Our rebreather week was a full success. We didn’t have a lot of rebreather divers here, but it was a start and a hell of a lot of fun.
On the weekend our friends from Johannesburg joined us and during the week we shared a boat with the scuba divers.
The conditions were more than excellent. Although we often had rough seas with scary launches, we also had crystal clear water on Protea Banks with every singe species of sharks available. There were tigers, rages, hammerheads, black tips, guitarsharks, bullsharks, manta rays, eagle rays, whale shark and kinky whale.
This Protea Banks is unbelievable !!!
Once the rebreather divers shared a boat with the scuba guys, we went into the water first and drifted ahead without a buoyline. After a predetermined time we shot up our smb to become visible again. In a bit of current this wasn’t always as easy as planned. Before long the two goups separated by a long way. Once we surfaced after 60 odd minutes our boat was nowhere to be seen. But we expected this and came prepared with our ENOS System. I activated my sender and immediately the boat got a loud beep on the receiver. On the screen appeared our number, direction, distance, course and coordinates. Within minutes our boat came into view heading straight for us. We were 1.2km away from the boat… This is ENOS !!! Absolutely magic !!!
So on the next dive we took this a step further. We attached my sender onto the specially designed SIBO buoy, activated the sender and shot the buoy up from the depth of 37m
As it reached the surface the sender connected with the receiver and told our boat exactly where we were.
This opened a whole new use of the fantastic ENOS System for us. Instead of keeping the ENOS for emergencies only – which hopefully never occur – we can now use the ENOS on a regular basis when we dive the Northern Pinnacle of Protea Banks.
Here we often go without bouillon so we can crawl through all kinds of holes and passages underwater. Normally we meet our boat when we deploy the smb at a given time at the second cave. Now we take the stress out of skipper and dive master by letting ENOS tell us where we are as soon as it hits the surface.
What an absolute pleasure !!!
The diving on Protea Banks has been consistently brilliant. We are out every day and see all kinds of amazing animals. From Tiger Sharks past Guitar Sharks to Hammerheads on the South Side of Protea Banks. On the North Side of Protea Banks we have an ever growing community of Raggies. Two days ago we had 19, yesterday 26 and today 35 Sandtigers.
But besides all this normal stuff we also see unusual sightings. Brooke had a Tiger and a Whaleshark yesterday. We had a Minkywhale on our safety stop today.
Our rebreather week has started today. Supp has brought a couple of friends from Germany , Sophie and Jerome have come down from JoBurg with their machines.
We dropped on the Northern Pinnacle today. We underestimated the current a little and the lack of speed we have with the rebreathers. So when we got down we missed the first cave and arrived at the swim through. We crawled our way back to the first cave as we knew that there would be the Raggies. It was quite a job to get back. Had we only dived on SCUBA, we would not have had enough air to do this. But it was worth the effort as we were met by 35 Raggies. These sharks barely looked at us. Just carried on with their chores for the day !!! Having no bubbles and no noise, the sharks were not stressed at all. They accepted us – funny looking creatures – as part of them and just carried on. Normally they get nervous and start darting out of the cave. Not with the rebreathers. Brilliant.
The vis on the bottom was not too great so the footage is not very good.
But we will try this again tomorrow and hope for better visibility.
One of my divers asked me to write a brief history of diving Protea Banks and the sharks. Here is the result :
I haven’t forgotten about the mail i am to write. Just postponed it due to exhaustion.
Diving still carries on at Protea Banks and not much easy time is in sight yet.
Nevertheless, i want to try and write a few lines about the history and development which is on the go right now.
Beulah and i came to the town of Margate in 1992 looking for a way to make a living. We always wanted to live at the coast, but this is easier said than done.
Once we settled in we looked at this huge playground and wondered what we could do with it.
Fishing was not an option, swimming couldn’t be done regularly due to weather and sea conditions, boating probably gets boring after a while.
We were some of the very few locals who came to the beach every single day with our dogs. Not many people actually go to the beach once they live there….
When we got married in the Comoros we tried a discover scuba course and got hooked.
Upon our return we went to the local dive school and signed up.
Within a few training dives we found ourselves diving Protea Banks. Those days it was less costly to throw us in on the local reef rather than travelling 100km to a better suitable reef for beginners.
As novices we never questioned the safety and integrity of our instructor.
Like many divers still do today, i looked up my shark book and tried to memorise some of the many species of sharks. I had no idea what i would find on my first dive, but sharks were a sure encounter.
As we got down to the bottom we faced a tiger shark. Bang on, first dive , first shark. Okay, so this is what one sees here all the time, were my thoughts…
The local operator had a small boat and few divers. Protea Banks was a fishing reef and for every normal diver far too dangerous, especially because of the sharks which no-one knew much about.
When we drove to the dive site at Shelly Beach and got ready for a fun shark dive, onlookers would stare at us, take pictures of us and shake their heads. How could a normal human being do anything so outrageous as diving with sharks without any form of protection at all. Crazy….was the word we were described as all the time….
After a few years of diving Protea Banks we decided to acquire the business’ name and telephone number.
