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Diving at Sodwana Bay

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Pillaging of coral reefs by impoverished local communities dependent on marine resources is common world-wide.

Sodwana Bay has been inside a National Park for 80 years, so the local Zulu community has only recently been given free access to the protected marine environment. Consequently, the marine resources never became part of the traditional tribal diet.The Sodwana Bay reefs remain pristine and the crayfish live to a ripe old age, while giant cowries flourish untouched, and hermit crabs grow to monstrous size using gigantic discarded conch shells.

Greg de Valle, the charismatic, controversial owner and manager of the Sodwana Bay Lodge Scuba Centre was the first to introduce the local community to the protected undersea world, and his dive operation is an iconic example of co-operation and training between the local people and the 4 x 4 owning diving community. Initially employed as a dive master by Blue Print Diving in the 90’s, Greg decided to make diving his career and life’s work. He travelled the world to various dive operations, and acquired an understanding of how the International diving operations were managed.

From 1997 Greg took over management of the dive shop at Sodwana Bay Lodge. Competition was fierce, and at one time there were 65 dive boats launching from Sodwana Bay. Dive masters were unknown. If you were prepared to tow a buoy line so that the boat could follow you, you could dive for free. New reefs were discovered.

Managing a dive operation that catered for both local and international diving visitors became Greg’s job, and he had problems keeping Dive Masters. Most Dive Staff from the cities stayed for a few years, and then just as they were becoming really world class they would leave Sodwana and travel to exotic destinations taking their training with them. Having bought the diving operation, Greg was growing more and more frustrated until one day he realised that the solution lay with the beach assistants.

These were youngsters from the local Mbila tribal group who had found short term employment on the beach washing visitors’ dive gear, carrying their equipment to and from the dive boats and generally looking after their customers. Greg realised that these guys were humble, were learning English, and understood the demands of their customers. So he started training a group of local youngsters to become dive guides, skippers and dive masters.

20 years on, Sodwana Scuba Centre offers the best service I have ever experienced in a dive operation, and that includes Bali and Mauritius whose service levels are definitive. Ben my DM takes care of my gear, and I get a dry wet-suit every morning. Prince, the skipper on my boat, makes sure my gear is loaded where I like to sit on the boat. These 2 guys are humble in their excellence. They are aware of their customer’s every need, and they make diving with them an absolute pleasure.

Greg has done a little more than just own and manage Sodwana Scuba Centre. He has invested training and no small amount of money in the local community. He has built his house here, and his children go to school here.

To own land at Sodwana Bay is not possible, as it is within the land area controlled by the Ingonyama Trust, who issue leases to approved residents. To live here, you have to become a member of the local tribal community, and Greg has done just that. He is an honorary Zulu.

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Words: Jill Holloway

Pics: Stephen Stamp

Copyright: Crafters Lodge

www.crafterslodge.co.za

Jill Holloway lives in Mauritius and at Sodwana Bay Isimangaliso Wetland Park in South Africa. A PADI qualified Nitrox diver with over 1,500 dives, she is a passionate observer and preserver of the marine environment, and has a database of over 35,000 fish pics and hundreds of Gopro videos on fish behaviour, which she shares with her readers.

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Frontline workers honoured with free dive trip to Yap

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The remote island of Yap in the Federated States of Micronesia is among the few places in the world that remains free of Covid-19 thanks to its ocean border and a strict travel ban that has kept its residents safe.

Nonetheless, Yap has been affected, too. As one of the world’s premier, award-winning destinations for divers, this paradisiacal location in the western Pacific Ocean has had no outside visitors to its rich shores and reef for nearly a year. But while there may be no virus, the island hasn’t been cut off from the economic impact experienced around the globe.

Manta Ray Bay Resort and Yap Divers by A. Tareg

That didn’t stop Bill Acker, CEO and founder of the Manta Ray Bay Resort and Yap Divers, from doing something, though.

Last March, soon after the island went into lockdown, Bill began to realize the effect of the virus on daily life beyond the island. “Yes, we are closed, have no divers, had to send our employees home and prepare for difficult times,” he said. “But we’re lucky in that we have, for the most part, avoided the human suffering and death this pandemic has caused.”

Thinking about the problems faced by his family business, they paled when he compared them to those endured by the healthcare workers who have been fighting selflessly around the clock for months on end for the well-being and lives of others.

“One evening, while checking the news online, I saw pictures of frontline workers who were tending to desperately ill and dying people when families and friends could not be with their loved ones. It was heartbreaking,” he added.

The next day, a meeting was held with the resort’s staff and Bill invited suggestions for ways they could do something to honor healthcare workers. The result was the idea to award twenty divers who are working on the frontline to save other’s lives during this pandemic while risking their own, with a free week at the resort.

Manta ray, Manta birostris, gliding over a cleaning station in M’il Channel, Yap, Micronesia by David Fleetham

Divers around the world who had been guests at Manta Ray Bay in the past were invited to submit the names of candidates for the award by December 31, 2020. “We received nominations for 126 individuals from as far away as Germany, the U.S., Australia and Canada,” he said. “It was not easy choosing the winners but our committee of staff members took on the job and selected the 20 finalists.”

“While trying to choose the people to reward for their hard work during this Covid-19 crisis,” Bill added, “by reading the nominations we saw that every one of the nominees was doing things above and beyond the call of duty. Sadly, we don’t have the finances to offer over 100 free weeks in Yap, but we do want to recognize the contributions all of them are making to our world. So, we are offering the rest of the nominees a free week of diving in Yap which includes room, hotel tax, airport transfers, breakfast, diving and Wi-Fi.  The only requirement is that they travel with at least three other people and stay in two rooms or more.”

“We do not yet know when Yap will open its borders,” said Bill, “but when it does, we will welcome these important guests to Yap to relax and dive with the manta rays and the other beautiful denizens of the ocean surrounding our island home. They are the true heroes of this devastating, historic time and we look forward to honoring them with a well-deserved dive vacation.”

Watch out for our exclusive trip report from a healthcare worker from the UK who is one of the 20 to have been awarded this amazing dive trip!

For more information on Manta Ray Bay and Yap Divers visit their website by clicking here.

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Dive Training Blogs

Dream Dive Locker Build Out. Part I: Demolition (Watch Video)

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It’s finally here! Time to start building the greatest dive locker the world has ever seen! Part I: Demolition! #dreamdivelocker

This is the first of a series of videos showing the evolution of building out my dream dive locker. My dream dive locker needs to be dive gear drying and storage, dry storage, workshop, office, editing suite, You Tube studio and classroom. That’s a lot of functions for a small space!

The first step is planning out the space and demolishing the laminate flooring. Then I taped up the walls to get a feel for the space. We have a lot of work to do!

But finally we will have a purpose built space to house all of our dive equipment! Subscribe to our channel to follow our progress! 

Thanks for watching, Team!

James


Subscribe here: http://bit.ly/DiversReady

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Call Diverse Travel on 01473 852002 or email info@diversetravel.co.uk to book your spot!

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