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Railway reef idea for Aliwal Shoal

Durban - An ambitious idea to create a man-made reef out of old railways carriages north of Aliwal Shoal – an international diving hot spot – is on the cards.

It is the brainchild of Jacques van Schalkwyk, chairman of the Sapphire Coast Toti Tourism and his committee.

JACQUES VAN SCHALKWYK. Credit: SUPPLIED

“It is early days, but it is part of our five-year plan,” said Van Schalkwyk, after the tourism body’s annual meeting in eManzimtoti at the weekend. He envisages that the reef will be made of several gutted railway carriages, which have their windows, doors and even sides stripped out and the oil and rubber removed, allowing marine life and divers access.

He would like to see five to 10 carriages side-by-side under water. “We want to go big. There is no point in putting just two down there.”

The Aliwal Shoal, 5km from the village of Umkomaas on the south coast, is one of the top shark diving attractions in the world, and the tourism body and their diving colleagues believe it will make the venue even more appealing.

“We need to create an underwater attraction and something unique,” he said.

“It is going to be a serious process and we will obviously need environmental approval.”

He had already spoken to a Transnet representative who attended a recent meeting about the idea, and the next step was to get a written commitment for disused railway carriages, he said. The diving fraternity told him there was a need for a new diving location and that it would help attract divers from around the world.

Bryan Vivier of Umkomaas Dive Lodge Charters, one of the many dive operators in the village, welcomed the plan for the artificial reef.

“Divers are looking for new dive sites all the time. They like to go somewhere that is new and undiscovered,” he said.

There were two shipwrecks in Aliwal Shoal and two in uMhlanga used by divers, but there had been nothing new for about 30 years, he said.

Having an artificial reef would be a big boost to the region and attract divers who traditionally went to Sodwana and Mozambique.

And if the new man-made reef was positioned north of Umkomaas, it would then be near Umgababa, where it would be possible to get diving going in that area.

Members of Sapphire Coast Tourism are also looking at the possibility of commissioning and placing Big Five concrete statues, as well a Madiba statue underwater for divers to enjoy.

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