We have had a superb December - wonderful sunny days and calm seas - finally saying goodbye to the unusually high rainfall we experienced over October and November. The water temperature has averaged around 24 degrees Celsius which has been perfect for lovely, long dives and no frozen toes at the end!
Loggerhead and leatherback turtles have been busy laying their eggs - and we have been privileged to have witnessed loggerheads coming up the beach during the day to lay - not once, but TWICE! The first time was at the beginning of the month and Michelle and Clive were with divers Rob and Shannon Prentice, Neil, Saul and dad Darryl Mayers, who were the lucky ones to see a loggerhead turtle come up the beach at lunchtime. She didn't lay on this occasion and so they all got to watch her slow progress back into the water.
The second time happened towards the end of the month - Ondyne was taking the divers back to camp after the second dive on an overcast day, when she noticed fresh tracks on the sand. She stopped and all the divers hopped out and watched the loggerhead, who had reached the dune, snuffle from one spot to another, then back to the first place where they originally saw her. Ondyne quickly drove back so that she could let everyone at Rocktail Beach Camp know! There was lots of excitement as guests and staff headed to the beach to see whether the loggerhead would lay. They were rewarded with an amazing viewing of the loggerhead laying her eggs before making her way back into the sea. All this during daylight hours too - a truly exceptional experience!
What a busy and exciting month it's been for new divers! We've had a number of guests try out diving for the first time and lots of happy faces with big smiles returning to the surface after some amazing experiences. The Sanderson family timed the weather and sea conditions to perfection for their Open Water Course - and had wonderful sightings of sleeping female loggerhead turtles, ribbontail, diamond and blue-spotted rays, eels, paperfish and an octopus! Father and daughter George and Jess Dimond completed their Advanced Course and were spoilt on their deep dive to Solitude where they saw an ignoblis (giant kingfish) in a cave, a loggerhead turtle swimming past, a longnose hawkfish, whip coral shrimp and a swimming flatworm. Ten-year-old Jack Youens did exceptionally well on his Junior Open Water Course and after qualifying, he even got to join in on the ragged tooth shark dive with his father Brent, near Island Rock on his last day of their holiday. Not many ten-year-olds can brag about that! And he has a raggie's tooth as a souvenir and proof of his dive!
Neil Butcher also completed his Open Water Course and his wife, Shelley, enjoyed her forays into the underwater world so much that she plans to come back again next year to complete her Open Water Course too! We had such exceptional dives while Neil was doing his course that he asked the question "so do we get to see dolphins on every dive then?" Michelle had just started going up at the end of their first sea dive at Aerial, whilst Ondyne was still under the water with the rest of the divers. Suddenly Ondyne started shouting excitedly into her regulator and everyone looked to see four bottlenose dolphins crossing the sand between the two sections of reef. Mich and Neil watched from their safety stop while the divers knelt in the sand, enjoying the encounter. It was amazing enough to see that - but it got even better!
About five minutes after we had first seen the dolphins, we heard the boat engines rev a couple of times. Looking up to see what was going on, we saw three dolphins playing in the boat's wake. Clive started driving around in a circle and we witnessed the most amazing show with up to seven dolphins now playing and swimming around with the boat. It is without a doubt one of the most amazing things I have seen and the memory of lying on my back, looking up at the dolphins playing with the boat, will stay with me forever.
On Neil's second dive, they saw spinner dolphins which swam with the boat all the way to Elusive. Michelle then spotted bottlenose dolphins as they were kitting up and they had a wonderful sighting of the bottlenose again as they were descending down to the reef. Wow, some divers have all the luck!
Ragged tooth sharks have been plentiful this month - we have seen up to ten raggies during our Ocean Experience snorkelling trips and there have been lots of close encounters during dives. We named Chris Emanuel our raggie shark magnet - he had close up, personal encounters with a ragged tooth shark on three consecutive dives! We have seen raggies at Yellowfin Drop, Gogo's, Pineapple, Aerial and Elusive. There have also been reports of sightings as far north as Black Rock - so the raggies are all over our section of coastline this year.
As for all the other fish life that has been on show this month - it's more a case of what haven't we seen! And the one thing we haven't been able to find is probably one of the biggest giants in the ocean - the whale shark. We're hoping we have bumper sightings during the rest of the summer season, since this is traditionally when we see this gentle giant the most.
A fish that is normally spotted over the summer months is tuna. There have been so many skipjack tuna in the water that you can see their splashes from quite some distance away, as they jump out the water, catching the bait fish (sprats) they have brought to the surface. The little terns are also happily following the tuna from the air, since they also join in the sprat feast, as they pick them off at the surface. An awesome sight to watch!
We have seen a brindle bass on two separate occasions at Pineapple this month - and this probably explains Boris the potato bass's slightly put-out behaviour towards the divers during this time. He can't be too happy with such a big predator eating all his fish on the reef - but there's not too much he can do about it, since the brindle bass is about three times bigger than he is!
Our little olive sunbird also decided to return to her successful nesting ground - she again built her little nest hanging off one of our school BCDs! So we've seen another three little birds hatch and safely leave the nest. A red-capped robin-chat decided that the dive centre was also her preferred place for nesting and she was quite ingenious in her nesting spot. She scouted the area and decided the best spot was in the arm of the huge exposure suit which we found quite some time ago on the beach and has hung between our two tractors in the boat bays! Darryl spotted her a few months ago and it appears she too has determined that her second batch of eggs should be in exactly the same spot. Her three little chicks are as warm and safe as can be - out of sight from prying eyes and predators.
Congratulations to the following Divers:
Neil and Saul Mayers, Chris and Michelle Meyer, Brett and Nicole Morrison, Willem and Thana Groenewald, Laura and Oliver Kidd, Max Nixon and Anesh and Bavi Naidoo for completing their PADI Discover Scuba Diving Course.
Frederick Paynter, Bruce and Sharon Morrison and Ethan Leibowitz for completing their PADI Discover Scuba in the pool.
Leo Mayers, Amy Paynter, Nicholas Kidd, Scott Nixon, Kai Leibowitz and Sanjan Naidoo for completing their PADI Bubblemaker Course in the pool.
Leon, Carla, Natachia and Chris Sanderson, Jack Youens and Neil Butcher for completing their PADI Open Water Course.
George and Jess Dimond for completing their PADI Advanced Course.
Yours in diving,
Darryl, Clive, Michelle, Ondyne, Mandla and Sipho.
The Rocktail Dive Team