Bookshelf: Life’s a Beach

Life’s a Beach: Your Round-The-Coast Guide To South African Beaches – Ann Gadd

Compliments of the season. If you’re contemplating which beach to head to for tomorrow’s traditional Boxing Day beach outing, a venerable South African institution, I have just the book for you. The product of a mammoth investment of time (which couldn’t have been all bad) and distance travelled, Life’s a Beach is a handy guide to (possibly, probably, almost) every single beach along South Africa’s coastline.

Life's a Beach
Life’s a Beach

Each pair of facing pages covers a stretch of coast, and beaches are rated for surfing, alongside information about swimming, kiteboarding, wake boarding, kayaking and canoeing, diving, fishing and hiking. The scuba diving information for the sites around the Cape Peninsula, with which I am familiar, is reasonable, but of necessity very abbreviated owing to the book’s format and primary focus. It goes without saying that you should seek out some local knowledge before diving in an area you haven’t visited before.

Unique experiences and best kept secrets (no longer – haha!) are highlighted, as well as the presence of braai and picnic facilities. Tips on where to go for sundowners are also included. Child friendly activities are mentioned where applicable, too.

Access tips, as well as warnings about rips, pollution, sharks (thank you Shark Spotters!) and whether a beach has Blue Flag status round off the comprehensive information that is provided in a handily concise manner. This book will be extremely useful when you’re visiting an unfamiliar stretch of South Africa’s coastline, and particularly invaluable when it’s a little known and less popular beach.

Get a copy of the book here, or here if you’re outside South Africa.

And if you’re going to the beach in Cape Town tomorrow, make sure you’ve downloaded the free Shark Spotters smartphone app. Get it here for your iPhone, and here for Android.

Old woman angelfish in Sodwana

Old woman angelfish (Pomacanthus rhomboides) are curious, friendly fish, and this one spent a long time with our group of divers in Sodwana Bay while we explored Pinnacles on Two Mile Reef. (S)he was biting our bubbles and swimming among us like one of the gang. You can see the first part of her visit in this video.

I especially enjoy being visited by one of them on the safety stop, as they are good companions and provide some entertainment during what is usually an uneventful time.

The Reef Guide is a good place to learn more about, and identify, the fish you see on dives off South Africa’s south and east coasts.

Trumpetfish in Sodwana

Trumpetfish in Sodwana
Trumpetfish in Sodwana

We saw this lovely trumpetfish (Aulostomus chinensis) at Pinnacles in Sodwana. He probably sees divers every day, and swam through us with no cares in the world. An old woman angelfish tried to photo bomb early in the video, and I have more to share of that friendly creature in a separate post coming up.

The Reef Guide is a good place to learn more about, and identify, the fish you see on dives off South Africa’s south and east coasts.

Sodwana backward roll

Here’s a backward roll. We were at Pinnacles on Two Mile Reef in Sodwana Bay, diving with Coral Divers. This backward roll was well executed: everyone rolled on the skipper’s cue, all together.

Clare and Laurine are wearing buffs, pink and blue respectively. Clare says it helps to keep hair out of one’s face and mask, in the absence of a hoodie, and I say the bright colours make it very easy to account for them underwater!

Finishing a boat dive in Sodwana

This isn’t the most exciting video, but I hope it reminds you of how blue and clear the water is off the coast of KwaZulu Natal, and what it’s like to dive in Sodwana on a good day. It was filmed at the end of a dive on Pinnacles on Two Mile Reef, as the divers approached the boat and waited to hand up their gear. Watch out for Laurine, Esther and Christo!

If you aren’t familiar with diving off a RIB (rubber duck), I hope this is a helpful bit of information about how things work at the end of a dive. I’ll share a backward roll video from our most recent Sodwana trip soon, but in the mean time, check out this one to see what it’s like at the start of a dive!

Bookshelf: Scuba Professional

Scuba Professional: Insights into Sport Diver Training and Operations – Simon Pridmore

Have you ever wanted to run away and become a scuba instructor? Have you been intoxicated by promises of a lifestyle of tousled, barefoot, beach-based freedom from the rat race? Have you passed your instructor training course and are trying to decide what to do next? Or are you already a dive professional, perhaps looking to solidify your dive business, diversify your income streams, or branch out in the dive industry?

Scuba Professional
Scuba Professional

This is the final, and possibly most important, book in Simon Pridmore’s scuba trilogy (the other two are Scuba Fundamental and Scuba Confidential). Like the other two, it has much to offer – this time, to dive professionals and wannabe dive professionals.

Some of the topics Pridmore discusses are hard truths, such as the fact that becoming a scuba instructor is less about diving than about teaching. A person who doesn’t feel a vocation to teach should probably look for employment elsewhere in the dive industry rather than trying to attain instructor status. He devotes a whole section to teaching issues, many of which will be extremely useful to new instructors looking to move quickly up the learning curve.

