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Scuba Diving in Malawi

CREDIT: Brandi Mueller

Start planning your next dive trip! Today you will learn about diving in Mauritius.

DIVING LAKE MALAWI

 Literally diving in an aquarium, Lake Malawi contains aquarists’ favorite freshwater tank fish. Many love the beautifully colored cichlids, but few dive this beautiful lake in South Eastern Africa. Apart from its aquarium fish, Lake Malawi is also a biologically important lake containing the most number of species in any one lake.

Over 1000 species inhabit the lake, and it contains 30% of all known cichlid species. To top that off, almost all of those cichlid species are endemic to Lake Malawi, meaning it is the only place in the world to find them. The isolation of the lake has led to adaptive radiation and speciation of the cichlid species.

The ninth largest lake in the world and the third largest in Africa, Lake Malawi stretches 365 miles across and is 52 miles wide. It sits between the countries of Malawi, Mozambique, and Tanzania. David Livingstone came across the lake in 1856 during his Africa exploration. When he asked the local people what its name was, they told him “Nyasa”, which he later found out meant “lake” in the local language.

Diving Lake Malawi has been on my bucket list for quite some time, probably due to hearing about the impressive rates of evolution during biology classes or seeing some of the beautifully colored cichlid fish in aquariums. So after about 30 hours of flying and a six-hour car ride, I ended up on the shores of northern Lake Malawi at Kande Beach.

A beautiful white sandy beach and light blue waters that blended in with the sky greeted me. Just offshore, about a half mile, was a rock island also called Kande, a popular dive site for the area. Cichlids live around rocks - and are sometimes called rockfish- so where there are rocks, there tend to be cichlids.

Having recovered from my journey, the next day was time to dive. We headed out to the island for my first lake dive in Africa and my first high altitude lake dive (Lake Malawi is at 1640ft above sea level).

While gearing up, the dive master told me I probably wouldn’t need any weight because the lake is all fresh water and we were using steel tanks. Unconvinced, and just to be safe, I brought two pounds anyway. Turned out I was overweight even with no weights! I had never been on a dive with no weights before.

Kande Island is a popular dive site with a max depth of 40ft, and it allows divers to swim all the way around the island in one dive. Large boulders of different sizes appear to have been stacked on one another, creating several narrow swim throughs that feel like you’re traversing through narrow canyons. And all along these boulders are the fish Lake Malawi is famous for – the cichlids.

Lake diving, compared to ocean diving, can be a bit drab. No colorful corals or sponges, just a lot of rocks and sand. But for what the lake doesn’t offer in sessile marine life, it offers in beautifully colored fish. Opalescent and midnight blues, lavenders, yellows, and more, the fish speckle the lake with color. Most of the cichlids are small fish, only 2-4 inches, but some of them get up to 3-4 feet!

As divers, we often use the expression that we’re diving in a big aquarium, but never had that felt more true to me. Diving Lake Malawi was like diving the aquarium of my childhood – freshwater. With a sandy and pebbly bottom, a fake sunken boat, and a treasure chest that’s lid-open with bubbles.

Okay, there was no treasure chest. But there were several sunken boats, a traditional Malawian fisherman dugout canoe, a small wooden boat, and a sunken jeep. You know you’re in Africa when you’re diving with safari vehicles!

On another dive, we headed to John’s Reef, a deeper dive around 90ft, just another half mile away from the island. As we descended towards the bottom, I saw fish of the same shape as the previous dive in the rocks below, but they were completely different colors!

The fish species seen in the shallows weren’t seen in the deeper waters, and I hadn’t seen most of these fish before. With so many species in the lake, each one has taken very specific habitats. Just the Kande area has several endemic fish found nowhere else in the lake.

Sadly both the beautiful lake and its unique fish are threatened. Over-fishing is a major issue as most of the country of Malawi depends on the fish as their most important source of protein. As the population grows, the prospects of deforestation, increased farming and run-off threaten to pollute the lake.

The aquarium trade also contributes to loss of fish, although luckily many cichlids destine for aquariums are breed in captivity. Other issues include the introduction of new species as well as oil exploration on the lake.

Diving in Lake Malawi and seeing all the colorful fish was a very unique experience. The calm and warm waters make for easy dives with lots to see. If you happen to find yourself in Malawi, I highly recommend a few dives to check out these distinctive fish.

Written by Brandi Mueller
WHY DO DIVERS JOIN DAN?

DAN members have a passion for the water, a quest for knowledge and love of community. They love being part of something bigger. You can join nearly 500,000 divers worldwide and experience valuable benefits to make you a safer, smarter diver.

