Rocktail Dive Report - January 2013

Feb 5, 2013 |  South Africa |  Maputaland |  Rocktail Beach Camp
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Happy New Year to everyone! May 2013 bring you lots of laughter, happiness and success - and of course lots of magical experiences underwater!

With everyone now back at work or at school, the silly season has come to an end - if you're feeling a bit blue after your holiday - hopefully this newsletter will cheer you up and get you itching to get back under the sea again!

Beach Camp has had a few extra pairs of hands helping out over the holiday season - and these relief managers hailed from Zambia. Chapashia Mbambwa was dying to see for herself what is hidden under the water and she finally got the chance, when she joined us on an Ocean Experience. Once Chapashia put her face into the water at Island Rock, it didn't surface again until we had snorkelled all the way back to the boat! So many amazing little fish to see there - and perfect conditions too! That wasn't the end of her ocean story though - Chapashia loved it so much she decided to challenge herself even more by trying out her hand at the Discover Scuba Course. She sailed through the pool session and the next day in the ocean was no different - 65 minutes later Chapashia had grown a pair of gills! Wow - well done, Chapashia you did fantastically for only your second time ever in the ocean!

Father and daughter, Heikki and Silva Pelli from Finland, also showed fantastic expertise in the sea - their first day at Beach Camp they tried out fins for the very first time during their snorkel at Lala Nek, and the next day they joined us for an ocean experience and were so competent in the water that Darryl and Ondyne thought they must have been doing this for years! The natural progression was to try out a dive and both were at home under the water - so much so that they did a second dive. They have been wonderfully spoilt by all the sightings in the ocean - and even got to snorkel with a big pod of bottlenose dolphins and a baby after their first dive. The pod was so relaxed that we were able to snorkel with them for ages before finally, tired but happy, we climbed back onto the boat to return to shore.

We've had one or two very windy days this month, but that hasn't deterred the ragged-tooth sharks currently making Island Rock their base. Towards the end of the month we decided to do a raggie dive and as soon as Ondyne hopped into the water to check and see if they were still there, she counted 18 raggies. A few moments later that count had gone up to 30 pregnant sharks! The dive was amazing. There were raggies all around us and one female raggie had so much debris on her teeth it looked like she had a beard growing out her mouth!

Although these female ragged tooth sharks tend not to eat at all during their gestation period, I think the chance of a free and easy meal doesn't go to waste. This proved to be the case for two of the sharks here, since they both had long traces hanging out the side of their mouths. Obviously the tantalising dangling of food off the end of a hook was too much to resist and the evidence of the hook still in their mouths highlighted this. These female raggies have come up to the warmer waters off our coast to wait out their gestation period. They conserve their energy by moving very slowly along the shallow sandy bottom - occasionally they come up to the surface to gulp some air, which helps with their buoyancy back on the bottom - this is the only shark known to do this. Darryl witnessed this peculiar habit the same day and recounted excitedly to the divers what he had seen when they returned to the surface. We all hoped we would see it again - but it's not a common occurrence and we unfortunately didn't get to see another shark displaying this odd practice.

Sometimes nature just does what it does, but it is the funniest thing to watch! During a dive at Brewers Garden, Darryl and Ondyne were watching a big, fat sea cucumber, when out of the blue, out popped the longest, biggest load of recycled sand from its derrière! This is something that happens all the time, but to actually see it, was a first for both of them! The sea cucumber has a useful purpose in the marine ecosystem as it helps recycle nutrients, breaking down detritus and other organic matter, after which bacteria can continue the degradation process. The sea cucumber is related to the starfish and sea urchin. Darryl laughed about it back on the boat and said it's probably something that National Geographic would be falling over themselves to film! If you look carefully at its rear end, you may just notice a fish - most commonly a pearl fish - which makes its home right there! Sometimes worms and crabs will also use this as their home - it's a symbiotic relationship which the pearl fish uses for protection from predation and as a source of food (nutrients passing in and out). As they say, one man's erm um, is another's palace!

Darryl was walking late one afternoon, in the dusk, when he noticed a hump in the backwash and thought it was a loggerhead turtle coming out to lay eggs. On closer inspection, it turned out to be a big brown sharpnose ray, which was drifting up and down the backwash in the shallow water trying to catch mole crabs and ghost crabs. The ray's feeding technique was very clever and extremely interesting to watch: he would catch an incoming wave, and then as the wave receded, he would hang in there until his whole back and eyes were exposed and there he would wait until the last dregs of the receding wave would pull him back into the deeper water. The ray would wait for the next wave and he would glide up the shore, as far as he could safely go, exposing his back and eyes again, before gently slipping back into the deeper water on the receding wave. This just shows the tenacity and lengths to which the ray would go to, to get at the crabs! A very interesting sighting and not one that many people will have witnessed. A walk along the beach here can uncover many secret habits of the marine world!

A cute sighting this time of year is that of turtle hatchlings. This month Mandla spotted the first hatchlings. As Darryl was driving the tractor back from the day's diving, Mandla spotted two nests close to the launch site, which had lots of little tracks leading from them. Darryl and Mandla stopped and quickly dug down to the bottom of the nests to see if there were any little turtles still alive, buried under the sand. They found a total of six tiny loggerheads and quickly put them into some salt water in the boat bucket. These little guys were released that evening - amazing to watch - as soon as a wave reached them, they came alive and instantly started swimming madly out to sea! Let's hope they make it out there - they've got a few years at the surface moving around at the whim of the currents before they will be big enough to swim down and feed off the reef!

Congratulations to the following Divers:
Michael, Lesley, Thomas, Nathalie and Sophie Grober, Mari Strydom, Tom Horler, Ann Wiwitz, Andrew Marshall, Nic and Will Glassock, Chapashia Mbambwa, Heikki and Silva Pelli and Wayne Elkington for completing their PADI Discover Scuba Diving Course.

Karen Dyer for completing her PADI Discover Scuba in the pool - hope the weather holds out next time and you get to enjoy a sea dive!

Nick Neudold for completing his PADI Bubblemaker Course.

Jess Benjamin for completing her PADI Open Water Course.

Josh Benjamin for completing his PADI Rescue Diver Course.

Yours in diving,
Darryl, Clive, Michelle, Ondyne, Mandla and Sipho.
The Rocktail Dive Team

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