The Sardine Run Has Arrived On The KZN South Coast

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Visitors to the KZN South Coast were treated to an ocean spectacle last weekend as the #greatestshoalonearth – the annual Sardine Run – arrived with gusto, a day after World Oceans Day.

The planet’s biggest biomass migration, which takes place in the winter months when the temperature drops, attracts whales, dolphins, sharks, game fish, and overhead birds looking for a salty feast. This gives KZN South Coast visitors front-row seats to all the marine action, from the Blue Flag beaches, world-class dive sites, as well as marine and aircraft.

“We’re so excited to welcome the Sardine Run to the KZN South Coast, a hugely anticipated natural phenomenon that always arrives in its own time,” explained Phelisa Mangcu, CEO of South Coast Tourism & Investment Enterprise (SCTIE).

“This is a bucket-list event for divers, anglers, and ocean lovers, with sightings of the migrating humpback whales also a real treat. While there are many ways to view the Sardine Run, we do advise bathers that the shark nets have to be lifted for their safe movements, making it vital to check with lifeguards on duty as to which beaches are open for bathing.”

Photo: Noel McDonogh

Tracking the action

Reports indicate that Sardine Run action has been noted along the Eastern Cape the past couple of weeks, with the pilot shoal making an appearance on the KZN South Coast on Friday, 9 June. Wayne Harrison, Acting Head of Operations at KZN Sharks Board, said they were notified of underwater sardine activity on Glenmore, lower KZN South Coast at 6.30am.

“On the echosounder they were showing large masses going through but very low down on the sand bypassing Glenmore,” explained Harrison. “There was also an increase in bait fish at Port Edward near the lighthouse, heading north. We couldn’t track them any further north around the Margate and Uvongo areas.”

However, he said on Saturday morning, we picked up fish activity just south of Port Shepstone and that shoal stretched from Umbango past the Port Shepstone Lighthouse and into the bay at Umzimkhulu, to the northern side of Shaka’s Rock. The shoal was moving pretty quickly northwards and due to the fresh south-westerly wind, nobody was able to net as the tide was too high and the shore break too big.”

On Sunday, 11 June, Harrison said the fish started just south of Pumula and attempts to net there and Hibberdene were unsuccessful: “At Umfazazane the whole area was covered with sardines but nobody was able to net there, but by the time the fish got to Elysium, three nets were made ranging from 60 to 80 crates per net.”

He said the bulk of sardine action was along East London to Kei Mouth, with fish coming closer inshore: “If things materialise, it could be quite some season!”

Photo: Andy Coetsee

The Ocean Festival

The arrival of the Sardine Run on the KZN South Coast comes just a day after the World Oceans Day commemoration, which was celebrated through the first-ever Ocean Festival in Scottburgh. Visitors enjoyed a four-day festival that included beach, river, and reef clean-ups; the Ocean Festival Coastal MTB Social Ride; Cutty Sark Pro presented by SMTH Shapes surfing contest; Made for More Surf Contest; the Leatherback Rum Surfski Challenge; and Live Music featuring Qadasi & Maqhinga.

The Ocean Festival was also the chosen event to relaunch the iconic South African surfwear brand, Instinct; as well as the first-ever screening of the impactful documentary, Cutting the Line. All this was made even more special by the arrival of the silver sardines which highlighted exactly why conservation action is needed to save the ocean.

Photo: Noel McDonogh

How to experience the Sardine Run

The KZN South Coast is home to 58 incredible beaches, including the highest number of Blue Flag Beaches in the province. Visitors can catch the #greatestshoalonearth from the shores, or take a hike to one of the many whale-viewing sites which offer great sightings of the Sardine Run and humpback whales.

There are several tourism operators ready to take visitors on a close-up experience of the Sardine Run. Charter boats will head out to the action where visitors can take in the spectacle from the boat, or even enjoy some snorkelling among the sardines, dolphins, and game fish.

Scuba divers and free divers can head to two of the best dive sites in the world, Aliwal Shoal and Protea Banks – both Marine Protected Areas. Protea Banks is ideal for shark sightings while Aliwal Shoal is ideal for all levels of diving experience with a series of caves, crevasses, and ridges home to a huge variety of marine life.

There’s also the option of an aerial view of the KZN South Coast with a flip in a microlight, helicopter, or light aircraft. World of Wings in Umkomaas offers microlight flips for views of Aliwal Shoal, Scottburgh and the lower South Coast; while the Margate-based Uvongo Airtrack Aviation offers scenic helicopter and aeroplane flights for a great view of the coastline.

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