This article is intended to provide the already qualified scuba diver with information which will help to plan dives in the waters of South Africa, whether as a local resident or a visitor. Information is provided without prejudice, and is not guaranteed accurate or complete. Use it at your own risk.
If you are looking for information on getting training and certification as a recreational scuba diver, refer to the article on Scuba diving for general information, or the regional article covering your area of interest, to find listings of dive schools.
More detailed regional information and listings of dive shops, operators, and other related services will also usually be found in the regional guides. Some information and listings for areas without a regional guide may be found in this article under the Services headings in the Destination section.
South Africa has sites spread along its coast that are perhaps better known for sharks and other large marine life, but also have a wide range of endemic smaller fish and invertebrates. The coastal sites range from tropical coral reefs in the north of KwaZulu-Natal, where the fish are typical Indo-pacific tropical species, and very colourful, to cool temperate rocky reefs on the West Coast, where the fish life is relatively dull, but the invertebrates provide the colour.
The annual sardine run up the east coast is justly famous and the lesser known chokka (squid) spawning also attracts large numbers of predators, but without requiring as much chasing around to be at the right place.
There are a lot of wrecks along the coast, some of which are regarded as good dive sites.
The inland sites are more usually used for training, technical and cave diving.
South African diving is generally more physically challenging than the more popular destinations. It may involve cold water, surf launches, big swell or strong currents, depending on the region involved, and a higher level of fitness and skill is desirable if you want to enjoy the experience to the maximum.
For those who want more protected and benign conditions, there are two large aquariums where divers can enjoy warmer water and very easy access, and are guaranteed to see a large number of fish.
The physical geography of the regionEdit
South Africa is the southern part of the continent of Africa, the only continent through which both tropics pass. The continent extends to a maximum of 34°50' of latitude from the equator, so it is mostly tropical and subtropical, with a moderate extent of temperate zones. South Africa is the region of Africa furthest from the equator in the southern hemisphere. It extends from the Limpopo river in the north at S22°07'to Cape Agulhas in the south at S34°50', and from the Orange River mouth in the west at E016°27' to Ponta do Ouro in the east at E32°23'.
Oceans bordering South AfricaEdit
South Africa is one of the few countries with more than one ocean on its shores, and this has a profound effect on the sea conditions, not so much because the waters are nominally divided into two oceans, but because major currents of the two oceans have such profound differences and these strongly influence the adjacent ecosystems.
The coastline from the Orange River Mouth bordering Namibia in the north west to Ponto do Ouro bordering Mozambique in the north east is approximately 2954 km long.
The width of the continental shelf off South Africa varies enormously, with a very narrow shelf off the north east coast of KwaZulu-Natal, and a wide shelf off the southern tip of Africa - The Agulhas Bank. the shelf narrows again off the Cape Peninsula, and is of moderate width from Cape Columbine north, along the West Coast.
The geographic division between the Atlantic and Indian Oceans is at the southern tip, Cape Agulhas, but from a practical point of view the sharpest distinction in qualitative terms is at Cape Point, and many Capetonians like to think of this being the place of Two Oceans. The reason for this is that the west coast is strongly influenced by the cold Benguela current, which flows north along the west coast, and the warm Mozambique current flows south on the east coast. The Agulhas current may be thought of as a continuation of the Mozambique current, which flows south west and then west as it follows the east coast. The Agulhas current is affected by the relatively shallow Agulhas bank, and throws off some enormous eddies, which eventually swing south and then east, and dissipate in the southern ocean.
Climate, weather and sea conditionsEdit
- Malaria is endemic to some regions in the north east of the country. For divers this is mainly northern KwaZulu-Natal.
- Bilharzia is also endemic to some regions on the east coast, but only affects fresh water, so is not generally a problem to divers.
- HIV is widespread. However it is not really a particular problem for recreational divers.
A recreational diving certification does not qualify you to work as a diver except as recreational divemaster or instructor. All other underwater work done for reward or as part of your employment requires registration as a commercial diver, or a recognised foreign equivalent. At present this includes scientific diving, including for your own postgraduate research at most universities, and at all research institutions. The Recreational diving industry is specifically excluded from the scope of the South African Department of Labour's Diving Regulations, but not from the rest of the Occupational Health and Safety Act and its Regulations.
Recreational diver trainingEdit
All major diving centres in South Africa have recreational diver training schools. Most of the major international diver certification agencies are represented in South Africa. See also the regional dive guides for local details.
Commercial diver trainingEdit
(Including Scientific diving and Public Safety diving)
The South African Department of Labour certifications in Commercial Diving are recognised by the International Diver Recognition Forum. Divers holding certification that is recognised by the IDRF may legally work as commercial divers in countries represented on the forum, provided that other visa and work permit conditions are complied with.
There is not a great deal of commercial diving work in South Africa, and the pay is not very good by world standards, but the training is cheaper than in most other countries on the IDRF, and as a result South Africa has become a training destination for foreign commercial divers. Learner divers from Europe have commented that the cost of training at home covers the training costs, medical examination, travel and living expenses and enough change for an additional vacation in South Africa. South African commercial diver training is also popular with learner divers from many countries where there is no officially sanctioned commercial diver training system, and the certification, though there is no guarantee of employment, allows the holder to apply for lucrative work in the international offshore petrochemical industry.
A reasonable ability to communicate in English is a prerequisite, and medical fitness to dive must be verified by a medical practitioner registered as a Diving Medical Practitioner with the South African Department of Labour. Foreign medical certificates of fitness to dive are not recognised for commercial diving.
Branch, G. and Branch, M. 1981, The Living Shores of Southern Africa, Struik, Cape Town. ISBN 0-86977-1159
Branch, G.M. Griffiths,C.L. Mranch, M.L and Beckley, L.E. Revised edition 2010, Two Oceans – A guide to the marine Life of Southern Africa, David Philip, Cape Town. ISBN 978 1 77007 772 0
Gosliner, T. 1987. Nudibranchs of Southern Arica, Sea Challengers & Jeff Hamann, Monterey. ISBN 0930118138
Heemstra, P. and Heemstra E. 2004, Coastal Fishes of Southern Africa, NISC/SAIAB, Grahamstown.
Ed. Smith, M.M. and Heemstra, P. 2003 Smith’s Sea Fishes. Struik, Cape Town. (Authoritative, large and expensive)
Stegenga, H. Bolton, J.J. and Anderson, R.J. 1997, Seaweeds of the South African West Coast. Bolus Herbarium, Cape Town. ISBN 079921793X (rather technical)
Cape Town and the Cape Peninsula and environsEdit
De Clerck, O. Bolton, J.J. Anderson, R.J. and Coppejans, E. 2005,Guide to the seaweeds of KwaZulu-Natal Scripta Botanica Belgica; vol 33, National Botanic Gardens, Meise, Belgium. ISBN 9072619641
King, D. 1996 Reef Fishes and Corals: East coast of Southern Africa. Struik, Cape Town. ISBN 1868259811
King, D. and Fraser, V. 2002, More Reef Fishes and Nudibranchs, Struik, Cape Town, ISBN 186872686X