The continent of Africa might best be known for traditional safari-based tourism – but the surrounding oceans are also full of life.
Fortunately, some of these marine areas are now getting the protection they deserve: South Africa recently announced a new network of 20 Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and the Seychelles has initiated an innovative scheme to fund two new MPAs through donations that offset their national debt from the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio.
Here are some of the best African destinations for an unforgettable marine safari.
De Hoop Nature Reserve, South Africa
Just over three hours outside Cape Town, De Hoop Nature Reserve is a protected area that extends five kilometres out into the ocean. It’s one of the best places in the country – potentially the world – for land-based whale watching. Peak whale season in De Hoop is July until the end of October.
Aside from whales, there are protected African penguin colonies to visit and in nearby Gansbaai you can go cage-diving with great white sharks. Stay at the newly opened Lekkerwater Beach Lodge, or Morukuru Beach Lodge, which opened in July 2018.
Bazaruto Archipelago National Park, Mozambique
Mozambique is famous for its Indian Ocean beaches, which are easy jumping-off points from which to explore the underwater world. Bazaruto Archipelago National Park is currently under the management of Johannesburg-based conservation non-profit African Parks, which aims to protect the 2,000 fish species living around these islands through strict regulations and community engagement. The dugong is particularly important and a key species for conservationists.
From these islands, you can go snorkelling or diving to discover tropical marine life that includes four types of dolphins, five turtle subspecies and two types of whales, or cruise around on a dhow, spotting the oceanic inhabitants from above.
KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
Along the KwaZulu-Natal coastline, there are many ways to explore the Indian Ocean. In the far north, you can watch turtles nesting or hatching on the beach under cover of night. Kayak or SUP with dolphins or snorkel along coral reefs.
Between May and July, KwaZulu-Natal welcomes the world-famous Sardine Run, where billions of sardines migrate up the coast from the southern shores of South Africa. These huge shoals of sardines attract multiple predators, creating a feeding frenzy. This is a particularly popular event for wildlife photographers and keen divers.
The islands of the Seychelles are surrounded by wildlife-rich waters. Around the main islands, you can snorkel along coral reefs that are home to turtles, butterflyfish, lionfish and angelfish. You might also come across oceanic whitetip sharks, manta rays, sailfish or whale sharks.
Further out, the waters around the remote outer islands are a world-class fishing destination. There are high-end eco-lodges in which you can stay in between fishing sessions or, if that’s not your thing, diving, snorkelling, SUP-ing, kayaking or swimming with the vast array of marine life you’ll find here.