February always tends to produce some mixed weather as this time of year is cyclone season off Madagascar and in the Mozambique Channel. Although these area’s are north of us, we still get the spin offs from these weather systems which causes us to experience some big swells. Luckily most days were fine and we only had a handful of days where the swell was bigger than 2.5 metres and we did not launch. The rest of the month saw hot, humid days, interspersed with some rain, whilst sea temperatures sat at an even 27 degrees Celsius, with visibility ranging from 15-20 metres.
No strangers to our part of the world Kristen and Modupe had come down for another diving holiday, this time as a get away to celebrate Modupe’s birthday. It was just the two of them on the boat with Clive and me and before they had even taken their life jackets off, Kristen called out that she thought she had spotted a fin in the water as we were going out through the surf. Sure enough, she had spotted a manta ray! As we looked we saw one, two, three…….there was a whole group of them. We snorkelled with them for ages; watching as they swooped and glided past us, mouths open, feeding on the plankton rich water. There were a total of ten mantas! Once we were all back on board and travelling to the dive site, we saw another two mantas – now there’s a birthday present you don’t get every year!
With turtle season still in full swing, Rocktail Beach Camp hosted George Hughes – aka the turtle guru – for several nights and each night he gave a talk on various areas he had travelled to whilst studying and monitoring turtle populations. Listening to him talk about turtles and hearing his wealth of information was awe inspiring. During one of his talks he mentioned how scientists had observed turtles sticking their noses into the sand as they arrive at the beach, sniffing out the different smells to help determine whether this was the correct area where they hatched all those years ago and where they would now lay their own eggs to keep the population going. I was quite interested by this story and it just happened that a few days later, during a dive at Pineapple reef, I was able to observe a turtle sniffing away – at a slightly different object. It was just Jon Hollingsworth and I on the dive and we were busy watching a large female hawksbill turtle happily munching away on the reef, not bothered by our presence one bit. I then noticed a baby hawksbill turtle moving along towards us, on a collision course with the older female turtle. As we watched, the smaller of the two, stopped right in front of the bigger female. They put their heads together for a while and then the bigger female stuck her beak right into the sand where the small turtle was, she certainly seemed to be sniffing the sand – perhaps picking up a scent as to where the other turtle came from. Then the bigger female pushed her beak under the baby, as if say “right, I know where you’re from now, but move along, this is my patch!”
Later on during the same dive, I had just popped my head up from under a ledge when I noticed Jon watching something off in the distance. As I looked across, a very large female ragged tooth shark appeared. It was busy swimming slowly along the sand on the bottom section of the ledge, so I swam up on top and watched as the shark approached. This raggie was not phased by the two of us and decided to change her course and swim up onto the ledge where I was hovering. She made a beeline for me and only turned away at the last minute to avoid bumping into me! Whew, one very curious shark!! Turns out Jon hadn’t seen the shark at first either – he was busy watching another turtle and only realised when he saw Ondyne move up onto the top half of the ledge and point at the shark!
Other shark and ray sightings have included numerous grey reef sharks at various reefs, one tiger shark at Coachman’s Ledge, a guitar fish, spotted eagle rays, round ribbontail rays and honeycomb rays.
Smaller sightings have also been plentiful this month. Many dives sites have had “balls” of tiny fish fry floating along next to the reef; lots of male wolf cardinal fish were seen with mouths full of eggs; egg shell cowries were spotted in pairs or singly with clusters of eggs; nearly every anemone seemed to be hiding patches of clownfish eggs.
Evening turtle drives produced lots of baby turtles hatching and making a dash for the water. A couple of female turtles were still coming ashore to lay their eggs, so we should still see little hatchlings right into April, although the official end to the season is the middle of March.
Looking forward to March and the Easter Holidays, see you all then.
Congratulations to the following divers:
for completing his PADI Discover Scuba Diving course
for completing her PADI Bubblemaker course
Harald & Jakob Beck and Claudia Wedemann
for completing their PADI Open Water course
Yours in diving,
Darryl, Clive, Michelle, Ondyne, Mandla and Sipho
The Rocktail Dive Team