Newsletter: Load shedding tips

Hi divers

Weekend diving

No diving!

Conditions report

It is once again a weekend that does not bode well for diving. We are looking at pretty much the same conditions that were around last weekend and from what I have gathered the conditions last weekend were somewhere between lousy and appalling. A 3-4 meter swell arrives tomorrow. It drops but lingers on Sunday and reappears in force on Monday. Both False Bay and Hout Bay are very green and brown and viz reports have been very poor.

I doubt the weekend will deliver any good diving, sure if you really need to dive and can deal with the surge and low viz then try sheltered sites from shore. For us, we will stay high and dry.

Congratulations

Life of Brian
Life of Brian

Brian, whom many of you will know from the time he spent here in late 2013 during which time he did his Advanced course and got comfortable diving in cold, not always clean water, qualified this week as a diving instructor in Hawaii. He has accepted a job at a dive centre there, and if you head out that way be sure to visit him. He is pictured above doing the aircraft recovery specialty, the raw egg specialty, and his best Grumpy Cat face. Well done Brian!

Load shedding tips

One way to guarantee that your area will not experience load shedding is to buy a generator, fuel it, wire it for connection to the mains, and then wait, with the excitement of a child, for the power to go out. It won’t, I promise. You can thank me later.

regards

Tony Lindeque
076 817 1099
www.learntodivetoday.co.za
www.learntodivetoday.co.za/blog/

Diving is addictive!

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Newsletter: Paws for thought

Hi divers

Weekend diving

Saturday: No diving planned – why not join the coastal cleanup at Hout Bay harbour?

Sunday: 10.30 am and 1.00 pm to North/South Paw and Justin’s Caves, from Oceana Powerboat Club (very much dependent on wind strength on Saturday)

Monday: Seal rock at Partridge PointShark Alley, double tank dive launching at 10.00 am from Simon’s Town jetty

Recent dives

Last weekend we took the boat down to Buffels Bay in the Cape Point Nature Reserve to join OMSAC for a day of snorkeling, diving and braai-ing.. The conditions were terrific and both the shore divers and those on the boat had great viz. We took the boat to Batsata Maze and to an unnamed site just on the outside of the exclusion zone around the reserve. We were very fortunate to have a whale cruising by during the safety stop, fascinated by the divers’ SMB, and then hanging around as the divers surfaced.  It is a stunning setting for a day out and even the tidal pool was filled with interesting creatures.

There are some photos on facebook, and a nifty little time lapse video of us putting the boat onto the trailer at the slipway. I usually wind the winch much faster than in the video, though – I must have been having an off day on Saturday…

Waiting to put the boat on the trailer at Buffels Bay
Waiting to put the boat on the trailer at Buffels Bay

On Monday we enjoyed fantastic visibility at Partridge Point, where we snorkeled with seals, and at Shark Alley. There are still a lot of cowsharks around – the time of year when they usually disappear is approaching, so we are watching with interest.

This weekend

A southerly swell rolls into False Bay in time for the weekend. The Kalk Bay Shootout surf competition participants are all excited. When surfers are excited, divers are not. We share the ocean… Just not always at the same time. There is also the False Bay Yacht Club spring regatta taking place on Saturday and Sunday – more info here.

I doubt there will be anywhere pleasant to dive in False Bay. The south easter only starts blowing on Saturday so I doubt that the viz out of Hout Bay will improve enough for good diving. That leaves the Atlantic seaboard. Twenty four hours of strong south easter might clean the water close inshore enough for good diving.

I reckon the best options will be North and South Paw or Justin’s Caves and surroundings, so that’s the plan for Sunday. If the south easter makes it over the top of Table Mountain, and cleans the water sufficiently, we will launching from OPBC at 10.30 am and 1.00 pm. If you’re keen to dive let me know and I’ll contact you on Saturday afternoon to let you know if conditions are good enough.

