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South Africa

Marine Conservation + Scuba Diving

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Discover South Africa

Protect reefs and marine life.

This is an amazing program where you can combine learning to scuba dive in one of the best diving hot spots in world whilst assisting 'KZN Wildlife' manage, study and protect the marine reserve around Sodwana Bay.

To set the scene, Sodwana Bay is a small village nestled amongst the sand dunes of the east coast and the Isimangaliso Wetland Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Sodwana overlooks a vibrant coral reef system which runs parallel to the coastline and stretches up towards Mozambique.

This Marine Protected Area has had no dynamite fishing or anchoring boats since the 1960's so it really healthy and home to humpback whales, manta rays, leatherback turtles, whale sharks, bottlenose dolphins, loggerhead turtles, marlin and sailfish – utterly stunning.

Fun fact - with an incredible 1200 fish species… that’s 2/3 of the number found on the Great Barrier Reef in an area that’s 1/10 of the size.


Program Itinerary

This specialised program is all about scuba training and marine conservation in one of the world's best dive locations.

The following is a sample itinerary.

Overview

Sodwana Bay

Welcome to Sodwana

Tucked away on the east coast of South Africa, in one of the most unique and unspoiled parts of the world. The KwaZulu-Natal province is home to the Zulu people who have inhabited the area, in harmony with the land, for several centuries.

Sodwana is a great little town, lying within the iSimangaliso Wetland Park and the Maputaland Marine Reserve, where efforts are being made to protect its integrity from environmental degradation.

The area has been a Marine Protected Area since the 1960’s. Two of the marine 'Big 5', bottlenose dolphin and loggerhead turtles, live here all year round and they get masses of seasonal visitors like the humpback whales, manta rays, leatherback turtles and the ragged tooth sharks. For underwater exploration this is one of the best.

Accommodation

Your home will be at the Coral Divers Resort. The accommodation is surrounded by pure dune forest and within 2km of the beach. You’ll stay in wooden cabins with a shared shower/toilet block nearby.

Expect flush toilets and hot showers… luxury. There is a main safari style building where all the action happens from meetings to meals, evening relaxing and games.

Food

3 meals a day.

Expect lots of rice, potato, meat and vegetables.

Wks 1 - 2

Scuba Training Open Water + Advanced

Getting You Ready

To participate in the marine conservation you will need to complete the Padi Open Water scuba course. Obviously if you arrive already trained you will complete the advanced course in week one.

After this you will learn about reef life and the projects involved, hone your diving techniques and data collection methods, directed by our resident marine biologist who will make sure you know your way around the underwater world.

This training is in place for your safety, the integrity of the data collected and for the protection of the endangered reefs and corals.

Week 4 - 6

Marine Conservation Surveys + Clean Ups

Reef Conservation

In conjunction with KZN Wildlife, who oversee the marine reserve, you will be collecting baseline data of benthic (bottom-dwelling) and fish communities, with the aim to monitor any changes to the ecosystem. Your tasks will include:

Benthic Community Surveys
Good species diversity is a key indicator of reef health. Using underwater photography equipment, you will conduct photographic surveys of benthic communities at several dive sites in the marine reserve.

Fish Surveys
The Sodwana Marine Reserve is home to at least 1200 species of fish, as well as some endemic species not found anywhere else, protected by strict fishing laws. Here you will conduct visual surveys to collect data on current fish populations and diversity.

Reef/Beach Clean Ups
Clean reefs & beaches help save the lives of marine animals. Here you will collect any litter found underwater, with periodic beach clean-ups.

Marine Conservation Workshops - I dry-day per week

One day a week, you will get the opportunity to learn about the local marine life. Starting with the Sharklife (a registered NGO based in Sodwana Bay) Shark Conservation Workshop, you will also cover the following programs:

Turtle Conservation, Cetacean Conservation (Dolphins), Coral Reef Conservation, as well as the viewing and discussion of a Conservation Documentary and finishing off with a fun and informative Conservation Quiz Day. This is done in a classroom at the Sharklife Museum just outside the park. Transport will be provided.

