How you (you!) can make a difference for the environment

Here are some suggestions for things you can do at (or near) home that can have a positive impact on the environment.

Mounds of garbage
Mounds of garbage


The first suggestion is the most important!

Be a busybody

Keep tabs on what’s going on in your area. Are there new building projects or developments planned? Community newspapers are an excellent source of information. Attend meetings that give opportunities for public participation, register as an interested and affected party, make objections, write letters to the environmental consultants and your local council representatives. Also, tell your friends and buddies about opportunities to participate as concerned citizens.

Remember that a development doesn’t necessarily need to be in or on the ocean to affect the marine environment. For example, False Bay is where a large amount of the city’s effluent is pumped out. More people means more pressure on the ecosystem. Demand responsible solutions from municipalities and developers.

Keep tabs on proposed amendments to existing laws, and new laws and bylaws. Who is getting permission to do what? Are these decisions well thought out? Is it wise to allow whelk and octopus fisheries to operate in a bay that is visited by large numbers of whales and dolphins?

Hold the government (specifically DAFF and the Department of Environmental Affairs) to account. The environment belongs to all of us, and if it’s being mismanaged, it’s your heritage that’s being squandered.

An excellent example of the concrete results this kind of action by ordinary citizens can have is the recent flip-flop done by the authorities on the proposed diving ban in the Betty’s Bay MPA after many local divers, marshalled by Indigo Scuba and Underwater Africa, registered as interested and affected parties and submitted objections to the proposal.

Banning diving in the area would have essentially left it wide open for poaching. While the local law enforcement can’t and doesn’t do anything to stop illegal harvesting of perlemoen, eyes in the water in the form of recreational divers can at least keep tabs on what’s happening in the reserve.

You can follow the sequence of events by reading these four posts, in order: (1) proposed diving ban, (2) almost immediate initial results after responses from the diving community, (3) a revised proposal, and finally (4) a cautiously promising start to the consultation process (which is by no means finished).

Evangelise, but not like a crazy person

Wear your heart on your sleeve. Let your friends know that conservation issues and protecting the environment are important to you. Don’t be scary and wild-eyed, just be yourself. (If you’re naturally scary and wild-eyed, I can’t help you.)

When you get an opportunity to discuss an environmental issue with someone who doesn’t know or care as much as you do, stick to the facts. Point them to other sources where they can find information to back up what you’re saying, if they are interested. That way, if they want to relay your argument to someone else, they can do so. Raw outrage isn’t necessarily transmissible (and if you’re too hot under the collar, they may just think you’re a lunatic).

Don’t use jargon. Don’t use cliches (people are smarter than you think). Don’t assume that everyone knows as much as you do about your pet issue – check that you’re pitching your pitch appropriately. Don’t be boring. Show people how beautiful and wonderful and intricate the environment is.

Reef life at Roman Rock
Reef life at Roman Rock

Get your hands dirty

Participate in beach cleanups and underwater cleanups. If you see garbage on a dive (and nothing has taken it for a home), stuff it into your BCD for disposal on land. Get into the habit of picking up stuff that doesn’t belong. Keep an empty bag on the boat for collecting rubbish as you drive in and out of the harbour. Hout Bay is an excellent spot for this. Most harbours are actually filthy.

Consume less of everything

Reduce your carbon footprint. This encompasses all the obvious things: recycle, buy local, seasonal produce, eat less meat, and participate in more recreational activities that are carbon neutral. (Unfortunately diving isn’t technically one of those; even if you do a shore dive, you still need to get your cylinder filled using a compressor that consumes energy.)

Here’s a good carbon footprint calculator that’ll help you identify the areas of your lifestyle that are having the greatest negative impact on the environment. Mine is my commute to work, which produces a horrific amount of carbon dioxide each month. (If I ever needed a justification for running away to sea with Tony and the cats, this is it.)

If you eat seafood, make wise choices that are kind to the ocean. If you fish for fun, follow the regulations defining what and how much you’re allowed to catch.

Donate responsibly

If you have financial resources and want to make a donation to a conservation organisation, first do your research.

  • What will the money be spent on?
  • What is the track record of the organisation? What projects have they worked on already?
  • Do you agree with their aims, objectives and methods? (Would you be proud to have your name associated with their work?)
  • Will the money be spent on branding and advertising (some people mistake this for real action), or on observable projects that will have a direct impact on an environmental issue that’s important to you?

