Guided Snorkeling Safari

The value of a Guided Snorkeling Safari

By Christa Panos

More than 70% of the earth’s surface is covered by oceans and the life contained within them is simply amazing in variety and quantity. The ocean is also home to more than 90% of the living biomass on earth. The tree main groups of fish (previously simply referred to as the Class Pisces) represent the single largest group of chordates on earth and over one quarter of them can be seen on tropical coral reefs, adding to the enviable reputation of coral reefs as ecosystems with no equal anywhere in the world. Shallow- water and off- shore coral reefs, estuaries and coastal tidal pools offer diverse marine environments that can be explored through recreational activities like diving and snorkeling.

-->A Trumpetfish (Aulostomus chinensis)  If you are intrigued by form and function in nature, the variety of marine organisms that can be seen while snorkelling in these environments, will no doubt provide for stimulating journeys of discovery and many years of exploration.

A Whale Shark at Sodwana Bay
While diving is a more technical activity with some limiting factors such as health or affordability, snorkelling provides a fairly easy and inexpensive way to explore our marine and coastal areas. Snorkelling is often a much more accessible activity that most people can enjoy and learn from. It is a great activity for guests of all ages and can be enjoyed as a basic activity or a more adventurous one that requires more skill –but also offers more reward.

Snorkelling offers the irresistible opportunity to peek into a mysterious hidden world. One that is normally only available to qualified divers or in contained environments such as aquariums or television screens. A well planned and guided snorkelling safari is almost guaranteed to offer instant understanding of why people become so passionate about marine life.

Above: The mouth at Kosi Bay is also  known as the “Aquarium” due to the abundance and variety of tropical fish that can be seen while snorkelling here. 
--> Bhejane Marine Students practising some skills before heading out on a snorkeling practical In South Africa, the northern coasts of KwaZulu Natal (also known as Maputaland or the Elephant Coast) where the southern-most tropical reefs in the world are found offers some of the best local snorkelling sites. There is a great variety of basic and easily accessible sites, while the sufficiently fit and experienced snorkeler can venture deeper toward some of the off-shore reefs where a chance encounter with some of the pelagic species such as dolpins, whale-sharks, turtles and Manta Rays are possible.

You might wonder why people would require a guide to engage in snorkelling, since it is such an easy and accessible activity. It is true that basic snorkelling does not require much special training to enjoy, but a well-planned, guided snorkelling safari can turn an average experience into a journey of discovery that can be remembered for many years to come. Using the equipment is no difficult task to master, but having the knowledge and insight to snorkel safely, under the right conditions at the most appropriate sites requires a good amount of skill, knowledge and understanding of the ocean.

Having a guided snorkelling experience therefore has many benefits to the guest which include access to knowledge of local sites through the guide, knowledge of marine life, training to act in emergencies, special knowledge to ensure the correct use of equipment and most importantly expert knowledge of local conditions that can affect the snorkelling experience such as tides and currents, weather conditions and local shore profiles.

Snorkeling with an experienced and well trained guide should also carry the promise of a stress-free experience allowing the guest to focus on the reward while entrusting the guide with the safety of the group.

For many guests who may be first time snorkelers at sea, the prospect of swimming out into open water can be very scary, and panic can set in very quickly in such unfamiliar circumstances.

The value of a Snorkelling Guide with a good understanding of tides and currents to ensure a safe guided experience can never be underestimated. Choosing poor locations and being ignorant of tides and currents can mean a constant battle with waves and surf and can lead to a variety of injuries and even death due to drowning. Exhaustion can set in easily, even with experienced swimmers, if you choose to go out when conditions are not good.

Tides can make a particular area much shallower or deeper than the last time you snorkeled there and may require different entry and exit points.

Strong currents can make the whole experience simply exhausting and also quite dangerous. Snorkeling Guides should have a good understanding of both rip currents and long-shore currents, both of which can have an effect on the safety and enjoy ability of the experience.

May 2012 Marine Group
While you may be familiar with the prevailing current, long shore currents can reverse direction from one day to the next, so it is never safe to assume that they will always remain the same. It is a good idea to have a good network of people such as local boat operators that you can turn to for advice and extra insight into the behaviour patterns of local long shore currents.

Snorkeling trips in areas that are affected by the tides should be planned for slack water when there is little movement of water. (Slack water is the brief interval between the shifting of tides during which tidal currents are at their weakest.)

Strong tidal currents can also have an adverse effect on visibility that would greatly limit the enjoy ability of the experience.

Snorkeling around rocky shores and inshore reefs, allows a closer look at many sub-tidal species that cannot be seen on rocky and sandy shores. Some of these can be seen in the pictures shown with this article. While these are beautiful to see, an ill-informed and unguided guest can also spoil his/or her snorkeling experience by accidental or ignorant interaction with marine life, leading to personal injury and unnecessary damage to the marine environment.

-->School of Bigeye (Lutjanus lutjanus) and Bluestripe Snappers (Lutjanus kasmira). There are various potential threats posed by marine life while snorkelling, but with good pre-snorkel briefings and guidelines for accidental encounters, your guests should feel comfortable and at ease when entering the water to view these animals. Some of the potential threats of marine life include envenomation due to stepping on the venomous spines of Scorpion-, Lion- and Stonefish (Scorpaenidae and Synanceiidae), picking up a venomous Cone Shell or getting stung by jelly fish, blue-bottles or Fire-coral. Sea-urchins can easily be stepped on or accidently grabbed when trying to stabilise yourself in rough water.

Although not common various species of fish may bite or nip if intruded on such Moray Eels or some of the more territorial species of Triggerfishes. Stingrays will only pose a threat to snorkelers when harassed.

The sheer size of animals such as the Whale-shark should be caution enough to respect the potential injury that can occur by a mere flick of the tail – guests must be well informed to keep their distance and never attempt to touch or ride these animals.

Cuts and abrasions can occur easily if you get caught by a surprise wave or grabbed onto a piece of rock without checking where you are putting your hands. The prominent areas affected by cuts and scrapes are hands, knees, elbows and feet.

--> A Needle Urchin (Diadema setosum) Special care should be taken to avoid species that bite or sting such as Cone Shells, Jelly Fish and Sea Urchins.

Another danger of serious injury, is surprisingly often overlooked by snorkelers and can make the next few days of a well-earned holiday sheer misery – be very aware of how long you are out in the water with the harmful UV rays of the sun on your back and legs. Severe sun-burn can easily occur so make sure your guests wear enough protection in the form of long-sleeved rash-vests and protective sun-creams.
Snorkelling guides can also add huge value to a snorkelling experience by providing some guidance on the correct use of seemingly obvious equipment. The potential frustration that can occur as a result of a lack of knowledge and experience can turn a potentially awe-inspiring experience into a frustrating struggle for a guest to find see what you are trying to show them and keeping their masks clear.

Bhejane Nature Training has put together a specialist Snorkelling Certificate to enable FGASA qualified Marine Guides to add to their skill-set and to ensure that you can offer your guests a safe and memorable snorkelling experience while creating awareness and interest in the many treasures we have in our living marine environments.

For more information on the Bhejane Snorkeling Certificate Contact info@bhejanenaturetraining.com
Bhanga Nek Beach Where Bhejane Students did their Snorkeling Practicle























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