Two local fishermen have qualified as Open Water divers in their first steps to joining the dive industry.

In partnership with the Marine Megafauna Foundation (MMF), Peri-Peri Divers in Tofo Beach, Mozambique, is pleased to announce the completion of its first ever local apprenticeship scheme. Two local fishermen have spent three months with the company, undertaking their PADI Open Water qualification and learning about all the workings of a dive school.

While 60% of Mozambicans live close to the ocean and most depend on it for their main source of income, and fish as their main source of protein, fish stocks are rapidly declining. These massive declines are impacting negatively on local communities and are largely the result of unsustainable fishing practices, including artisanal gill net fishing with small mesh size. MMF is working with coastal communities to help change their perception of marine life and to become ambassadors for ocean protection. The first step is to help them take pride in their ocean resources, and to develop more sustainable ways of living. For these two apprentices, who are former gill net fishermen, the programme will open up a potential new career path while also promoting a positive relationship with the ocean.

Steve Counsel, co-owner of Peri-Peri, said: “When Fernando and Carlos started working with us three months ago, they were already able to swim but didn’t speak much English. When they started their Open Water course in April, you could just see the happiness on their face and how delighted they were when they took their first breaths underwater.

“After a couple of weeks, they were out in the open sea experiencing scuba diving for the first time and were able to actually see fish in their natural habitat for an extended period,” he continued. “Obviously, this was quite a change from what they’re used to as fishermen - they were so surprised by what was happening underwater. It’s been great to see them realise the beauty of marine life (alive!) and the inspiration this has given them to carry on with their scuba diving journey.

“Since then, they’ve gone from strength to strength: they finished their Open Water course and the next step is for them to do their deep dive, which they’ll complete when conditions are suitable. Now they both have about 15-16 dives each and are really comfortable in the water. They’ve also been taking English classes with the MMF team and their language skills have massively improved, which has also led to a hugely positive change in their personal interactions with dive centre staff and clients alike. They’ve done really well and it’s been fantastic to see them excel.”

The Marine Megafauna Foundation has been integral to the success of the apprenticeship. The charity’s conservation team came up with the concept and worked with Peri-Peri to develop the programme. They also worked with the local community to identify candidates among the gill net fishermen for the Peri-Peri team to interview and choose the two most suitable for the role. The Apprentices have not only been learning to dive, they have also been trained on all aspects of dive operations, from logistics to diver support. This opportunity has opened up many possibilities. Now the three months are over, the Apprentices will continue to work part-time with Peri Peri and focus the rest of their time on improving their English in preparation for a new career in the dive industry.

Carlos said: “We have learned lots of things during our apprenticeship. As well as diving, we have been taught how to organise equipment and look after the customers - we really enjoy it. My elder brother used to be a fisherman as well and now he is working as a skipper in Ponta d’Ouro. Our family are interested in seeing us continue careers in diving rather than fishing.”

Fernando said: “Before we started diving we thought fish were afraid of people but now we’ve spent more time with them underwater we can see that they like to play with humans. Our first ever dive was really cool. We had been speargun fishing in the past, so we were already good at freediving and our dive instructor, Moises, was really surprised at how confident we were in the water!

“We’ve liked almost everything we’ve seen in the ocean: whales, turtles - I like them all,” he continued: “My feelings about fishing are not the same now because I realise that gill nets remove everything from the ocean - even small fish, stones and reef - which is not good. I would like other fishermen to change their minds about using gill nets too and try to find another source of income or use nets that do not have such a small mesh.”

Talking about the partnership with MMF, Steve said: “For me, what MMF has done has been very cool. The whole concept and the effort everyone has put in has been great. It’s helped us find two guys that really enjoy diving and, for me as an employer, MMF’s support has made it a lot easier to give these young men the opportunity to get into the industry. There’s obviously still a long way to go but they’ve done exactly what the programme set out to do and it’s been a really good experience both for our two apprentices and for us at Peri-Peri. While they still need to improve their English skills further, we are hoping to be able to offer them positions with us in the New Year.”

Peri-Peri Divers is also about to unveil its newly renovated 5* PADI development centre which is due to open in December 2018. The dive centre will include a 5m deep, 10m wide training pool - which will be the deepest in Mozambique - as well as up-to-date, spacious classrooms, a designated area for cameras and a new Nitrox membrane. In addition, Peri-Peri will also provide kiteboarding lessons, freediving courses and complimentary yoga for clients diving with them. Of course, even in these new surroundings, the Peri-Peri team will still offer a friendly, down-to-earth attitude and personalised, small-group dive service which prioritises safety above all else.

MMF will continue to work with the local community in Tofo and expand to neighboring communities, to help them improve sustainable fishing practices and ocean conservation. Mariana Coelho, MMF’s Mozambique Country Director, said: “We’re so pleased to see how successful this programme has been. Our aim was to open up a new career path for these young fishermen and it’s great to see how well they’ve excelled in their roles as well as the new respect and love for the ocean they’ve developed during their time with Peri-Peri. We wish them all the best in their continued careers.”

About Marine Megafauna Foundation:

MMF’s vision is a world in which marine life and humans thrive together and we aspire to attain it by saving threatened marine life. Our target group is marine megafauna, which is vital to the delicate balance of the marine ecosystem. When we protect ocean giants, we also achieve an umbrella protection for a wide variety of marine species. Consequently, we target coastal communities that represent the biggest threat to these species and, as a result, to their own food security. Through our 4 pillars, we provide an integrated solution: by using our research findings to educate and inspire the masses, we gather the necessary tools to provide sustainable marine conservation strategies for communities and policy makers to bring about lasting positive change. Finally, by empowering, informing and giving a voice to local communities, we help to create a generation of Ocean Ambassadors and Guardians, who cherish and understand the marine ecosystem.

For further details, please see www.marinemegafauna.org or follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. For information about our local projects, you can also follow our Western Indian Ocean Facebook page.

About Peri-Peri:

Apart from being really, really ridiculously good looking, we love meeting new people, experiencing new things and, above all else, diving. We've been diving in and around Tofo for over 25 years between us and it's thanks to this local experience and enthusiasm for diving Tofo's pristine reefs that we consistently receive 5-star reviews on TripAdvisor. When diving with Peri-Peri at our newly renovated dive centre with 5m deep training pool, you'll receive a personalized, small-group dive service that rivals the larger and more commercial operations. Safety is, above all else our priority, but there's no harm in making the experience as enjoyable as it can be. That's why we're proud of our friendly, down-to-earth attitude, which you'll feel from the moment you walk through the door.

We have a huge variety of reefs to choose from (over 25 reefs at a range of different depths), which cater for all levels of diver. Our 18m Lemon & Herb shallow reefs are great for beginner and advanced divers alike or a nice option if you’re still finding your feet after a long flight. We also have our aptly named “Hot” reefs, which are 25m or deeper. These sites essentially made Tofo the amazing diving destination it is today. Aimed at advanced divers with some experience, the current and negative water entries make this adventure diving at its best.

For more info, please see https://www.peri-peridivers.com or follow us on Facebook and Instagram.