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A whaleshark, being quite big

ISSUE 3 ARCHIVE - A TRIP WITH QUEST IN MOZAMBIQUE

Paul Smith

As soon as I had seen Quest's website I thought 'this trip is for me'. It appealed on so many levels: whale shark and manta sightings virtually guaranteed, the opportunity to learn so much and help towards conservation efforts in the area, plus the pure adventure of a country only recently available to tourists.

There were several flight options to get from the UK to Tofo, but my route requiring 3 flights via Johannesburg and an overnight in Maputo seemed to suit best. This way I had the added bonus of being able to take a brief look at Mozambique's capital. I was also able to meet up with two of the other volunteers before the internal flight up country.

At Inhambane airport we were met by Chris our project leader and took the 30 minute minibus ride to Tofo. We were all pretty excited, taking in the sites as we passed local villages and of course keen to see the coast and the cottage which was to be our home for the next 4 weeks or so. The cottage itself was reasonably basic, but clean and comfortable with a lovely breezy sea view from the veranda. Although on some evenings we ate out at one of the several good restaurants in Tofo, the trip was essentially self catering so the large barbeque area was put to good use on many occasions.
Worldwide Dive and Sail
Human Beings in Mozambique Next day, and following introductory briefings by Chris, we headed off to the dive centre. Diversity Scuba are an established outfit in Tofo and were generally well organised throughout. I took my own dive gear, but Diversity's kit seemed good quality for those that needed to hire it, and I heard of no complaints in this area. The instructors and guides were all well experienced and detailed pre-dive briefings were always held no matter what. This was a far more professional operation than many I had come across in more developed countries than Mozambique.

Launching the 14-man capacity ribs from the beach could be quite a challenge on days when the surf was up, but only added to the fun. Most of the dive sites were within a 40 minute boat ride from Tofo, including the cleaning stations where the mantas congregate.
Travelling Diver
Mozambique Manta Although there are some sites to suit learners and novices, most of the better dives for observing the larger pelagics suit divers with some experience. Conditions on these deeper dives varied from day to day, with strong currents common and often only moderate visibility. But the rewards were definitely worth it; such a rich array of life as I had rarely seen on dives before. And when those mesmerising mantas started to circle above me it was hard not to loose concentration and forget some of the diving basics, such as depth and air!

Of course as volunteers we were there to do some work (although it was so interesting and enjoyable, it was hard to think of it as actual 'work'). Several dives each week were dedicated to collecting data by reef mapping, fauna surveys and identification of individual manta rays through photographic records of the pattern of blotches on their underside.
Man with knife Gathering data on the relative abundance of whale sharks to be found in Tofo was another key aspect of the project. For this activity only a snorkel rather than SCUBA was needed. Ribs complete with an eagle-eyed human spotter sat in an elevated chair were used to find the sharks as they swam close to the surface. Once found, the group would then slip into the water well in front of the magnificent animal and wait for it to gently approach. What an amazing experience to see one of these enormous creatures heading straight towards you! Moving out of the way of its path and swimming a respectful distance alongside the shark we recorded as much information as we could during each encounter. It was good to know that much of the information we were gathering would be used to expand databases and eventually help develop arguments in favour of conservation of the local area and of particular marine species.
Halcyon Eclipse Infinity
Out of the water, one of Quest's objectives is to ensure that the local population benefits from the development of tourism in Tofo. This being the case, services owned and operated by Mozambicans were used whenever possible. A large focus was also placed on links with the local school. A couple of days were spent at the school where classes were held to help the young children understand the opportunities future tourism may hold for them if their environment is protected. With money contributed by each volunteer, a bore hole for the school's first clean drinking water was installed. To celebrate, the kids were challenged to a game of football and of course they ran rings around us! I don't think I have ever seen so many smiling faces.

For me, the trip was one of the most rewarding things I have ever done. The whole experience embodied great diving, adventure, learning and a knowledge that real contributions are being made to marine conservation and conscientious development of the local area.

So is it for you? Well, if all you desire is good diving with the hassle-free luxuries of a hotel or liveaboard package, then forget it. But if you want to swim and dive with some of the most stunning creatures in the sea, have an easy-going adaptable attitude, and want to feel good by doing good, then I couldn't recommend this trip more highly.
Visit Quest Underseas' website for more information.

Nearest recompression facility:
St Augustines Hospital
Durban, South Africa
Tel: +27 31 268 5255
e-med Arabic

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