FLYING THE ‘MOSQUITO’ SPOTTER PLANE FOR THE SARDINE RUN
Big Louis is the man. He lives in Limpopo, the northern most province of South Africa and owns a 2-stroke ultralight spotter plane, aka ‘the mosquito’. He comes down to Coffee Bay with his wife, two teenagers, yorkie and 6 week yorkie x schnauzer puppy purely for the Sardine Run. It is his third or fourth season with Roland and Beulah and they work together as a team. His mission is to be the ‘eye in the sky’ and fly all day up and down the coast around Coffee Bay in search of the sardine action for African Dive Adventure clients.
I had the pleasure of going up with him today to experience the Sardine Run from this different perspective. After a spectacular day yesterday with the best personal encounters of whale action you could ever wish for, I was more than happy to give up my seat in the boat for another kind of action in the air.
Louis kitted me up on the beach outside the Ocean View Hotel with a helmet, microphone and seat belt. I had to make sure both my cameras were securely fastened to my person. Nothing was allowed to be loose or it could fall in the water, worse still hit Louis on the head or fly into the small engine behind me and stall the plane. With that in mind and a little intrepidation, off we went.
DIVING BAIT BALLS ON THE SARDINE RUN IN COFFEE BAY, SOUTH AFRICA
The Sardine Run is a very special natural phenomenon. The sheer number of sardines involved results in a feeding frenzy along the coastline of South Africa and in terms of biomass is said to rival East Africa’s great wildebeest migration.
The Sardine Run is where shoals of sardines drift north up the east coast of Africa to KwaZulu Natal and Mozambique from the cold waters of the Cape of South Africa. These shoals can be more than 7km long, 1.5km wide and 30m deep and are very easily spotted by planes or from boats on the surface.
It is usually around May-July and involves billions of sardines. They spawn in the Agulhas Bank, the southern most point of South Africa and then head north along the south east coast of Africa. The run occurs when a current of cold water heads north from the Agulhas Bank to Mozambique, where it heads out into the Indian Ocean. The Agulhas current is a warm, more northern current that pushes the cooler Atlantic southern current up against the east coast and hopefully forces the drifting sardines inshore so the run can be witnessed.
The Sardine Run is all about the water temperature. It has to fall below 21 degrees to happen. Sardines need cold water and will not be seen if the water is too warm. The run does not occur every year and in the last 23 years, it has failed on three occasions including 2003 and 2006. This year the weather is quite unseasonal. Today the air temp is 25C, unheard off at this time of the year.
DIVING A BAIT BALL IS ALL ABOUT ETIQUETTE IN THE WATER
The dive and snorkel briefing is all important as this is such an unusual phenomenon, if you do the wrong thing, you will disturb the bait ball action and it all ends for everyone. Then the search has to be repeated to find another bait ball.
LAUNCH OF DIVECAREDARE:
DiveCareDare was launched on the 1st July 2014.
Who, What is DiveCareDare?
DiveCareDare is the brain child of Tony Isaacson, a PADI scuba instructor, marine studies teacher, naturalist and marine adventurer for 30 years.
Tony has been passionate about marine life and the oceans to the extent that his “life is diving….the rest is surface interval”. Since 1977 his passion has been delivered to students from preschool to post graduates and marine educational associations and clubs. Now he has stepped up to a dot-com to engage a global interaction with like-minded educators, adventurers ocean care volunteers and those who know that an ocean without sharks is a scarier world than one with them.
Three words that can mean many things.
Taken at face value:
Dive the oceans, remote destinations, pristine tropical or cold current waters…
Care for what we love, the seas and the creatures that we ultimately depend on…
Dare to swim with sharks, to be different, to do things differently, to make a difference…
Whatever you believe it to be, DiveCareDare is an educational platform for scuba divers, snorkelers, naturalists and those interested in learning more about diving destinations around the world and how they can help to make a difference for the creatures that live there.
The welfare of sharks is of particular interest and concern for Tony. To overcome a lifelong fear of sharks Tony has turned to the finest locations on the planet to get to know sharks and to respect them and their pivotal role for healthy sustainable oceans.
Tony waves the flag for sharks and marine ecotourism around the world. He has site custodial roles with the Grey Nurse Shark Watch to monitor the recovery of a shark which has been reduced to critically low numbers because they looked ferocious to a generation affected by the 1975 blockbuster movie JAWS.
In 2013 Tony motivated a 60 MINUTES team including well known reporter Peter Overton and bull shark bite survivor Paul de Gelder to dive with bull sharks in Beqa Lagoon, Fiji – the only place in the world where 8 species of shark can be encountered at one dive site.
DiveCareDare has connections with dive travel and diver training. Tony is a certified PADI Instructor and works along with local businesses to provide training for people aspiring to become Open Water and Advanced Divers. He operates an Airbnb “divers lodge” for small groups to do local dives or hit the road for camper van safaris and diving charters north and south of his home on the sunshine Coast.
Tony uses videography and frame captures to share what he experiences as a platform for awe, wonder and education. When a fire in our bellies is burning, awareness is heightened and like-minded people can make good things happen for the beasts of this world who cannot speak for themselves.
Tony’s mantra fosters intimate human-ocean life interaction.
“In the end we will conserve only what we love.
We love only what we understand.
We will understand only what we are taught”.
Tony Isaacson is DiveCareDare. DiveCareDare is Tony Isaacson.
We have received some fabulous feedback about this promotional video for the Sardine Run. At the end of the day, word of mouth prevailed and our group of shark savvy divers has an international line up from from Portugal (via Angola), Fiji, Austria and Australia, including Townsville (via Vietnam and China).
Our hosts, owners of African Dive Adventures, are Roland and Buelah Mauz based at Shelly Beach, Margate/Protea Banks near Durban, South Africa.
Our first dives will be on their home patch to see grey nurse sharks that they call ‘raggies’, oceanic black tips, bull sharks, dusky whaler sharks and an outside chance of tigers and hammerhead sharks.
We will then head further south to Coffee Bay, near Waterfall Bluff where David Attenborough filmed the most extraordinary sequences for his BBC Special on the Sardine Run.
Our spotter plan will be relying on hundreds and thousands of Cape gannets and massive groups of dolphins to point our dive boat into the centre of all the action.
I received news this week that the sardines are currently 80 km off shore. If we are to believe the predications, our arrival for the 14th July will coincide with the time that the greatest shoal on earth will be concentrated against the South African coast at our location – fingers crossed!