Over the past eight weeks, our Marine Explorers have come a long way. For many of them, their first cautious outing was characterised by trying to keep their hair dry and clinging onto instructors like limpets. Of course there were a few who were entirely lacking in caution. So as well as trying to boost skills and confidence, we’ve also had to be very clear in our safety messages.
While confidence has grown and recklessness subsided, the Explorers have been working hard at their skills. Everyone can put their gear on, swim on the surface or below the water, breathe through the snorkel and clear it when necessary. Not everyone followed the snorkel-clearing instructions at first, but learning the hard way seems to have worked!
Cape Town has a moody climate and a coastline that twists and turns, providing points and bays that face in many different directions. We also get more than our fair share of swell. Because of this, the Marine Explorers use a mobile venue, choosing the most suitable nearby location for each session. While this certainly makes planning complicated, it does give the kids the chance to see a variety of places. This programme is about more than just diving – it’s also about developing a passion for our coastline and the life it supports.
Before our first adventure into a kelp forest we spent some of our time learning about the interesting animals that we hoped to see. During these information sessions our Explorers showed plenty of interest, but when they dived with the colourful array of life which included sea stars, anemones, urchins, shoals of fish and some very obliging shy sharks, curiosity exploded into awe. Seeing first-hand what goes on under the sea prompted shrieks of excitement and animated conversation. The first youngster to spot a shy shark cruising below him hurriedly spat out his snorkel and screamed “there’s a shark down here” at the top of his lungs. Without hesitation, the entire group joined him, anxious to get a glimpse. Eight weeks earlier, it would have been hard to imagine this response to a shark sighting from the group! For our Explorers, the sea has literally come alive.
Each Marine Explorer has earned their PADI skin diver certificate, and they are now proud PADI Skin-diver card holders. To mark their achievement, we took them on a seal dive off Hout Bay with a great local dive operator, Animalocean. None of our Explorers had ever been on a boat before, and with a brisk Southeaster blowing and the water a crisp ten degrees Celcius, it was a test of their commitment and sense of adventure. Apart from the excitement of diving with the Cape Fur Seals, the Explorers were abuzz with chirps about the powerful stench of the seal colony, trying to keep their lunch down, and their first ever boat ride and boat dive. While we would have been happy with a calmer and warmer ocean for the trip, there was a tremendous sense of camaraderie and achievement throughout the group when we stepped back onto terra firma, slightly green and frozen but wide-eyed and grinning.
It’s been a privilege to work with this group and see their growth. They have found a new and exciting way of looking at the marine world, and their initial fear of marine life has been replaced by a fascination and respect that they can share with their friends. Although our Marine Explorers have completed their course, we’ll be meeting for monthly dives, and support them as they continue with their marine adventures.
The support of Pisces Divers, U.C.T. Underwater Club, P.A.D.I. and Reef Wetsuits has been an essential ingredient in the success of this programme to date. Not only have they offered their expertise, but we’ve also had a lot of fun! Thank you to all involved!