Greatest shoal on earth

WHEN the sardines start moving in in June and July and head for the KwaZulu-Natal coast, things start hotting up as fishermen and locals prepare for an event that's known by many names..

They all mean the same thing - that the delicious tiny silvery fish have arrived after having left the cold southern oceans off Cape Point, moving inshore up to the Transkei and KwaZulu-Natal coastlines.

The movement of the sardines is influenced by wind conditions that sometimes force the little fishes very close to the beach. Here they are easily caught by people using baskets, hand nets or even skirts.

Mothers, fathers, grannies and granddads all get in on the action that sometimes leaves onlookers drenched and knee high in fish.

While the sardines head for the entire KwaZulu-Natal coast, it's the South Coast that gets most of the attention.

Not only do thousands of fisherman and locals flock to the seashore to bag their share of the tasty fish, their arrival has also spawned a multitude of events and activities to coincide with it. These include the Ugu Jazz Festival, the chance to dive with sharks, a food fair and mountain biking.

There are plenty of activities that surround the arrival of the fish, whether or not you are a fisherman, says South Coast Tourism spokesperson Hilda Gabriel.

"There is huge international interest in the Sardine Festival that is part of the Sardine Run. We start off with the sardine super mountain bike challenge and end with the Portuguese Festival. You can also dive with the sardines, including the reefs, wrecks and sharks at Aliwal Shoal, Protea Banks and Rocky Bay as they migrate northwards along the KwaZulu-Natal coastline.

"An added bonus is that ragged tooth sharks congregate to mate during this period and you are sure to have exquisite dives and also experience our huge numbers of brindle bass, moray eels, rays, turtles, schools of pelagic fish, whales, dolphins and many more species," Gabriel says.

The KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board, which keeps a watchful eye on sardine movements, has estimated that more than 20000 dolphins follow the sardines, resulting in hundreds of people trying to get a glimpse of these much-loved creatures.

Some visitors say sardines taste at their best when popped into a pan with a dash of olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice.

And people who get right in on the action by diving with the predators, describe it as "one of the most awe-inspiring experiences for any diver".

For bird lovers the thousands of Cape gannets that accompany the dazzling display is a must-see. Not only are the gannets watched by the bird lovers, they are also eagerly eyed by the fishermen, who know that when the gannets dash into the ocean at high speed and head first in their hundreds, the sardines are near.

With the activities surrounding the Sardine Festival coming to an end for 2010, Gabriel urged everyone to be there next year.

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