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Dive into history in St Helena

Nick and Caroline Robertson-Brown

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Our visit to St Helena was instigated by a story that revolves around one particular wreck – the DarkDale, but over a few days of diving we soon discovered that the coastline offers those who love a little history behind their dives a host of other opportunities. We dived four of the seven listed wreck dives on offer. Some were sunk deliberately to create artificial reefs and others met their watery end in more unfortunate circumstances. Our first wreck dive off the rugged coast of this remote island was on the Papanui.

St Helena Butterflyfish around the stern post of the Papanui

The Papanui lies in just a few meters of water just in front of the harbour and some of its structure (the stern post) even sticks out above the water, so this is an easy going dive and could even be snorkelled. The wreck sank in 1911 after a fire broke out on board. The captain drove it as close to the island as possible and then evacuated the crew safely, but the ship was lost. It is a big wreck site and the artifacts still on board this 131m long steamer built in 1898 is incredible. It is also now home to a host of marine life and we could have spent hours exploring the site over several dives.

The Darkdale wreck has a special place in history as the first British ship to be sunk in WWII south of the equator. It was struck by by a German U-Boat on the 22nd October 1941 and her casualties are remembered on the cenotaph in the harbour. She lies in deeper water just in front of the harbour with the shallowest point at around 33m. Once again, a feature of St Helena diving, she was covered in the endemic Cunningfish, a beautiful white butterfly fish that creates swirling clouds around all of the wrecks.

We also dived two artificial reefs,  the Bedgellet which was damaged in a storm and sunk in 2001, and the Frontier which was a drug smuggling vessel sunk in 1994.

Both these artificial reefs are now home to marine life living around the structures and within the nooks and crannies within. Mobula Rays pass by this area and so you can combine diving the wreck with looking out into the blue for pelagic encounters, or head inshore to explore the caverns that line the coast.

We did not get to dive the White Lion wreck, a cargo ship sunk in a conflict with the Portuguese in 1613. Whilst there is not much left to see, the ship was rumoured to be carrying diamonds and whilst no-one has admitted to finding any – it must be worth a visit!

If you want a diving destination that is a little different, then St Helena is well worth a visit. We loved it. Find out more about our trip in the latest edition of Dive Travel Adventures in shop now, or online by clicking here.


For more information visit:

St Helena Tourism: www.sthelenatourism.com

Dive Saint Helena: www.divesainthelena.com


All images and text by Frogfish Photography

Equipment Used

  • Olympus OMD EM-1 MKII
  • Nikon D800
  • Nauticam housings
  • INON strobes
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Wining and Diving – South Africa

Nick and Caroline Robertson-Brown

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The Wining and Diving series sees Nick and Caroline Robertson-Brown embark on a tour to tickle the taste buds as well as to discover amazing dive sites in wine-making regions around the world. Some of the best wines are influenced by sea breezes and a coastal climate, allowing two of Nick and Caroline’s passions to be combined into one epic journey.

**Please note, Nick and Caroline are not encouraging drinking before diving! The two activities are kept well apart on each of these trips.

South Africa’s coastline is wild and rugged and has some of the best marine encounters and diving in the world! It is also home to some superb vineyards and so this is a top destination for Wining & Diving! If you have enough time, then try to fit in several destinations on a tour; take in the Sardine Run, go Great White Shark cage diving, snorkel with Blue and Mako Sharks, try to find Sevengill Sharks in the kelp forest, meet the raggies and oceanic shark species near Aliwal Shoal and make sure you dive with the Cape Fur Seals just down the road from Cape Town. Head north for the stunning reefs of Sodwana Bay and even fit in a land safari too! But make sure you make time to visit some of the top vineyards at Stellenbosch and Constantia too, which are just a stones throw from Cape Town and can be done on a day trip.

Our tour took in the lot and this is an experience to be shared with friends. You have to be lucky with the Sardine Run, but the rewards are great if you are there at the right time, with dolphins, sharks, whales and seabirds all competing for the feast of sardines that migrates up the coast in early summer. It is fast and furious, but can also involve long days out on the boat bobbing and waiting for the action to happen.

Flying into Durban you can often combine Aliwal Shoal to start your Sardine Run trip, to get the chance to dive the famous Cathedral Rock and then drift out into the blue for Blacktip and Tiger Sharks.

Gaansbai is the most famous place for Great White Shark cage diving, although recent years have seen numbers falling away, possibly due to the presence of Orca.

Cape Town offers penguins, Blue and Mako Sharks, Sevengill Cow Sharks, Great Whites and the chance to mess about with Cape Fur Seals, who will seek out divers and play among the kelp fronds for as long as you can stay in the cool water. It is here that you can add a few days visiting vineyards and touring the stunning countryside before you head home.

