Ballito, KwaZulu-Natal is probably best known for its gorgeous beaches, packed with sun seeking tourists in the holiday season, superb climate and way above average night life. But few people know that the area is also home to what could be considered the southern most shallow water coral in the world. Home to creatures you would only expect to see on scuba dives in exotic locations, massive variety of fish, corals, nudibranchs (if you don’t know what a Nudibranch is, Google it, you’ll be impressed), stingrays, octopus, underwater forests of sponges and coral and all sorts of creatures that we hardly know anything about. These intertidal areas have been our snorkeling playground for the past year. Every low tide, we were out there finding amazing things.
But as with most things, on a daily basis we see the devastating consequence of actions by unscrupulous fisherman, marine aquarium collectors and humans in general on the coastline. About 50% of the coral we found was dead or dying from being smothered by discarded fishing line and marine aquarium collectors kidnapping any living creature they can find, to take home and essentially watch it die from starvation in their fish tanks. This was pretty sad for us, and no one seemed to care. Our solution: get people in the water, get them to appreciate this incredible marine life that we have right here along our rocky shores, get them to experience being surrounded by hundreds of colorful fish, see their first insanely colored Nudibranch, watch an octopus changing its colors, if people could experience what we were experiencing, maybe then they would care. And so Tidal Tao Snorkelling Safaris was born.
For many folks, the dream of exploring the magical underwater world is reserved for a few hours in front of National Geographic Channel. For other more fortunate souls, the experience of Scuba Diving leaves you feeling like a visitor from another planet floating through a place where technically you should be dead. For me, that experience is best summed up as a feeling of privilege, privileged to see and experience a world that is so close, yet so far from our sand and stone “earth”…but what if I told you that this experience was accessible to anyone, no need for expensive dive courses and equipment, no need for travel to far off exotic reefs, no need for bulky diving equipment, no need for being super fit or an extraordinarily strong swimmer. Is this possible? Yes, snorkeling. And that’s what Tidal Tao does; we give people their first taste of the magical underwater world in an easy, accessible and safe environment.
For most folks, they feel safe snorkeling in a shallow tidal pool, no fears of being swept out to sea, no complicated equipment to drag about and no real concerns for where your next breath will come from. And our coastal intertidal zones are full of such places. Visit any rocky shore in South Africa at a spring low tide, with relatively clean seawater, and I assure you, you will see amazing stuff.
This complex intertidal marine ecosystem is typically rich in nutrients, oxygen and a highly dynamic system. As a result it is home to a high diversity of organisms, many of which you would never expect in knee-deep water, but they are there, if you take the time to look. Almost all the creatures you will find on a typical scuba dive offshore are well represented in the intertidal zones, albeit not quite the variety and sheer numbers, it is still an easy and effortless wonderland to explore. As we always say, it’s about as close to scuba diving as you’ll get without actually scuba diving.
But Tidal Tao is also a lot more than just taking people on a snorkel trip and exposing them to the underwater wonders of our coastline, our intention is to conserve, to change attitudes, get people involved and foster some level of respect and appreciation for our coast. We need people to think beyond the coast as a place to just catch fish or enjoy sunshine. We encourage people to clean up any litter, fishing line or mess that they see on the beach and whilst snorkeling, the person who cleans up the most, gets their trip free!
Words and Pictures: Duncan Pritchard