Remember that addressing an environmental problem may very well involve work with people. Sustainable Seas Trust (not an endorsement, just an example) addresses poverty and food security as a way to relieve pressure on the ocean’s scarce resources, thus caring for people and the sea at the same time. It’s great to take kids snorkeling, but after a while (and a lot of kids) I hope funders can demand a bit more originality and effort in that area.

Personally, I prefer to support organisations that follow scientific advice or include a research component in their activities, because I feel that conservation that isn’t based on scientific data is just marketing… But you may feel otherwise.

If your donation is a significant one, ask for feedback on how it was spent.

Don’t fool yourself

Finally, remember that writing tweets and sharing pictures on facebook doesn’t achieve anything concrete (ok here’s an exception), even though your rate of hashtagging may make you feel like your efforts are putting Greenpeace to shame. Sorry kids. Even Shonda Rhimes says so.

Want to target your tweeting for good? I suggest subscribing to Upwell’s Tide Report.

How do you make a difference for the environment? Would love to hear your suggestions.

Handy hints: Indoor compressor maintenance

Service day on the compressor came round a few weeks ago but sadly it was pouring with rain so doing this outside was out of the question. The best solution in such a situation is:

  1. You must WAIT until your wife has left for work..(very important step)
  2. Bring the work table and the compressor, with oils, filters, tools etc. and spread them out in the lounge.
  3. Avoid the couch… (especially if it is white)
  4. Now you have a clean sterile environment in which to service a safety-critical item of the compressor.
Compressor all ready for servicing
Compressor all ready for servicing


It is very important to make sure the wife has left because should you drop the container of drying agent on the floor (see below) you could possibly end up in trouble.

Drying agent on the floor. Note the towel (bottom right) positioned for just such an accident
Drying agent on the floor. Note the towel (bottom right) positioned for just such an accident

Dive Deals column: The invisble cost of learning to dive

This is the second column in a three part series I wrote for the website, as part of my regular weekly contribution. Part the first can be found here.

The “invisible” costs of learning to dive

Last week we broke down some of the non-negotiable costs that are included in a course fee for an entry level scuba diving course. Some of them may seem far-fetched. This week I’ll explain why they aren’t.

You may think it costs a dive centre nothing to fill a cylinder. You may be close, but purchasing a compressor and maintaining it costs money. The compressor operator has to be qualified to fill cylinders, by doing a Department of Manpower-approved compressor course. This also costs money. A dive operator who doesn’t own a compressor will need to find a dive centre who does, and pay between R25 and R50 to fill cylinders. None of these are optional costs to a dive instructor.

You may also say, once you have a cylinder it costs nothing to use it. Wrong again: a cylinder needs an annual inspection that costs up to R100, pillar valves need regular services, tank nets wear out, and handles break. These costs aren’t optional.

You may think a dive centre gets equipment really cheap. Some do, but how good is it? And if they get it so cheap why do they want so much money for it when you buy it from them? Dive centres and schools need their gear to be rugged, robust and trouble free so not all choose budget equipment. A half decent dive school will have all the sizes, from XXS to XXL and a few of each of these sizes, this includes booties, wetsuits and fins. A decent wetsuit can cost you R2,000 – R3,000. What do you think it costs for 20 or 30 decent wetsuits?

Nothing you subject to human bodily fluids, regular immersion in salt water, and exposure to sun and sand lasts forever and dive gear is no exception. There is costly maintenance on all dive gear regardless of its quality, so this also is not a variable in course pricing.

A vehicle is required to transport the instructor and the gear to the beach, as is some form of building to house the classroom and training aids, store the gear and park the car.

Lest we forget, you expect to have the undivided (or at least, not too divided!) attention of an Instructor for at least three to four days. For anyone to stand in front of you as a qualified and paid-up in teaching status instructor, he/she has most likely spent around  R70,000 and used at least 6 -12 months getting the required training and qualifications. You may not be surprised to learn that they would like to recoup that money.

This is all without a boat. Let’s leave the boats out of this, as it is possible to qualify as a competent diver by doing shore entries.

So we’ve established that learning to dive costs money, and we’ve identified some of the areas where expenses can build up. Next week we’ll try and tie it all together, looking at what it actually costs to dive – what will a dive centre or scuba instructor charge you for a course, and what that implies.

A long-term test of the compressor

Our compressor
Our compressor

It has been almost nine months since we acquired this little 70 litres/minute compressor. It is Mohnsam compressor unit made in Germany and powered by a 1.9 kW Honda engine. Very compact and well made, it is very portable and has one filling whip. During the time we’ve had it, it has run for a total of 45 hours and has had two services since the service we did when we bought it.

