DIVESouthAfrica: the ways we dive in South Africa

An orientation course aimed at explaining just what makes South African diving unique, how to dive on the different coasts around the country, what gear you'll need for local conditions, and what interesting animals and marine spectacles to see in the various regions.

The course has two levels:

baieBIO for people wanting a good grounding in the dive customs, conditions and marine life in one of the three broad marine regions of the country, and

Fundi for an overall understanding of diving all three regions.

We decided to set this course up because of the big differences in the way South African diving happens compared to the rest of the world, and because of the further differences in the way diving happens on the various South African coasts. Capetonians are astonished to learn they need to follow a buoy-carrying divemaster when diving the East coast. People used to the East coast get a shock hitting the chilly waters of the Cape without a hood, boots or gloves. And overseas tourists are amazed at rubber ducks. A little preparation, we thought, would smooth all that out. And while we were at it, why not introduce divers to the wonders of the marine world around our coasts? And so DIVESouthAfrica was born. We hope you find it useful.

South Africa's shores are impacted by no less than three oceans, and so have extraordinary marine biodiversity. There's the West coast with its cool water kelp-based ecosystem, home of seals, sevengills and great white sharks. The South coast, the centre of endemic life in the region with rich reefs swarming with huge numbers of unique fishes and invertebrates. And the East coast bustles with all the diversity of the vast Indo-Pacific tropical fauna. There's the big stuff like sharks and whales, deep stuff like coelacanths at (technically) diveable depths, the "greatest shoal on earth", i.e. the Sardine Run, unusual fishes and a huge range of invertebrates found nowhere else in the world. In short, South African diving offers oceans of life to explore. DIVESouthAfrica aims give you an insight into these lives and how best to investigate them.

Diving South Africa involves some extremes. Diving in one of the world's strongest currents (the Agulhas) or in an area with the world's most powerful upwelling (the West Coast) requires that divers have specialised skills and gear. The DIVESouthAfrica course will ensure that you know when you'll be needing extra neoprene, a torch or a surface marker buoy. It will familiarise you with the varying launch procedures around the coast and make sure you know when you need to help push a boat in and what to do with your dry gear (spoiler: leave it on land in a safe place).

DIVESouthAfrica aims to ensure that whichever coast you dive you'll know what to expect.

DIVESouthAfrica also gets you involved in citizen science. Part of the course requirements are to upload images to iSpot, the web platform chosen by SANBI (South African National Biodiversity Institute) to map distribution of our national fauna and flora. You'll learn how to upload images with location and identification data and to tag them to add to scientific understanding of what lives where. You'll also get an iSpot baieBIO badge for your uploads. Even better, if you don't know what you're uploading, since other iSpotters can comment on what you upload, there's a decent chance someone else on iSpot will be able to help. Or, excitingly, you may be the discoverer of a species new to science.

On top of that, when you qualify, you get a cool tag for your BC.

Go to the DIVESouthAfrica website at http://www.southafricandiver.co.za/moodle/ and find out more.

The fiddly bits (aka the small print)

How the course works:

There are two levels: baieBIO (lots of life) and Fundi (expert)

baieBIO

You need to be a qualified diver or else have an instructor who will teach you both your Open Water qualification and baieBIO simultaneously.

Good buoyancy control is an essential prerequisite for the course.An instructor must certify that you have sufficient buoyancy skills to avoid damaging the reefs and marine animals while you dive in order to complete your baieBIO course. Buoyancy skills are not taught in the DIVESouthAfrica course, so you may need to do a supplementary buoyancy course.

Exactly what you'll be studying for the baieBIO course depends on which region you will be diving. There are three possibilities. For each one you will be required to study three lectures.

All students must study the first lecture which gives an overview of diving in South Africa, South African marine life and local sea conditions.

All students must then study the second lecture which shows the practicalities of diving round the South African coast. Depending on which region you are in, baieBIO students will then study the West coast lecture, the South coast lecture or the East coast lecture.

Tests must be written for all three lectures, with the pass grade set at 70%.

Tests can be re-taken until the pass grade is achieved or the instructor is confident you have understood your errors.

Once you've done the theory, there are four dives to do to complete the practical section. These dives can be chosen from a range of options as shown below. One dive may combine several options (for example the sevengill dive in Cape Town could be a shore or a boat launch, and it is in a kelp forest in a Marine Protected Area) but a total of four dives must be completed including at least four dive categories:

Dive CategoryWest CoastSouth CoastEast Coast
Boat Dive
Shore DiveStudents with mobility issues may request an exemption.
Surf LaunchUnlikely to be possible
SealsNot possible
Sharks
Kelp ForestNot possible
Coral ReefNot possibleNot possible
Endemic Species
Drift DiveUnlikely to be possibleMay not be possible
Night Dive
MPA DiveMay not be practical

After the dives you'll do a debrief with your instructor discussing what animals and habitats you saw. Your instructor will show you how to use iSpot and the final step of the course will be to upload at least ten images to iSpot labelled with baieBIO, image-appropriate tags as per the table below and your best guess of image ID. These uploads and their IDs must be verified by your instructor.

Once you have completed all the course requirements you will be sent a certificate of completion as well as a handy baieBIO badge to clip to your BC or use as a keyring. Divers who have already completed four dives in their area may also apply for a baieBIO qualification -- this is a matter of:

writing the three tests,

having buoyancy control verified by an instructor,

getting log books verified for the given dives

and doing the ten iSpot uploads with the IDs verified by an instructor.

AnimalTag
FishSea Fish Atlas
Nudibranch or sea slugSea Slug Atlas
Sea spider or crustaceanCrustacean Atlas
Hard and soft corals, anemones, sea pens and gorgoniansSea Coral Atlas
EchinodermEchinoMAP
Jellyfish, comb jellies, salpsSAJellyWatch

Fundi

Fundi candidates are expected to pass the tests for all five lectures and to do a minimum of four dives per region, as well as upload a total of ten images to iSpot per region.

Successful Fundi candidates also get a certificate and a Fundi BC badge/keyring.

Again, divers who wish to apply for Fundi status must:

write all five tests,

show evidence of four logged dives in each region,

have buoyancy control verified by an instructor

plus do ten iSpot uploads per region tagged as required and verified by an instructor qualified in each region.

Divers wishing to qualify for baieBIO or Fundi without going through an instructor must apply directly to diveSouthAfrica with proof of their buoyancy control.