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Left: Mogamat Shamier Magmoet addressing a group of novice divers about ocean conservation through his #seathebiggerpicture Ocean Initiative.
Right: Various organisations work together to encourage youngsters to appreciate the value of clean oceans by taking them snorkelling.

Q4 2019

Snorkel to do good

Western Cape retailers, dive centres and suppliers selling snorkelling gear are benefitting from a strong movement to clean up the ocean and educate young divers how to value the ocean and marine environment, driven by various organisations who work together.

The saying Lose some, win some, appears to be especially true for the snorkelling market. It cannot be disputed that the economy and diminishing West Coast lobster quotas allocated to recreational divers resulted in a drop in snorkelling participation and resultant sales of masks, snorkels and fins.

But, concern about the state of the oceans has created a new — and much more sustainable — customer base. And the tough economy has favoured some cost-effective brands.

Over the past decade the annual reduction in catch quota and the number of days allocated for the harvesting of crayfish resulted in many of the traditional snorkel-gear customers no longer bothering to buy crayfish harvesting permits, which is evident from the subsequent decline in crayfish bag sales, reports Duncan Pattenden of the prominent diving store and scuba school, Orca Industries.

“We have been trying to get the numbers of rock lobster harvesting licenses that have been issued per year from DAFF, but have not yet been successful,” says Andrew Wentzel, who represents SAFTAD in negotiations with the Department of Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF), which allocates the annual Total Allowable Catch (TAC) quotas for commercial, subsistence and recreational anglers.

The department also proclaims the dates on which recreational fishers may take out lobster — irrespective if the weather allows divers go into the water.

Over the years the TAC for recreational fishing has been contracting drastically to the extent that people in the dive industry believe that a large chunk of former customers all but disappeared. These are the families who stocked up on snorkelling gear before their annual holidays along the coast where they spent the days diving for lobsters.

“Nowadays the season is so short — and there is also the impact of the weather on the allocated days — so that we believe most people just don’t bother applying for licenses,” says Wentzel.

Good news

There is, however, good news for the industry members who relied on sales to this market. “We have a number of new environmentalist groups working on saving our seas by having harbour and coastal clean-ups,” says Pattenden.

“In the process all the dive centres, retailers, suppliers and manufacturers around Cape Town have befitted from snorkel gear sales.

While this has been done many times before by various qualified scuba diving clubs (see previous page), there are now a number of new Free Diving organisations and fresh blood with real objectives involved who appear to work together and are backed by most of the retailers in the Cape Town area.

“As long as these organisations’ leaders are involved to keep the momentum, I believe this trend will continue and possibly improve,” says Pattenden, whose company supports them.

These new organisations inspired people to work together to improve their environments and teach people who are less fortunate to experience the sea.

Capetonian Mogamat Shamier Magmoet founded one of these initiatives after he was shocked by the garbage he encountered on the ocean floor when he took up free diving in anticipation of discovering the marvels of the underwater world. This inspired him to act to rid the ocean floor of the plastic that suffocates all marine life.

He co-founded the #seathebiggerpicture Ocean Initiative in 2018 to introduce children from the Cape Flats to life beneath the waves by teaching them to dive in rock pools. According to his Facebook page, he also organises cleanup groups to clear the rubbish from the shore line. “Not only do kids learn to take care of the ocean, but they take that care to other environments,” Magmoet wrote on Facebook. “There’s still so much we can learn from the sea and the marine life that live in it. We must protect the ocean to preserve ourselves.”

There is also a strong push to get more free divers and scuba divers involved in the cleanup initiatives.

“Dive agencies know that more involvement means more training, more certificates (profit) which equals more equipment sales,” adds Pattenden.

These groups do not advocate spearfishing and crayfishing or any form of marine disturbance and they therefore do not feel the impact of the shortening of the crayfish season to a few divable days a year.

Impact of the economy

“We’ve lost, and continue to lose, our core [scuba diving] income group who have disposable cash,” says Pattenden.

Distributors of more cost effective ranges, however, found that the tough economy works in their favour as some divers can no longer afford to replace their equipment with items from the top end ranges and therefore opt for more affordable items — especially people who do their diving certification courses might not want to spend a lot of money on top-end masks and snorkels that they may not use regularly in future.

According to Wentzel more and more stores attached to dive schools now stock their Ez-Life and Saekodive ranges, which provide affordable alternatives from a respected distributor, namely, W.E.T. Sports.

They do, however, notice that there might be a run on masks during one season, and the following season snorkel sales will be stronger, “which indicates that people might be holding on to their equipment for an additional season before replacing it.”

Diving market countrywide

“Our diving market has been relatively healthy — there have not been huge spikes, nor big drops, we are still doing the same kind of volumes,” says Wentzel. They experience this steady sale performance countrywide, not only in the Western Cape.

Nowadays stable sales is as good as a huge improvement, adds Kevin de Wet of De Wet Sports, who agrees that their diving and snorkel sales remain steady.

Their strongest target market remain the coastal towns along the Garden Route where their main customers are holiday-making families. Their ranges do, however, sell well countrywide — including along the South Coast and across KwaZulu Natal — as well as off-shore in Mozambique where some lodges now stock their diving gear.

The usual sales of soft gear like masks, snorkels and fins to families travelling to warmer, clean water destinations seems to be constant, reports Pattenden, “but sales of scuba gear (hard gear) to sport divers are down”.

This appears to be a national problem.

Popular products

The new sustainable diving market resulted in an upsurge in sales of “long free diving fins, low volume masks, free diving wetsuits, etc.” says Pattenden. “These items are outselling scuba gear by a large margin.”

Snorkels, masks, fins and torches all sell consistently across the country, agrees Wentzel.

The most popular items in their Aqualine dive range are snorkel and mask combo sets, predominantly bought by holiday makers who replace lost items, says De Wet. But, there is also a steady demand for consumables like single masks and snorkels.

“We usually experience a massive run in December,” he adds.

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