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August / September 2011 | Issue 18

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Ed’s Logbook


17 Where are all the sardines ?

45 Andrew Woodburn


38 Unique approaches in Tanzania

Cover Photographed by Christop he r Ba r t l e t t


Published by:

Cormac McCreesh & Paul Hunter

African Diver cc


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083 708 3847

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Pag e 3 | www. af r


6 Tanzania’s Islands 26 Rocktail Bay

Wo m a n & D i v i n g

58 Issue 1 59 Debbie Smith 64 Verna du Preez 69 Gear Guru - She Dives

C o n te n ts

Co n t en ts

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d’s Logbook I really don’t like diving in cold water. June and July in the southern hemisphere means cold water diving and cold water means sardine run time. Which means I have to brave the cold and get in the water. But it’s all worthwhile if the sardines run and the resulting images are remarkable. This year was not a good sardine run year. It goes like that and I’ve become used to it over the years. So, this year I went searching for reasons and with some help from some friends found some answers. We’ve written about it in our sardine run article and there’s a link to some scientific research if you want to find out more. But for now, I’ll see you next year in the same place and at the same time looking for the sardines. Further north of the sardine range is the quiet and delightful camp called Rocktail Bay. Doctors Lynne and Tim Hepplestone visited, along with their twins, and we’re delighted to publish their article on their experience. We think their contribution will have you booking your visit sharply.

Pag e 5 | www. af r

Heading north from Rocktail Bay, past Mozambique, is the beautiful country of Tanzania. Christopher Bartlett is busy conducting a life-long affair with Tanzania and its islands and he writes for us on the attractions of island life. His images certainly have me thinking hard about my next trip … Mozambique or Tanzania, which should it be? This issue launches on 1 August and 8 days later, on the 9th of August, South Africa celebrates National Women’s Day. A public holiday, it commemorates the national march of women on this day in 1956 to petition against legislation that required African persons to carry the special identification documents which curtailed an African’s freedom of movement during the apartheid era. In honour of National Women’s Day, we launch our “supplement” to African Diver and celebrate two very special women divers from Africa. We hope you enjoy the magazine and may your bubbles always be free. Cormac and Paul C o n te n ts

Destination - Tanzania

Tanzania’s Islands article & images by Christopher Bartlett

Pag e 6 | www. af r

C o n te n ts

Destination - Tanzania Whether you are a diver who would like to spend a few days on safari, or a safari nut who would like to spend a few days diving, Tanzania and its islands have plenty to offer and excellent air links make getting around a cinch. If you’re mad about both like me, then it’s a dream come true. In fact I’ve been seven times and the next trip is already planned. There are three main islands off the coast, basking in the warm waters of the Indian Ocean, each with its particular attractions. Straight east from Dar-esSalaam (or simply “Dar”), the main port of entry, lie the spice islands of the Zanzibar archipelago, made up of bustling Unguja (often erroneously referred to as Zanzibar), and the hillier and sleepier Pemba. Slightly to the south is the flat and sparsely populated Mafia island, home to the Mafia Island Marine Park.

Co n t en ts

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Destination - Tanzania

Unguja Island It takes a mere fifteen minutes to reach

If you are not into history or being

dropped in on Wattabomi, in the channel

Stone Town, the Zanzibari capital, from Dar

offered CDs of local music twenty times

between the atoll and the main island,

with Zan Air flying up to three times daily.

a day, then head straight out to one of

with fish-covered lattice corals carpeting

History buffs love Stone Town, with its

the two best dive bases on the island;

the seabed. Moving north from bommy

labyrinths of narrow streets and alleyways

Kendwa to the northwest, and Matemwe

to bommy we came across three green

flanked by crumbling mansions and

to the northeast. I decided that Stone

turtles having a snooze, heads tucked in


Town’s attractions could wait and caught

a crevice, before gently profiling upwards

a ride up to Kendwa, checked-in to Sunset

over a sandy patch for our safety stop with

Bungalows, and headed straight down to

hundreds of garden eels swaying to the

the dive centre to catch the morning dive.

tune of an invisible snake charmer.

Once the centre of the East African slave trade, its main attractions, other than the old slave market (now topped by the Anglican Cathedral), are the House of

30 minutes later I jumped into a RIB,

West Bank is another good site, and started

Wonders, the Omani Fort, Tippu Tip’s

skirted round the north of the island

at six metres, rolled down into a 40-metre

house, the Hamamni Persian Baths,

bouncing in the light chop, and made it to

drop-off, and was covered in reef fish,

massive Zanzibari wooden doors, and

Mnemba Atoll in just under 30 minutes.

hard and soft corals, and large schools of

Mercury’s restaurant and bar (Freddy

Mnemba is a shallow expanse of coral

fusiliers. There were the intriguing juvenile

of Queen fame is Unguja’s most

reef with a tiny heart-shaped island on its

black snapper, damsels in the staghorn

famous son) by Big Tree.

western fringe surrounded by some steep

coral, royal and emperor angelfish,

drop-offs, and is the “must-dive”

chocolate dips, blue-spotted rays, and two-

of Unguja.

bar clownfish. Thumbing through the fish

Forodhani Gardens comes alive at night

book back at the dive centre it was a case of

with a food market specialising in fresh grilled seafood skewers, though there

With visibility of 20 metres or better

are plenty of good eateries that provide

there are a multitude of sites to dive, and

reasonably priced food and a table

its calm conditions make it suitable for

to eat it at.

novices and experienced divers alike. We

Pag e 8 | www. af r

“saw that, saw that, saw that, loads of them, two of them, few of those, etc…”.

C o n te n ts

Destination - Tanzania However, due to its popularity, Mnemba can get quite busy. Whilst it is rare to see other divers under water, there are plenty of snorkelling boats puttering around occasionally spoiling the feeling of having a private audience with the fish. Quieter local sites include Kichafi and Haji reefs and their extensive lattice coral formations, peacock mantis shrimp, magnificent anemones and resident skunk anemonefish and leafish. Nankivell has fascinating formations of giant plate corals, rays and medium-sized groupers while Hunga Reef, with its interconnected bommies reminiscent of a fantasy world, showed off a huge variety of hard and soft corals and a monster rock lobster hiding in a cave, only its giant antennae visible. Hunga was home to even bigger schools of snapper, and the impressive crocodile flathead that can be found in significant numbers resting on the sandy bottom in gullies and between bommies. Rare finds included seahorses, a Mauritius scorpionfish, and a Weedy scorpionfish - all 10 minutes from the dive centre. The visibility can close in, down to 10 metres, but I used it as an excuse to look for macro life, and wasn’t disappointed - with an undescribed, nearly translucent cleaner shrimp and some bright red Durban dancing prawns putting on a fascinating show on my last dive before I returned to Stone Town to fly north.

Co n t en ts

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PEMBA ISLAND The 30-minute half-empty flight yielded picture-postcard aerial shots of Mnemba atoll and uninhabited islands and reefs before touching down in Chake Chake, Pemba’s biggest town, half-way up the west coast at the end of a long mangrove-lined creek. The airport is a small ramshackle affair, and despite a plethora of attractions including atmospheric ruins, primeval forest, unique bird species, deserted beaches, and some of the best diving in the Indian Ocean, Pemba often hosts less than 100 tourists at any given time. Chake Chake has the only ATM on the island and is the main commercial centre, but don’t expect to find a Wallmart. There are several narrow streets of small shops (many selling khangas - the local sarong - and fabrics), tailors, and the odd local takeaway with soggy chips and chewy meat skewers. There is a market with fresh produce, where fishmongers are often seen wheeling their goods around in the baskets of their bicycles. And it’s well worth a wander round the dusty streets. Other than the daladalas (public transport on flatbeds fitted out with bench seats and a low roof), the only traffic to watch out for around the market might be the odd ox-cart. A few hundred metres north of Barclays Bank I went past the main mosque, where grazing cattle straying into the penalty area occasionally interrupted a pick-up game of soccer.