Early morning at Cape Point Nature Reserve
Early morning at Cape Point Nature Reserve

If you are at a loose end on Saturday, an excellent way to spend your time is at the coastal cleanup dive in Hout Bay harbour. We attended a few years ago, and it is great fun and good for the environment. Just wear a kilogram or two extra of weight if your weighting is usually marginal – the water is not very deep!

Cape Town International Boat Show

In three weeks’ time the CTICC comes alive with the Cape Town International Boat Show. This year there will be a new addition in the form of a “dive village”. Collectively a bunch of local dive centres and operators have come together to make this happen with the goal of showcasing the incredible diversity of diving we have to offer in Cape Town. The village will have a pool in the centre and we will offer non-divers an opportunity to breathe underwater and hopefully come to enjoy the ocean as much as we all do.

The show is on from 10-12 October at the Convention Centre. Come down and visit the representatives of your local dive operator and bring a friend who needs convincing that diving is the best thing ever, and amongst everyone in the dive village we will do our best to get them in the water. SURG will also be there showcasing some of the best photos taken in and around Cape Town’s waters. There are also bound to be a bunch of interesting course options, gear sales, camera displays and the like. Plus the rest of the boat show, which is well worth a look!

regards

Tony Lindeque
076 817 1099
www.learntodivetoday.co.za
www.learntodivetoday.co.za/blog/

Diving is addictive!

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Sodwana 2014 trip report

Happy divers on the beach in Sodwana
Happy divers on the beach in Sodwana

Our third Sodwana trip (prior ones were in October 2010 and April 2011, with a Mozambique trip and a Durban trip in between) was from 26-30 April 2014. As usual we flew from Cape Town to Durban, rented vehicles (three cars between ten of us – two other reprobates drove ALL the way from Cape Town, although we suspect Shane hitched a lift on a car carrier for part of the way…) and drove the 350 kilometres from Durban to Sodwana. We stopped in Ballito for food, as we were planning to self cater.

Sodwana beach early in the morning
Sodwana beach early in the morning

Coral Divers was our destination. Most of us had already dived with them on prior trips (Angie even learned to dive there!), and their position inside the park and excellent facilities and staff led us to choose to dive with them again. They have a gazebo on the beach, regular transport between the camp and the beach, and dive planning and organisation runs like clockwork. Our only quibble this time around was that their school rental gear – which several of our divers made use of – was in quite poor condition. Matthijs tried four different masks before he found one that didn’t leak, and the well ventilated wetsuits left something to be desired. Fortunately the water was a comfortable 25 degrees!

On the tractor heading to the beach - picture by Otti
On the tractor heading to the beach – picture by Otti

We did six dives over three days, all on Two Mile reef. This is the cheapest option, and if conditions are dubious (as they were on our first day on the water), the best option. The further reefs (Five, Seven and Nine Mile) are magnificent, but require excellent buoyancy skills from visiting divers to protect the coral there, as well as favourable sea conditions for the longer boat ride.

The dives are for 50 minutes or until you reach 50 bar of air, whichever comes first. We visited mostly shallow sites (some of the Advanced divers did a deep dive on one of the days) so we were able to dive for a full 50 minutes most of the time. Because we were a group of twelve, we were generally split across two boats. We did manage some dives where we were all together at the same site, which was lots of fun! Some of the dives were lovely drift dives, which are fantastic because you use so little air. The surge (which has previously bedevilled me in Sodwana) was only severe on one of the days we dived.

After our two morning dives each day, we ate and then napped (me) or went exploring. In the evenings we braaied, cooked in the communal kitchen or ordered from the on site restaurant, and actually ended up going to bed fairly early. This was partly to escape Gerard when he got out of hand (on one notable occasion!), and partly because we were completely exhausted from our dives. We were also getting up very early to be ready to head down to the beach at 0645 each day.

