Beth Neale, the four-time South African Freediving Champion, the African Continental Record Holder for no-fins freediving, renowned ocean conservationist and filmmaker, headed to the KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) South Coast where she has taken to the water to experience, first-hand #thegreatestshoalonearth. Beth has captured some never-before-seen footage of the Sardine Run which will soon be released (a taste of which can be seen on the ‘South Coast Tourism’ Facebook page.)

“This year’s Sardine Run has been described as one of the biggest in over a decade,” said CEO of Ugu South Coast Tourism (USCT), Phelisa Mangcu. “As well as providing food security for so many of our local fishermen and communities, the Sardine Run is a phenomenal experience to witness from both the beachside and within the ocean. We are so excited to have freediving champion, Beth Neale, on our shores, sharing footage of this incredible oceanic migration which has become synonymous with the KZN South Coast.”

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. An avid ocean lover, adventure-seeker and passionate conservationist, Beth 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, Beth 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!” she said of the recent diving adventure. “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!”

Beth 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!”

She said that, alongside the masses of sardines, she got to experience swimming 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,” she continued. “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.”

Beth 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.

USCT is keeping everyone connected to the Sardine Run digitally during lockdown by uploading videos, images and up-to-date information. Check out the ‘South Coast Tourism’ Facebook page and @infosouthcoast on Twitter for breath-taking images, including aerial and underwater footage, such as supplied by Beth Neale. For more information about the KZN South Coast and USCT, visit www.visitkznsouthcoast.co.za or download the free ‘Explore KZN South Coast’ app to find a local supplier.

To follow Beth Neale’s incredible adventures, follow @onebreathbeth on Instagram or visit www.aquasouls.com.

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