Thursday, 1 November 2012

Rocktail Bay Snorkeling Practical

As part of the FGASA Level 1 Marine guiding qualification, students start off with a snorkeling practical. This introduces them to the species one would find along our shores and prepares them to be able to provide guests with a guided snorkeling safari.  
The aim of this first practical is to get students comfortable in the sea and to teach them snorkeling procedures that would be applied to a guided experience with guests.

On Tuesday the 23rd of October the new Level 1 Marine group, the ‘Umkhomo’ group, went to Rocktail Bay for their first practical with Bhejane Nature Training. The coastal drive to Rocktail Bay offers some awesome landscapes and scenic views of coastal forests and lakes.

We stopped off at lake Sibaya, South Africa’s largest fresh water lake. It is separated from the sea by coastal dunes only 2 km in width, and presumably originated from an old lagoon, which later became isolated by sand deposition. The water level is now 23 m above sea level and fluctuates widely depending on rainfall and evaporation, because of the lack of outflowing rivers. Lake Sibaya and its surrounding area is known for the wealth of fauna containing a few rare species and more than 200 species of birds and a large number of hippopotamus and crocodiles. Some 1,500 inhabitants on the lake coast live on agriculture and fishery, keeping traditional ways of fishing. When the lagoon got separated from the sea it slowly became a fresh water lake. Because this process was quite slow, some species managed to adapt to the change in salinity and from being a marine species now transformed to be a freshwater species. One example is the endemic freshwater goby, Silhouettea sibayi

From there we set off to Rocktail Bay Lodge, a beautiful, tranquil setting to spend the next 4 days. The lodge was abandoned a few years ago and is now run by the community, situated in a lovely thick coastal forest where I could enjoy a hot outdoor shower with a Livingstone’s Turaco perched in the tree in front me! 

Unfortunately weather conditions weren’t all that great and the sea conditions was nothing like it could be in the area, but we still went out and managed to learn a lot. On days where weather and rain prevented the group from going snorkeling, time was spent doing coastal tree and plant identification around the camp. Shells picked up from the beach were brought back to be identified and time was spent going through the list of fish seen during the days snorkel.

Birding in these coastal forest proves to be challenging, especially for your beginner birders. The morning chorus of bird calls erupts from dawn but trying to spot the Aves in their coastal habitat is another story. (Everyone sharpened up on their bird calls though!)

We managed to work 3 snorkeling sessions in between the rain and bad ocean conditions, the last two being the most successful! The shallow waters of Lala Neck and Rocktail beach gave the students that are not that comfortable yet in the ocean to adjust and get a feel for the aquatic environment. Everyone managed very well, in what was not ideal conditions, and managed to add quite a few species to their species list. Amongst the species seen was, a blue spotted ribbon tail ray; six stripe soap fish; rectangular trigger fish; floral moray eel; white spotted puffer; two stripe blenny and many more.

Being able to offer guest a guided snorkeling safari is definitely a huge attraction along the pristine beaches on the South African Coast, and would appeal to people of any age! More snorkeling will be done with the group in Cape Vidal and the Kosi Bay mouth, where they will hopefully experience better ocean conditions and see even more.  They will be going to Mission Rocks next week for some more rocky shore practicals and snorkeling.

Below is short video of the weeks snorkeling experiences. As you'll see, conditions weren't ideal and visibility was not that great, but was still greatly enjoyed by all parties and had some very memorable moments.

Lake Sibaya
Students Doing Some Fish ID
Flower from the Cross Berry Raisin Tree

For more information on the Bhejane Marine Level 1 course email us today!
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Creating Awareness Through Wilderness.....

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