Pag e 10 | www. a fr ica

C o n te n ts

Destination - Tanzania The lack of tourism and low coastal habitation have helped keep Pemban reefs in good condition. During the European summer when the cooler water comes up there are plenty of rainbow runners, kingfish, sailfish, yellowfin tuna, pilot and bigeye trevallies - they like the slightly cooler water coming up from the deep channel between the island and the mainland between May and November. Renowned marine biologist and author, Dr Ewald Lieske, thinks that the three gaps of Uvinje, Fundo, and Njao are very special, partly due to the diversity of fishes, marine scenery, and good coral health, and because there are no people that impact the kindergarten as it is too deep. In an interview in 2010 he said “these three gaps always have something to offer the diver. Good coral growth, good fish life, and sponge growth. That is important for diversity, these big barrel sponges and finger sponges. Uvinje has a very good fish count. It is better than 60 places that I have seen on an expedition in the Maldives in Spring 2007 with 16 biologists. And that is saying something.” It certainly is, and the sheer, coral-covered walls of these gaps are the main reason I keep coming back here. Co n t en ts

Swahili Divers and the Kervan Saray

endearing. The accommodation was built

Beach eco-resort on the northwest coast are

in 2008 from local materials, and the quarry

run by Farhat Jah, a seemingly eccentric

where the bricks were cut is, well, a stone’s

mixture of Turkish and Indian heritage with

throw away. It is the best priced on the

a British upbringing, and his Dutch wife,

island with both dorm beds and double

Cisca. Known by locals as Mr. Raf, and just

suites, and good value packages. Food

Raf to anyone else, there is something of

is wholesome and filling, and is locally

a young Basil Fawlty in him that, whilst

sourced and cooked with love on charcoal

a little surprising initially, is ultimately

stoves (chocolate biscuit cake a speciality). Pa ge 1 1 | w w w. a fr i c a n di ve r. c om

As the RIB zipped across the top of the flat sea, taking us to Deep Freeze, Raf regaled me with stories from ten years on Pemba. He pioneered much of the diving from the island, and has discovered many of the sites himself, hence the odd names. You’ll find no Aquarium here, instead: Deep Freeze, Slobodan’s Bunker (after the ex-Serbian warmonger), Egger ’s Ascent, and Emilio’s Back Passage to name a few. With a wealth of knowledge of the reefs and conditions, years of experience, and a passion for underwater photography and videography, you can pick up a host of tips from Raf, provided you can keep up with the rapid-fire conversation. The ride had been soothing, re-enforcing the remoteness of this small island 50 kilometres off the coast of one of the poorest countries in the world. We passed locals in sailing dhows or dugouts, fishing teams of up to ten men swam nets into a circle, slapping the water as they went to scare fish into the net. A lone spear fisherman here and there in Jacques Cousteau mask and an elbowgrease-powered spear, hunted for dinner. Pag e 12 | www. a fr ica

Looking down as we kitted up, the table corals twenty metres below were clearly visible. Backwards roll, hot tub, OK, going down. Equalize, all together, look around. WOW - with a capital W. On one side was a wall, like the top of a submerged mountain, covered in hard and soft corals of all descriptions, positively teeming with fish. On the other, the bluest blue, near perfect visibility, dropping down, and down, and down. Lucky there’s no point talking underwater, because I was speechless. There was not one moment when there was not something to watch. The surface interval snack of still-warm crepes was taken on a deserted island of fossilized coral and white sand before heading off to Slobodan’s Bunker, best described by looking down on your hand with digits splayed, each gap a ravine in the reef full of marine life. Skirting round the end of one finger, the faint but unmistakeable outline of a hammerhead cruised past in the distance. Sharks and rays are not everyday occurrences here, but I seem to bring luck with me. The following day, at Le Trek, we watched four Napoleon Wrasse pass below us and a school of barracuda cruise by as we kept the wall on our left shoulder. Then one of the five other clients started babbling and bubbling loudly, pointing

back to the right. And along came a sixmetre wingspan Manta, accompanied by the largest and ugliest old cobia I have ever laid my eyes upon. She glided by on the outside to the edge of visibility, then turned, slowly soaring back, under me and up over the group. Over the next two days, I had the depths and the schools of big-eye jacks of Snapper Point, the barracudas, grouper and assorted morays at Trigger Wall and Trigger Corner, and the pipefish of Murray’s Wall and the eels, nudibranchs, and anemonefish of Egger ’s Ascent and Chelsea Gin and the gazillion fish of beautiful Manta Point (but no more mantas) to play with. Dives were broken up by picnics on tidal sand islands and incredible coves in cyan waters under cloudless skies. It was blissful; more dream diving. Maybe it’s a mix of the remoteness of the island, the remoteness of Raf’s sites, and a touch of the dreamer in me, but the diving here felt like real adventure; as if all I needed was a red woolly hat and I was the re-incarnation of Commandant Cousteau. There was little time for dreaming though, as it was time to indulge in some more island hopping, via Stone Town and Dar, and venture into the unknown to check out Mafia Island. C o n te n ts

Destination - Tanzania

Co n t en ts

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MAFIA ISLAND Mafia island lies 30 minutes south-west of Dar-es-Salaam by light aircraft and has two main attractions: snorkelling with the seasonal whale sharks off the east coast of Kilidoni from December to March, and diving on the outer reefs of the west coast and a couple of passes on the edge of Chole Bay, the location of several dive lodges. Kinasi Lodge is the pick of the bunch, with a beautiful pool and beach, thoughtfully appointed rooms, and plentiful gourmet cuisine. Owner Peter Byrne is a committed environmentalist and the lodge has solar water heating, biogas, composting and grey water recycling projects on the go. With only 13 suites spread around the large grounds, it is easy to relax and feel pampered and for those who would like further pampering, there is a spa and massage centre on site with a resident Thai masseuse and masseur. In terms of a luxury to price ratio, Kinasi Lodge is certainly one of the best places I have visited, anywhere. The totally chilled atmosphere is reflected throughout. Diving is carried out from a traditional wooden dhow powered by outboards. Departing after breakfast, lunch is generally taken on the boat between dives, unless tides dictate an early start in which case a hearty mid-morning snack is the order of the surface interval and late lunch is taken on returning to the lodge. Pag e 14 | www. a fr ica

C o n te n ts

Kinasi Pass is relatively barren in terms

The sites at Gina’s Pass and Juani are

individuals, and during one quiet five-

of coral when compared to Pemba, but it

covered in soft purple and pink corals

minute spell, a devil ray turned up and

and schools of blue-lined, five-lined, and

started doing underwater loop-the-loops

Bengal snapper, and are excellent places to

lest I get bored. Fantastic.

has a surprising quantity of fish - snappers are plentiful, morays and schools of barracuda are common, and it is rare to not see at least one large grouper per dive here. This is due to the tide that brings in fresh seawater and nutrients every twelve hours; which also means that it is important to dive it on a slack tide so as to get the best visibility and the least current. Of the reefs outside the pass to the north, Dindini caves north and south are a long series of overhangs in the rock wall that drop from the reef top at six metres down to the bottom at around 30 metres. Visibility is nearly always over 20 metres here and often more, and the overhangs are favourite haunts of large potato groupers. These cuties can grow up to two metres long and 200 kilos, and often treat divers with curiosity. Twice they happily hung around to have their picture taken and show that they were not disturbed by our presence. There is also good macro-life on the walls, with plenty of whip corals and resident gobies. Co n t en ts

encounter turtles. But what about elephants and lions? On my last full day we headed over