Dinner time braai
Dinner time braai

It was a pleasure to spend time with such hilarious and interesting people, to do lovely long, warm, colourful dives, and to walk around in shorts and a t shirt while a warm 28 degree breeze blew. I hadn’t really scuba dived since last December, so it was great to get back into it again and remember how it’s done. Unfortunately I didn’t take many (or many nice…) photos underwater, as I was struggling with my (own, not rented) mask and I also initially didn’t feel confident enough to get close to anything. Once I settled my buoyancy – on the last day, alas! – I got going a bit more with my camera.

At the end of our trip, we said good bye to the other divers, and Tony and I stuck around in northern KwaZulu Natal to go to the bush for a couple of days. That’s another story…

Friday photo: Shark Alley, undiveable

Shark Alley with a big swell running
Shark Alley with a big swell running

You can’t believe the difference between Shark Alley when there’s a big swell, as above, and when there’s no swell at all. A shore entry would be impossible in these conditions; a boat dive would be awful, if you didn’t get too seasick on the way there to care. We’ve noticed that the cowsharks tend to leave the area for a several weeks late in winter (usually somtime in August and September), roughly corresponding with the period of time during which swells like this pound into False Bay. Tony reckons they leave to avoid the bad weather! Current research aims to determine where they go…

If you plan specially to dive with the cowsharks when you come to Cape Town, it’s worth checking whether they’re in town. All the dive operators know when they’re not around! Shark Alley is a lovely spot regardless of whether there are sharks to look at or not, but if there are no cowsharks and conditions are better elsewhere, it’d be more enjoyable to visit a different site.

Newsletter: Windless weekend?

Hi divers

So, finally the weather forecast shows a weekend of little or no wind. Our boat has spent the last three weekends on the trailer and not too many weekday launches to brag about either. In fact we have not done nearly as much diving as we had hoped given the nice high day temperatures. Visibility has also been hampered by the strong south easterly winds. Never mind, that’s all about to change. False Bay recovers very quickly when the wind drops and turns and that’s what’s coming.

Our plan is as follows: I have four launches tomorrow so I will spend the day in False Bay, above and below the water. If the viz looks good we will dive the Smits wrecks and possibly Atlantis on Saturday. If the viz sucks we will launch from Hout Bay instead. The Atlantic goes green very quickly once the south easter stops. We will start really early, launching at 8.00 and 11.00 as I need time to fill cylinders for a night dive. The night dive will be at Long Beach and we will meet in the parking at 6.30.

Sunday will be a late start as I will first do a shore dive at Long Beach and then take the boat out.

Text me if you want to dive on any of the days/nights.

Travel

We have still not finalised the details for an Aliwal Shoal trip as the weather has a huge influence on the size of the surf through which the boats launch. We are also still looking at Durban and the wrecks they have as a back up plan and this is the cause of the delay. Well, the real delay is just me, but let’s blame the Durban wrecks.

Durban beach on a windy day
Durban beach on a windy day

Training

Becoming an SDI Resort Dive Centre was a good move for us and the competitive prices and range of other courses we have added to our selection has been good. January was the first full month and the results have been promising. I now am able to offer close to 30 different training courses in the world of diving. Take a look on the website and see if there is anything that tickles your fancy.

regards

Tony Lindeque
076 817 1099
www.learntodivetoday.co.za
www.learntodivetoday.co.za/blog/

Diving is addictive!

The decision to operate a dive boat

Depending on where you are in the world and the coastline you frequent most, owning a dive boat is sometimes optional, and there are several factors to consider. If you were in KZN, shore diving is almost non existent due to the coastline and the unsheltered beaches. If you had a dive centre there without a boat it would be virtually impossible to offer much in the way of diving or training. Here in Cape Town there are quite a number of shore entries and these sites can fulfil most of the training requirements for a range of courses.