An often overlooked feature of the dive industry is that there are many people who make a living from diving, but not by teaching students. Pridmore includes an incredibly helpful chapter in which he interviews several such dive professionals about their jobs, including a gear distributor, a photojournalist, a liveaboard cruise director, and a dive travel specialist. All of these professions include many of the positive aspects of the dive industry, and should provide inspiration for anyone who is keen on the underwater world but doesn’t necessarily feel the urge to teach.

For owners of dive businesses such as dive shops, charters or small training operations, Pridmore has much advice gleaned from running his own dive centre on the island of Guam. Many of his recommendations seem like common sense to anyone who has paid attention to the cycle of boom and bust that seems to characterise the dive industry in some locations, but they are hard-won insights that likely are only obvious after the fact. Unsurprisingly (perhaps?) several relate to safety considerations and gear maintenance. Many of the recommendations Pridmore provides are illustrates with anecdotes describing how he arrived at his viewpoint.

A whole section is devoted to developing a culture of safety in diving, something that featured in Scuba Confidential as well. It can be difficult to discuss dive safety and it seems to me that the industry doesn’t even try. None of the professional member forums I’ve attended, presented by training agency employees with access to incident reports, statistics and trends, has ever addressed dive safety directly. It would be tremendously helpful for instructors and divemasters to know that, for example (I’m making what follows up to make a point) most potential dive accidents happen on dive two of the Open Water course, during mask remove and replace, or during regulator recovery. Because instructors are obliged to report such incidents, training agencies know all about them.

Finally, the future of the dive industry comes under the spotlight, with a discussion of rebreathers (are they the future?) and the likely origin of the next wave of scuba diving students and tourists (Pridmore reckons, China). I was surprisingly moved (for a book about being a dive professional) by the chapter about dive tourism businesses, which concludes with the insistence that the only way a dive business in a remote, exotic location will flourish, is by involving the local community, training them to work in all levels of the business, and spreading a message of conservation that includes the people who live in the paradise in question. This kind of cultural sensitivity has not been the norm in many places, but where it is, the results are special.

Get a copy here (South Africa), here or here.

Bookshelf: Scuba Confidential

Scuba Confidential: An Insider’s Guide to Becoming a Better Diver – Simon Pridmore

The natural sequel to Scuba Fundamental (though it was written later), this book is aimed at qualified divers who may have reached a plateau with the sport, and want to improve their skills and explore more of what diving has to offer. Author Simon Pridmore does not shy away from subjects such as solo diving, deep diving and technical diving, and offers valuable perspectives from a lifetime in the dive industry.

Scuba Confidential
Scuba Confidential

Pridmore begins with a subject that isn’t discussed enough (because it would supposedly scare away potential new divers): safety. He talks about why divers die, survival strategies, and the essential mental preparation that should come before diving.

Many divers who have passed the first, awkward stage of their careers on scuba seek to improve their skills. Pridmore discusses buoyancy, navigation, and the touchy subject of deco. The following section addresses some of the specialty options available to divers who wish to extend their qualifications: night diving, wreck diving, drift diving, cave diving, ice diving, and technical diving. While you may decide that some of these types of diving are definitely not for you, there is still much to learn from the techniques and thought processes required to do these types of dives safely.

Pridmore also deals extensively with equipment issues, returning to the subject of deploying an SMB, care and use of dive cylinders, mastering your BCD, and dive computers. In many instances, these items of gear are a matter of life and death, and well worth talking about. Narcosis, nitrox, rebreathers and other gas-related subjects round up the sections of the book that pertain to dive safety.

The final chapters deal with dive travel, with a section on liveaboards and a recap of some etiquette, which becomes increasingly important when one is diving with people one doesn’t know.

This book will satisfy a growing diver’s thirst for knowledge, draw attention to areas that need improvement or reflection, and prompt further exploration of dive-related subjects. It’s an excellent gift for the curious diver in your life.

Get a copy of the book here (SA), here (US) or here (UK).

Newsletter: Fishy conditions

Hi divers

Weekend dive plans

No diving

We have just returned from Sodwana, where we did a few eventful warm water dives with Coral Divers. If you haven’t been to Sodwana you should add it to your diving bucket list, for the colourful, vibrant reefs and good visibility. Highly recommended.

A barred rubberlips at Pinnacles
A barred rubberlips at Pinnacles

Local diving is not looking too promising for this weekend. A strong south easterly wind arrives on Friday night and departs on Sunday night. This is not really ideal for diving False Bay. Hout Bay is currently green and swelly, and will need several days to clean up.

My recommendation – if you must get wet – is that you consider diving in the I&J Oceans Exhibit in the Two Oceans Aquarium (blog post about this coming on Monday) and see the loggerhead turtle, Yoshi. She is to be released later in the year – read more here.

regards

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

Diving is addictive!

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Newsletter: On and off

Hi divers

Weekend dive plans

DIY diving!