Well the so-called Northern Circuit has

to the west coast as it was whale shark

the world famous and unforgettable

season. Between late November and March

Ngorongoro Crater, the Serengeti and

plankton blooms occur in the channel

its massive migration, and the lesser

between the island and the Rufiji river

known but most enjoyable Manyara and

estuary, attracting the biggest species of fish

Tarangire National Parks. The former is

in the ocean on an almost daily basis.

a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve and home to the lake of the same name with

On a custom-built boat with metre-wide

huge flocks of flamingos and pelicans and

flat pontoons we headed of in search of

its famous tree-climbing lions. The latter

them. Spotting the dorsal fin of a surface-

has massive and fantasy-world baobab

feeding sub-adult, the skipper positioned

trees, herds of elephants, and over 500

us in its path and in we went. Finning

bird species. Both are also excellent for

alongside a four-and-half-metre male,

most African mammal species, though

I snapped away hopefully, the sunlight

the UN World Heritage Site Ngorongoro

over my shoulder making viewing head-

Crater is the only place where black

on almost impossible, trying to catch the

rhinos can be found in Tanzania.

yellow fish riding its bow-wake. Once it had moved on, the boat picked us up and

The south is home to the very accessible

took us further ahead again, when another

Mikumi National Park and the beautiful

one popped up 15 metres away, followed by

and little-visited gem of Ruaha, the

a third. In total we probably saw five or six

continent’s largest National Park. Pa ge 1 5 | w w w. a fr i c a n di ve r. c om

This rolling wilderness, studded with the great angular-branched baobab trees, and intersected by the Ruaha river, is known for its magnificent elephant population, huge herds of buffalo as well as for other mammals and, in particular, its bird life. With personal Park fees at 25 USD instead of the 100 USD charged at the flagship parks in the north, and with access from Dar-esSalaam by vehicle, Ruaha and Mikumi are attractive options. As well as diving and safaris there are also treks with donkey portage through the Ngorongoro highlands to splendid Lake Natron with its flamingos, the Olduvai Gorge, where a 1.8 million year old hominid fossil was unearthed, and Ol Doinyo Lengai, a 2878-metre active volcano. For those who like a real challenge, 4566-metre Mount Meru in Arusha National Park is particularly steep in parts, and of course there is the climb to Uhuru Peak, the highest point on the continent aside from Mount Kilimanjaro. Pag e 16 | www. a fr ica

C o n te n ts

Feature - Altered Expectations

Altered Expectations An African Diver compilation with contributions from Graham Fenwick, Allen Walker & Rob Nettleton. Images by Graham Fenwick & Allen Walker

The 2011 sa rd i ne r u n Pag e 17 | www. a fr ica

C o n te n ts

South Africa’s annual sardine run captivates and enthralls divers from all over the world, including South Africa. Very often the sardine run is the first entry in a diver ’s dive calendar on New Years Day. Discovery Channel, National Geographic and the BBC with their inspirational footage of massive sardine bait balls being predated on by sharks, dolphin and whales stoke the fires of desire for divers. Yet often times the sardine run doesn’t happen and divers, operators and artisanal fishermen are left wondering what’s happening. Theories abound and range from global warming, environmental degradation to over fishing and collapsing stocks. There’s also a debate as to whether it’s an annual migration or an occasional phenomenon that only takes place when the right conditions and circumstances come together. The truth is, well seems to be, that there’s just not enough scientific knowledge out there to refute, confirm or predict with certainty when and how the run will take place – it is poorly understood from an ecological perspective. But given its importance to the scientific community and the tourism and fishing industries, studies are being done and information is being gathered. There’s a lengthy and detailed report on a study that reviewed and tested hypotheses about causes of the sardine run. Published in the African Journal of Marine Science 2010, it’s a report well worth downloading and reading To download the article, click here Co n t en ts

Pa ge 1 8 | w w w. a fr i c a n di ve r. c om

Helpfully, the scientists define the sardine

from the Aghulas Banks to as far north as

2011, is one of those years … the run didn’t

run as “as the visible effects of the coastal,

Durban and sometimes further. The authors

really happen. Water temperatures do seem

alongshore movement during early austral

are careful to say that the run takes place

higher than that which would support a

winter of a small and variable fraction of

“in most years if not every year”.

close-in coastal run and sardines have been

the South African population of sardine Sardinops sagax from the eastern Agulhas

found in deeper waters. Maybe next year … Sardines prefer colder water and the run

Bank to the KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) coast, as

is therefore enabled by the presence of a

far as Durban and the north coast of KZN.

band of cooler coastal water and by Natal

of looking for sardines is unbelievably

The sardine run is usually associated with

Pulses and break-away eddies that facilitate

rewarding if you’re prepared to spend the

foraging top predators including seabirds,

the sardines’ to “overcome their habitat

time out there on the sea. And as the old

mammals (O’Donoghue et al. 2010a, 2010b),

restrictions”. Where the continental shelf is

adage goes: a bad day on the sea is still

and sharks and gamefish (Dudley and Cliff

at its narrowest, the run is most constrained

better than a good day in the office.

2010, Fennessy et al. 2010) that facilitate its

(and therefore visible), an example being

visual detection”.

the Waterfall Bluff area.

Seven hypotheses are tested, some of

However sardines aside, the very act

The reproductive migration theory is

which are complementary and others

supported by the collection of eggs off the

contradictory, to each other. It’s a lot of

KwaZulu Natal coast for several months

detail to plough through but it makes

after the run and it is most likely that the

fascinating reading and the conclusion

sardine migrate home in deeper water as

reached is certainly food for thought.

the fish will seek to avoid warmer surface

Suffice to say that the scientists’


interpretation of the causes of the sardine run are that it “most likely” takes place

And in years where the run is not

during an early southern hemisphere winter

seen along the coast it could be due to

and is consequently a seasonal reproductive

“high water temperatures and/or other

migration of a “genetically distinct”

hydrographic barriers” that prevent it

subpopulation of sardine that progresses

from happening or that it happens farther

along the eastern coast of South Africa,

offshore and possibly deeper.

Pag e 19 | www. a fr ica

C o n te n ts

Co n t en ts

Pa ge 2 0 | w w w. a fr i c a n di ve r. c om

Graham Fenwick, a first time visitor to the sardine run, penned these words of his experience in Port St Johns looking for sardines. “The Sardine Run, visions fill my mind, sharks cruising through a concert of little silver fishes, dolphins stacked up into the light and gannets streaking past in a blur of white bubbles. Ah yes; the Sardine Run. 2011 was never destined to be my year on the “Sardine Run” but a call from a friend to join him and a few others in Port St John’s for the Sardine Run sent my life into a rescheduling chaos. Objections from family, work and my wallet were crowded out by visions of millions of silver fishes turning as one in crystal blue water. Pictures of dolphin super pods, the Agulas Clans banded together, hunting as one, had the car packed and ready to go. Bones and coins were mixed together and thrown out on the road, the signs, and a rumour of good surf, had us on our way and heading North to Port St John’s to the Sardine Run. Port St John’s, filled with glorious childhood memories and more recent realizations that not all of Africa is destined for an economic and social renaissance. Port St John’s, a place to access the offshore action and not much more. Port St John’s, a place to while away the hours when the ocean conspired with the weather to deny us access. Port St John’s, a place to keep a really close eye on personal belongings.

