Aliwal Shoal celebrated as a top 10 global dive site this MPA Day

Ocean lovers headed to Scottburgh Main Beach on Sunday in support and celebration of Aliwal Shoal ahead of Marine Protected Areas (MPA) Day on 1 August. This was one of 42 South African MPAs celebrated countrywide as global recognition grows for these life-giving ‘game reserves of the sea’.

The event opened with an insightful talk on the importance of MPAs to ecosystems and local communities led by Dr Bruce Mann, a Senior Scientist at the Oceanographic Research Institute (SAAMBR).

The spotlight was shone on ecotourism with the diving community coming out in full force, gathering at the backline with surfers and other ocean lovers for a Paddle Out to celebrate MPAs. Dive operators that showed their support for MPA Day included Mokarran Dive Charters, Mako Adventures, Oceans Alive Boat Rides, ScubaXcursions and Travel to Dive. A highlight was also the attendance of the Station 39 Rocky Bay NSRI crew.

“Aliwal Shoal is special because it is one of the top dive sites in South Africa. The Aliwal Shoal reef complex has a magnificent diversity of marine life. The MPA will help to make sure that our grandchildren can enjoy the treasures of the ocean in the future,” commented Dr Bruce Mann.

Dr Ryan Daly, Scientist at the Oceanographic Research Institute, agreed stating: “Aliwal Shoal MPA presents a marine oasis for many threatened and endemic species along our coast. It is particularly important for many shark and ray species that aggregate there every year. Its diversity, beauty and uniqueness make it one of my favourite dive sites in South Africa!”

Rated one of the world’s top 10 diving sites, Aliwal Shoal attracts visitors from across the globe looking for some of the best big game diving among its deep reefs and fossilised sand dunes. Accommodating every level of diver, the site is particularly popular in the winter months as migrating humpback whales serenade divers as they explore the two shipwrecks on the ocean floor. There’s also the chance of spotting these mammoth mammals as they swim along, often breaching to put on a show. Playful dolphins also like to make an appearance, as do many of the local shark species – raggedtooth, tiger and blacktip sharks.

In addition to being a home to a variety of marine life – and a cleaning station for the highly-endangered shortfin devil rays – Aliwal Shoal has also been identified as a Hope Spot by Mission Blue – scientific recognition that this space is critical to the health of the ocean. As an MPA, Aliwal Shoal provides protection for the endangered seabream, once the most popular fish delicacy in KZN, pushed to the brink of extinction through overfishing.

Because of Aliwal Shoal’s MPA status, there are many ecotourism, social and environmental benefits:

  • It sustains fisheries by protecting the habitats of geelbek and dusky kob, with seasonal protection for spawning aggregations of threatened linefish.
  • It attracts tourism development association with the beautiful beaches, scuba diving tours and educational opportunities.
  • It supports the shark diving ecotourism by preserving habitats for sharks to protect these iconic apex predators.

To show your support and find out more about MPAs such as Aliwal Shoal, and to become part of the global climate crisis awareness movement, check out the social media pages: Instagram @marineprotectedareassa, Twitter @MPAsSA1 or Facebook Marine Protected Areas SA (@MPASouthAfrica) following the hashtags #MPADay #LetsTalkMPAs #MPAs #MarineProtectedArea; or visit www.marineprotectedareas.org.za.

Special thanks go out to the generous contributions made by Claire Taylor from KMOS (NPO) who assisted with event organising. Thanks to all of the Aliwal Shoal MPA supporters including Oceans Alive based on Scottburgh Beach, Mako Adventures, Mokarran Dive Charters from Rocky Bay Resorts, ScubaXcursions from Cutty Sark Hotel, Travel to Dive and the Station 39 NSRI crew from Rocky Bay; as well as the Scottburgh Camera Club and Gareth Chapman photography for braving the icy cold weather to join the celebrations.