv, and a similar duration from Jerusalem.

Paddle Out for Sharks – 2013

Paddle Out	for Sharks – 2013
Image by Dori Moreno
Image by Dori Moreno

On the back of a successful Paddle Out for Sharks held in 2012, more than 130 shark conservationists, divers, anglers, and paddlers marked World Oceans Day 2013 by ‘paddling out’ to the shark nets at Scottburgh Beach, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa to highlight the plight of sharks in Southern Africa and demonstrate our collective concern for the way sharks are treated and perceived. We were joined on the beach by members of the public who share our vision.

 Text by Amanda Barratt

Image by Allen Walker
Image by Allen Walker

The Paddle Out for Sharks is founded on a crucial spiritual element of surfer culture – paddle outs are traditionally held in memory of a surfer who has died. Part of why I was drawn to the concept of the event was because paddle outs are a demonstration of the seamless connection between beach user and the  sea, a philosophy that I believe is essential to flipping dominant assumptions about sharks, and hopefully problematizing our relationship with the sea’s natural predators. I believe that common sense understandings of sharks and  a lack of respect for the natural world has put shark populations in danger, and that beach users, especially the participants of the paddle out, having had different experiences and understandings of sharks, must be mobilized to be proactive in attempting to challenge assumptions about these animals.

Sharks have roamed our oceans for 400 million years, but have been decimated by up to 90% in some parts of the world. They are a clade of animals that has been demonstrated to be related to the health of our oceans, and the killing of sharks is often given little attention, as the public so poorly perceives them. Millions of sharks fall victim to the long net of industrialised fishing, as they are killed for their fins, to feed the demand for shark fin soup, with many fisheries practising the undoubtedly inhumane practice of finning of live sharks that are then thrown back into the ocean to drown. The demand for fins has also resulted in many small-scale and artisanal fishermen feeding the market, in order to make a living as industrial fishing has destroyed many of their local fisheries.

Image by Dori Moreno
Image by Dori Moreno

Large sharks are also popular targets for sport fishermen who see sharks as fair game. While many fishermen engage in safe and responsible practices, many predatory sharks are fished purely as trophies, in effect removing slow reproducing animals that are vital to the conservation of lower trophic levels.

Another problematic practice is the implementation of gill nets that are installed with the purpose of protecting beach users. Their operation misunderstood, the nets, which run the length of popular beaches in KwaZulu-Natal as one example, systematically reduce shark numbers in the netted areas, while impacting on the marine life in the netted areas and beyond.

Image by Dori Moreno
Image by Dori Moreno

The above examples of the fundamental human relationship with sharks reflects the mark we leave on our planet and our oceans, and it is the Paddle Out’s philosophy, that our behaviour should be challenged.

Editor of African Diver Magazine, Cormac McCreesh, summed it up perfectly, when he stated,

we have it within ourselves to rise above everything, to be human and humane. Our oceans and seas are the last remaining wildernesses.  It’s never too late to start to look after what we have and the way we think of, and treat, sharks tells us something about how we treat our oceans.

Paddle Out For Sharks is reaching far, and looks to gain support for its philosophy, from like-minded people, and the public. The momentum that Paddle out envisages riding on, is an energy where we take back our custodial duties of our planet, and engage and interact with the public, challenging assumptions and demonstrating our collective passion for sharks and our marine environment.

AD005
Image by Allen Walker

Paddle Out for Sharks focus is to challenge malignant discourses about sharks, encourage discussion that enables sustainable fishing, and we are firm that pressure for legislative changes need to come from the public, who must be proactive about the conservation of our planet.

Thus Paddle Out For Sharks is working to afford more value to the life of a shark, than a dead shark, by engaging the public and beach users, to educate them about the many different values of sharks, which we see as economic, cultural and effective, in the hope that we may challenge assumptions about sharks, and ultimately lobby authorities and law makers for the preservation of sharks in South Africa.