For any of the more advanced courses the depths close to shore don’t meet the criteria set by the certification agencies, and in order to reach the deeper sites a boat is required. For example the PADI Advanced course requires you aim for a maximum depth of 30 metres. The best wrecks for a Wreck Specialty require a boat ride. The most popular wreck for wreck penetration is the Aster which lies in the middle of Hout Bay and again is only accessible by boat. Whilst Cape Town boasts well over 100 dive sites the vast majority are boat dives, and in fact only a handful of the shore dives are relatively easy entries whilst most require a scramble down a bank and back up that bank at the end of a dive. Some also require a surface swim of over 100 meters. Whilst these sites are easy for the accomplished diver, a novice diver, already intimidated by all the new info being crammed into a dive course, doesn’t always find the rocky entries and exits a blast.

In Cape Town many dive operators don’t own boats and instead use the services of other centres or dive charters. This has certain benefits in that there are none of the associated costs and time consuming tasks related to boating and the dive is over once you kit is off loaded, whereas when operating a boat the dives are only over once the boat is home, washed, fuelled and ready for the next dive.

We found that using the services of other centres and boat charters had the disadvantage of seldom being able to choose the site or the launch times and this makes student dive planning a little more difficult. Co-ordinating the change of divers, equipment and dive planning becomes difficult if the first and second launches have students at different levels.

Seahorse in our driveway
Seahorse in our driveway

In addition to this, I have owned sailing vessels and boats for many years and love spending time on the water. In view of the usefulness to our dive school and the enjoyment we would get from boating, we decided that the right thing was for us to buy a boat when we were able to. The result was Seahorse, acquired at the end of March 2012. Since then we have enjoyed many boat dives off our own boat, and had many happy hours exploring False Bay.

Article: Jonny Steinberg on the illicit abalone trade in South Africa

South African writer and scholar Jonny Steinberg wrote one of my favourite books, The Number, which should be required reading for every Capetonian. He has written several other books and is a scrupulous and thorough researcher with a wonderfully readable writing style. He also does not shy away from complexity, refusing to settle for simple and expedient explanations.

Imagine my delight when I discovered – purely by accident – that he wrote a 2005 paper about the illicit abalone trade for the Institute of Security Studies, a policy think-tank focused on Africa, and concerned with all aspects of human security (more information here).

Steinberg identifies four factors which caused the tremendous growth in the abalone poaching industry in the early 1990’s, as South Africa became a democracy:

  • The rand-US dollar exchange rate weakened from R2.55 at the end of 1990, to R11.99 by the end of 2001. This made exports of US dollar-denominated commodities (with cost of production in rands) an extremely lucrative way to make money.
  • An efficient Chinese organised crime presence had already existed in South Africa for many years.
  • South Africa has notoriously poor border controls and porous borders.
  • The changing political situation had a significant impact on the coloured fishing communities along the coastline.

Steinberg identifes the fourth factor as the most important one. He says this:

The transition to democracy carried with it a universal expectation that access to the sea ought to open up quickly and dramatically. To make the politics of the moment more complicated, many members of coastal coloured communities were deeply suspicious of the recently unbanned ANC. Come South Africa’s first democratic election in April 1994, the coloured working class would vote overwhelmingly for the ruling party of the apartheid era, the National Party, in the hope that it would provide a bulwark against their fears of an African majority government.

It was a potent combination: on the one hand the expectation that democracy ought to be coupled with the speedy implementation of a just fishing regime; on the other, a deeply held suspicion that the new government would betray the coloured working class. This cocktail of expectations and fears could not have been more propitious for abalone poaching. The resource was lying there in the sea and growing more lucrative by the day. Given the politics of the moment, a great many people who had lived their lives on the coastline believed that they were entitled to it, and to a share of the benefits that accrued from harvesting it.

Compare the sentiments described above (“people who had lived their lives on the coastline believed that they were entitled to it, and to a share of the benefits that accrued from harvesting it”) to those expressed by the poacher whom Tony described meeting. It’s very hard to argue against this viewpoint.