We would love to go back and spend more time in South Africa, as we did not have time for the Mako Shark snorkeling and would like to try again for the cow sharks too. South Africa has so much to offer it is very hard to fit everything into a single trip! It is a high energy and super-productive trip under the water and a wonderful place to relax with your favourite glass of wine in the evening.

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All about Sharklife

PJ Prinsloo

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There is nothing quite like seeing an apex predator in the wild and divers are very fortunate to have the privilege to get up close and personal with one of the world’s most striking predators. South Africa is home to a great number of shark species that attract thousands of tourists every year. Great Whites, Tigers and Bull sharks are just some examples of over 100 different shark species living in the oceans around the South African coastline.

With such an array of species, it’s no wonder there are so many research and conservation organizations in the country that do exceptional work. These entities are collecting important data that is showing how important the shark species is, not only the ocean’s survival, but that of mankind too.

So, what’s the big deal, they’re just fish with teeth?

Sharks have an undeserved reputation as being man-eaters. Considering the millions of people that use the ocean everyday whether for recreational or occupational use, as few as 10 people die from shark interactions annually. If they were the man-eaters we made them out to be, that number would be much higher. More people die from accidents with household appliances in one year than people have died from sharks in the last 100 years.

The shark is an important part of the ocean’s ecosystem, but more importantly it’s their role in the survival of the planet we need to be concerned about. With an estimated 100 million sharks being killed every year, ocean ecosystems around the world have been severely destabilized and unbalanced. Sharks help maintain a healthy gene pool by predating on the weakest of their prey, ensuring the strongest survive to continue the species.

If we wiped out the Great White Shark population in South Africa, there would be an abundance of seals, this growing population of seals, now the new apex predator in the area, would very soon consume to a point of extinction many crustaceans and small bait fish resulting a complete collapse of many fishing industries and worse, the collapse of an entire ecosystem.

Education about the importance of sharks and changing people’s perception of sharks are small actions that can make positive change. An organization that has been working hard to educate people about sharks is “Sharklife”.

I recall becoming a Sharklife Instructor in 2008 when the organization had just started offering a range of courses on several of the shark species found in South Africa. Courses were offered on specific sharks and required a number of dives to study the shark’s behavior and unique characteristics. One of the challenges we faced as instructors was guaranteeing shark sittings on training dives. Some sharks are much easier to encounter reliably than others.

We had some interesting dives experimenting with different non-invasive methods of attracting sharks for our students to study. The most noteworthy of these experiments was trying find what would attract Bull Sharks. These elusive predators can be very inquisitive and engaging which made for some exciting learning experiences.

Today Sharklife has a permanent base in Sodwana Bay, South Africa. At the current premises, Grant Smith, Sharklife managing director, oversees a number of research projects and conducts research internships for candidates from all over the world. In addition to the various shark courses on offer, there is a shark museum with some fascinating displays and shop where you can purchase a host of different shark related products.

Sharklife Objective:

Through scientific research, education and awareness bring about positive change to the current destructive trends of ocean exploitation.

Sharklife Current Aims:

  1. To develop a compassionate desire to conserve sharks by altering public misconceptions about sharks and replacing the “Jaws” syndrome with positive understanding and respect.
  2. Reduce anthropogenic threats to over exploited marine species by increasing awareness and encouraging sustainable seafood choices.
  3. Increase marine tourism and transform shark populations into a sustainable living resource by developing educational ocean experiences for all South African’s

In line with aim number 2, one of their achievements was the removal of shark nets in the Rocky Bay area in Kwa-Zulu Natal. An initiative that started in 2008 and took years of relentless campaigning resulted in the removal of the shark nets in this Marine Protected Area. The capture of 14 Tiger Sharks on the 18th April 2012 was a catalyst that renewed efforts for the lifting of the nets and on the 30th April 2014 the nets were lifted for the last time.

More information about this campaign can be found here: https://www.sharklife.co.za/index.php/our-projects/completed-projects/shark-net-removal

How can you get involved?

Visit their website, www.sharklife.co.za and sign up for free shark course. You can even adopt a shark and join as a monthly member.

Regardless of the organization you support, something has to be done before it really is too late to turn back and recover. There are hundreds if not thousands of initiatives out there to get involved with or contribute to and I know all of them appreciate the smallest donation of time or money.

Personally, I would hate to never again see the wonder in a diver’s eyes when they interact with a shark for the first time.


Article by PJ Prinsloo – www.pjptech.co.za

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