Pag e 21 | www. a fr ica

C o n te n ts

Travel, no matter how far from home, nor

We took in the sights, soaked up the

for what length of time always gives you a

town’s energy, laughed with the kids and

new understanding of not only yourself and

headed out to the point to look at the ocean.

your surroundings, but more importantly

Squadrons of Cape Gannets, streaked into

how the two fit together. This trip was to be

the ocean at 140 km per hour, their heads

no different.

protected from the impact by airbags in

green water, tantalizingly close to the offshore blue that would have given us the underwater photo opportunity we so desperately wanted. We watched the Cape Gannets betraying the action below with

their skull, the bombardment constant and

their sometimes-suicidal dives into the

Arriving in Port St John’s after two days

unrelenting. Despite the absence of visible


on the road, and quick surf in Jeffrey’s Bay,

blue water, tomorrow would be our day; it

cannot be adequately described in words.

was clear that the action was on.

The cliffs surrounding the ancient gorge are as timeless as the idle river flowing the length of the valley floor. Green forests, white beaches and the ocean complete the picture of beauty and tranquility. Over the second speed bump and fast-forward into a kaleidoscope of blaring music, mixing colors, laughing children, jostling taxis, barking dogs and people and litter everywhere. Welcome to town! I could not decide whether I was looking at a decaying backwater or the future of Africa. What was undeniable was that one could spend a week just in town taking award-winning photographs.

Co n t en ts

Five days, and over forty hours of total sea time later and the sardines in

Ten meters below, in the dirty green water, everything we had come to see was happening, just not for our eyes, nor our

cathedrals of blue light remained a vision.

cameras. We went over the horizon and

We had given it our all, but the schools

dived in purple blue water just to see if

of fish had stubbornly stayed in the dirty

anything was there.

inshore water. We never deviated far from our quest; we had seen the pictures and we wanted to get ours, but almost imperceptibly more and more time was

We were distracted from our quest by thousands of Humpback Whales passing

spent on the other things happening around

on their annual migration to the Equator

the boat. The change in our expectations

to calve. Breaching and tailing, they were

was gradual but it was happening.

a constant presence. We were seeing the

We watched as the isolated clans of dolphins started to merge into the beginnings of a super pod. We followed them for hours as they hunted in the

most amazing sights and were getting pictures but our expectations, the dream that had driven us to get here, was stubborn and it drove us on. Pa ge 2 2 | w w w. a fr i c a n di ve r. c om

We took time out to swim under a waterfall that plunges directly into the sea, we chased the inshore game fish and molested the odd crayfish that happened across our path. We woke before dawn to watch the sun rise and we walked the hills with a dog that adopted us. We drank Tequila and laughed around the fire at night. We shared our stories, our knowledge and sometimes our poor humour. We went out to mix alcohol and competitive bravado with the traveling photographers that crowded the local pubs. And then, on the last evening we drove to the top of the mountain to bid the day farewell and watch the aerial acrobatics of the local flock of crows. Next year I will go back, back for the We looked around at this beautiful place

Humpback Whales, back for the sunrises,

to realize that there was so much more

the waterfalls, the forests, the mountains,

to this experience, so much more to do,

the people, the river, the friendships, the

so much more to see. We had come to

dolphins, the gannets. Back for the total

this place obsessed with a single jewel in

experience and if I do get to dive with the

its crown and almost missed the crown

sardines, “lucky me.�

around us. Pag e 23 | www. a fr ica

C o n te n ts

This year with scarce sardine activity the feeding gannets found themselves being chased by the attendant sharks. This can be seen in the images above where the sharks chased the gannet who took evasive action by heading towards the shark’s tail at every turn. Not every gannet made it to safety and occassional “pecks” were to be seen.

Co n t en ts


THE CHASE Pa ge 2 4 | w w w. a fr i c a n di ve r. c om

Pag e 25 | www. a fr ica

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Destination HOT SPOT - Northern KwaZulu-Natal

Rocktail Bay Article by Dr Lynne Hepplestone Photos: Dr Tim Hepplestone

a m a g n i f i ce n t o cea n s a nctu a r y

Pag e 26 | www. a fr ica

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Destination HOT SPOT - Northern KwaZulu-Natal

Mag-ni-fi-cent adj. splendid or impressive; excellent.

Certainly nothing less, a family break to Rocktail proved to be the optimal diving and family holiday; meeting everyone’s approval! Tucked away in the Maputuland Coastal Forest Reserve, northern KwaZulu-Natal, this ocean sanctuary, that is part of the iSimangaliso (formerly Greater St Lucia) Wetland Park in South Africa, is a pure treasure. This is currently the only Marine Reserve in South Africa, and is run by National Parks, (there are other MPA’s, Marine Protected Areas in SA)*. The whole area has been declared a World Heritage Site, and so it should be.

*MPA’s still allow regulated fishing and boating activity (jet-skis and diving for example) and unrestricted access to the beaches. Marine Reserves are under National Parks governance, with no recreational or industrial (any level) activity allowed, and are strictly regulated. SANParks eventually conceded 2 diving concessions for the Maputuland Coastal Reserve; took

With only two diving concessions allocated, and no fishing or other recreational boating activity allowed, it is pristine and custom-made diving at its best. Mokarran Dive Charters, (Darryl,

quite a long time to convince them. And even with these concessions, they can only dive a certain area of the reserve. The Northern part is entirely off-limits to all and any beach or boating/water activities (get arrested quite smartly) and is totally undisturbed. There are ParksBoard officials everywhere down

Clive, and Michelle Smith) run their fully accredited Rocktail

there, and all gates are locked with a guard on duty allowing you through on

Bay Dive Centre adjacent to the Rocktail Beach Camp (the new

production of a permit (all in-house guests at the Beach Camp could access

Wilderness Safari camp). Co n t en ts

the allowable beaches through these gates, with permits from reception). Pa ge 2 7 | w w w. a fr i c a n di ve r. c om

The original Rocktail Bay Lodge closed

Destination HOT SPOT - Northern KwaZulu-Natal

down over a year ago, and this new facility is spacious and comfortable; with your every need being met. Access to the beach for diving is closer and much easier now; a short drive (safari-style) down to the launch site. Our dive gear was always kitted up and loaded onto the boat for us (due respect being given to the personal responsibility that you check, and are responsible for your own gear) - Sipho and Mandla were always there, with r insed and dry gear ready for the next day’s diving.

“...this new facility is spacious, comfortable, with your every need being met.”

Two boats, Mokarran and Cuvier (the Greater Hammerhead and the Tiger shark respectively) are available to launch, and the diving schedule is personalized daily. Launching from Manzengwenya Bay, we stopped to swim with dolphin, whale shark and manta ray, creating ocean excursions en-route or returning from a dive; enjoying the full experience. We dived as long as our air and computers permitted (keeping to responsible dive standards). With no time pressures associated with the very busy business of multiple launches, I appreciated the spontaneity of our diving and ocean adventures. Pag e 28 | www. a fr ica

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Mokarran Dive Charters have been running this concession for the last 11 years; they know their reefs, understand the rhythms and cycles of their sanctuary, and take great delight in sharing it with their clients. Owners Darryl, Clive, and Michelle run an attractive, spacious Dive Centre, (very well stocked with all the bits ‘n pieces one may well forget behind at home, and PADI Instructor Michelle was busy every day with pool Discover Scuba sessions). Our 10 year-old twins had much fun going out on the dive boat for arranged, supervised snorkelling around a shallow reef called Island Rock. They swam with the Slingers, watched the Potato Bass come up to visit them, and (big treat) watched a small Zambezi shark come to investigate the activity. They couldn’t do this enough, begging for more daily. Every evening we would discuss what and where we would like to dive the next day, correlating the weather and tide-tables with what would be suitable, accommodating Tim’s photographic requirements (macro or wide-angle), and planning and personalising the number of dives and launch times, while integrating the Discover Scuba divers and snorkel trips. Co n t en ts

