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Women in Diving: Danel Wentzel is Mermaid_Danii

CREDITS | Images by Danel Wentzel

It is said that the South African coast is one of the most biologically diverse and complex marine environments on Earth. The coastline stretches for more than 2 850 kilometers from the border with Namibia in the west to the border with Mozambique in the east. On the west coast the nutrient-rich cool waters of the Atlantic Ocean are home to some of the world's largest seal colonies, endemic penguins, masses of seabirds and is also home to the giant Atlantic Kelp forests that sway on the tides with the Benguela current. These alone make for an immensely rich and diverse sea life. On the east coast, the warmer, tropical waters of the Indian Ocean are home to world renown, brightly coloured, coral reefs, and its lush diversity of coral reef fishes and the powerful Agulhas current.
It is not surprising that marine biologists from all over the world visit our country to do research and find unique and incredible subjects to study for their PhD or masters degrees. But we also have some of the finest researchers and students that are South African born and have grown up with the salty seas in their veins.

One of these salty wanderers is Danel Wentzel. This 21 year old, PADI Scuba Instructor and Marine biologist currently resides in Muizenberg, Cape Town. She is completing her Honours degree in Marine Biology at the University of Cape Town. We tracked her down to ask her a few questions about her diving, studies, conservation efforts and motivation.

When or how did you get involved in scuba diving? Can you tell us about your first dive experience? When, Where and Why did you get into diving and freediving?

My scuba diving journey started when I was 11 years old. My dad and I completed a Discovery Scuba Diving course together in Sodwana bay. I fell in love with the underwater world right then. At the age of 13, I again joined my Dad to complete our open water diver course together. We have been dive buddies ever since. I grew up going diving at Sodwana bay, surrounded by tropical waters and coral reefs, which to me was such an amazing experience. Being able to observe the underwater world from such a young age impressed me immensely. As a first year student, I moved  to Cape Town to study marine biology. It is here that I was introduced to the beautiful kelp forests as well as where I started freediving.
I was an avid underwater hockey athlete, it was my absolute favourite sport. Through the sport, I had the opportunity to travel the world as part of the Junior Springbok team. I have been to Spain and Australia, diving along the way.
I finished my advanced freediving course last year.   Freediving with many of my friends,  who aren’t divers, who just want to get in the water, have enabled us to get involved, get active and experience the underwater world for ourselves. It is really easy, you can just put on a mask, a wetsuit and fins, and just float face in the water.  

Being a Marine biologist and PhD candidate, what is your field of study about? Are you specialising in any specific marine species or environment?

I completed my undergraduate degree in marine biology and oceanography.  I am currently completing my honours degree in marine biology at the University of Cape Town. My thesis is looking at the dynamics and seasonality of Anaulus Australis, which is a surf zone diatom that forms big brown patches at Muizenberg beach. For the longest time, people thought these patches were caused by sewage pollution, but they are actually small single-celled little plants, which come together and form really huge, dense patches, turning the water brown.
Do you support any marine conservation initiatives? And what does the organisation/s do?

My passion has always been giving back to the community. Over the past few years, I have been privileged enough to be involved with various marine conservation organisations. In my first year, I volunteered for the Save Our Seas Shark education centre in Kalk Bay.  Assisting with their marine explorers-program. This organisation and program introduce learners from underprivileged communities to the magic of the marine environment through surfing and snorkelling. After that I started working for the I Am Water Foundation. It also worked with kids, teaching them about the ocean’s creatures, plastic pollution and introducing them to snorkelling.

Working with kids is something I am super passionate about. By building their confidence in the ocean and having them experience the underwater world for themselves, encourages them to want to protect it. People won’t protect what they don’t love and they won’t love what they don’t understand. By teaching them why it is important to protect our oceans they would hopefully want to take the message and share it with their friends and family.

Another organisation I have been a part of is Sea The Bigger Picture. They plan various beach clean ups around Cape Town with the aim of having everything that was picked up to be recycled. Everything that can’t be recycled is then Eco bricked and used for various projects around Cape Town.

Do you have a diving bucket list? And why do you want to dive these destinations or experience these dive sites?

 If I had to put together a diving bucket list it wouldn’t be as much about the destination, but rather the marine creatures. Right at the top of my list is the elusive Rhincodon typus, or Whale Shark. I would love the opportunity to be face to face with this gentle, ocean giant. They probably are my favourite, because they eat all day and float along currents soaking up the sunshine. I am sorry for my future husband, but the happiest day of my life is not going to be my wedding day, but rather the day I see my first whale shark. Some of the other creatures on my list include the Knysna sea horse, weedy scorpionfish, ornate eagle ray and a lot of sharks.
Tell us about your motivation behind “Mermaid Danii” and your underwater photography? Are you inspired by any renowned underwater photographers and who?

 My love for underwater photography started around the same time I started diving. My first camera was a small GoPro. And I can remember all my photos came out super blurry, but the reason I kept on taking photos was to show my mom, who was waiting on the shore after every dive. The smile my blurry photos put on her face made me want to continue taking photos and share the beauty of the underwater environment with others who aren’t able to experience it for themselves. Today I take photos to share the ocean through my eyes and Instagram has been a great platform to use in sharing my images with others.

The ocean is such a big part of my life and with scuba diving, freediving through the kelp forest, photography, marine biology, and education I wanted a way to combine all my passions. So I started my own dive school, Capensis Diving. Capensis is Latin for originating from the Cape, which is where my passion for teaching started growing. Recently I created my own underwater photography course, which is something I am extremely proud of. The course gives divers the tools to capture their own underwater images and share them with their friends and family. Ultimately, I want to help create better divers for the blue, so those that fall in love learn to protect it.

What is your favourite Western Cape dive site? And why?

 My favourite dive site in Cape Town might sound a bit cliché to the people that know this spot, but is definitely, Windmill Beach. It’s right next to Boulders beach. The reason being that it is one of the places I have dived the most in Cape Town. It’s where I take all my friends who have never dived or free dived before, to just get in the water and experience diving in the kelp forests. This place is really close to my heart, it is really protected and shallow and there are always loads to see, from octopus, nudibranchs, seals and even penguins if you are lucky.

Are you a DAN member? And what does DAN dive cover mean to you?

Yes, I am a DAN member. It is important to know and be reassured that when I am diving somewhere across the world or doing a course right here in Cape Town that myself and my students are in safe, reliable hands. I think someone who appreciates DAN’s cover even more than me, is my dad, who doesn’t always appreciate his little girl diving halfway around the world. So, it definitely gives him  peace of mind.

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