Durban - Ocean lovers hit Scottburgh Main Beach on Sunday to celebrate Aliwal Shoal ahead of Marine Protected Areas (MPA) Day on 1 August. This was one of 42 South African MPAs celebrated countrywide as global recognition grows for these life-giving ‘game reserves of the sea’.
The event opened with an insightful talk on the importance of MPAs for ecosystems and local communities by Dr Bruce Mann, a Senior Scientist at the Oceanographic Research Institute.
The spotlight was shone on eco-tourism with the diving community coming out in full force, gathering at the backline with surfers and other ocean lovers for a paddle out. Dive operators Mokarran Dive Charters, Mako Adventures, Oceans Alive Boat Rides, Scuba eXcursions and Travel to Dive showed their support. A highlight was the attendance of the Rocky Bay NSRI crew.
“Aliwal Shoal is special because it is one of the top dive sites in South Africa. The Aliwal Shoal reef complex has a magnificent diversity of marine life. It will help to make sure that our grandchildren can enjoy the treasures of the ocean in the future,” said Mann.
Dr Ryan Daly, also from the Oceanographic Research Institute, agreed: “Aliwal Shoal presents a marine oasis for many threatened and endemic species along our coast. It is particularly important for many shark and ray species that aggregate there every year. Its diversity, beauty and uniqueness makes it one of my favourite dive sites in South Africa!”
Rated one of the world’s top 10 diving sites, Aliwal Shoal attracts visitors from across the globe looking for some of the best big game diving among its deep reefs and fossilised sand dunes. Accommodating every level of diver, the site is particularly popular in the winter months as migrating humpback whales serenade divers as they explore the two shipwrecks on the ocean floor.
There’s also the chance of spotting these mammoth mammals as they swim along, often breaching to put on a show. Playful dolphins also like to make an appearance, as do many of the local shark species - ragged tooth, tiger and blacktip sharks.
In addition to being a home to a variety of marine life and a cleaning station for the highly-endangered shortfin devil rays. Aliwal Shoal has also been identified as a Hope Spot by Mission Blue - scientific recognition that this space is critical to the health of the ocean. Aliwal Shoal also provides protection for the endangered sea bream, once the most popular fish delicacy in KZN, pushed to the brink of extinction through overfishing.
The Independent on Saturday