Adventure

Dry days Safari + Wildlife

Safari and Adventure Intertwined

On your diving ‘dry days’ you will get the opportunity to head out into the African wilderness to experience the diverse environments of KwaZulu Natal, home to amazing flora and fauna from game parks to huge estuaries. One day safari is included in the program.

Mkuze Game Reserve
Further inland this area used to be a royal hunting ground for Zulu King Shaka. With that practice given up long ago it is now a reserve for some of Africa’s unique wildlife. You’ll be able to go on day game drives in the reserve, which is a mere 50 minutes by road. This is included in the cost and will be one trip per person.

Kosi Bay
A beautiful lake system just south of the Mozambique border that is home to many traditional fisherman. Here you’ll camp next to the lake, take boat trips out to explore and guided walks to view the traditional fishing methods, enjoying a braai and campfire in the evening.

Lake Mgoboseleni and Lake Sibaya
You’ll take day trips out to both lakes to enjoy a braai on the shores of the lake and relax in the beautiful scenery surrounded by the African bush.

Program Details & Costs

We have three departures for South Africa throughout the year: January, April and July where you can go for 6 weeks to learn to dive up to advanced level and contribute to marine conservation, but of course you can go for less time to accommodate your needs and budget, just get in contact if you need more flexibility.

Jan & April programs start on:

2020: 7 Jan, 3 Apr

Costs

6 Weeks
Padi course + conservation dives
2020: £3660

4 weeks
Padi course + conservation dives
2020: £2801

Summer program starts on:

2020: 16 Jul

Costs

6 Weeks
Padi course + conservation dives
2020: £3660

4 weeks
Padi course + conservation dives
2020: £2801

Dates Don't Suit?

Don't worry - we can work around this, just get in touch and we'll chat through options more suited to you.

Social Life

Guaranteed. Coral Divers Resort receives divers from all over the world, so it's busy and fun.

Fixed Base

Apart from the safari adventures you will be based at the resort - so you have that home from home feeling.

Marine conservation

Contribute to sustainable and effective marine conservation projects.

Coral Reefs

Access to exceptional and healthy coral reefs. One of the best reefs worldwide.

Typical week will be spent:

4 days per week you will be diving.
I day per week will be spent studying the marine life.
2 dry days for you to rest and explore:

  • Whale watching, surfing, hiking.
  • Visiting the colourful basket market where you can try a Zululand Specialty… the delicious ‘pineapple ice-cream’ (a small sweet pineapple peeled by the Zulu ladies and the stem is carved into a stick).
  • Safari into the KwaZulu Natal to explore: Lake Mgoboseleni, Lake Sibaya, and the Mkuze Game Reserve – (one trip included in the cost).

Coral Divers

Many reef systems around the world are suffering due to climate change and/or human impact, even the Great Barrier Reef is suffering from major coral bleaching which is causing concern to scientists all over the world. Marine National Parks have never been so important to preserve and provide worldwide locations where the causes of destruction and outcomes can be studied and data collected.

Sodwana Bay is one of these Marine National Parks - it is home to a healthy coral reef where the annual migration of marine life is active and abundant. Coral Divers is a highly regarded dive centre based here who provide both scuba training and the man power/dive resources required for marine conservation spearheaded through a local NGO called Ezemvelo Wildlife. Our divers become part of this resource studying, observing and collecting data on the reef community, it's structure and the key organisms that serve as indicators of a healthy reef, providing insights into changes over time.

Invaluable data collected for worldwide marine conservation policy and predictions.

Leaper's Highlights

Daelyn Bentley-Gottel, and her sister, report in from Sodwana... to give you a flavour of Leap life in this stunning location helping protect one of the worlds most important reef systems.

