Dive sites (Sodwana): Caves & Overhangs

We were feeling a little beaten up after our first dive in Sodwana, what with the rough surface conditions that had had more than one of us (no names mentioned) leaning over the side of the boat feeding the fish before AND after the dive! The focus was on getting into the water as soon as possible, because once we were below the surface everything else melted away.

Caves & Overhangs on Two Mile Reef, Sodwana
Caves & Overhangs on Two Mile Reef, Sodwana

The second dive we did was to Caves & Overhangs on Two Mile Reef. The beauty of diving Two Mile Reef is that the longest boat ride you will have to endure is about 10 minutes, and we often spent more time kitting up on the boat than actually locating the dive site!

Justin identifying fish
Justin identifying fish - our underwater naturalist

Justin, Gerard and Tami were doing their Fish Identification dive for their Advanced course, which was a darn good thing because I couldn’t name a single thing I’d seen so far and planned to piggyback off their knowledge! The three of them swanned about with their slates, drawing the things they were seeing. The end results were somewhat hilarious… Compare Justin and Gerard’s slates below (with apologies to both the budding artists for revealing their work in such early stages, and for the water drops – the pictures were taken before I’d removed my camera from its housing):

Justin's fish ID slate
Justin's fish ID slate
Gerard's fish ID slate
Gerard's fish ID slate

I was beside myself with excitement – yelled into my regulator – when I spotted a gorgeous moray eel, with his head sticking out of his cave, opening and closing his mouth to breathe. He was a medium-sized guy, and I tried to stick around for as long as possible watching him, before the surge took me away.

Guinea fowl moray eel on Caves & Overhangs
Guinea fowl moray eel on Caves & Overhangs

My photos from this dive are uniformly terrible – I took several of my eel, and only the one above was vaguely clear. The one shining light however was this picture of what Tony calls the Colgate nudibranch – Chromodoris hamiltoni – who was an obligingly stationary photographic subject. As I recall, I also managed to find something inanimate to hold onto while I took the picture.

Chromodoris hamiltoni
Chromodoris hamiltoni posing on a rock

This dive was far easier and more relaxed for me than the first one. I was wearing a dorky little swimcap (thanks Tami!) which made the rest of the group want to disown me, but which controlled the free flowing hair that had made the first dive tricky, and I was more willing to let the surge move me around.

I hadn’t quite got the knack of pressing the camera shutter button in between surges, but even if I didn’t manage to get pretty pictures of everything, I saw some wonderful parrotfish, unicorn fish, goldies, more than one nudibranch, colourful little wrasses, and an anemone fish rubbing himself all over the largest anemone I have EVER seen. I also saw a host of different kinds of butterflyfish and angelfish, a nice little yellow puffer fish, Moorish idols (wow!), and a tiny little domino who I stalked until he emerged for a photo.

Brain coral
I love love love brain coral!

Dive date: 8 October 2010

Air temperature: 23 degrees

Water temperature: 22 degrees

Maximum depth: 15.3 metres

Visibility: 12 metres

Dive duration: 58 minutes

Dive sites (Sodwana): Two Buoy & Arches

Our last dive in Sodwana was at 0630 on the Sunday morning. It had to be early, and not too deep, to accommodate those who were flying home later in the day. By this stage of the weekend the sea had flattened out beautifully – we had had a couple of windless days and the swell had dropped. Duncan, our regular skipper, was not to be found on the beach (I think he overslept!) so we were taken through the waves by Joe to yet another site close to the launch site (what a pleasure for those of us who don’t particularly love long boat rides!). Joe dropped us at Two Buoy, and we drifted down Two Mile Reef ending up at Arches.

View of Two Buoy
View of Two Buoy on Two Mile Reef, Sodwana

Two Buoy is the location at which we did our first dive in Sodwana, and the conditions were in marked contrast to that dive. It was far less surgy – there was a bit of current and slight surge, but we were able to swim around with ease. The surface conditions were also a thousand times better, so we didn’t have as much discomfort with equalising. On our earlier dive, the size of the swell meant that the water pressure above us was changing dramatically with each passing swell, and Sophie in particular was struggling with the pressure changes on her ears.

