Protea Banks, 8km off Shelly Beach, is a unique reef system along the Kwa-Zulu Natal South Coast of South Africa, which offers diving experiences second to none! The pelagic life is the main attraction with schools of Yellowtail, Kingfish, Tuna and Barracuda attracting a variety of top predators. The reef is especially known for it’s large “Zambezi ”(Bull Shark) populations and has been rated as one of the world’s top shark dives.
Diving on Protea Banks was started in the early 90’s. Diving with sharks wasn’t on many people’s agenda with the Jaws syndrome still deeply ingrained in much of the diving community. But after a few years things began to change and divers began to realize that these misunderstood creatures were not actually man-eating beasts but actually very intelligent animals who were an absolute privilege to dive with.
In the past years there have been some safely incidents on Protea Banks resulting in 3 deaths and 2 helicopter rescues. These incidents have rippled through the diving community and as a result Protea Banks has gained a reputation as being a potentially dangerous dive site. The dive charter that we use in this area has not been involved in any of these incidents and has a 100% safety record.
Another opinion that seems to be held by the broader diving community is that Protea Banks is a technical dive. When diving Protea Banks you level off at about 30 meters and drift along in predominately moderate currents viewing the marine life as you go. There is nothing technical to it … and good buoyancy will make you even more comfortable in the water.
Protea Banks is by no means a novice dive site; however the operator with whom you dive has the necessary experience and knowledge of the sea conditions and the reef. It is as safe as diving on Aliwal Shoal.
There are two dives that can be done on Protea Banks:
- The first is a reef dive. Due to the depths an Advanced qualification is required for this dive. Reef Protea dive.
- The second dive is a “baited” shark dive. As we only go to 10m, anyone with an Open Water certification and above can take part in this dive. You just need good buoyancy and be willing to get close to sharks … EPIC diving! Protea “Baited” Shark dive.
- 8km (5 miles) out to sea from Shelly Beach
- Rated as one of the top shark dive sites in the world
- Depth of the reef varies 30 - 40m
- “Baited” shark dives take place in mid water at 10m
- Current can be from very mild to very strong
- Sharks are seasonal with Bull (Zambezi) and Oceanic Blacktip sharks seen throughout the year.
Protea Banks is purely a Shark Diving Destination and dives on Protea are restricted to Advanced divers only. Divers with an PADI OW2 qualification or equivalent, due to the depth of the dive, on excess of 30 meters, and the strong currents that are usually present on Protea. This is not your average recreational dive!
Protea offers both “Baited Sharks Dives” and free diving with certain species of Sharks at certain times of the year. Please follow this link on our Website to see what species of Shark and be expected on Protea and when. Please remember, the Sharks don’t have access to this link, so they don’t know where they are supposed to be, and when!
A “Baited Shark Dive” on Protea:
The modus operandi on Protea Banks for a “Baited Shark Dive” is:-
After meeting the Aqua Planet dive crew, at a time confirmed the previous day, in the parking lot in the Sony Evans small craft harbour, which is also the base for the local NSRI (National Sea Rescue Institute), you will kit-up and have the pre-dive briefing. Your dive gear will be stowed on-board by Aqua Planets crew, and the 4x4 pick-up (bakkie) will reverse the dive-boat as close to the water as possible. Everyone then assist the Aqua Planet crew launch the dive boats, which are either a 7.5 meter “duck,” or a 8 meter “duck or RIB, or semi-inflatable, nose first, into the surf. On the skipper’s instruction, the ladies board first, after which the men clamber into the “Duck”, placing themselves opposite their gear, which was been stowed down the centre of the “Duck.” You then quickly put on your lifejackets, place your feet in the foot-straps, and off you go……… The launch itself is an exciting experience, and is likened to “white water rafting in a wetsuit”. After punching your way through the pounding surf, on reaching the calmer waters, the skipper pauses to see that all is ok, before you continue on to the dive site. On arrival at the dive site, we start chumming to attract the sharks, and put out a buoy with the bait, which is contained in a “shark friendly” round “camo” drum with holes in it, so that the “smell” and oil from the sardines in the “drum” permeates into the water. When the first sharks appear, the DM assesses the situation, and if he is of the opinion that the sharks are going to stay around awhile, and that they are not aggressive, the divers may enter the water. You either view the action from the “safety” of the boat, or, for non-certified divers, on snorkel; you float on the surface of the ocean and watch the action as it unfolds, 5 meters below you. Surface viewers and non-certified divers pay the same price for going out on the dive boat as divers pay. The certified divers, already kitted up, descend to about 10 meters, to the depth of the camo drum, and follow the action from there. This is a drift dive, as the boat, chum, and bait, is drifting with the wind and surface current, as are the divers at 10 meters below.
