Seventy metres………. on my mark………3, 2, 1… GO!
Like a commando assault we do a backward, negative buoyancy entry to thirty metres at Manta Reef off Tofo in Mozambique. It was a familiarization dive with Tracy Price of Dive Adventures, Fern Perry, tour leader from Lutwala Dive and Allan Nash as dive buddy. Alex Rutherford had joined us as founder and managing director of Nomad Tours to check out the new 14 and 20 day dive safari product. Mantas and too many weird and wonderful critters like sea moths, leaf fish and giant pink frogfish were just teasers for the 90 minute dive interval. At Ningaloo in Western Australia, operators work with air support to call boats over to a whale shark. At Tofo in Mozambique, a zig zag along the beach delivers one of 611 whale sharks that regularly visit a six mile stretch of coast as their feeding ground all year round.
Denis Manual Ventura Baicio stands on a cooler box to get extra height for the tell tale white spots of a whale shark. The commando style entry at Manta Reef was the practice run for our snorkel encounter with a 22 year old, 6.6 metre shark about 300 metres from shore in only 5 metres of water. We were asked to stay 4 metres away from the shark and to not get in front of it. Without the wide angled camera that tipped me over my baggage allowance, I found myself moving away from the sub adult to get enough into the view finder for a meaningful picture. I let it get in front of me to appreciate the long shot from tail to head. If it wanted to, one flick of that enormous tail would have left me in its wake. It was so cool to get on the opposite side, have the glare off the viewfinder and to see what I was taking with each click of the camera. WOW, not a whale shark virgin anymore! One more tick off the bucket list.
And that was only the dive interval on the first diving day!
Research has shown that contact with four whale shark based businesses at Tofo has not affected the frequency of whale shark visitations nor the period of tolerance with tourists. The conclusion is that shark and manta operations are sustainable. Lectures at a Tofo resort that hosts the research station are raising public awareness for the protection of ocean megafauna. Dr Simon Pierce and Dr Andrea Marshall head up the Whale Shark and Manta research programs. They provide lectures and opportunity to work as research scientists for a day of monitoring one of the planets hottest spots for Giant Manta, Reef Manta and Whale Sharks. More at www.marinemegafauna.org
A fish that is believed to grow up to 20 metres long and bigger than a Humpback Whale is pretty impressive and the reason why Tofo features on Fern’s 14 and 20 day dive safaris. It’s not for everyone. Even the border crossing into Mozambique from South Africa can be one to four hours. A visa can be anywhere from $50 to $150 dollars depending on the week. Even when you upgrade from a canvas tent to a traditional thatched hut or chalet, water and power cannot be guaranteed. You are in a third world country doing it tough after a bitter and destructive war for independence from the Portuguese. Landmines prevent much of the arable north and inland Mozambique from being productive. Tourist dollars and South African Rand sustain coastal businesses set midst subsistence farmers, fishers and roadside markets. That said, it is worth watching Andrea Marshall, MANTA QUEEN http://vimeo.com/20451764
Being on an educational tour for dive guides with two South African born adventurers is like gold. A Scuba World/Dive Adventures group deal for Mozambique & South Africa will depend on your feedback. Contact Rob McKinnon to register your interest. If you can’t wait for an official trip, I am extending an African land safari next year to do a Great White Shark experience near Cape Town and more time with the adrenalin pumping action south of Durban. I can travel solo, with a buddy or a small group of adventure spirited divers. Key dates from Cape Town, Sunday 7th October, 2012 for a couple of weeks with good weather. Longer if required.
Next month I will compare the shark feeds at Beqa Lagoon, Fiji with the baited drift dives in South Africa.
By Tony Isaacson