Images by Allen Walker and Dori Moreno
Images by Allen Walker and Dori Moreno

Protea Banks, South Africa’s extreme diving shark hot-spot

Protea Banks, South Africa’s extreme diving shark hot-spot
AD025
Tiger shark often seen in these waters

December marks the beginning of summer in South Africa and also the start of the busiest local holiday season. Hot weather and more than 12 hours of sunshine a day make this period perfect for the annual holidays. Just like the Great Migration on the plains of the Serengeti many inland city dwellers leave their homes and head for one of the country’s beautiful coastlines to relax and get away from the hustle and bustle of the cities.

Text by Paul Hunter and Roland Mauz

As one of the migrants we packed our bags and headed for the KwaZulu Natal south coast, otherwise known as the Hibiscus Coast, which consists of about 75km of Indian Ocean coastline dotted with many popular holiday towns, blue flag beaches, nature reserves, hiking trails and fishing spots. It is also home to one of the top-rated shark dive sites in the world; Protea Banks.

Boat launch from Shelley Beach by African Dive Adventures
Boat launch from Shelley Beach by African Dive Adventures

Protea Banks lies 7.5km out to sea from the Shelley Beach launch site. The reef is about 6km long and 800m wide and lies at a depth of between 27m to 40m and is essentially a fossilized  sandbank.  These waters have been frequented by sharks and fisherman for generations because they are very rich tuna grounds.

However scuba diving on Protea only began in the early 1990s. The early pioneers did not know what to expect and would enter the water armed with bang sticks and spear guns. They were considered insane by the local community for diving in these shark-infested waters. Yet those that dared were treated to the dive of their lives with sharks from the moment they entered the water. This was the start of shark diving on Protea Banks and which is now enjoyed by divers from all over the world.

We decided to dive with African Dive Adventures as they have been diving Protea Banks since 1994. They have a slightly different approach with regard to a dive center and setup making use of an open-air-office in the Shelley Beach Small Craft harbor area. Upon arrival we were warmly greeted and given indemnity forms to complete. Once we had completed setting up our kit we were given a very thorough briefing. At this point I need to stress that this is an advanced diving site. It is recommended that you have at least 50 dives under the belt and are a competent diver.

The reasons for this is that the dives are deep, exposed to strong currents and the visibility is not always great. The other thing I really like is that they take a mature approach to diving. Everyone that dives here should be experienced and thus responsible for themselves.

Kit up area
Kit up area

Kit up area
Kit up area

Our first dive was to Southern pinnacle. We were rather fortunate that the launch was fairly easy and the sea flat, so got to the   dive site in no time at all. Upon rolling back into the water and descending quickly to 28m we became aware of the strong current running southwards. Unfortunately the water was cloudy and visibility down to about 12m. Initially the current was very strong but reduced towards the end of the dive. As we drifted we scanned in all directions for any sign of shark.

Aerial View of Ski Boat Base Shelly Beach
Aerial View of Ski Boat Base Shelly Beach

AD027
Plenty of overhangs

It wasn’t long and we had seen a couple of hundred hammerheads. Had the visibility been better  this  would have been a most spectacular experience.  This  is a great dive site offering a very good chance of seeing hammerheads.Then it happened, we saw a few hammerheads in the distance, on the very edge of our visibility.

AD035
Hundreds of Hammerheads, image by Tomas Kotouc

One of our next dives was a baited shark dive. Before this dive a full briefing was given on what to expect and code of conduct instructions to follow in order to provide the best experience with the sharks. A baited dive involves putting bait in the water to create a chum line which the sharks then pick up and follow to the source. The dive guide regularly checks the bait station which sits at about 12m to see if any sharks have arrived. This can take anything from 5 to 40 minutes. Once sharks are present we kit up and enter the water to observe these awesome creatures in action.

We were initially welcomed by 6 or 7 blacktip sharks and later joined by 2 Zambezi (bull) sharks. This was my first close encounter with Zambezi sharks and I was just blown away.