Arriving in South Africa Daelyn Bentley-Gottel

South Africa we love you

If you had told me a month ago that I’d be sitting in a chair in a villa in South Africa to write this first blog post, I probably would have laughed at you. My sister, Emma, and I were supposed to be in the Bahamas right now with a different program, but through some unforeseen circumstances, that program canceled three weeks before we were supposed to leave. Luckily for us, The Leap came to the rescue with a similar program in a much different location (shout out to Milly, Claudia, and Jenny at The Leap - you rock). So here I am instead, another continent (!!!) ticked off my bucket list. Let me start by saying that getting here is an experience in itself.

My sister and I hail from the Eastern United States. We left our house at 4:00pm on January 3, 2019, and arrived to Coral Divers at 3:00pm on January 5, 2019. I honestly couldn’t tell you what happened to January 4th. I think we left it somewhere in Dubai. While we were more than slightly delirious from lack of sleep, I can say that the drive from the airport in Durban to Coral Divers is a very beautiful one. You wind your way through sugar cane farms, sprawling villages, and game reserves for three hours before getting to the resort itself, which is located inside a national park. And since the point of blogging is to encourage other potential Leapers to try new experiences, I also want to point out how safe it is here at Coral. Seriously, the most dangerous things here are the monkeys, and all they do is break into your room and steal your food (oh, and there’s a scorpion in the girl’s shower. But apparently that’s not a big deal because everyone is still using said shower).

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Diving in South Africa Daelyn Bentley-Gottel

Lets talk about the Diving

When it’s your job to write about one of the most beautiful dive locations on the planet, you feel more than a little bit of trepidation. People travel from all over the world just to spend a week diving in Sodwana Bay, and here I am sitting pretty in week three. It’s mind-blowing and supremely humbling at the same time. I’ve managed to rack up more dives in the past 20 days than I have in the past four years of diving, and I’m here for absolutely every moment of it.

However, since I am not in the business of skirting discomfort or hiding blemishes, I’m not going to lie: my first dive in Sodwana was not the best dive I’ve ever had. I’ve done 95% of my diving in the Caribbean, where the water is always flat, calm, clear, and warm. I was also used to shallow multi-level dives, meaning we would start shallow, gradually work our way down to 20m/60ft, and then level our way back up to the anchored boat. Here, conditions can change from crystal clear, no current, no surge to “we’re all turning nasty shades of green” in a matter of hours. The reefs also don’t slope, so there’s no multi-level diving. We go out to a reef, drop down to 20m, and stay there until the first computer reads 5 minutes to deco (deco = decompression time. Recreational divers should never be at depth long enough for their computers to read 0 minutes to deco). It was my first time ever diving like that, and I was more than a little uncomfortable the entire time. I was constantly checking my dive computer, my air, and I wanted to cancel my dive after only 30 minutes.

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Road trip to Cape Town Daelyn Bentley-Gottel

Let’s Talk About Cape Town

When I last left you, we had just finished in Oudtshoorn and were headed towards Cape Town. We returned our rental car in George and opted to have a tour guide drive us (mainly because we did not even vaguely want to attempt driving in Cape Town). Marius took us down the scenic route rather than straight down the N2, so we got to see Mossel Bay, Hermanus, the Southernmost point in Africa (because side note, the Cape of Good Hope is the Southwestern most point in Africa). The drive took the entire day and we were more than ready to crash at our lovely Air BnB in Camps Bay, Western Cape. Turns out we also arrived in time for a jazz festival and an Ed Sheeran concert, so we got to experience Cape Town traffic at its prime.

Our first full day was another driving tour, this time around the peninsula. We drove roughly 160km (about a hundred miles) down through Hout Bay, Kommetjie, all the way down to Cape of Good Hope, and then up to Simon’s Town. The drive was absolutely stunning and boasted some seriously impressive panoramic vistas. If you go to Cape of Good Hope, I recommend the earlier the better. We managed to beat the mega tour buses by about fifteen minutes, and we pretty much had the point to ourselves. We climbed all over the rocks, got to see some seals basking in the sun, and had tea and coffee while watching the waves before the first wave of tourists showed up (and we buggered off to beat them to the next site).

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