PICS & VIDEO: SA 'Mermaid' freediving champ swims with the sardines

By Se-Anne Rall Time of article published Jul 2, 2020

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Durban - As the cooler temperatures make their way to the KwaZulu-Natal coast each winter, fishermen, anglers and residents alike all look forward to the arrival of the sardines. 

And this year, the sardines were out in full force, with thousands of crates netted along most parts of the KZN coast. 

Dubbed the 'Greatest Shoal on Earth', the annual sardine run not only brings millions of silvery fish right to the shores of coastal towns and cities, it also brings a variety of marine life including sharks and different types of dolphins. 

This year, four-time South African Freediving Champion, African Continental Record Holder for no-fins freediving, renowned ocean conservationist and filmmaker, Beth Neale, headed to the KZN South Coast where she took to the water to experience, first-hand what it's like to swim with the sardines.

South African ‘Mermaid’ freediving champion Beth Neale has captured unique footage of this year’s bumper sardine run on the KZN South Coast Picture: Ryan Daly

Originally from Johannesburg, ‘mermaid’ Beth is currently living on the KZN South Coast, having only just broken her own ‘no fins’ freediving record by diving to 50m in Bermuda last year while raising over $20,000USD (more than R34 000) to teach children ocean conservation and freediving. 

South African ‘Mermaid’ freediving champion Beth Neale has captured unique footage of this year’s bumper sardine run on the KZN South Coast Picture: Ryan Daly

An avid ocean lover, adventure-seeker and passionate conservationist, she couldn’t miss the opportunity to experience the planet’s greatest biomass migration – the annual Sardine Run. 

Using a Gopro camera, drone, and Insta360 360-degree camera, Neale and her team were able to capture a completely unique all-round view of the Sardine Run which will give viewers the chance to experience it from the comfort of home.

"What an incredible feeling to freedive into millions of sardines! I feel so fortunate, as most people only get to see the sardines as they are hauled onshore in nets, sold in crates on the roadside, or even in a can. 

"Underwater, you get to see these fish in their true glory, shimmering with iridescence as they move, mesmerisingly, together as if one massive organism. Once you penetrate the top layer, they realign above you, blocking out the sun so everything goes dark. It’s quite intimidating!" 

She dived near Scottburgh on the KZN South Coast where she described one of the shoals as being 12 metres deep and the length of a rugby field.

"I was shocked when I saw the drone footage, as I had no idea how big the shoal was. I thought it was small and I was managing to keep up with it for an hour as I swam against the current!"

Alongside the masses of sardines, Neale got to swim with some of the apex predators taking advantage of the wealth of food on offer.

"There were hundreds of sharks swimming through the shoal, feeding, and they nearly bump into you as they fly by. Luckily, they only have one thing on their minds – sardine snacks!" 

The annual Sardine Run attracts local and international attention, having featured on wildlife documentaries across the globe. Beth described it as ‘a bucket list item for international travellers and film crews – and for locals too!’.

"My hope is that, through my content, others will be inspired to travel to our coasts and experience the beauty of our oceans. As a filmmaker, my mission since lockdown has been to document the impact of the pandemic on coastal communities and inspire others to get back to nature as lockdown restrictions lift," Neale said. 

She will also be shooting footage of the Marine Protected Area and world renowned KZN South Coast diving site, Aliwal Shoal, hoping to capture more shots of indigenous shark species and their activities.

The South African Association for Marine Biological Research (Saambr) have also put together some information on sardines. 

Picture: Saambr

The Mercury

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