Abalone on the slipway at Miller's Point
Abalone on the slipway at Miller’s Point

Last year 7 tons of South African abalone left our shores. One ton of it was legally produced (farmed, with about 150kg harvested from the sea), and the rest was poached. The technicalities of poaching are surprisingly straightforward, for various reasons. Here is one – the nature of abalone itself:

Abalone can be dried, preserved for months or years, and then rehydrated and returned to its natural state. This is crucial to the smuggling process for several reasons. First, live or frozen abalone has a pungent and distinctive smell and is thus difficult to transport or ship undetected. Dried abalone can also be disguised as another product, particularly when border and law enforcement officials have not been trained to recognise it. Second, dried abalone can be preserved indefinitely, which means that it can be gathered over long periods and shipped in bulk. Finally, dried abalone shrinks to about a tenth of its original mass, making it possible store and ship very large consignments.

Dried abalone looks nothing like fresh abalone, and in some cases DNA tests are required to establish what it is. Some of the exported abalone is bartered for drugs, or the ingredients to manufacture them (tik being an obvious example), from the east.

It is clear that this is a problem that does not have a simple solution. However, I don’t believe that the entire subject should be brushed under the carpet by the recreational dive industry because it’s hard to deal with and creates an uncomfortable conflict of interest between the desire to protect our marine environment and the desire to make money selling gear and filling cylinders for poachers. I don’t know – at all – how to address the problem, because refusing to serve someone at a dive shop because you suspect they’re engaged in illegal activity isn’t practical or, necessarily, moral. It could also be personally dangerous. Does anyone have any thoughts or suggestions?

Here is a link to the full text of the paper on the Institute of Security Studies website.

Footnote:

Steinberg mentions that at the time of his writing (2005), the South African government was considering listing abalone in the CITES agreement. CITES, which stands for “Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora”, is an international agreement that requires that certain species must be accompanied by special documentation when are moved across international borders. Rhino horn, some sharks, and seahorses are other examples of animals and animal products subject to CITES.

In 2007, the South African government did in fact go ahead with the CITES listing. There is more information on that decision and the extent of the poaching problem here.

The perlemoen poacher

I met an abalone poacher some time ago – just after I first came to Cape Town. He’d brought his regulator in for repairs to a dive shop that I happened to be visiting. When the technician opened it up, it was packed solid with particles of rust from his dive cylinders. Confronted with the information that it will cause him to drown one day if he doesn’t bring his cylinders for a visual inspection and hydrostatic cleaning, the poacher explained that his dive cylinders wouldn’t pass a visual, because they’re painted black (instead of South Africa’s regulation grey and canary yellow).

His cylinder isn’t the only thing that is painted black. ALL his dive gear – wetsuit, booties, hood, gloves, regulator, hoses, first stage, pillar valves, BCD, mask, fins, torches, dive computer – is black. There’s not a single reflective surface anywhere. According to the poacher, if he was standing by the side of the road in his dive gear at night, fully kitted up, and you drove past, you wouldn’t see him. At all.

What does he do with all this stealth gear? He dives, alone, at night, to fetch abalone (perlemoen) from the sea. His dives are often to 50 metres, on air, and he has no redundancy in his setup. No alternate air source on his cylinder (“For whom?” he asked), and no buddy. He sometimes does four such dives a night, and can make R40,000 for a single night’s work.

His view of what he does is that the abalone lives in the sea, and if he goes and fetches it, it’s his. “The ocean is free,” he said. Hardly anyone else is prepared to do four night dives in a row to depths of 50 metres with no support except for a boat on the surface (with no lights showing), and to look for abalone and pry them off the rocks with a crowbar. Why shouldn’t he reap the rewards? He told me that he’s not taking money from poor people – he’s only taking from the ocean, and it’s a big place.

It’s dangerous work, too (and not just because of the way he dives). There are rival poaching groups on the south/east and west coasts, and a police crackdown on the west coast has brought “boatloads” of their poachers across to this side of the world. Shots have been fired, cylinders have been filled with water (hence at least some of the rust), and a simmering atmosphere of impending violent conflict has arisen.