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Destination HOT SPOT - Northern KwaZulu-Natal

Pag e 30 | www. a fr ica

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Destination HOT SPOT - Northern KwaZulu-Natal

We planned two dives each day with a full-spread breakfast on the beach, in a beautifully laid-out picnic site set up under old coastal-forest trees just above the highwater mark in between dives. A fish eagle had his home nearby, and we would see him almost every time we came down to the launch site (eyeing the Slingers and Spade fish around Island Rock). Vervet monkeys abound, and they would be sunning themselves in the trees early each morning. They were, thankfully, not habituated to being fed by humans, and it was pleasant to experience them in their natural environment without any threat. Rocktail Dive Centre and Beach Camp are integrally involved in ongoing Turtle Research. The first Leatherbacks and Green turtles wend their way up the sand in October with hatching taking place from December through to April. The privilege of observing this natural phenomenon must be one of those lifetime experiences. There were certainly plenty of turtles on every dive; seeing 8 adult Green turtles on the reef “Elusive” one morning nearly had us re-name the reef “Turtle City”. Co n t en ts

Pa ge 3 1 | w w w. a fr i c a n di ve r. c om

Destination HOT SPOT - Northern KwaZulu-Natal

So what made this REALLY special? The

barely finned, gliding slowly so that we

story…). And the Humpback whales sang

abundant marine life was so undisturbed

could keep up and spend 20 minutes with

through the dives, breaching and playing

that their behaviour was calm, settled,

it in the water. The giant manta ray swam

across the bay on their migratory route. In

curious, and astonishingly unafraid of

upside down on the surface, graceful

the water, having the dives led by Darryl

interacting with us on the dives. A pod of

through the water while Tim had his long-

or Michelle was thoroughly enjoyable;

dolphins came to the boat, bobbing up until

awaited photographic opportunity, alone

their knowledge and experience of their

we joined them, playing until they decided

in the water with his prize (until his wife

environment stands alone, and we simply

to move on. The whale shar

joined him…..but that’s Tim and Darryl’s

had so much fun and found everything we

Pag e 32 | www. a fr ica

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Destination HOT SPOT - Northern KwaZulu-Natal

were looking for. Hopefully not the last of the skilled, oldschool skippers, Darryl and Clive still find their marks on the landscape, and our drops were truly perfect every time. No GPS can compete with skill. We stayed at the Rocktail Beach Camp, and what a treat! It is spacious, yet intimate and personable, reveals careful attention to detail, excellent food, wonderful staff and beautiful safari-tented en-suite “rooms” (far too big to be a room, with a king-size bed too). The camp is fantastic for children too. There is constant supervision, access to a huge swimming pool (stepped, deep pool for diving), a play-room, home-made ice-cream, the surrounding coastal forest with paths down to the beach, trips to snorkel at Lala Nek with Gugu, trips to Black Rock or Lake Sibaya -they were in their element. Making friends with other children quickly, off they went, having the healthiest holiday. The camp and dive centre are situated within the coastal forest, far off the beaten track. It’s been longer than I can recall that I could hear only the sounds of the forest and the sea with absolutely no traffic in the distance, just that pristine natural sound. Walking the bush paths to the beach became a favourite excursion of mine; seeing many small antelope, the most beautiful birds, and simply revelling in the scent of clean forest and sea air.

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Destination HOT SPOT - Northern KwaZulu-Natal

Pag e 34 | www. a fr ica

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Destination HOT SPOT - Northern KwaZulu-Natal

Walking the high-tide mark on the beach was a reality-check on humanity; the inevitable pollution coming off the shipping lanes … I found Asian-labelled toothbrushes, empty Indonesian-labelled water bottles, and that invasive prolific species - cigarette lighters. Fortunately, there were many natural beauties too, lots of sea-beans, fragments of once-perfect shells, small pieces of old dead coral … The camp was modestly filled and never felt to be too busy. Interestingly, nondiving South African families came to stay, but we dived mostly with foreigners: Americans, French and Germans. It would appear this is a well-advertised dive destination abroad, but certainly not locally. I suspect perceptions about convenience and cost regarding the old lodge (now closed) may be the reason? Understandably an upmarket destination and it’s worthwhile comparing the cost of experiencing Rocktail with that of a fullyinclusive holiday – what would you be

Having been there for this first time visit (after diving the Red Sea, Indonesia, Cuba,

paying as a diver if you booked your bed

Natal, Mozambique, and Zanzibar), this treasure, this near-last pristine East Indian

‘n breakfast and still had to pay for your

Ocean sanctuary, should be experienced … it really is THAT special.

restaurant meals/extras? Co n t en ts

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Destination HOT SPOT - Northern KwaZulu-Natal

Pag e 36 | www. a fr ica

C o n te n ts

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article & images by Christopher Bartlett Pag e 38 | www. a fr ica

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Conservation - Tanzania

Africa has become synonymous with the word corruption. There is considerable debate as to whether NGOs in developing nations do more harm than good, and sadly the media is not short of material when it wants to, quite rightly, inform us about how we continue to mess up eco-systems on a worldwide level, although too little attention is paid to the marine world. Yet it is possible to find examples of successful marine conservation initiatives in Africa run by NGOs, and the east African nation of Tanzania, more feted for famous national parks in the Serengeti and the Ngorongoro Crater conservation area, is a good case in point. Internationally-funded Sea Sense, privately run and self-financing Chumbe Island Marine Park and eco-lodge, and the locally set up Youth Volunteers

Initially set up in two villages in a Dar es Salaam suburb, Youth Vision of Kigamboni (YVK) has grown to take on a number of tasks, ranging from beach clean-ups to education to campaigning against the hugely destructive and wasteful practice of dynamite fishing.

K Project: all three list preservation and education high as their key objectives and the best means to protect the marine life we should all cherish, but in different ways and on different levels.

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By lighting a stick of TNT and tossing it onto shallow coral reef, practitioners of this illegal technique create a huge pressure wave that kills many fish in the vicinity. It also obliterates the coral it explodes on and

less than 20% of the fish killed float to the surface. To combat this, YVK’s founder, Mr Mfaume Athumani Ally, embarked on an educational campaign that is now starting to bear fruit. Through the World Wildlife Fund a dozen villages along the Indian Ocean in the area have been made aware of the effects of dynamite fishing. “During the sensitization campaign which was conducted in December last year, we agreed that every village should form its own committee to protect marine creatures from dynamite,” Mr Ally said. Pa ge 3 9 | w w w. a fr i c a n di ve r. c om

Conservation - Tanzania

cover all management costs, with donors

made biodegradable soaps. Organic waste

of the Zanzibar archipelago located 22

such as the WWF, the Southern African

is composted, other waste is removed and

miles off the coast, lies Chumbe Island

Development Community, and other

laundry is washed off the island. Guests

and its privately run and self-financing

organisations contributing to specific

marine reserve: Chumbe Island Coral

projects. Rainwater catchment provides

Park (CHICOP). Set up in 1993 by

shower water that is heated by solar power.

