South Africa’s oceans are filled to the brim with extraordinary sea life. While shark diving in South Africa is a big reason why most people come to our shores, while you are exploring the depths, you could also see turtles.
Turtles are the oceans reptiles and have graced the depths for 150 million years. They spend 96% of their lives in the sea and even though they rely on surface air they are accomplished free divers. Female turtles leave the ocean only to lay eggs on the beach, usually the beach from which they were hatched.
These creatures are probably the cutest animals you will encounter while diving and both divers and turtles enjoy swimming together.
There are seven different species of turtle and five of them are found in South African waters. Each turtle species feeds on a different prey, which ensures that they do not need to compete for food or space. Unfortunately turtles are an endangered species and it is mostly the females that are at risk since they have to come ashore to lay eggs. In some countries, turtle meat is still eaten but that is not the only threat to these creatures. Gill nets and pollution along with human ignorance are also impacting the turtle population. There is also a threat to the turtles breeding sites that have a major impact on their survival.
South African Turtles
The Leatherback Turtle is the largest of all the sea turtles. They can weigh up to 900kg and reach a length of 2.5 meters. Their shells are a dark blue/grey colour and mottled, consisting of 7 lateral ridges of pliable shell. They also have very large forearms. Leatherbacks travel on the oceans currents in search of prey. They can dive over 100 meters and stay submerged for up to 35 minutes. They can be found breeding along the Northern Kwa-Zulu Natal coast between November and January, but are generally found all around the South African coastline.
During the breeding season, Leatherback females come ashore on the high tide at night and lay batches of 100 – 200 eggs at a time, over 9-10 days resulting in about 1000 eggs. After about 70 days the young turtles have hatched and head off to the ocean. Of the thousands of hatchlings one in 1000 will reach sexual maturity, which takes 4-5 years. The juveniles feed mostly on jellyfish and grow rapidly.
The Loggerhead Turtle is recognised by its large square head. This turtle has a dark yellow brown shell that has central plates as well as rows of plates on either side on the central ones. The plates do not overlap. These turtles have a slightly hooked bill and claws on each of its limbs.
Loggerhead Turtles keep more inshore making their hunting grounds the reef or rocky estuaries. They have strong jaws that crush their prey which consists of crabs, crayfish, sea urchins and molluscs. Their breeding behaviour is much the same as the Leatherback Turtle.
They get their name from the fat layer that is under their shells; it’s green. Their external colour is a mottled light to dark brown. Green Turtles have a very similar appearance to the Loggerhead Turtle. The most distinctive difference is their shape. The Green Turtle is rounder and flatter with a smoother shell. Another difference is the shape of their bills, the Green Turtle does not have a hooked bill.
Green Turtles are often seen basking on the surface of the ocean since they eat mainly seaweed and sea grass. These turtles lay their eggs on the islands off Mozambique and on other Indian Ocean islands. Sadly, man has hunted this turtle close to extinction.
When you book a diving trip to South Africa, you can be sure that you will be able to spot all kinds of creatures living deep in the ocean. Book your South African dive with Dive the Big 5.
It’s never too early to start your planning for the annual South African sardine run!
From June to July, every year, South Africa plays host to one of the most sensational displays of marine life prowess. Millions of sardines begin their migration up the east coast, luring out both ocean and air predators in a spectacle that can last up to 3 months. Past seasons have been relatively quiet, but last year broke this lull and the sardines arrived in huge numbers, much to the delight of tourists, fishermen and the anyone wanting to catch a couple of sardines for themselves.
The sardine run is one of our busiest times of the year. Dive the Big 5 plans numerous trips for guests wanting to witness this event from the comfort of a boat as well as for those who want to take a dip in the deep. We’ve already started taking bookings for the 2019 season and we encourage anyone wanting to join, to make their booking as soon as possible.
Our trips leave out of 3 locations; Kentani, Port St Johns and East London. Each trip provides guests with up to 6 days (depending on the package chosen) to experience the Sardine Run.
About the 2019 Sardine Run and how to view it
As last year’s run was celebrated as being quite successful, there are high hopes for this year’s migration. But as with anything else to do with nature, it is next to impossible to predict what the outcome will be. Guests will certainly enjoy a unique trip, regardless of the amount of sardines they get to see, as the South African coast is filled with all sorts of marine life, some of which can be seen from the boat.
Those opting to go diving during the sardine run are in for an even more spectacular adventure. Diving during the sardine run is certainly not for the light hearted. It takes stamina and some experience to do it safely. Considering the number of predators in the water during the run, as well as the ocean conditions, being fit, calm and in good health are all a must! Spending up to 5 hours a day scuba diving means you have to have your qualifications in order. An open water certification is a necessity.
Not keen on staying in the boat, but also not qualified to scuba dive? No problem! Why not go snorkelling? To do this, you’ll need to be a more than competent swimmer and you’ll need to have some knowledge about using a mask, fins and snorkel.
Guests need to know that the sardines will not show up on cue, even if all of the conditions are perfect. The sardines are on their own mission, and although we’d like them to read our itinerary, we’ve had to accept that they will turn up when they are ready. This means that even if you were to spend 5 days diving, snorkelling or simply observing comfortably from the boat, you might only have 2 days of sardines.
The sardines like colder waters. So if the temperature of the waters closer to shore doesn’t drop to 19 degrees Celsius, the sardines will linger further out to sea. The one upside of this, should the sardines stay away, is that the predators are still expecting them, and will be in the area. All are waiting for the arrival of the sardines, giving you the opportunity to see thousands of sharks, whales, dolphins, seagulls, seals and penguins. Your tour will be anything but uneventful!
Dive the Big 5 makes it easier for guests from all over the world to come diving in South Africa. The sardine run is around the corner and if you want to experience the 2019 migration, now is the best time to make your booking!
Diving in South Africa doesn’t always offer the best of visibility. Depending on the time of the year and the location, sometimes seeing the magical underwater world beneath the waves is not as easy as you think. And when having to deal with a foggy diving mask, all of the excitement you’ve been feeling, all of the anticipation for the bright colours and open ocean you had expected to see, can be somewhat dampened.
Dive the Big 5 has been the premier diving company since 1996. Over the years we have always worked to create unique diving packages that suit our diving clients every need, from accommodation to the actual dive.
South Africa boasts some of the most amazing scuba diving destinations in the world. Our coastline offers everything from wreck diving and coral reef diving to shark diving and shark cage diving. But South Africa is far from the only location in the world where you can enjoy the best diving.
There are two types of people who really get to know exactly where you will see the best of the underwater world. These people are marine biologists and divers. Divers who have the opportunity to dive all over the world get to see what the ocean has to offer, while marine biologists dedicate their whole lives to the ocean and its inhabitants.
We’ve hit all the best places to dive in South Africa. We’ve sourced the best locations, the best operators and we’re arranged the best diving itineraries. Leaving no stone unturned, we make sure that our divers leave the dive site with a wide smile…even when the sharks and other fish don’t follow the plan we’ve laid out.