The interesting thing to me was the difference in behavior patterns of the two sharks. The  blacktips  were very energetic, moving in and out of view very quickly like excited dogs while the zambezi’s were more reserved in their approach. They sharks did not seem to mind us at all. They would come in and take a look and move on again never showing any signs of aggression  or agitation. We got to spend over an hour in the water with the sharks.

The Dive sites of Protea Banks

The three dive sites most often dived at Protea Banks are: Northern Pinnacle, Southern Pinnacle and Playground. Each dive site has its own particular characteristics and all three should be dived in order to gain a good appreciation of everything Protea Banks has to offer.

Northern Pinnacle

Northern Pinnacles
Northern Pinnacles

This area of Protea has magnificent topography and is mainly dived during the winter months. The reef is virtually untouched and there are two caves which are used by ragged-tooth sharks (also known as raggies) on their annual migration and aggregation route. During this exciting period divers can encounter over a hundred raggies at a time.

Image by Tomas Kotouc
Raggie image by Tomas Kotouc

The dive starts at First Cave, the larger of two caves visited by divers on this site. At First Cave divers look in from the top and observe the raggies interacting peacefully with each other. Often the caves are so full of sharks that one can hardly see the bottom. Divers then pass the Tunnel, the Canyon and get to the Second Cave. This cave is also open on top and has several chambers, each one with a wide opening at the top. When there are no Raggies in the caves, it is great fun exploring and collecting Raggie’s teeth, which are generally plentiful in and around this cave area. Divers are allowed to remove these teeth as a nice souvenir and proof of a close encounter with the Raggies.

AD034
Raggie on Northern Pinnacles

During spring and summer large schools of hammerheads can often be seen on this side of the reef. The dive on the Northern Pinnacle is by no means over once divers leave the caves. On the slow ascent to midwater one often encounters Zambezies or blacktips. Best time to dive the Northern Pinnacle is between May and November.

Southern Pinnacle

Southern Pinnacles
Southern Pinnacles

 On the Southern Pinnacle there are many different areas to dive. The usual Southern Pinnacle dive starts at the Southern Cave, which hosts all kinds of game fish – at times so thick that it is difficult to see your buddy. After the cave, you reach Kingfish Gully, an overhanging rock which is home to large shoals of kingfish, yellowtail and potato bass, to name a few. Billy Bob Steinberg the resident potato bass loves to come in for a cuddle and a photo shoot opportunity!

Following the current leads you to a large sandy patch called Sand Shark Gully, also known as the Arena. It lies at exactly 40m and is home to the

giant guitar shark. At times 50 to 60 of these magnificent creatures are seen lined up like planes on an airport. There are also other areas …Lord of the Rings and the Village. But limited bottom time does not allow for spending time at all of them on one dive. When there is no current it is common to spend all of a diver’s bottom time at any of the various Southern Pinnacle sites. The best time to dive the Southern Pinnacle is in the summer months from October to April.

Playground

Playground is a fantastic reef added to the assortment of Protea Banks Dive Sites since 2010. A local fisherman, Wayne De La Hunt, provided African Dive Adventures with the coordinates for a check-out dive on this site. After the first dive they were hooked on Playground and a few dives later a dive route had been worked out.

AD005

This place  is  unbelievably  beautiful.  It  has  the  most bizarre rock formations such as a rock which resembles a whale’s fluke, another one a whale’s tail which seemingly sticks out of the ocean floor. There is a clown’s head, a corkscrew and a swim-through cave.

The dive usually begins at the Canyon, passes the Whale Rocks, Clown’s Head, Corkscrew and ends with a descent into the Cave from where divers emerge at the bottom again. This usually takes care of most of the bottom time. After the Cave divers ascend slowly into midwater and make their way up.

AD003

Some regular divers of this spot believe firmly that the Playground is THE best dive site on Protea Banks. One can see everything or nothing at the Playground. This April divers had countless tiger sharks and Zambezi sharks. On one occasion a great white was spotted in the distance.