A few miles from Stone Town, the capital

Sybille Riedmuller, a former aid worker,

are given solar torches for walking to the restaurant at night to avoid light pollution and protect feeding and breeding patterns of nocturnal animals.

conservationist and diving enthusiast, the aim is to create a marine park where

CHICOP employs and trains local

profits from tourism would help support

people as park rangers, guides, and

conservation and environmental education.

tourism industry workers. The rangers Over-fishing and destructive fishing

and guides educate fisherman about the

practices (such as dynamite fishing,

importance of coral reefs and of a small

smashing corals to chase fish into encircling

no-take zone as a breeding sanctuary for

nets, and beach seining) are common in

fisheries. As a result, CHICOP has been

the region. Chumbe Island was chosen

able to demonstrate that protection of the

an excellent location for conservation and

Chumbe reef helps restock over-fished

because it is uninhabited, traditionally

reefs beyond the waters of the sanctuary.

closed to fishing and because its location close to the shipping channel between Zanzibar and mainland Tanzania, and

Photovoltaic energy is used for lighting

it is therefore relatively well preserved.

and communication. Composting toilets

extensive research, some in cooperation

avoid any sewage and save precious

with the University of Dar es Salaam’s

water, while biological greywater filtration

Institute of Marine Sciences and the

cleans shower and kitchen water. Water

Zanzibar Departments of Environment,

pollution is minimized through locally

Forestry, and Fisheries.

Applying state-of-the-art eco-architecture and eco-technology, the island’s ecobungalows provide sufficient income to

Pag e 40 | www. a fr ica

CHICOP has hosted and conducted

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Conservation - Tanzania

For Lina Nordlund, Chumbe’s conservation and education manager, education is the key and CHICOP has become a pioneer in the field of coral reef ecology and nature conservation environmental education. Though Zanzibar is a coral island and Tanzania has extensive coral reefs, school syllabi do not cover coral reef ecology and the general public has little awareness of its importance as a valuable natural resource. In 2010 over 1000 teachers and pupils attended courses run by CHICOP. To further assist marine education in Tanzania, CHICOP is in the process of creating lesson packs for secondary school teachers with pupil and teacher worksheets for outdoor lessons. Using a step-by-step lesson plan, teachers will be able to give informative, accurate, and interesting lessons on subjects ranging from eco-tourism to biodiversity, eco-technology and conservation. In 15 years of successful management, Chumbe Island has won many prestigious international awards and become a centre of exceptional biodiversity and a breeding sanctuary for endangered and rare species. The Chumbe Reef Sanctuary has over 420 fish species and 200 species of stone coral and the Forest Reserve is the last undisturbed semi-arid ‘coral rag’ forest in Zanzibar. With support from the Munich-Hellabrunn Zoo, Flora and Fauna International, and the Chicago Zoological Society, in 1999 a translocation program made Chumbe Island a sanctuary for highly endangered endemic Aders’ duikers (Cephalophus adersi), threatened by poaching and habitat destruction in Zanzibar. Co n t en ts

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Conservation - Tanzania

Chumbe also harbours the world’s largest known population of rare Coconut crabs (Birgus latro). The park is a great example that private management of a marine protected area can be effective and economically viable, even in a challenging political climate, and that private conservation initiatives can bear real, tangible fruits. Set up in 2001, Dar-based Sea Sense is another private initiative and is now the largest of the Tanzanian marine conservation organisations. With primary goals of turtle, reef, and dugong protection, this internationally funded NGO has been

Born Free, PADI’s Project Aware, and the

promote their protection and preservation,

massively successful in implementing

EU figure highly) to be channelled into

the finder is then paid 100 shillings for

working turtle nest protection strategies.

other projects.

every hatchling that reaches the sea, and 50 for each bad egg. On average a nest

Through a community-based approach

Concentrating their efforts on the island

contains 100 successful hatchlings and 20

applying village level conservation

of Mafia and its marine park, southeast

initiatives, Sea Sense provides financial

of Dar, in 2002, Sea Sense started paying

incentives and tangible rewards that

a 5,000 Tanzanian Shilling (USD 3.30)

will become fully self-funding and self-

“finder ’s incentive” to locals who reported

sustaining in the future, allowing funds

the location of a turtle nest and it’s once

a hotel employee’s wage is 45 USD a month,

from donors (amongst whom the WWF,

commonly-consumed eggs. In order to

this is a considerable amount.

Pag e 42 | www. a fr ica

bad eggs. Whilst the total sum of around 11 USD may seem very little, in a community of subsistence fishermen in a country where

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The status of turtles in the Western Indian Ocean region

Since its inception, 65 conservation officers have been trained

was first assessed in the mid 1970s when populations

and 34 are currently active carrying out daily patrols, looking for

of all species were reported to be declining. Subsequent

new nests and stranded turtles, relocating nests that are in danger

studies indicate that turtle populations have continued to decline - human activities accounting for approximately 85% of turtle mortalities and illegal take-offs in the form of poaching of turtle meat, eggs and oil, and gillnets and

of being washed away, and watching out for illegal activities. Recording their findings in a logbook and with disposable cameras, they report to village leaders and district fisheries officers.

prawn trawling pose a serious threat in inshore waters. To make the eggs of further economic value, eco-tourism initiatives have been started where tourists receive a talk about turtle conservation and view the nesting sites and, if they are lucky, the hatchlings coming out of the nest and making their dash to the sea. The proceeds from the 10 USD fee collected is split between Sea Sense to cover some of its operating costs, and a village environment fund managed by Sea Sense. To date the funds have been used to refurbish a primary school, install freshwater storage tanks, and to purchase and set up solar panels. In nine years the egg predation rate has gone from 80% to less than 1%, due directly to this scheme and the ongoing work of Sea Sense’s conservation officers. In 2008 Sea Sense started a turtle nest protection project on the mainland in co-operation with a Pangani-based dive

Acting as ambassadors for conservation, they help educate fishermen in the use of sustainable fishing practices, and have been called upon as witnesses in legal proceedings.

center, Kasa Divers. (Kasa meaning turtle in Swahili) and tourist donations are already covering fuel and administration costs.

Sea Sense also works closely with the Tanzanian government in an advisory capacity, providing technical and scientific input into a dugong and turtle memorandum of understanding. Dugongs are

The final objective is for both projects to become

the most endangered marine mammal of the Western Indian Ocean.

entirely community run and self-sustaining. Co n t en ts

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Conservation - Tanzania

Once abundant in Tanzania, populations

undertaken along the coast to assess

have declined due to hunting, net

the status and distribution of dugongs.

captures and habitat degradation and

The results suggested the existence of

until recently they were believed to have

two small populations in the Rufiji-

disappeared from Tanzania’s tropical

Kilwa-Mafia and Tanga regions and live

waters. The first tangible evidence of

dugongs have also been reported in the

the continued survival of dugongs

Rufiji-Mafia area.

To find out more on these organisations click on the links below: Chumbe Island Coral Park:

in Tanzanian waters for 74 years was provided in early 2004, when two

Whilst many would say that

animals that had drowned in gillnets in

governments should be doing the

the shallow seagrass beds between Mafia

sterling work currently carried out by

Island and the Rufiji Delta were delivered

these private organisations, the fact is

to Sea Sense. In 2005, another four

that, for whatever reason, they are not,

animals also drowned in gillnets (three in

and without the efforts, vision, and

the Rufiji-Mafia area and one off the east

perseverance of a small but growing

coast of Zanzibar).

number of individuals, the marine

Over the past four years, Sea Sense has conducted an awareness campaign among artisanal fishers about the status and threats to dugongs. Additional activities include community action, capacity building and research. In 2003, a nationwide questionnaire survey was

Pag e 44 | www. a fr ica

environment would be in a worse state.

Youth Vision of Kigamboni:

Sea Sense:

Tanzania and its islands are home to diverse and healthy reef systems and their preservation can only come through further education and community-centred projects.