On each service the filter tower has been done, the compressor oil changed and the engine oil changed. The air filter in the motor is a sponge filter which has just been washed each time and the compressor intake has a paper filter element that has been blown clean. There is also a drive belt and a spark plug, but neither of these items have shown any wear and tear

The unit has been trouble free and has proven to be a money well spent. The convenience of being able to fill your own cylinders when you want and where you want to is very beneficial to me and my style of diving. I have filled my cylinders 145 times and this is a saving of around R6,500. I have used a little over 20 litres of fuel on the Honda engine that powers this unit.

When I took my cylinders for their annual visual inspection last month they were in good shape, verifying that this little compressor is pumping clean air, and that frequent drainage is maintaining excellent fill quality.

Clean air: all about compressor maintenance

Diving, in my opinion, is one of the most rewarding sports on the planet. Breathing underwater, interacting with the myriad of creatures you can and do always encounter and the total tranquilty below the surface cannot be achieved easily in any other sport. If it is an adrenaline rush you need, diving can give you this too. Having raced cars, bikes and go-karts I know what an adrenaline rush does for you, but believe me an encounter with a whale shark, a pod of dolphins, a tiger shark, hammerheads or a great white shark give you a rush unlike anything else, so diving gives you the best of everything.

As with any sport or recreational activity diving has a few inherent risks. Besides regular maintenance of your gear, the air you breathe underwater must be clean and pure. A cylinder filled with contaminated air will harm you quickly and quietly. Unless you test each and every cylinder you breathe from with a sophisticated analyser for air quality you have no idea of how good your air is.

Charcoal, used felt pads, new pads, and drying agent
Charcoal, used felt pads, new pads, and drying agent

All dive centres have a strict policy on compressor maintenance and filter changes or services but occasionally you will have a fill from an operator who is not that scrupulous. You may also have a fill from a privately owned dive compressor and again the same regulations regarding maintenance apply. If you are unsure, ask the compressor operator for his certification card and the compressor service records. This is your right, it is you that is going to breathe that air. A rule of thumb for me is that if the owner dives and breathes that air then it is most likely safe, but if the owner is seldom breathing from the cylinders he supplies then there may be a risk.

Components (felt pads etc) from inside the filter tower
Components (felt pads etc) from inside the filter tower

I often fill my own cylinders, for my students, divers and myself. I am a stickler for the quality of the air I want in my cylinders so I am careful of the places I will fill my cylinders and just as careful of the quality of the air I pump. Our compressor has a service interval of 15 hours and this is what is involved.

The filter tower is made up of a few components. Felt pads between the water separator, charcoal and drying agent. The filter tower also has a bleed valve and bleeding the moisture off every few minutes helps in reducing the moisture the filter must remove. The compressed air passes through the water separator, a felt pad, a drying agent, another felt pad, charcoal, and finally another felt pad before it enters the cylinder. This ensures dry clean air is pumped into the dive cylinder.

Water separator inside the bottom of the filter tower
Water separator inside the bottom of the filter tower

There are other considerations.

Air intake
Air intake

The intake of air to the compressor needs to be clean so a particle filter on the intake pipe is important as is the location of this filter This prevents bugs, sand , dust and paper entering the compressor. The compressor we have has a petrol engine and the exhaust fumes must be kept away from the intake so it is important to position the intake upwind of the motor.

The top of the filter tower
The top of the filter tower

The compressor runs on a synthetic oil that must be changed as often as the filter contents and the Honda engine also has service requirements. Spark plug change after 30 hours, air intake every 15 hours and an engine oil change every 15 hours. The whip or filling hose needs a cap to keep the threads clean and the opening free from contaminants.

A record of the fills done must be maintained and the correct procedure followed. This includes recording the last viz date, owners detail, ending pressure and blend if it is a Nitrox cylinder.

Finally, to operate a compressor requires a certification and in South Africa this must be a course approved by the department of manpower. The CMAS compressor operator course offered by False Bay Underwater Club fullfils these requirements.

CMAS Compressor Operator certification card
CMAS Compressor Operator certification card

A new addition to the family

Filling cylinders is the bane of the regular scuba diver’s life. It’s expensive (R40 for a tin of AIR?), time consuming, and generally involves either leaving one’s cylinders at a filling station and returning to collect them later (sometimes a risky proposition – you could come back to find your pillar valve has been swapped for an older or dodgier one…), or waiting at the dive centre to have them filled (boring, waste of time, inducement to eat junk food, and so on).