We worked hard and enjoyed every single dive we did on Protea Banks.
People came from all over the world and dived with us. In the beginning there were few but almost every diver had an unforgettable experience with the sharks of Protea Banks.
And word went out into the world about the best kept secret in the diving industry.
As the scuba diving market got more saturated, people had seen the world’s best dive sites and the one thing which was left was diving with sharks. Over the years more and more divers braved the sharks and spoke about it amongst their families and friends.
Today, after 20 years of promoting the best shark diving site in the world and with the help of expos and social media, Protea Banks is well known amongst serious scuba divers.
I like to call it the Mount Everest of shark diving.
Protea Banks is not for the faint hearted and definitely not for the beginner. It is not the sharks which makes the dive a challenge but the sea conditions which are often quite adverse.
But it is the sharks which draw more and more divers to Protea Banks and South Africa. This reef has more sharks of one species and more species of sharks than most other shark diving sites.
Even through all the years we have dived Protea Banks, the sharks never dropped in numbers too drastically. Sure, there are periods with fewer sharks and periods with more. This usually goes hand in hand with the presence of pelagic fish. If we don’t see sharks on Protea Banks, the fishermen don’t catch fish. And after a couple of days it is all back to normal.
On Protea Banks we have almost 100% line fishermen. They fish with rods and sinkers and every fish caught has to brought up with sheer muscle power. A normal 10kg tuna doesn’t come out easy and takes a lot of energy of the fisherman. But that is their sport and livelihood. Each fish is worth probably about Euro 10 per kilo weight. Sharks on the other side have no monetary value other than the jaws for a trophy.
Over the years there were the odd fishermen who wanted a set of jaws for their private bar at home. Overtime a shark was killed and brought back to Shelly Beach we would make a huge scene. The last time we used the social media and the local media to name and shame the senseless killer.
Luckily this has earned us a lot of respect and hardly any dead shark comes back to land. This is not to say that they don’t ever get killed. Fishermen are highly frustrated with sharks continuously taking their catch and leaving merely the head to be pulled out. In anger they often destroy sharks. But catching a shark deliberately is not in the interest of the normal fisherman. As i explained it before, it takes too much physical power to catch a shark. By the time a shark is ready to be killed, the fisherman is usually spent and cannot go on catching more valuable fish.
Lately our government has decided to protect 5% of our countries EEZ which runs 200km around our entire coastline. Currently 0.4% is protected. So a group of scientists was commissioned to establish areas and habitats worth protecting. Protea Banks has been earmarked as a hugely valuable area.
In this we are experiencing an unexpected huge leap forward. Everybody knows that the existence of the sharks worldwide is in jeopardy due to the cruel and pathetic finning practice. Even though we might not have noticed a drop in shark numbers on Protea Banks in the last 20 years, it is clear that sharks need every sanctuary possible anywhere in the world in order to have a small chance of survival. A Marine Protected Area around Protea Banks will give the sharks a small break. We are in the process of finalising an area of approximately 3200 square kilometres as the official Protea Banks MPA.
Fishing in the MPA will be controlled and sharks are completely off limits. What a glorious victory for these so misunderstood creatures !!!!!
So how was it today ? Absolutely amazing. We had a lovely autumn day with sunshine and cool – warm air temperatures. The sea was calm , visibility 20m and water temperature was 24C. Beautiful.
On our first dive we baited and got 7 Black Tips and 3 Zams. Unfortunately no tiger , but we will try again tomorrow.
The sharks were fun and wholly entertaining. After 75 minutes we said good bye for now.
Went back, got new cylinders and did a dive to the Northern Pinnacles of Protea Banks. Last week we counted already 13 Raggies in the caves. I was wondering how many we would see today. Unfortunately the stormy weekend with the huge waves did not attract the sharks to the caves which act like washing machines. But nevertheless we still found 4 sandbaggers. On our way up we got exciting company from 3 rams and 3 black tips. They remembered us from the previous dive and probably wondered why we did not bring more bait for them.
Brilliant diving day.
And tomorrow ?
My rebreather is ready for action and everybody else will have to deal with noisy bubbles…….
We had a weekend off. We did a dive on Thursday and when we wanted to go for a second dive we were told to reconsider. Sure, the waves were huge but there were always good breaks to get through. So i decided to try it. We pushed the boat into the bay and were horrified about the 3m-4m waves crashing into Shelly Beach. We waited for the break. And waited…. And waited…But there was no break. Just tons of wild, unforgiving water.
After 12 minutes i decided it would be wisest to turn the boat around and head for the beach. We were greeted with applaud by the onlookers….
So indeed we are responsible people and know when to stand down.
Then Friday the waves were even worse and the harbour was closed. Saturday we got hit by a huge wind and today we didn’t feel like going out. Lovely break we had and lots of things got done.
Tomorrow we will be back on Protea Banks. First dive is a Baited Shark Dive, second dive will be a dive to the Northern Pinnacles to see how many Raggies are there.
I got my rebreather ready for action and can’t wait to get into the water again.