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Andrew Woodburn Pag e 45 | www. a fr ica

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Featured Photographer

Andrew Woodburn I started diving after a visit to the great

Each creature and site became a

barrier reef with my family while I was

multitude of angles, compositions,

still at school and could only snorkel.

investigations and depending on

So in 1988, my first year of university,

visibility, current and creature, a new

I signed up with NAUI and learned to

mission beyond the dive itself.

scuba dive. In those early years I was an avid above-water photographer who

“Underwater Photography re-invented diving for me in that I now saw everything a g a i n fo r t h e f i r s t t i m e t h ro u g h t h e l e n s .”

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In the early days most underwater

couldn’t afford an underwater camera

photographers focused on macro

so used to draw what I saw in my first

subjects since, in my view, it is


an easier genre to master due to access to critters. But having a

I trained as a diver through to Dive

good fundamental understanding

Master but realized that I didn’t want to

of light and how exposure happens

instruct and therefore after diving most

(I studied photography at school

sites in South Africa so many times I felt

and used to develop my own film

ready to choose the next path.

and prints) I found I was able to consistently shoot wide angle, for

Technical diving wasn’t my game so

use in magazine work. This was the

photography was the only remaining

beginning of a journey that led me

space. This re-invented diving for me in

to big animal fascination; sharks,

that I now saw everything again for the

whales, dolphins and anything else

first time through the lens.

that I needed to get close to. Pa ge 4 6 | w w w. a fr i c a n di ve r. c om

Featuted Photographer

Andrew Woodburn I have had diving experiences that most would never get to see and planned expeditions to do things that I always dreamed of. But sometimes with Mother Ocean even the best plans come to nothing. For instance, my last sardine run expedition in 2011 resulted in not even seeing a swimming sardine; bad visibility, high winds, big seas and no fish meant just enjoying being away from my work desk. Besides being published in almost every dive publication and many other books and magazines, my greatest formal achievement has been winning

the World Champion award in 2004. Yet my most satisfying

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achievement remains getting emails about my website www. from young people or other divers who reflect on my images and how much joy or stimulation they get from some of my images. I love to lead fellow underwater photographers and divers, who have the same passion for the ocean that I do, on unique dives which we try and plan differently from the normal commercial dive approach to give these divers an extra-special experience. Any image of mine that inspires a viewer to stand up and be counted when it comes time to defend and preserve our seas is the ultimate reward since many people have never put their head below the surface or can’t even swim and therefore have no reason to defend that part of the BLUE PLANET.

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Featured Photographer

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Featured Photographer

Pag e 49 | www. a fr ica

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Featured Photographer

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Featured Photographer Pag e 51 | www. a fr ica

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Featured Photographer Co n t en ts

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Pag e 53 | www. a fr ica

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Featured Photographer

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Featured Photographer Co n t en ts

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Featured Photographer Pag e 56 | www. a fr ica

To view more of Andrews work go to C o n te n ts

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For the month of August | Issue 1

w w w . a f r i c a n d i v e r. c o m

Debbie Smith Passionate about shar ks, passionate about the sea

Pag e 59 | www. a fr ica

C o n te n ts

Inducted to the Women Divers Hall of Fame in 2007 , Debbie is a passionate shark-lover who is driven to change perceptions of the oceans and sharks, in particular. “Diving with Sharks”, her eco-tourism company, focuses mainly on shark diving, shark distinctive speciality courses and the sardine run.

Debbie is a PADI Master Scuba Diver Trainer and her career has, thus far, seen her working with top researchers in shark awareness and reef conservation and leading projects setting up of top dive centers at upmarket resorts; from mapping and naming sites to full operational status. She is currently setting up and exploring shark diving and eco-tourism in the Port St Johns area – operational base for many sardine run operators.

Debbie describes herself as an “outdoor and total nature lover” and it was this love that led her to diving in 1986. The people who taught her to dive were her early influences resulting in her love of the ocean and sharks. Indeed, these same people continue to inspire and influence Debbie in her endeavors. People such as Marie Levine (director of SRI - shark research institute world wide), Geremy Cliff (Sharks Board shark scientist) and Jeff McKay (who has been a long-time advisor and teacher to her) are her early (and continuing) mentors. Co n t en ts

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Debbie learned to dive with sharks from

On holiday in Mozambique she realised

the moment she started to dive. As her

that she loved what she was doing so much

diving education continued so did her

that nothing else mattered and that she

involvement with sharks, which gave rise

could break away from what is socially

to her passion for sharks and teaching

accepted as a job - “I wanted to make a

others to get to know and understand

difference, and do this full time.

My passion for the ocean and its

Sharks”, was formed not only to teach scuba diving, but mainly to guide and educate divers (and non-divers) in learning about sharks as well as how to dive with sharks. And through this Debbie shares her passion for the ocean – “I want to make a difference in whatever way I can, via

on further. I wanted to teach people what I know and love so much.

I wanted to change people’s perceptions regarding the ocean and sharks, in

diving career after some ten years of diving - leading dives and assisting Jeff McKay with shark courses. Pag e 61 | www. a fr ica

her: “to be doing what I absolutely loved more than anything and to get recognition

highest honour that anyone can receive.

When the selection and induction came in I was overwhelmed by this recognition given to me by some of the top names in the ocean realm, internationally.

particular, and I basically wanted to be in charge of my passion and make sure the message got out there.

I went to New York to receive this incredible award and met highly influential people that I had heard about. The greatest

I have been hugely fulfilled in teaching others to dive or dive with sharks and see

Debbie commenced her professional

most important honour ever bestowed on

inhabitants is so great and this spurred me

education and understanding the ocean better and of sharks in particular”.

Hall of Fame, Debbie says it is the single

for something which I love so much is the


Her eco-tourism company, “Diving with

On her induction to the Women Divers

their faces once out of the water. Guiding

honour of all is that I have been placed amongst incredible women divers from

dives or shark dives for those that are keen

around the world that have achieved and

to learn and educate themselves and share

continue to achieve so much”.

this with me is one of the most fulfilling parts of what I do”. C o n te n ts

Debbie has been fortunate to do a lot of diving and exploring outside of the borders of South Africa but she still prefers the east coast of South Africa for her diving. “Nothing compares to diving along the east coast of South Africa. The reason being that its unpredictable in all forms, from conditions to sightings to experiences, which is what makes it exciting. We have some of the best diving along the east coast of South Africa and I love it all. But I have to single out the sardine run as my absolute personal best, as it’s nature at its best with so much life in the same place at the same time”. We asked Debbie if she has a message for our readers about diving and diving with sharks and her reply was unequivocal and direct: “The jaws era was the worst thing for sharks all over the world as it created a massive lack of respect and care for an apex predator so vital to the balance within our oceans that people are not aware of or care to be aware of. Shark diving worldwide has become quite a big thing and the positive is that it has changed many perceptions on sharks. What people need to do further is educate themselves more on all the different species that they dive with and their role as apex predators. It’s funny how people respect apex predators on land and yet the oceans’ apex predators are still fighting for survival. This is why more people need to spend more time with sharks and learn how absolutely incredible and misunderstood they are. Until divers all over get ahead

Co n t en ts

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of themselves about this fear of sharks and

We asked Debbie for a final message for

educate themselves by spending time with

anyone considering a career in diving and

them and learning more, we cannot and will not ensure the survival of the oceans’ apex predator. And, in my opinion, man will have failed dismally in protecting the ocean realm due to ignorance and a lack of caring when one day we have an empty vast expanse of water”.

this is her message: “My advice to anyone wishing to dive professionally is to be yourself - be true to yourself and your direction and do it with passion because if you don’t have the passion and love for what you do, it will not fulfill you. If you are going to work with nature be a giver in

In typical pioneering fashion, Debbie has

all that you can do and be and don’t allow

recently moved her business to Port St

others to take away your true love of what

Johns, the home of the sardine run. There

you do.

is very little shark work being done there and no education being given to the local community on this subject either - Port St Johns is becoming known as an area with large shark populations. Debbie and Offshore African Port St Johns will be doing a lot of shark research work in the area,

It’s not about personal glory or how much or how little you make. True fulfillment will occur because passion is there and passion is directed and this cannot be bought or sold. The diving industry can be hard! Stick

along with education, and of course they

with your passion and love of nature and

will be in the prime location for sardine run

it will keep you true and do not let human

action when it happens.

interference or criticism guide you.”