A hawkfish hides in the coral
A hawkfish hides in the coral. If you look carefully, there are several other little stripy legs and shelled creatures in there too.

There was an astonishing proliferation of fish life as we moved away from Two Buoy, and I spent quite a lot of time at a cleaning station watching the cleaner wrasses darting in and out of the mouth of a barred rubberlips. That’s trust! There was so much activity that I didn’t know where to look.

Barred sweetlips
A barred rubberlips hangs about at a cleaning station on Two Mile Reef – aren’t those lips sweet and rubbery indeed!

We also saw a guinea fowl puffer fish and a male ember parrotfish sleeping (I guess… what do fish do?) under overhangs in the coral. The temptation to touch was almost overwhelming but I resisted! There were crowds of Moorish idols (Tony’s favourite fish), tobys, sea goldies and a multitude of parrot fish milling around, many taking shelter under the rock formations after which Arches is named.

Giant clam mantle
I love love love the giant clams!

The visibility on this dive was the best we’d seen on the Sodwana trip, and, for many of us Cape divers, the best we’ve EVER seen anywhere. While I hung at the safety stop, I could see the reef spread out below me, and the bright strobe on Tony’s video camera as he explored further, determined to suck his cylinder dry before finishing his last dive here.

Dive on Two Mile Reef in Sodwana
Tami, the Silver Fox and Borrels in a row on the sand at Two Mile Reef… Look at that visibility!

Dive date: 10 October 2010

Air temperature: 24 degrees

Water temperature: 22 degrees

Maximum depth: 15.9 metres

Visibility: 20 metres

Dive duration: 47 minutes

Dive sites (Sodwana): Two Buoy

Two Buoy is fairly central on Two Mile Reef, and like the entire reef system is only a short boat ride from the beach. That said, it was our first dive in Sodwana and the sea was ROUGH. The boat ride was vigorous but refreshing (I find surf launches quite scary). When we stopped I got quite seasick however – the swells were two metres high and the boat was rocking violently.

Boats lined up on the beach at Sodwana
Boats lined up on the beach at Sodwana, ready to launch through the surf

Because of the surface conditions and the current, we didn’t want to mess around when we rolled into the water, so we descended fast. Beneath the surface it was somewhat calmer, but still very surgy. Most of us were feeling weird – Tami on her first ever boat ride (in pretty hairy conditions), Fritz without a hoodie couldn’t get used to the water in his hair, and I just felt as though everything was upside down. I was also diving without a hoodie, which made for a spectacular display for my fellow divers… I lost my hair band almost immediately, and did a mermaid impression for the rest of the dive – pretty but annoying! The surge also took a bit of getting used to, as we couldn’t really go anywhere of our own volition but were at the mercy of the water.

Tami on Two Buoy
Tami on Two Buoy

The contrast between Cape Town diving and the coral reefs beneath us, however, put all the irritations and discomforts out of my mind. The coral is incredible – huge plate corals that have taken decades to form, little soft ones, and spiky ones that look like Christmas trees or deer’s antlers. And in between the coral were the fish – in colours you can’t even imagine. Several times I had to remind myself that I wasn’t diving in the fishtank in the Chinese restaurant near Tony’s house… This was the open ocean.

Limespot butterflyfish and coral
The ubiquitous limespot butterfly fish passing in front of a HUGE coral formation

I was incredibly excited to see a giant clam – I immediately felt like a character in a Willard Price novel (for kids!) and took care not to get my foot stuck in it, as if that was a danger!

Two Buoy, with giant clam in right foreground
Coral on Two Buoy, with giant clam in right foreground

The other thing that stunned me was the clarity of the water. In False Bay, 10 metres visibility is a really good day… We could see at least 12-15 metres on this dive, and that was apparently “not so good”. It’s that feeling of being able to move in three dimensions that I love about diving, hanging in space and being able to see for ages.