This was the first time that I’d talked to a poacher, and it gave me a lot to think about. This is a world that we don’t necessarily have any insight into as recreational scuba divers, even though we know that what the poachers do is wrong.

Clare and I have seen poachers once or twice before, filling cylinders or buying gear (lots of it, expensive stuff) from dive shops all over. I’ve also seen more than one at Miller’s Point, early in the morning. One tried to sell me his dive gear for money to get home, because his friends had left him alone at the slipway wearing nothing but a wetsuit and his trenchcoat.

You may wonder why I am mentioning this. No one talks about it in the dive industry because it’s awkward and poachers have a lot of cash to spend on gear and air fills. But there is value in looking at hard issues. Tomorrow there is some more reading about abalone poaching, and it’s very thought provoking!

Tips on shopping for dive gear

I’ve been diving for a while, owned a lot of dive gear. Here are some tips on shopping for gear, some learned through painful experience!

General rules for buying gear

  • Try it on before you buy it. Wetsuits, booties, hoodie, you name it.
  • Try on your BCD and weight belt OVER your wetsuit – two layers of 5 millimetre neoprene adds a LOT of waistline!
  • Make sure you understand the returns policy of the shop you’re using.
  • Get acquainted with the Consumer Protection Act (if you’re in South Africa).
  • Shop around! Don’t let sales people sweet talk you. They are more interested (generally) in making a sale than in making you a happy diver.
  • Don’t cut the strap of your dive computer shorter unless you’re VERY sure you’re never going to dive in cold water (wearing lots of wetsuit and gloves to make your wrist thicker).

Second hand gear

  • When purchasing second hand cylinders: get them viz’d first (at the expense of the seller) before agreeing to purchase.
  • Try and get the seller to allow you to “test dive” expensive items such as dive computers before agreeing to purchase them.
  • It’s a good idea to check BCDs for leaks before purchasing, unless you plan to use the BCD only for shallow dives, and even then it’s iffy.

Gear to avoid

  • Don’t purchase based purely on colour (ladies, I know it can be very tempting).
  • Be realistic about what you will use the gear for. (Do you really plan to dive to 100 metres, under ice with that regulator?)
  • Don’t fall for wrap around face masks with 3 glass panels (here’s an example) without trying one first – they give rise to very confusing visual phenomena and distort things hugely as they pass across the join in the panes of glass!
  • Avoid BCDs with inflate/deflate handle handles (example here) – I have never yet seen a beginner diver (and even some divers who have done over 100 dives) using one who was in proper control of their buoyancy.
  • Neoprene covers on mask straps (example here) usually only work without a hoodie. They have a tendency to slip off your head during a backward roll off the boat when worn over a hoodie (although some people swear by them!).
  • Smaller volume masks are usually better for beginner divers than huge five litre models! They are much easier to clear.
  • Do you really need a three foot dive cutlass, as opposed to a small knife?

Repairs

  • Get a second opinion on extensive repairs.

Dive tourism in Malta (and some hints for South Africa)

Last year August, Tony and I spent a blissful week in Malta, diving ourselves silly in the mornings and napping in the heat of the afternoon. In the evenings, we ate ice cream and participated in the time-honoured Italian tradition of the passegiata.

Malta, Comino and Gozo from the air
Malta, Comino and Gozo from the air

The nation of Malta comprises three small islands located just south of Italy, in the Mediterranean Sea. The water is warm, there is almost no sand around the islands (most of the beaches are man-made), the limestone structure of the islands gives rise to caves, swim throughs and gullies to explore, and there is negligible tidal activity. The climate in summer is almost boringly warm and stable and with the exception of some violent winter storms, the ocean surrounding Malta is welcoming all year through. These factors combine to make it an extremely attractive location for scuba diving.

