iSimangaliso Sodwana Bay Festival – Shining the light on communities and conservation

31 May 2018

Each year, the annual iSimangaliso Sodwana Bay Festival event delivers outstanding photography submitted for the renowned competition. Based at one of the World Heritage Site’s jewels, the world class coral reefs and scuba diving destination plays host to visitors from all over South Africa and beyond, seeking a long weekend of sun, water and exquisite marine life.

“This year,” says Lindy Duffield, iSimangaliso’s Marketing and Brand Manager, “a new strong focus was placed on community involvement and delivering a very clear conservation message. Together with festival organiser Sabrina Hindley of headline sponsor SUBMERGE Magazine and our marketing team, we came up with several inclusive concepts to involve community members residing adjacent to the Park. We believe that both the community drive component and the screening of the documentary ‘A Plastic Ocean’ delivered a huge punch of fun, learning and eye-opening wonder at the possibilities of having such a destination on our doorstep. This message reinforces why we should all ensure the preservation of such a unique part of our heritage. The community drive was well received, a huge success and a highlight thanks to the phenomenal facilitators and the participation of the hilarious South African acting duo Spinach and Popeye!”

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To ensure that a strong and relevant conservation message was delivered at the festival, iSimangaliso teamed up with NEWF (Nature, Environment, Wildlife Filmmakers) and Jackson Hole WILD, international wildlife filmmakers, to bring community cinema to Sodwana Bay. Heralded as “the most important film of our time’’ by Sir David Attenborough, A Plastic Ocean was screened at both the Kid’s Club and the Awards evening with both screenings followed by a beach clean-up for the Jackson Hole WILD cleaning and screening initiative. The children above proudly show some of the rubbish that they collected after viewing this production.

The documentary ‘A Plastic Ocean’ struck a chord with all who watched, highlighting the plight of our ocean and marine wildlife that is being systematically destroyed by plastic waste in their delicate environment. Says Duffield: “A Big Blue underwater photographic light was auctioned at the event. The highest bidder was Louis Olivier from Pisces Diving, who said that watching the documentary had such an impact on him that he decided to continue to draw attention to this plight by offering the light up at the next event to the person who collects the most plastic… To me, this is the power of the movie, enabling a wave of change.”

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The festival activities commenced on 23 April with the community drive. Headed up by iSimangaliso’s Sli Msweli, the objective was to introduce community groups and other people involved with services to the Park to the activities of scuba divers to create a better understanding of the ocean and the purpose of conserving it. The programme included introductory swimming lessons focusing on safety in the water and snorkelling and hosted 41 swimmers between the ages of 15-40 years over two days. Participants were invited from the Coast Care unit of Katanga Services, Katanga Gate management, Moses Zikhali High School, Mpiyakhe High School, Nhlambanyathi High School, licensed activity operators and Small Steps Surfing Academy. Participants were sponsored swimming gear including costumes, swimming goggles and caps.

From the group of introductory swimmers, 10 people were selected to participate in a Discover Scuba Diving Course (DSD), which included a pool training session followed by a boat trip into the ocean to experience a dive. “All agreed that this was an extremely special experience and most expressed they would definitely pursue a career in diving should an opportunity arise,” says Msweli. The pool venue was offered by Sodwana Bay Lodge Scuba Centre, with swimming lessons facilitated by swimming instructor Colleen Bernard of AMANZI Scuba and Swim Centre, and swimming gear sponsored by ADI – HEAD SWIMMING. PADI sponsored the diving course, co-ordinated by Anders Heergaard, PADI’s regional manager for Southern Africa.

A further group of 12 people was hosted on an Emergency First Response course by Quintin de Boer, sponsored by NAUI. These included participants from We Gym Mbazwana, Black Diving Forum – Sodwana Bay, Ufudu Tours and other Sodwana business owners.

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Festival catering was sourced from community entrepreneurs and included Jeffrey Zikhali (top left, with iSimangaliso’s Thandi Shabalala) and Thandazile Mathenjwa of Sikhukhukhu Catering who are both beneficiaries on the iSimangaliso Rural Enterprise Programme, and Prisca Zikhali (top right, with her team) who was mentored by Coral Divers to provide the catering service at the main festival zone.

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The community drive was further highlighted by the attendance of celebrated SABC TV comedians Kere Nyawo and Thulani Didi – more fondly known as Spinach and Popeye – who participated in the programmes on offer. Bringing great excitement and entertainment to the event and Sodwana Bay community, Spinach and Popeye were brought to the festival by Red Crush Media with the main objective of their attendance to shoot a pilot episode for an adventure conservation comedy series proposed for SABC TV. “The duo was in awe with the sense of place and freshness of the air in Sodwana Bay,” says iSimangaliso’s Thandi Shabalala, who hosted the crew.

A successful photography competition included entries from visitors from Portugal, currently residing in Maputo, Mozambique, as well as an entrant all the way from the Dominican Republic. The images were judged by professional photographers Fiona Ayerst and Allen Walker and included exceptional imagery highlighting the diversity of the Sodwana Bay reefs. Photographers and festival-goers benefitted from micro seminars held by industry professionals.

The Kids Club programme took place over the four days of the festival and included participation from Sodwana Bay holiday makers, residents and children from the Small Steps Surfing Academy which brings youngsters from the surrounding community to the beach to learn the basics of surfing to enable them to build confidence through sports in the water, while also learning about conservation. The Kids Club programme focussed on fun activities that communicated ocean and conservation awareness and included iSimangaliso’s environmental education and a trip to the Sharklife museum.

As always, an event such as this is impossible without generous sponsors and iSimangaliso wishes to thank partners SUBMERGE Magazine and Nauticam, as well as everyone who became involved and made significant contributions towards the community drive activities, Kids Club, prizes for the photography competition (with the main prize secured from SA Airlink offering tickets to Madagascar and accommodation at Sakatia Lodge) and accommodation and venues for the activities, presenters and judges:

  • A Day in Africa
  • ADI – HEAD Swimming
  • Allen Walker
  • AMANZI Scuba and Swim Centre
  • Aquadivers International
  • Aquamania
  • Audio Visual Production House
  • Bike and Trail Adventure Medics
  • Bondiblu
  • Carla Smit
  • CMAS
  • Coral Divers
  • DAN-SA
  • Dennis King
  • Dive Action Cape Town
  • Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife
  • Fiona Ayerst
  • Impi Security Group
  • Jackson Hole WILD
  • Katanga Property Care
  • Manex Power and Marine
  • Mseni Lodge
  • NAUI Services – Africa
  • Nauticam
  • Neville Ayliffe
  • NEWF (Nature, Environment, Wildlife Filmmakers)
  • PADI
  • Paindane Beach Resort
  • Paralenz
  • Peter Jacobs
  • Reefteach
  • SA Airlink
  • Sakatia Lodge
  • ScubaPro
  • Small Steps Surfing Academy
  • Sodwana Bay Lodge
  • Sodwana Bay Scuba Centre
  • SUBMERGE Magazine
  • Tusa
  • Ufudu Tours
  • Vivid-pix
  • Zavora Lodge and Zavora Divers

Media enquiries should be directed to Slindile Msweli at sli@isimangaliso.com.