We get free air fills as members of False Bay Underwater Club, but when I dive daily I go through a lot of cylinders. Also, we can’t save up all the empties for a Wednesday evening – the other club members would give us the boot!

This is why we are so proud and pleased to announce the latest addition to the Lindeque family.

The compressor at work
The compressor at work

We recently acquired a small 70 litre/minute 3 stage compressor. Manufactured in Germany, the unit is well put together and appears rugged. The filter tower is a simple yet effective unit and can be serviced in less than an hour. Driven by a Honda petrol engine it is a bit noisy for running in your living room, but in a parking lot such as Long beach or any other dive site for that matter its perfect. It is manufactured by Mohnsam and has a single filling whip with a pressure relief valve and gauge on the end of the filling whip. I have run the compressor for close to 8 hours now and have had no misgivings.

Close up of the compressor
Close up of the compressor

The unit is light enough for carrying with one hand and slots into a very small space as it is compactly built. On an average day we will often have  in excess of 120 bar left after a 60 minute dive at Long Beach, and this will cost as much to top up as an empty cylinder at most fill stations so it is very useful to have the freedom to fill your own cylinders.

The compressor inside its carry case
The compressor inside its carry case

With a petrol engine driving the compressor it is versatile and can literally be used anywhere. The drawback with a petrol engine is to ensure the exhaust gas does not come close to the compressor intake so as a precautionary measure I have extended the air intake by means of a section of pool pipe and can thus ensure it is well above and upwind of the exhaust fumes.

Compressor resting on its carry case, filling a cylinder
Compressor resting on its carry case, filling a cylinder

This baby will be a regular at Long Beach from now on, where I can fill cylinders in the parking area after diving with students, while waiting for the gear to drip dry before I pack it in the divemobile. She’s even small enough to come with us to Knysna, where we can dive as much as we want when we go houseboating.

Top up my cylinder… and win a repeat customer

Your day’s diving is only over once you are home, equipment rinsed, dried and stored and your cylinders are full. If you own your own gear and live on a coastline like we have in Cape Town then diving is a very cheap sport or hobby. You only expense, other than the trip there and back, would be to fill your cylinders.

Popular cylinders are 10 litre and 12 litre cylinders and if you dived at one of the multitude of easy shore entries around the Cape Peninsula where depths vary from 3 m to 12 metres you can quite easily end up with 100 bar in your cylinder at the end of a 50 minute dive.

If you dived at home in your pool to test your gear or work on buoyancy you would likely have 150 bar after more than an hour in the water. The same cylinder on a 30 metre deep dive for a total dive time of 30-40 minutes including safety stops would be at around 50 bar if you followed your dive plan.

The whole thing is that if you arrived at a dive centre, with a tiny 7 litre cylinder that needs 50 bar (350 litres of air) or a huge 18 litre at 50 bar – requiring about 3000 litres of air to fill to 220 bar – most, but not all dive centres will charge the same flat fee for filling. I understand that everyone has their own business plan and set of procedures but in reality this does not bode well for customer retention

A dive centre that is quick at filling, or that charges less if you only have a “top up” will foster good relations with customers, and if you are happy in their space you will probably buy from that shop

The dive centre that is slow, or charges you full price in fact forces you away as you now go to a different centre to fill, and ultimately make other purchases there too. I drive past three dive centres on most diving days to end up at centre number 4 to fill my cylinders, why? Dive centre 4 is friendly (so are the others), but if I need a top up that’s what I pay for. The staff will always talk diving and show you the latest gadgets, and this fosters good relationships and this is where I shop.

As a diver with your own gear you will always attend to any faults with haste otherwise they spoil the diving experience. As an independent instructor I have eight sets of gear. The gear works harder than the average diver’s gear so a fair amount of maintenance is required. Almost weekly something needs to be fixed: reels wear out, torches get dropped, gloves become holed, fin straps break and the list goes on. Students need everything to work properly if they are to have a good experience so this constant expenditure is necessary.

Where do I buy all of these consumables? Often at the same centre that fills my cylinders. It’s the same place you will go when you need an expensive item such as a new BCD, a download cable for a dive computer, and it is most likely the place you will drop off your regulators for service when the time comes. It is also the place you will buy a bargain from as being a regular customer means the centre knows how you think, the type of stuff you most often buy, and what you do, so when a bargain arrives that they know is just what you need they will do their best to put you and the item in the same area, and hey presto they have a sale…

Like this one!

Baby air compressor
Baby air compressor

But more on the new compressor in another post…

Zero to… HERO!

