Heading out to a great Sodwana Bay dive are (from left): Amanda Van Jaarsveld, Nokwanda Nkabini, Jamila Janna, Thoriso Ngwatwane, Mondli Mtshali, Samson Moyo, Yolanda Mogatusi, Mathabo Malange, Jess Lambson, Jesse Poole and Matshepo Khumalo.
Heading out to a great Sodwana Bay dive are (from left): Amanda Van Jaarsveld, Nokwanda Nkabini, Jamila Janna, Thoriso Ngwatwane, Mondli Mtshali, Samson Moyo, Yolanda Mogatusi, Mathabo Malange, Jess Lambson, Jesse Poole and Matshepo Khumalo.
Top from left: Matshepo Khumalo, Jesse Poole, Mondli Mtshali, Amanda van Jaarsveld, Jacques van Jaarsveld, Samson Moyo, Grant Brokensha, Gustav Mummbrauer, Thoriso Ngwatwane, Yolanda Mogatusi and Candice Odgers. Bottom from left: Mathabo Malange, Jess Lambson, Noel Kok, Nokwanda Nkabini, Jordene Cruickshank, Silindile Mbuyazi, Jamila Janna and Pragna Parsotam-Kok.
Top from left: Matshepo Khumalo, Jesse Poole, Mondli Mtshali, Amanda van Jaarsveld, Jacques van Jaarsveld, Samson Moyo, Grant Brokensha, Gustav Mummbrauer, Thoriso Ngwatwane, Yolanda Mogatusi and Candice Odgers. Bottom from left: Mathabo Malange, Jess Lambson, Noel Kok, Nokwanda Nkabini, Jordene Cruickshank, Silindile Mbuyazi, Jamila Janna and Pragna Parsotam-Kok.
From left: Thoriso Ngwatwane, Matshepo Khumalo, Samson Moyo, Jess Lambson, Mathabo Malange, Jamila Janna, Yolanda Mogatusi, Mondli Mtshali and Jesse Poole.
From left: Thoriso Ngwatwane, Matshepo Khumalo, Samson Moyo, Jess Lambson, Mathabo Malange, Jamila Janna, Yolanda Mogatusi, Mondli Mtshali and Jesse Poole.

Durban - Nine talented young filmmakers embarked on the experience of a lifetime – a six day introduction to scuba diving and underwater film making at iSimangaliso’s Sodwana Bay.

Hosted by the Nature, Environment and Wildlife Filmmakers Congress in partnership with RAID South Africa, the invitation was put out to young South Africans with a background in filmmaking and passion for the protection of our natural world. Out of 130 applicants, eight South Africans were selected, plus one young man from Zambia who blew the selectors away with his unbridled enthusiasm.

Over five days, the group of six women and three men were coached to acquire their Open Water 1 scuba qualification by iSimangaliso licensed operator Adventure Mania. They also became intimately acquainted with parts of the World Heritage Site: Witnessing endangered turtles hatching from their beach nests at night; seeing big game and tracking wild dogs in the uMkhuze section, and getting up close to hippos and crocodiles in the Lake St Lucia Estuary. 

Their filmmaking skills were cranked up under the tutelage of award winning filmmakers Grant Brokensha and Candice Odgers of The Bigger Picture, and to add the cherry on top, they formed lifelong friendships.


And then on the final day, the team went underwater. 

“I’m never going to be the same person again," said Mondli Mtshali. "Since seeing the beautiful marine life underwater and hearing Peter Jacobs of Ufudu Tours articulate about turtles, I'm even conscious of stepping on an ant.”

Zambia's Samson Moyo, as soon as he set foot in uMkhuze, said “This feels so much like home. I think I will stay here. The vegetation is maybe slightly different but everything else, the animals, the sense of place is the same.”

Jess Lambson: “I am extremely passionate about conservation, cinematography and saving the planet. I go out of my way every day to help reduce my carbon footprint and to educate people or invite people to learn more about conservation of the planet.”

For Yolanda Mogatusi, as tough as this "little expedition" was, a highlight was seeing a whale shark: "I dreamt I'd see Moby Dick but instead saw a whale shark which had never been seen for over seven years on those shores. This Whale Shark sensed our good vibes and kept swimming around our boat, coming so close you could reach out and touch its fin. We eventually jumped out of the boat and into the sea to swim with it. I can't even begin to describe that sight. It's like seeing an enormous, spotted elephant swimming under the sea except this elephant has the biggest mouth you have ever seen. But please, let the record show that I swam with a shark... sorry sharks... and I didn't die." 

Said organiser Noel Kok of NEWF Congress: “What an amazing week. Together we are discovering Africa’s next generation of nature, environment and wildlife filmmakers. Thanks to The Bigger Picture Films we have created a path to conservation through film by providing an opportunity for young filmmakers to explore the wonders of life underwater and filmmaking.”

iSimangaliso marketing and brand assistant, Thandi Shabalala said: “I was personally taken by their unwavering determination. And the fact that now we have these individuals as passionate iSimangaliso ambassadors and great story tellers out there gives me hope for solidarity and awareness on our conservation efforts. These are true game changers.”

The Independent on Saturday