Divers Alert Network (DAN) is the world’s most recognised and respected dive safety organisation comprised of dive professionals and medical experts dedicated to supporting divers. Through research, medical services, educational programs and global response initiatives

For over 20-years, DAN has created an extensive network capable of providing divers around the world with vital services. Everyday divers rely upon DAN for dive safety information and health guidance. They know that in event of emergency, we’ll be there for them - no matter where adventure takes them.

For over 20-years DAN has been helping divers and we will continue to cultivate a culture of dive safety! Join DAN today and be part of the largest dive safety community.

THREE REASONS WHY PEOPLE JOIN DAN?

CALL & ASSIST


Most divers realise that diving is an adventure sport that may result in injuries as such they want the peace of mind that, in case of a diving emergency, there is a 24-hour hotline to call with membership benefits for the medical services they will need.

COST SAVING

DAN membership is not expensive by most standards. Diving medical advice is offered free of charge and is available 24/7/365. Membership benefits are secondary to any primary medical insurance and include diving medical and travel related cover that are also extremely affordable and very competitive. DAN members also have access to discounts on safety and educational materials.

CULTURE OF CARE

Many divers like being part of an organisation that is so obviously committed towards their safety. Apart from being available as a diving emergency and diving-medical-information line, DAN is always actively campaigning for safety, initiating and supporting safety initiatives, and finding practical ways to make diving safer and more enjoyable.

DAN is a very personal organisation. Callers quickly learn that DAN is not an “institution”; it is a living and vibrant organisation. In many ways, DAN members feel that they are becoming part of a “family” who look out for one another “divers helping divers” as we always like to say.

So, many divers just seem to like the idea of being part of something worthwhile and they are willing to give up some of their discretionary income to be a part of it.

That being said, it is also common knowledge that DAN offers top-rated services and has an exceptional network of experienced diving medical professionals. One call to the DAN hotline and divers find themselves talking to a professional diving doctor who “speaks their language”. This is truly something special. With access to so many likeminded people, DAN is able to arrange evacuation by land, sea or sky if required and help injured divers gain access to specialised medical treatment facilities such as recompression chambers.

In a nutshell! DAN members help support a 24-hour hotline. This hotline offers access to specialists trained in diving medicine and is freely available to members with a diving-related query. The DAN hotline can be called 24/7/365 by a member worldwide in the event of a dive emergency. DAN membership subscription contributes towards the 24-hour emergency and information line. The emergency and diving-medical-information line is freely available to DAN members. So members can call for medical advice on any topic to do with diving or ask to be referred to a health professional knowledgeable in diving medicine.

SO WHY JOIN DAN?

When you support DAN, you support the organisation’s ongoing efforts to reduce dive injuries and improve first response and medical treatment. One hundred percent of DAN’s profits are reinvested in research, medical services and programs that make diving safer for all divers. As a diver, you need DAN and DAN needs you.

DAN offers comprehensive plans that provide protection and peace-of-mind in the event of a dive accident for far less than the cost of an unplanned event.

DAN’s dive accident cover plans are recognised worldwide providing secondary coverage of up to R800,000 and paying 100% of eligible expenses.

DAN DIVE COVER VS. MEDICAL INSURANCE

It is true that some medical insurance include cover for diving injuries. However, divers who have tried to go this route soon discover that it is not easy to work with a medical insurance when trying to organise an emergency evacuation for a diving injury. That is simply not the time to discover that your medical insurance is not able to assist you in getting the most appropriate treatment or advice. Their convenient 0800 toll-free number doesn’t work in Zanzibar and even in South Africa, working your way through a multi-prompt menu from a cell phone is not what you need in a crisis. Also, getting documented authorisations takes time and nearly all private emergency service providers now insist on a written Guarantee of Payment (GOP) before responding. That is not surprising given that most aeromedical evacuations in Africa come in at R200 000 or more and even evacuations by ambulance approach R20 000 plus when advanced life support services are involved. Evacuations are costly. Recompression, on the other hand, is not that expensive in Africa. In the rest of the World, it may set you back about R100 000, but in South Africa the cost is usually under R20 000 unless multiple treatments are needed. However, if evacuation and hospitalisation are called for, the costs can be very high.

As a DAN member, all these concerns disappear. One number and you have all the help and cover you need for a diving emergency. The travel and medical benefits are an added bonus, but don’t tear up your medical insurance card just yet. So, should a diver have a medical insurance or be a DAN member? A diver should have both!

WHAT DO YOU RECEIVE WHEN YOU JOIN DAN?

  • Medical Dive Accident - Up to R800,000
  • Cover Evacuation - Real Expenses
  • Assistance International Non-Diving - Up to R800,000
  • Cover Personal Liability - Up to R2,000,000
  • Depth Limit - 40 meters
  • Cover for freedivers & spearfishermen

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