Pag e 63 | www. a fr ica

To Contact Debbie or to visit her website please click on the Diving with Sharks logo

C o n te n ts

Verna du Preez (née van Schaik) “Everything just came together. I was relaxed, able to be present in the moment and just be at 221 meters. Listening to the silence, absorbing every moment. “ Pag e 64 | www. a fr ica

C o n te n ts

On 25 October 2004, Verna became the current Female World

When asked about this “common wisdom”, Verna told

Record Holder for Depth on Scuba. It took 12 minutes to get

us: “I think that as a woman I am better adapted to being

down to 221 meters and five hours, 27 minutes to return to the

underwater. The biggest challenge for me underwater was to

surface. The dive took place at altitude in Boesmansgat in the

stop copying the men who had been there before. Men dive in

Northern Cape in South Africa, which made it a World Record

a totally different way that leverages their strengths (one of

for fresh water, altitude and cave diving.

which is physical strength). I cannot carry around twin 18’s so I had to change the way I thought about diving and find

Verna started diving because she wanted to become a marine

new ways to do the same thing. Having said that, not having

biologist and to get closer to the creatures she was seeing in

a pee valve was probably the most annoying compromise I

rocks pools. Motivated to become a dive master in order to

had to make - meant I ended up very wet and far colder than

get “free dives” (because of her student budget) she hated the

I needed to be.

first deep dive she had to do as part of her training. However training, time and a love of being underwater soon got her over

The effects of depth and time in the water are not measured

the dislike of a deep diving and as she became more confident,

based on your gender. You can either tolerate depth or you

and mastered the skills, she began with baby steps leading to

can’t - that is genetic. The rest is a matter of personal fitness,

cave diving, deeper dives and eventually the world record.

so it is irrelevant what sex you are. The trick is to know your physiology and so create a plan that works to your strengths

Verna didn’t begin diving with a view to being a technical

and minimises your weaknesses. To dive deep is also not

diver. She describes it as simply a “place she ended up … that

really a physical exercise, it is largely mental ... and attitude is

challenged her skill set”. The challenge was deeper than just a

not something that is gender based”.

skill set challenge though, because she wanted to know if she could dive deep, and in caves, especially as the common wisdom was that women could not. Co n t en ts

According to Verna, technical diving and diving in general is very different to what it was in the 90’s. Pa ge 6 5 | w w w. a fr i c a n di ve r. c om

These days it is not unusual to find woman doing technical diving, or leading dives as DM’s and dive operators. She therefore feels that the dive industry has become a lot more open. And in her own words “but

diving happened. Outside of diving she

with my male counterparts for whom doing

would do cardio exercises three to four

things for me was easier than explaining it.

times a week for 60 to 90 minutes at a time

So do what it takes to get the information

in order to condition her body.

you need and don’t be intimidated ... and keeping asking why, especially when you

We asked Verna what advice she had for

get told there is something you cannot do.

I don’t think there is anything a woman can

young women who would like to become

not accomplish in diving should she want

professional divers or do technical diving

to ... you just have to ignore the attitudes

and she told us: “take it one step at a time

behind why not … it is a mind set and

that don’t work for you and create your

and don’t be in too much of a hurry.

perception. Having said that, often you

Most of the time there is no real reason

have to go around people who cannot see

own support team”.

your potential. Sometimes you have to go around people who are creating obstacles ...

In training for her world record, Verna

so be creative and innovative ... but listen.

dived every other weekend for 5 years

There is a lot of wisdom out there ... don’t

(excluding June and July which were

be in too much of a hurry to throw it away

too cold). In a year that she made a deep

as old thinking.

attempt she would do a build up dive to at least 160 meters (finding a depth that would give her the same time in the water as her deep dive would so that she had at least proved that part of the equation).

Then her training would be progressively deeper until November when the deep Pag e 66 | www. a fr ica

You need to take the time to become

I guess there are a lot of contradictory statements in that, the point I think is to

good at what you are doing which means

learn how to think for yourself and at all

practicing until you no longer have to think

times to know ALL the consequences of

about the basics. You also need to give

what you are intending to do, especially the

yourself what you need to get to that place

bad one’s ... and then be prepared to accept

of mastery ... in my case it meant doing

your mistakes, proudly and learn from

Trimix three times and getting very fed up

them”. C o n te n ts

Like a lot of us divers, Verna is frustrated by “politics in diving” and the way people latch onto heroes and follow their every word without ever taking the time to absorb and challenge and question. Similarly she is concerned about the lack of transparency and how the industry hides things, especially when it comes to diving incidents. But on the flip side, she loves the independence, freedom and empowerment of being underwater – “it is silent, a place where the stress of land cannot reach. I can hear myself think (and not that annoying chatter that never stops) - the silent, real thoughts. Take the time to become a master. When you look at the statistics, divers die because they want to go from zero to hero. So think for yourself; take responsibility for yourself. The only person responsible for you underwater is you ... too many people look up to other divers who they see as better and put their lives into those hands ... and end up paying the ultimate price for it”. Like most people who have achieved something spectacular, Verna is quite humble about her deep diving records – “my record is not really about diving deep. It has become a guide to creating real and lasting empowerment and change in my daily life. I was quite disappointed when I finally got the label deepest to find that it only had any meaning in diving. Co n t en ts

Pa ge 6 7 | w w w. a fr i c a n di ve r. c om

For the past six years I have been working

And finally we asked Verna where she

on unlocking the lessons from my dive

would still like to dive and what the best

and translating them into any moment of

dive site in Africa is – “Florida caves no

any day. This has been a tough and very

doubt. In South Africa ... Boesmans! There

stimulating journey. I learnt what I needed

is no other experience that comes close to

from diving and my new adventure is in

cave diving and no other cave in the world

creating empowerment both in my life and

like Boesmans”.

other people’s lives.

I have written my book on my diving experiences (Fatally Flawed – The Quest to be Deepest) and have started on my next book, which uses the lessons from diving to create Conscious Empowerment (or as I prefer to call it, Conscious Enlightenment).

Creating Conscious Enlightenment is my next venture and I am working hard to get the practice of Living Empowerment out there through my website, seminars and coaching.

Pag e 68 | www. a fr ica

To Contact Verna or to visit her website please click on the Enlightenment logo above

C o n te n ts

Gear Guru

- Our favourite gear and helpful advise on what gear is best for you.

At Mares, we feel that women want products inspired by women designed by women and dedicated to women. We are the leader in women’s diving products and will continue to engineer and innovate to ensure that our gear is the best in the underwater world. Our women’s team comes from all over the world. Its members represent a compliment of cultures, careers, styles and goals. Together they give a full representation to the world of women’s diving. Mares philosophy embodies the fact that every woman is different and merits a product line that reflects her passion and her confidence, allowing her to perform better and have more fun under the sea. The Mares women’s diving team develops equipment with the features and design that women want. The products combine innovation, creativity and performance enhancing features. The Dives line: the ideal choice for diving with performance and style.

Pag e 69 | www. a fr ica

C o n te n ts

Gear Guru

- Our favourite gear and helpful advise on what gear best for you.



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Pa ge 7 0 | w w w. a fr i c a n di ve r. c om

African Diver 18  

African Diver 18