Kite surfers at Muizenberg
Kite surfers at Muizenberg

False Bay has been on and off this week. The swell is not wicked but it’s there and noticeable. The weekend does not look terrible, but we will leave the choice of diving or not up to you… We are heading north in search of warmer water. We are back in town next week Friday and will be ready to dive.

regards

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

Diving is addictive!

To subscribe to receive this newsletter by email, use the form on this page!

Say yes to 22 new Marine Protected Areas for South Africa

Twenty two new marine protected areas have been proposed for South Africa. The benefits of MPAs are well known, so this is excellent news for the future of our marine environment. The public is invited to comment on the proposal, and as a responsible ocean loving individual, sending an email to comment would be one of the ways you can save the ocean. Read on to find out the details.

Proposed new MPAs for South Africa (existing ones in navy blue)
Proposed new MPAs for South Africa (existing ones in navy blue)

Included in the proposed new Marine Protected Areas are South Africa’s first offshore MPAs. The press release from the Department of Environmental Affairs states that:

Many of these new MPAs aim to protect offshore ecosystems and species, ranging from deep areas along the Namibian border to a more than tenfold expansion of iSimangaliso Wetland Park in the KwaZulu-Natal Province. They include charismatic features, such as, fossilised yellow wood forest at a depth of 120m off Port Nolloth, a deep cold-water coral reef standing 30m high off the seabed near Port Elizabeth and a world famous diving destination where seven shark species aggregate, at Protea Banks in KwaZulu-Natal. These MPAs also include undersea mountains, canyons, sandy plains, deep and shallow muds and diverse gravel habitats with unique fauna.

What good will these MPAs do? According to the press release:

The new MPAs will secure protection of marine habitats like reefs, mangroves and coastal wetlands which are required to help protect coastal communities from the results of storm surges, rising sea-levels and extreme weather. Offshore, these MPAs will protect vulnerable habitats and secure spawning grounds for various marine species, therefore helping to sustain fisheries and ensure long-term benefits important to food and job security.

The new MPAs will increase the protected portion of South Africa’s territorial waters from less than 0.5%, to 5%. The government has undertaken to get this figure to 10% by 2019.

What does this mean for you?

Scuba diving

If you’re a scuba diver, you probably know that diving in a Marine Protected Area – particularly in a no-take zone – is an extra special experience because of the abundant fish and other marine life. The prospect of richer, more diverse dive sites to explore is an exciting one, but there are more benefits to this proposal than just enhanced eco-tourism opportunities.

Scuba diving businesses will have to acquire permits from the Department of Environmental Affairs (for about R500 per year) to operate in the Marine Protected Areas. (This has been in force for some time, and ethical dive operators in Cape Town who take clients diving in any of the existing MPAs should be in possession of a permit already.) There are also the permits issued to individual scuba divers (for about R100 per year, obtainable at the post office) to dive in an MPA – you will see this mentioned in Tony’s newsletter now and then, as a reminder.

Environmental protection

Some of the new MPAs are in offshore regions that would otherwise be at risk from destructive trawl fishing and other exploitative activities such as mineral, oil and gas extraction from the seabed.

Many of these MPAs will, like the Tsitsikamma MPA, serve as nurseries for fish stocks. Recreational and commercial fisheries will benefit from allowing the fish to spawn unmolested in protected areas along the coast. Holding ourselves back from fishing everywhere, at every opportunity, shows long-term thinking, and will have short-term benefits as well as for future generations.

Undesirable activities

Not all of the MPAs will be closed to fishing – those of you familiar with the network of protected areas around the Cape Peninsula will be familiar with this idea. For example, a number of pelagic game- and baitfish species may be caught within the Controlled Pelagic Zones of the Amathole, iSimangaliso, Protea and Aliwal Shoal Marine Protected Areas. Commercial fishing permits may also be issued for use in the MPAs.

Existing discharges of effluent are permitted to continue – specifically into the Aliwal Shoal MPA.  This means that SAPPI may continue to pump wood-pulp effluent onto the dive sites there.

What to do?

If you would like to show your support for the proposal – and who doesn’t love a well-chosen MPA? – send an email to MPARegs@environment.gov.za. You have until 2 May 2016 to do so, and you can include any other relevant comments about the MPA proposal in your missive.

You can download the full document detailing the proposed new MPAs complete with maps, management regulations and co-ordinates (a 336 page pdf) here.

Tony and I are looking forward to passing over some of the new MPAs on the Agulhas Bank (maybe numbers 11 and 12 on the map above) next year – without getting wet. You can come too! (But you may have to impersonate a twitcher.)

Who to thank?

This project has been spearheaded by a team at SANBI (the South African National Biodiversity Institute) led by Dr Kerry Sink. Dr Sink has been awarded a prestigious Pew Fellowship in Marine Conservation for 2016, and her fellowship work encompasses a range of projects aimed at strengthening and expanding South Africa’s network of Marine Protected Areas.

We are extraordinarily fortunate to have a scientist and conservationist of Dr Sink’s calibre as a champion for MPAs in South Africa. So you can thank her!