A “reef” dive on Protea for a specific “target” specie of Shark:
After the transfer from your hotel / B&B to the car park at the Sonny Evans Small craft Harbour, which is also the base for the local NSRI (National Sea Rescue Institute) and after meeting up with the dive crew, you will kit-up, and have the pre-dive briefing. Your dive gear will be stowed on-board the dive boat by dive crews staff and the 4x4 pick-up truck (bakkie) will reverse the dive-boat as close to the water as possible. Everyone then assist the dive crew launch the dive boat, which is either a 7.5 meter “duck,” (Zodiac / RIB) or an 8-meter “duck,” nose first, into the surf. On the skipper’s instruction, the ladies board first, after which the men clamber into the “Duck,” everyone placing themselves opposite their gear, which was been stowed down the centre of the “Duck.” You then quickly put on your lifejackets, place your feet in the foot-straps, and off you go……… The launch itself is an exciting experience, and is likened to “white water rafting in a wetsuit.” After punching your way through the pounding surf, on reaching the calmer waters, the skipper pauses to see that all is ok, before you continue on to the dive site. Once over the dive site, the skipper cuts the motors and the divers, as well as the DM, kit up, on the boat. This is a fully guided reef dive with a specific species of Shark being the “target” species that you are looking to dive with, and with a DM leading the dive. Please refer to this link on our Website to see what target species of Shark you can expect to encounter, and when.
Please remember, the Sharks don’t have access to this link, so they don’t know where they have to be, and when!
Once every diver has kitted up the Skipper then repositions the boat over the reef, and on the DM’s signal, all the divers do a backward roll, simultaneously, into the water. All our Dive Masters, have dived Protea for years, and have mastered the art of safe diving on Protea. The DM first descends to 5 meters and waits at 5 meters until all the divers on the boat get down to him/her. Once all the divers are at 5 meters, the group descends together, to the bottom, which is at about 30 meters. On the decent and on the accent please be on the lookout in mid-water for sea life. Once on the bottom, you start the dive looking for the target species present on the reef at that time of year. Those divers that are heavy breathers are buddie paired off, so that when they get low on air, they surface together, as a pair. If on a 2-tank dive, SIT is spent at sea, so please don’t forget your sea-sick pills if you are prone to seasickness!!!
The Southern Pinnacles of Protea Banks are dived mainly in the warmer months. This site is home to the Bull (Zambezi) shark which brings a great deal of notoriety to this world-renowned dive location. Other sharks frequenting the Southern Pinnacles include Hammerhead, Oceanic Blacktip and Dusky sharks. For a fortunate few there is even the possibility of seeing a Tiger shark. Guitar sharks are often seen on Sand Shark Gully numbering up to about 50 at a time. A variety of Rays and Potato Bass are seen on a regular basis and game fish love to shoal on the Southern Pinnacles.
The Northern Pinnacles of Protea Banks are dived mainly in the colder months. This site is where the Ragged-tooth sharks come to mate and it allows divers to view the 'Raggies' in close proximity on their annual migration route. The area consists of two 'cave' systems in which the 'Raggies' congregate. At times it is impossible to see the mouth of the 'caves' as it is completely obscured by masses of Ragged-tooth sharks. A variety of Bull (Zambezi), Oceanic Blacktip, Tiger, Dusky and Hammerheads sharks are also seen. There are also a few friendly Potato Bass that regularly love to come and say Hi to the divers. The Northern Pinnacles can also be a very 'pretty' dive as it is rich in reef fish life.
Some of the marine life on Protea Banks can be seen all year round, while others can only be enjoyed during certain months. We can not guarantee specific sighting, but the chances of seeing a particular species are very high during these months: