SCUBA DIVING


HISTORY:


Scuba diving is a sport that had its humble beginnings in ancient times. In early Greece and Rome, people used to swim or dive while holding their breath or by using makeshift breathing apparatuses like hollow plant stems. This was commonly practiced during combat or while gathering food and materials from the ocean.

One of the first stories of underwater breathing dates back all the way to 500BC, when a Greek solider supposedly dived off of a ship and used a hollow reed to breath underwater for hours.

A couple centuries later, the philosopher Aristotle reported that Alexander the Great found a way to hide underwater while the siege of Tyre was taking place. Apparently, Alexander the Great was able to stay underwater by using a barrel as his very own diving bell!

We have come a long way since then. Underwater diving evolved from simple freediving or skin diving to the more sophisticated form that we know today thanks to contributions from many great minds throughout the centuries. Modern scuba diving is built on thousands of years’ worth of innovations in underwater technology, not to mention all of the physiological research on the effects of underwater pressure on the human body and the efforts to create standardized training programs for amateur divers.

For the first nine months of our lives, we humans exist in an aquatic environment very similar to seawater. If an infant is submerged underwater, it instinctively holds its breath for up to 40 seconds while making swimming motions, although we seem to lose this ability as we get older and commence walking. Awakening these reflexes is one of the most important elements of freediving, thus giving humans better abilities to survive at great depths.

The history of scuba diving is closely linked with the history of scuba equipment. By the turn of the twentieth century, two basic architectures for underwater breathing apparatus had been pioneered; open-circuit surface supplied equipment where the diver's exhaled gas is vented directly into the water and closed-circuit breathing apparatus where the diver's carbon dioxide is filtered from the exhaled breathing gas, which is then recirculated, and more gas added to replenish the oxygen content. Closed circuit equipment was more easily adapted to scuba in the absence of reliable, portable and economical high pressure gas storage vessels.

By the mid-twentieth century, high pressure cylinders were available and two systems for scuba had emerged: open-circuit scuba, where the diver's exhaled breath is vented directly into the water and closed-circuit scuba, where the carbon dioxide is removed from the diver's exhaled breath which has oxygen added and is recirculated. These are called rebreathers.

In 1942, during the German occupation of France, Jacques-Yves Cousteau and Émile Gagnan designed the first successful and safe open-circuit scuba, known as the Aqua-Lung. Their system combined an improved demand regulator with high-pressure air tanks. This was patented in 1945.

 


VIDEOS:


PELAGIC ENCOUNTERS

Blue O Two, Pelagic Encounters. MV Blue Voyager, Maldives Liveaboard

With clear blue water, white sandy beaches, and great visibility, the Maldives is an idyllic scuba diving paradise. During a diving trip to the Maldives, you may see manta rays, whale sharks, reef sharks, soft & hard corals and much more. The Maldives is also known for its great assortment of dive resorts and liveaboards for all kinds of budgets, from budget to high-end.

WHERE IS THE MALDIVES?

Lying 400 miles southwest of India, the Maldives is an island nation of 26 natural coral atolls (over 1,000 islands) spread over nearly 35,000 square miles. Even though it is 26 natural coral atolls, for the purpose of administration the Maldives is divided into 19 areas and they are marked as being 19 atolls. So someone looking through a map would find 19 zones.

Topside, the Maldives offer some of the most beautiful scenery you will ever see in your life. More than 95 % of Maldives consists of the sea. It is also one of the lowest nations in the world, and is in danger of being submerged one day due to rising sea levels

MARINE LIFE 

The Maldives offers some great reefs and marine life and is known for currents, wide-angle photography and plentiful pelagics such as mantas, reef sharks and whale sharks. Visibility early in the year can be outstanding, well over 30m (100ft). Hanifaru Bay, in the Baa Atoll, has Manta Rays and Whale Sharks during the middle and the end of the South West Monsoon which runs from April to November. During this period, it is only a few times that mass feeding events occur in the Bay Area when plankton has accumulated to a certain extent. Many people think it is there all the time, but it is not.

The Maldives offers blue water early in the year - perfect for wide-angle photography. While is there is some macro life here, I would think of Maldives as mainly a "wide-angle" place to see coral, whale sharks, mantas, eagle rays, and schools of fish. There has been some coral bleaching in the shallow reefs.

While the reefs and channels provide a great diversity of marine life, Hanifaru Bay, while allows snorkeling only, is the place to go for mantas and whale sharks. We are talking dozens and dozens of huge manta rays feeding, up to 200 mantas at a time. You are also likely to encounter whale sharks, opening their huge mouths and gulping in food. Still, underwater photography cannot properly capture the beauty of the marine life here; you need to use underwater video. Many dive sites have napoleon wrasse, barracuda, reef sharks including gray reef, whitetip and blacktip, spotted eagle rays, large marbled rays, trevally and tuna. The current will help bring out more of these larger animals.

Some atolls can also produce hammerhead sharks, although this is only at very specific dive sites. If you are at a Manta cleaning station, never chase or charge the manta rays - it won't work. Wait for them to come to you. Do not rise up to their level.


MANTA NIGHT DIVE

MV Blue Voyager, Blue O Two, Maldives.

MANTA RAYS

Any diver, however experienced he might be, is always surprised and moved by a night dive surrounded by manta rays. This dive, 8-meter deep in a lagoon, shows the learning abilities of these animals, the fish with the biggest brains. A powerful spotlight is located on the stern, attracting great amounts of plankton. Manta rays feed precisely on plankton and they respond in an extraordinary way to any animal’s most important instinct: feeding.

Given the big amounts of food that animals as big as manta rays need, their behavior is strongly marked by their food needs: when finding a great concentration of plankton, manta rays focus all their attention in eating as much as they can, ignoring virtually everything else around them, even the divers. Manta rays pay so little attention to us that we can even feel their graze: all we have to do is open our eyes and enjoy a magical experience that can move the diver to tears.

NURSE SHARKS

A unique show in the submarine world. The dive with nurse sharks is special as it takes place under a dock in a Maldives resort. We might think that, being so close to the shore and at little depth, it will not be a remarkable experience, but it actually turns out to be quite different.

Through the years, nurse sharks, stingrays, amberjacks and other inhabitants of the reefs have learnt that the arrival of a boat at the dock can mean there will soon be food in the water, so when they hear us arrive they gather under the diving dohni. When we jump into the water the activity is frantic. Nurse sharks and greater amberjacks surround us and push us to pass by, adrenaline rises and the animals transmit their frenzy because everything happens very quickly and even disturbingly close to us.

.The dive with nurse sharks is special as it takes place under a dock in a Maldives resort. We might think that, being so close to the shore and at little depth, it will not be a remarkable experience, but it actually turns out to be quite different. Through the years, nurse sharks, stingrays, amberjacks and other inhabitants of the reefs have learnt that the arrival of a boat at the dock can mean there will soon be food in the water, so when they hear us arrive they gather under the diving dohni. When we jump into the water the activity is frantic. Nurse sharks and greater amberjacks surround us and push us to pass by, adrenaline rises and the animals transmit their frenzy because everything happens very quickly and even disturbingly close to us… A unique show in the submarine world.


SHARK FEEDING FRENZY

MV Blue Voyager, Blue O Two, Maldives.

Maldives is home to over 26 species of sharks. The most common are the Black-Tip, White-Tip and Grey Reef Sharks.

The Grey reef sharks have a grey back with a white belly, where as the White-Tip reef sharks are a paler shade of grey with a distinctive white tip on the end of their dorsal & caudal (tail) fins. The fins of the Black-Tip reef sharks are almost all black tipped - pectoral, first and second dorsal, pelvic fins, and lower caudal lobe.

If you join one of our guided night snorkeling excursions, you might even spot a Leopard shark (also known as a Zebra shark). One of the most stunning in appearance, but rarely sighted. They belong to a species of Carpet shark and can be found moving around the seabed, close to the coral reefs. This is a nocturnal creature and can usually only be spotted at night.

This is where Hammerheads and Nurse sharks can be found and are indeed a sight to behold. If you are extremely lucky you may even find yourself face to face with a Whale shark, one of the oceans largest sharks or you might catch a glimpse of a Thresher shark. Both are rarely seen and the experience is awe-inspiring.

Some of the widely spotted sharks in the Maldives are:

* Whale Shark * Tiger Shark * Hammerhead Shark

Whale shark

A size comparison of a whale shark and a humanWhale shark or Rhincodon typus is the largest living fish. Despite its large size, it is not a dangerous species. It is sometimes seen by divers, normally during southwest monsoon off the east coast and during the northeast monsoon off the west coast. The whale shark being rare and endangered, is a protected species in the Maldives.

Tiger sharks

Tiger sharks or Galeocerdo cuvier is one of the most dangerous sharks. It attacks divers, swimmers and even boats. The tiger shark has the worst reputation as a man eater amongst tropical sharks.

Hammerhead Shark

Three species of hammerheads are said to occur in the Maldives. However, Sphyrna lewini is the only one that has been definitely recorded and confirmed. Large schools are observed by divers near A. Rasdhoo and a few other sites.

Other sharks found in the Maldives:

* Tawny nurse shark

* Zebra shark 

* Variegated shark

* Starspotted smooth-hound shark

* Snaggletooth shark

* Silvertip shark

* Bignose shark

* Grey reef shark

* Silky shark

* Blacktip shark

* Oceanic whitetip shark

* Blacktip reef shark

* Spottail shark

* Tiger shark

* Sliteye shark

* Sicklefin lemon shark

* Blue shark

* Scalloped hammerhead

* Whitetip reef shark

* Small tooth sand tiger shark

* Bigeye thresher shark

* Thresher shark

* Shortfin mako

* Sharpnose sevengill shark

* Bluntnose sixgill shark

* Kitefin shark

 


WHALE SHARKS

Whales Sharks, Philippines, Cebu, Oslob.

As the largest fish in the sea, reaching lengths of 12m (40 feet) or more, whale sharks have an enormous menu from which to choose. Fortunately for most sea dwellers and us, their favorite meal is plankton. They scoop these tiny plants and animals up, along with any small fish that happen to be around, with their colossal gaping mouths while swimming close to the water's surface.

Filter Feeding

The whale shark, like the world's second largest fish, the basking shark, is a filter feeder. In order to eat, the beast juts out its formidably sized jaws and passively filters everything in its path. The mechanism is theorized to be a technique called “cross-flow filtration,” similar to some bony fish and baleen whales.

Characteristics

The whale shark's flattened head sports a blunt snout above its mouth with short barbels protruding from its nostrils. Its back and sides are gray to brown with white spots among pale vertical and horizontal stripes, and its belly is white. Its two dorsal fins are set rearward on its body, which ends in a large dual lobbed caudal fin or tail.

Population

Preferring warm waters, whale sharks populate all tropical seas. They are known to migrate every spring to the continental shelf of the central west coast of Australia. The coral spawning of the area's Ningaloo Reef provides the whale shark with an abundant supply of plankton. Although massive, whale sharks are docile fish and sometimes allow swimmers to hitch a ride. They are currently listed as a vulnerable species; however, they continue to be hunted in parts of Asia, such as the Philippines.

According to the IUCN, the Indo-Pacific population of the whale shark is thought to have reduced 63 percent over the past 75 years. The population in the Atlantic is thought to have been reduced more than 30 percent. The populations are continuing to decrease. Because of this, whale sharks are classified as endangered.


MOALBOALS TURTLES

All about Turtles, Philippines, Cebu, Moalboal.

Moalboal is famous for its large turtles that frequent the waters. In fact, there are so many that you will struggle to not find a turtle while snorkeling or diving in Moalboal. If for some reason you have not, try to stick to the shallower waters closer to shore, just before the drop-off wall of the reef. After a short while you will no doubt spot one of these beautiful animals eating fresh sea grass.

Moalboal is a must visit for any diver coming to the Philippines. The main attraction is the famous sardine run but I was amazed by the large number of turtles. I have never encountered so many on a single dive.

This part of the globe has six of the seven species of turtle that exist. In Moalboal we mainly see two of them, the Green turtle and the Hawksbill turtle. In many parts of the world if you were to see one or two turtles on a dive you would be buzzing about it all day, here you can loose count of how many you see, sometimes twenty plus per dive. 


SARDINE DIVE

Diving with sardines, Philippines, Cebu, Moalboal.

 

MOALBOAL'S SARDINE RUN

Over a decade ago, Cebu’s sardine run was reportedly non-existent, and their sudden appearance at Panagsama Beach is a mystery. Regardless, the Moalboal community have welcomed the effect their fishy friends have had in the area. No mass fishing is permitted, but local fishermen can use small wooden boats to fish with just a hook and line and the sardines have encouraged more people to visit the area each year.

The annual sardine migration along the east coast of South Africa might be more recognised, but coming to Moalboal is notably different. Development and tourism remains relatively slow, so during my visit in June 2017, I was one of a handful of people diving the reef.

Sardines are not your typical tropical fish. But, envisage luminescent, ethereal figures swirling beside you, against a deep blue backdrop. For the entire hour I was scuba diving with them, the fish looped in mesmerising undulating formations. The shoals of sardines move through the ocean like flocks of starlings, often creating spherical shapes known as bait balls in order to trick their predators. Conveniently for spectators like me, these small fish rise close to the ocean’s surface to stay warm and to feed on plankton.

Whether you are a capable deep-sea scuba diving, a budding freediver or a mellow snorkelling enthusiast, the sardine run is suited to all aquatic abilities. Much of Moalboal’s appeal to ocean explorers is the reef’s ease and accessibility. The tide is usually calm with a lack of current, and the weather conditions are steady in the right season (November to April).

If snorkelling is your preferred method, you are in luck. You don’t need a boat, because of the proximity of the reef to the shore and the sardines swimming close to the surface, you can simply wade out. If you have your own equipment, it is totally free! Alternatively, hire a mask and snorkel from a beach bar or shop, there are plenty to choose from.

There are benefits to scuba diving the reef, however. It is soothing drifting along the current and getting closer to the shoals and visibility is more guaranteed. Diving gave me a chance to navigate and explore 15m of the 70m-deep reef’s plunge, as there is plenty more than sardines to see. 


 CHANNEL DIVING MALDIVES

MALDIVES ON A LIVEABOARD

 

What is Channel Diving?

Channels are usually formed as gaps or breaks in the atoll, forming entrances and exits to the inside eco system. Diving in them is best with a medium strong incoming current from the East. The current strongly affects the quality and nature of the dive. Often with a strong outgoing current there is less fish life and the dive becomes more challenging.

The beauty of channel diving is the amount of fish life in general, but particularly the fact that pelagic life rides the current, waiting to hunt smaller fish that slip from their schools. The mix of pelagic life and reef life creates an interesting mix of sights and behaviours.

Crossing the channel

A small to medium incoming current is ideal for crossing the channel; the oceanic current pushes you along the outside drop off from one corner to the next. It is important to be further away from the reef and below the lip of the channel floor to avoid being swept into the channel. Often this means that you have to be at 35-40 meters deep - staying shallower would mean not being able to cross the channel. If the current is not too strong, you will see a lot of marine life hanging on the edge of the channel. They do this because they breathe the water being pushed through their gills, and with the current passing through them, they don’t have to swim.

Hooking on to one of the corners

This is usually done when the current is medium to strong. Drift along the outside wall until you reach one of the corners, hook in with a reef hook, and observe the marine life activity around you.

In the Maldives, it can be really challenging to cross the channel in a strong current. Often the channel changes direction as you cross, and by the time you reach the opposite lip of the channel, the current starts working against you if done with an incoming current. It is possible to run into a washing machine style scenario that will have you kicking hard to get out. It is best to stay close to your dive guide and mimic him or her very closely.

Sharks and eagle rays are often gliding on the current at this point, as well as hunting and feeding on fusiliers. You get to observe all the action from the corners.

Things to be careful about

The converging currents can create washing machines of a sudden mix of upward and downward current. Often it is necessary to swim through this type of current for a stretch to get to the other side of the channel. To negate this, release your SMB and become negatively buoyed - essentially hanging off the SMB.

On channel dives, it is critical to bring SMBs, reef hooks, and ideally a nautilus life line or similar product, as there is a fair chance of being swept out into the blue.

MV Emperor Orion

MV Emperor Orion

Dive sites

dhoni

Channel

MV Emperor Orion

Dive liveaboard, 39 meter wooden hulled motor yacht operating high quality liveaboard diving cruises around the Maldives. Up to 24 divers can be comfortably accommodated on board. There is a range of cabins from Standard en-suite cabins to Executive suite, each having a TV and DVD player, with the higher priced cabins even enjoying bathtubs.

The MV Orion liveaboard is beautifully finished inside with wooden floors and paneling as well as high quality furnishings. 7 night trips depart from Male and from the time of collection at the airport you will be treated with top class  hospitality. With a crew of 18 you are almost guaranteed one on one service and for added convenience there are several European languages spoken on board.

Diving is conducted from a separate 20 meter dhoni where equipment and tanks are stored and filled with air or nitrox from the 2 compressors. This means no noisy tank filling on board the MV Orion. All divers are given personal tracking devices and carbon monoxide analysers for use during the trip for added safety. While there are many Maldive Islands liveaboards operating 7 night dive safaris from Male, few have the luxury and style of the Orion.


GREAT WHITE SHARKS

Gansbaai, South Africa.

Great White Sharks - South Africa

For the first time in almost two years, great white sharks have been spotted again in False Bay. In 2017 - 2018, their numbers reached an all time low, with great whites completely disappearing from South African research surveys for weeks and months at a time. While the reasons for their decline and disappearance remains unknown, it provides a truly unique opportunity to see what happens to an ocean ecosystem following a loss of an apex predator.

While a few sighting does not point to a comeback, it is a welcome sight. The situation is being monitored and researches will only be able to determine the significance, or the possible return of the great white sharks to False Bay, once more sharks are sighted over an extended period of time.

Only a few years ago, scientists estimated there were between 300 to 500 great white sharks in South Africa's False Bay. Now, they have almost disappeared. While local surfers might have relaxed, the absence of the apex predators is alarming to scientists, and the lucrative industries that rely on their presence.

 Local cage dive operator and wildlife photographer Chris Fallows says. "When the waters go quiet, both above and below the surface, and these predators are not there, it sounds huge alarm bells."

It is unclear what will happen to marine ecosystems if sharks are no longer there to keep them in check. Seal Island, a rocky outcrop in the middle of the False Bay, Cape Town, is home to a colony of over 64,000 Cape fur seals. It has always been a feeding ground to great whites, famous for their breaching of the surface to attack. Already, there have been changes in other shark species, such as the bronze whalers and sevengills who have become more prevalent at Seal Island. If it becomes a more long term knock-on effect, it is unpredictable what will happen.

As shark numbers dwindled, fingers were pointed toward a pair of roaming orcas, nicknamed Port and Starboard. Orcas are known for their specific way of attacking sharks by the pectoral fin and tearing them open to eat the nutritious and buoyant liver. There have been several sighting of Great White carcasses washed up onto the shore. A couple of orcas could do quite a lot of damage.

Chris Fallows, one of the first cage dive operators in False Bay, has been putting filmmakers, researchers and tourists into the water with sharks at Seal Island for almost 30 years. These days, the cage-dive industry attracts 80,000 tourists each year. But more recently, Mr Fallows has turned his attention to South Africa's demersal longline fishery, which he believes is responsible for some of the changes in shark populations.

Gansbaai

Located just 2 1/2 hours from Cape Town. These cage diving trips are generally offered throughout the year, however sightings in Gansbaai have been well below normal in the past few years, with sightings of these rare animals becoming unpredictable and sporadic.

On days when great whites are not seen, another species of shark, the Copper shark has suddenly become a frequently Sighting in this area. The Copper shark, also called Bronze Whalers, can attain a length of over 3m. Their sleek body has a bronze-grey sheen dorsally with an off-white underside and is slightly arched above the gills.

Other wildlife species such as Cape Gannets, Cape Cormorants, African Penguins, whales, from July to November, and dolphins are also frequently seen.


DIVING MOALBOAL 

Diving Moalboal, Philippines, Cebu.

MOALBOAL

This small town on the south-west side of Cebu offers easy access to some of the Philippines best known dive sites. Wildly popular with travellers, Moalboal is a small but lively coastal resort around 90km southwest of Cebu City. There is a lot to love about the place, its craggy coastline lined with shoreside bars and restaurants where you can sip a sundowner and gaze over the azure waters of the Tañon Strait to the distant hills of Negros. Directly offshore is a stupendous coral wall, so you can amble out of your hotel room, don snorkelling gear and encounter outstanding marine life.

Tourism has developed alongside diving and you will find accommodation to suit every budget from small guest houses to luxury dive resorts. ‘Moalboal’, which literally means ‘bubbling water’ also offers stunning top side scenery and nearby natural springs. Inland you will find dense, tropical rainforests divided by rivers and canyons. If you like being active, the mountainous peaks offer stunning vistas. If you prefer to relax there is no shortage of waterfront bars and restaurants with stunning sunsets along Panagsama Beach.

The underwater landscape in this area has walls, slopes, caves and canyons. There are also several reef formations that have species from a small Nudibranch to a giant Whale Shark. The rocky Pescador Islet close to Moalboal is one of the best diving site in the area with beautiful rock formation that seem to descend deep into sea and are adorned by large schools of Sardines.

The landscape and marine life together makes the diving experience very exciting. Several dive sites in Moalboal are known for hosting a very diverse sea life. Moalboal is also known for being regularly visited by Whale Sharks. The inland of Moalboal has a lush green mountain which hides deep valleys within. Most of the diving locations are within the fringe reef of a peninsula emanating from the Moalboal town.

4 kilometers to the west of the town is Panagsama beach, a rocky beach with diverse marine life around. It has a beautiful reef formation and is a popular diving spot. Other popular sites in Moalboal are Calles cathedral and sunken island, an underwater hill blessed with extremely diverse marine life.

SOME OF THE POPULAR DIVE SITES

Pescador Island

This protected marine park is one of the most famous dive spots in the area for good reasons. Underwater this small island is a divers playground with tunnels, caverns and swim throughs. Fish life is abundant here and you will find white tip reef sharks, schooling barracudas, sardines, jacks and occasional thresher sharks. The diversity and mass of reef fish is breathtaking.

Panagsama Reef

Best known for its sardine balls, this is a steep slope and wall dive with soft corals, sea whips, fans and good macro life. Expect to see a wide range of marine life from crustaceous critters and charismatic anemonefish through to solitary tuna and lazing turtles. It is a great, nearby dive site that is easily accessible whether on scuba or freediving.

Umbrella

This slope, plateau and wall site is also known as “Airplane” or “Airport” due to the small airplane wreck on the plateau. The wreck is now a healthy artificial reef which attracts unusual macro life including ornate ghost pipefish, nudibranch, frogfish and numerous crustaceans.

Dolphin House

This slope and wall offer canyons, vibrant corals and great macro. Look out for turtles swimming and, for those with a well trained eye, or an excellent PADI Divemaster, pygmy seahorses are known to occupy the sea fans.

Tongo Point

This beautiful wall dive is characterised by ledges, overhangs and crevices in which fish and critters shelter. Expect to see juvenile sweetlips, octopus, scorpionfish, moray eels and resting turtles. The wall starts from just 2 metres / 6 feet and bottoms out at 20 metres / 65 feet. Look out for electric clams in the deeper section.

WHAT TO SEE

Moalboal is at the heart of marine bio-diversity in the Philippines and its healthy reefs and steep walls support schools of snappers, jacks, barracudas, sardines, reef sharks, tuna, turtles, passing thresher sharks and even occasional whale sharks. Critters and macro-life are abundant here and highlights include pygmy seahorses, sardine balls, octopus, nudibranch, electric clams, cuttlefish, ghost pipefish, frogfish and a host of crustaceans.


BAITED SHARK DIVE

Baited Shark Dive near Aliwal Shoal, Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa. Aliwal Dive Center.

Oceanic Blacktip sharks

Have a streamlined body with a fusiform shape and a long pointed snout, with relatively small eyes. The gill slits are long and there is no ridge between the dorsal fins. The distinguishing feature of this species is that they can have black tips or edges on their pectoral, dorsal, pelvic or caudal fins.

The Oceanic Blacktip shark around 2m in size, is a regular sighting. The Oceanic Blacktip shark is often seen above the water. It makes spinning leaps out of the water while attacking schools of fish. The majority of Oceanic Blacktip sharks are found in water less than 40m deep. They can however also penetrate short distances into fresh water. The Oceanic Blacktip shark is an extremely fast, energetic predator that is usually found in groups of varying sizes.

It has been assessed as Near Threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), on the basis of its low reproductive rate and high value to fisheries.


RAGGED TOOTH SHARK DIVE - ALIWAL SHOAL

Ragged Tooth Sharks

Also known as the Sand Tiger Sharks. Although rather frightening in appearance, this species is relatively placid and docile, only likely to make an attack if cornered or provoked. The Raggie has a stocky body and reaches a length of just over two metres, with the female being slightly larger than the male. They weigh between 90 and 160 kilograms when mature. The top of the body (the dorsal side) is a grey-bronze colour, while the underneath is a much lighter variation thereof. They also have a rather hunched appearance with a sharp, pointy nose or snout.

Aliwal Shoal

Aliwal Shoal, on the east coast of South Africa, is known worldwide as one of the best shark diving destinations on the planet, and much of that activity centres around one of our most famous dive sites, Raggies Cave. A natural hollow filled with sand and encircled on all sides by plateaued reef, the site’s most prominent feature is the deep overhang that dominates one side of the amphitheatre.

In winter, this overhang is one of the most popular aggregation points for visiting ragged-tooth sharks, who arrive on the South African eastern coastline in their hundreds to mate in the gullies and caverns of Aliwal Shoal. On a clear day, divers arriving at the site are able to see through 18 metres of translucent ocean to the reef below, a veiled promise of the wonders hidden beneath the hull. Upon descent, these secrets reveal themselves one by one, the golden streak of a trumpetfish moving leisurely over the reef, or the shimmer of a school of baitfish materialising out of the depths. A dark form silhouetted against the pale expanse of the site’s sand patch begins to take shape, the pointed snout, two sharp pectoral fins, and long, powerful tail of a ragged-tooth shark.

Maximum Depth: 18 metres

Minimum Qualification: Open Water Diver

At first, this shark suspended above the sand seems to be alone, but then, one more shark appears, then another and another. The cave is filled with them. They are magnificent, these sharks, with eyes like molten gold and liver-spotted skin that seems to refract the watery light. Their protruding, mismatched teeth are the stuff of Discovery Channel nightmares; and yet, they are docile, hanging motionlessly in the cave without showing any apparent interest in their unexpected visitors. In winter, you can  spend as long with the raggies as the current allows. In summer most of the sharks depart for warmer birthing grounds north of Aliwal Shoal.

Raggies Cave is also frequently inhabited by a large potato bass, its skin mottled with alternating patches of silver and charcoal. The sand patch, which is out of bounds to divers during shark season, becomes an ideal classroom for students seeking to master new dive skills; and the perfect treasure trove for those in search of sharks’ teeth.

The reef around the sand patch and the overhang is also teaming with life, from well camourflaged scorpionfish to luminous schools of lemon-yellow bannerfish. This is one of the best dive sites for spotting turtles, from the ponderous green turtle to the delicate hawksbill. The sand itself provides much sought after cover for round ribbon-tail and leopard rays. Many divers also make the acquaintance of a resident honeycomb moray that spends its days in a nearby cavern, being attended upon by candy-striped boxer shrimp.