Dive date: 8 October 2010

Air temperature: 23 degrees

Water temperature: 22 degrees

Maximum depth: 13.2 metres

Visibility: 12 metres

Dive duration: 47 minutes

Ocean conservation and research

Coral reefs

Coral reefs are among the world’s most threatened habitats, being directly and devastatingly impacted by global warming, overfishing and pollution. Here are some organisations working to protect and conserve them:

Coral reef in Sodwana
Coral reef in Sodwana

 

General

  • Oceana is focused on ocean conservation in general
  • The Southwest Fisheries Science Center does research on marine resources in the Pacific and Southern Ocean, from a biological, economic and oceanographic perspective

Dive sites (Sodwana): Deep Sponges

I think our dive on Deep Sponges was among my favourites of the five I did in Sodwana. It was to 30 metres, and Tami and Sophie were doing their deep skills for their Advanced course. I descended right on top of a pincushion starfish the size of a birthday cake!

Giant pincushion starfish at Deep Sponges
Giant pincushion starfish at Deep Sponges

There was quite a strong current when we reached the bottom, and the rest of us tried to hang around in one spot while the girls filled in their slates. Once they were done, we set off – swimming into the current! This was exhausting and the water at depth feels like honey… Very hard work. Tony had a word with Divemaster Dean, and we turned around and did a fantastic drift dive in the opposite direction.

Another enormous starfish at Deep Sponges
Another enormous starfish at Deep Sponges - this one had nice green tips on his legs

Deep Sponges is on Two Mile Reef, and characterised by (surprise!) many different sponge formations. Within minutes of starting our dive we spotted a whitetip reef shark swimming past about 20 metres away. This was my first shark sighting (apart from sevengill cowsharks, catsharks, nurse sharks, gully sharks and shysharks!) and I was thrilled. He didn’t seem to care about us at all, and I wanted to chase him so that we could spend more time together. Story of my life… hehe!

Sponge at Deep Sponges
Sponge at Deep Sponges

I also saw two hawksbill turtles (or the same one, passing by twice). They look so relaxed in the water, crusing along in perfect solitude. This dive site is amazing because it is both deep and a reef, so you have the gorgeous detailed reef life as well as a good chance of spotting pelagic species passing by on their journeys through the open ocean. The reef fish were far more curious and confident than those we saw on the shallower dives, possibly because they are bothered by fewer divers.

Soft coral at Deep Sponges
Soft coral at Deep Sponges

My photos from this dive aren’t very good – I think because the current was quite strong, and because I don’t have strobes to illuminate the depths. They just don’t do the experience justice. Because the visibility was so good – almost top to bottom – there was a tremendous sense of space, but also all this magnificent life begging for some macro shots. I haven’t done enough deep dives with the camera (two!) to figure out what works. But I am quite proud of the picture of the soft coral above.

Safety stop at Deep Sponges
Tony (on the right) and the Silver Fox (on the left) help Giraffe and Mariaan, who had descended unexpectedly while arranging some alternate air source breathing

I hardly finned during the dive because we were drifting with the current, which was great, and in all the dive was very relaxing. I had plenty of air – surfaced with the Divemaster and Tony, which was awesome! Felt very proud of myself and got a handshake from Tony at the safety stop. We did a nice long safety stop punctuated by one or two dramatic incidents which were nicely handled by Dean, Tony and the Silver Fox (who is also a Divemaster). Almost everyone seemed to breathe off someone’s octo at one time or another.

Breathing off octos
Tami taking Dean's octo, and Tony telling Justin, who was finishing breathing from (I think) the Silver Fox's octo behind Tami, to continue his ascent

Dive date: 9 October 2010

Air temperature: 23 degrees

Water temperature: 22 degrees

Maximum depth: 31 metres

Visibility: 20 metres

Dive duration: 37 minutes

Reef rules

Please remember, coral reefs are delicate, home to creatures we are privileged to visit and need to be respected. Control your buoyancy, tuck in your gauges, octos and torches.

Some of the corals have taken hundreds of years to grow to their current size. A careless fin kick could destroy decades of growth.

Don’t touch anything – coral reefs are a delicate ecosystem, and you can transport algae and other organisms on your hands from one coral to the other. This isn’t a good thing – it’s the equivalent of coughing on someone when you have a cold!

No touching! I am looking at you!
No touching! I am looking at you!

And finally…

Do not go deeper than the bottom!

Do not bite anything that bites you!

If your buddy is bitten by anything he should not be touching please take a picture for us to use in issuing beer fines!