Congratulations to Kate, who arrived in Cape Town on 8 October 2010 having never dived before, and is leaving on 10 December qualified as a Divemaster, with more than 60 dives and over 45 hours underwater under her belt!

Kate demonstrates incorrect snorkel technique
Kate demonstrates incorrect snorkel technique (in the car, on the wrong side)

While she was here we dived almost every day, in all sorts of conditions. She dived in visibility ranging from pea soup (with croutons) to over 10 metres, water temperatures from 11 degrees up to 18 degrees, and experienced a wide range of what Cape Town diving has to offer. She even did a dive in just a shorty wetsuit – the water LOOKED warm but wasn’t – and I am pretty sure she’s the first diver EVER to do something like that in this city!

She experienced everything from orally inflating another diver’s BCD at 15 metres, to securing Clare’s cylinder when it came loose (oops!), tying knots underwater, a meeting with a very frisky sevengill cowshark on her first ever dive with sharks at Shark Alley, and using a lift bag to ferry our artificial reef out to the correct depth.

Kate transporting part of the artificial reef
Kate transporting part of the artificial reef

She spent a lot of time towing the buoy line, inflated SMBs and balloons underwater (the latter was highly amusing to watch), mapped wrecks and the pipeline at Long Beach, exchanged information on the layout of the SAS Pietermaritzburg with wikivoyage guru Peter Southwood, enjoyed high-speed boat rides to various local dive sites, filled cylinders at a local dive centre, and navigated at night in order to find the yellow buoy at Long Beach. She’s breathed from a hang tank at a safety stop after a deep dive, and from another diver’s octo while swimming to shore. She’s a pro with a compass. She’s also done some underwater photography – thanks to her, the gobies at Long Beach have a serious complex about the paparazzi!

Kate and Clare getting their bearings on the beach
Kate and Clare getting their bearings on the beach. To infinity and beyond!

Kate dived with and without a computer, in various types of gear and several different wetsuits. She knows the difference between an A-clamp and a DIN fitting. She removes and replaces inserts on cylinders with her eyes closed, changes O-rings, and puts on her own kit. She has filled over twenty cylinders as part of her compressor operator course.

Kate was also a fantastic ambassador for diving for the various students of mine that she interacted with. As part of her Divemaster training, she led dives, demonstrated skills, helped students with their kit, and took on various tasks in order to prepare her for the responsibilities that go with this qualification. She did all of this with good humour, good sense and great precision.

Kate helps Anna with her hoodie
Kate helps Anna with her hoodie

During her stay, Kate buddied with all kinds of divers. She met Russians, Swedes, Canadians, French and fellow British divers, and some regte egte South Africans. She assisted foreign-language students with understanding the questions on the quizzes and exams when their English wasn’t up to the task. She got on famously with everyone she encountered, and was never grumpy or a prima donna.

In the ocean she encountered seals (she’s not a fan), giant short-tailed sting rays, hundreds of octopus, sevengill cowsharks, and her favourite friends – barehead gobies! They’re going to miss you, Kate… And especially your underwater singing!

Barehead goby
Look at that sad little goby face!

The courses Kate completed during her stay in Cape Town are:

I am confident that she is a safe, capable diver with excellent experience under her belt so far, and I look forward to hearing about her future exploits in the underwater world.

Kate on the move
Kate on the move

Compressor operator course

Tony, Kate and I recently completed the theory portion of the CMAS (here’s the South African branch) compressor operator course at False Bay Underwater Club (FBUC). The theory component involved a 2 and a half hour lecture delivered by a CMAS instructor, and a written (no multiple choice!) exam. The manual was written by Peter Southwood, the local wikitravel guru.

Operating a compressor is reasonably simple: there’s a well-defined sequence of actions that need to be performed on start up and shut down, as well as constant monitoring of the compressor during the filling process. Some compressors require bleeding off of accumulated moisture and residual oil throughout the filling process. As long as one is circumspect regarding which cylinders one agrees to fill, it is a safe activity.

Turns out in South Africa (and elsewhere) compressor operation and standards are heavily regulated. Given that compressed air cylinders are used in a range of life-critical applications such as fire fighting and scuba diving, this makes good sense.

The practical portion of the course requires us each to perform 20 cylinder fills, including a number of compressor start ups and shut downs. This must be completed within a year of doing the theory component, and signed off. I expect that getting my hands on a compressor and actually doing the fills myself will clarify a lot of the questions I had, and bring those schematic diagrams in the notes to life!