Malta’s natural charms, however, are greatly enhanced by her government’s approach to dive tourism. Recognising that visiting divers bring considerable income to all sectors of the Maltese economy (divers eat, need somewhere to sleep, and can’t spend all day diving!), the government has over the years scuttled a number of ships (ten or more at last count) as attractions for divers. These include the Um El Faroud, the Imperial Eagle, the P29, and the Rozi – all of which we dived. There are also a number of World War II wrecks (submarines!) around the islands, many at depths suitable for technical diving only.

Diving in Malta is well regulated. The Professional Diving Schools Association is a voluntary organisation representing over 30 dive centres in Malta, and encourages its members to adhere to high standards of safety and care. Divers visiting Malta are required to complete medical questionnaires before being allowed to dive, and are required to adhere to certain other regulations governing divers and their safety.

We very much enjoyed the wrecks in Malta, and found a special charm in even the newer ones that were scuttled in the last five years. The P29, for example, was almost clear of marine invertebrate growth, and all the wrecks were still discernible as the beautiful ships they once were. Surrounding them we found scores of fish – damselfish, barracuda, and the odd tuna.

There are several purposely-scuttled wrecks available around Cape Town, but there’s been no additional activity on this front for years. Only the Aster – the newest wreck, scuttled close to 20 years ago – still looks much like a ship. The Smitswinkel Bay wrecks – the Good Hope, Transvaal, Orotava, Princess Elizabeth and Rockeater, were scuttled over 30 years ago and have been pounded by the rough winter seas of the Cape. They are recognisable as ships, but penetrating any of them is a mug’s game and often during dives on these wrecks one can hear them creaking and groaning in the surge. The SAS Pietermaritzburg is in an even more exposed position off Miller’s Point, and is yet more beaten up despite being more recent than the Smitswinkel Bay wrecks.

Before I get shot down in flames for trying to compare Maltese and South African wrecks (age differences aside), let me qualify my statements. I recognise that there are significant differences between the Mediterranean Sea around Malta and the two oceans surrounding the South African coast – here are two:

  • the quantity of biomass that is supported off the Cape coast is far greater than that supported by the almost sterile (I exaggerate) waters of the Med – invertebrates quickly cover available surfaces and blur the outlines; and
  • the tides and currents around our coast are fierce and strong, and in a short time weaken any structure placed underwater.

What isn’t different, however, is how valuable scuba diving tourists are to the countries’ economies. Divers who have the means to travel and scuba dive also have the means to enjoy other activities in their destination countries. Diving is often a hobby of those who generally enjoy the outdoors, and a country like South Africa (as opposed to, say, Dubai) has a wealth of experiences in nature to offer such tourists.

Very little grows in Malta, and the islands are hilly but no one would travel there for that reason alone.  Compared to Malta, South Africa is ridiculously blessed with spectacular landscapes and wildlife both above and below the ocean. South African divers also know the tropical wonders of Sodwana, the chilly but exhilarating shark, wreck and reef diving available in the Cape, and the incredible ecosystems in between. This is all in addition to our mountains, deserts, fynbos, bush, and coastal scenery. Why isn’t more made of our underwater heritage?

It would be wonderful to see the South African government and South African National Parks being receptive to more properly cleaned wrecks being scuttled around our coast in locations suitable for recreational diving. More Marine Protected Areas, properly policed, would be good. It would also be great to see local dive centres striving to offer meaningful, repeatable diving experiences to tourists, instead of seeing them as once-off cash cows who can be taken out for a dive in appalling conditions because they aren’t coming back anyway. It would also induce much joy if airlines of all sizes in South Africa recognised (as Air Malta does) that scuba diving is a sport, like (ahem – sorry divers) golf, and gave an extra luggage allowance for scuba diving equipment.

I don’t think enough is done to encourage tourists to visit this country in order to dive, or with diving as one of their primary activities. It would benefit everyone – not just dive centres and dive charters – if more could be made of this opportunity. The example of Malta is a good one.