The zambezi shark is synonymous with Protea Banks, and is a frequent visitor on the Southern Pinnacle. Tiger sharks, blacktips, duskies, bronze whalers and large schools of scalloped hammerheads can also be found in this area.
The zambezi shark is synonymous with Protea Banks, and is a frequent visitor on the Southern Pinnacle. Tiger sharks, blacktips, duskies, bronze whalers and large schools of scalloped hammerheads can also be found in this area.
Tiger Shark season - March to June is the best time to see these magnificent animals on the Northern Pinnacle. For unknown reasons they seem to like the north part of Protea Banks better than the south. Therefore, baited tiger dive always start at the Caves.
Tiger Shark season – March to June is the best time to see these magnificent animals on the Northern Pinnacle. For unknown reasons they seem to like the north part of Protea Banks better than the south. Therefore, baited tiger dive always start at the Caves.

Joe Daniels

Joe Daniels

AD00004Ever since I can remember I have been fascinated by the underwater world and the creatures that live in it. I can remember looking through photographs that my father had  taken  whilst  diving  in the Maldives and knowing that I wanted to spend as much time    as possible underwater.  As soon as I left school I volunteered for a Marine conservation expedition in the Seychelles. This is where I first started taking photographs underwater with a supposedly ‘waterproof’ digital compact. I spent every free moment snorkeling with my camera just taking snap shots of the myriad tropical fish and corals. So after six months on the expedition I was completely hooked on underwater photography. After the Seychelles I completed my Divemaster course back in the UK then travelled to Australia. The majority of my time I spent working on diving and snorkeling boats on Ningaloo Reef. By this time I had already upgraded to a basic Canon compact with a housing which, I then sold to buy a housing for my father’s old Canon G9. This camera opened up a whole new world for me, photography wise, and is where I really homed my skills as a underwater photographer. I never went out on a boat without my camera and took full advantage of having the Ningaloo Reef as my training ground.

Ningaloo gave me a huge amount of experience not only photographically, but as a diver and deckhand. I now work on the Marine Conservation Expedition I volunteered for back in 2007 and have upgraded to a housed DSLR. I still spend every spare moment snorkeling with my camera in hand. Although I spend my working week diving, I prefer free diving in order to capture the images I am after. This allows me to get closer and spend more time with my subjects. Most of my images are wide angle using a Tokina 10-17mm fish eye lens, although the introduction of a 60mm Macro lens to my kit has opened my eyes to the possibilities of macro photography.

I have spent every available opportunity of the past year free diving and photographing the rich and diverse marine life that can be found within the Marine Parks of North West Mahe, Seychelles.

Camilla Floros

Camilla Floros

AD00002Born and bred in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, Camilla is a marine biologist based at the Oceanographic Research Institute in Durban. Her desire to become a marine biologist was initiated at a very young age on a small Mozambican island where she witnessed the successive decline of the surrounding coral reefs due to over exploitation and the lack of conservation awareness. After numerous years of study, Camilla achieved her goal by attaining a PhD in marine biology. Her research interests are dedicated to assessing the impacts of human activities on coral reef communities and providing reef managers with improved conservation strategies.

Camilla has been an avid underwater photographer since she started diving and her photography has evolved to become an integral part of her profession as a marine researcher. She has dived extensively throughout the East, documenting the way in which different cultures interact with marine habitats. Camilla has also focused much of her attention on South Africa’s coral reefs which are unique because of their high biodiversity and status as one of the southern-most reefs in the world. Camilla uses her underwater images as a communication medium to bridge the gap between scientific research and public awareness. Her purpose is to educate people of all ages and backgrounds about coral reefs (and other marine ecosystems) and the many stressors that threaten their future.

You can read more about Camilla’s research and see her images on her webpage www.wetlens.co.za.

Pelagic Magic

Pelagic Magic

AD010

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.

AD001

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.

AD002

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.

AD005

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.

AD004

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.

AD011
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.

AD003
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.
AD008

AD007

AD009

error: Content is protected !!