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Sodwana Bay Shootout

Sodwana Bay Shootout

Apr 2017

The iSimangaliso Sodwana Bay Shootout photography event, within the marine heart of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park World Heritage Site, is takes place in May.

After an invitational event in 2016 with key underwater photographers, journalists, dive operators, and iSimangaliso’s marketing team, the think-tank to re-launch this popular annual Eco-Series event has come up with fresh and dynamic ideas for a world class event with inputs from some of the country’s leading underwater heavyweights.

As part of their trip, the invited media group was privileged to join the release of two rehabilitated turtles into the iSimangaliso Wetland Park. Photographer Fiona Ayerst caught this moment of freedom for a hawksbill turtle. She also blogged about her “Ten reasons to enter the Shootout”, from awesome prizes to outstanding biodiversity, family activities, talks, workshops and more. (Read here.)

Editor of Submerge Magazine, Sabrina Hindley, was one of the journalists on the invitational event, photographed here by leading newspaper picture editor / photographer and journalist, Darryl Hammond of the Sowetan Newspaper. Darryl, who regularly judges the SAB Environmental Media awards and will be on the Shootout panel, said: “Sodwana Bay is one of my favourite places in SA! There is no such thing as a bad dive in Sodwana – it never disappoints! The reefs are pristine, teem with life, and with great visibility underwater make this a photographer’s dream. Having witnessed what is above and below the water’s surface, I eagerly await to see what the photographers capture at this year’s Shootout.”

The Sodwana Shootout aims to be one of the most prestigious competitions of its kind, attracting entries from professional and amateur photographers worldwide. With the overarching goal of increasing awareness of the beauty of the Sodwana Bay underwater world and the promotion of the Sodwana Bay section of iSimangaliso as a prime diving destination, along with the unique attributes of the terrestrial areas of the Park, entries to any of the numerous categories must endeavour to reveal the essence of the World Heritage Site: Superlative scenic beauty, a sense of place, exceptional biodiversity, ecological processes and diverse eco-systems.

In the main image above, underwater photographer, Fiona Ayerst moves in on a honeycomb eel at Sodwana Bay, and later finds herself surrounded by a kaleidoscope of marine life – captured by Luke Metelerkamp.

As in recent years, photographic categories include images taken on land as well as underwater. Says iSimangaliso Marketing Manager Lindy Duffield, “Photographers need to display a good understanding of the environment and show this to the audience. We are looking for visual stories and celebrations of the small miracles that make our Park what it is.”

Photographer Barry Coleman won first prize in the Intermediate Land Category at the last Shootout. Also an avid diver, Barry hit the jackpot above the surface, winning a family stay in the uMkhuze section of iSimangaliso, which is where he captured this herd of elephant drinking at the kuMasinga Hide. Scenes such as this, reflecting the beauty and biodiversity of the World Heritage Site, offer plenty of scope for land-based photographers.

But don’t just take our word for it – here is more enthusiastic feedback from top journalists who attended the invitational event:

Nicky Furniss, editor of Indwe Magazine: “Diving at Sodwana Bay is always a spectacular experience and a visual feast for divers, so I can't wait to see the variety and quality of photographs that are going to come out of the iSimangaliso Sodwana Bay Shootout in May.”

Adventure, sport and travel writer, Bryony McCormick: “After a four-year absence from scuba diving, my bottom time at Sodwana Bay certainly set the bar incredibly high for any future dives. Outrageous visibility spanning up to 30 metres, tropical warm water temperatures reaching 27 degrees Celsius on some dives and healthy, colourful coral and sea life that resulted in noteworthy and spectacular sightings and unforgettable memories. Sodwana certainly has a lot to offer in terms of variety and beauty and in my opinion is an underwater photographer's playground.”

Fiona McIntosh, former editor of Divestyle magazine and author of several dive books including Dive Sites of South Africa & Mozambique (MapStudio 2016): “I’ve been fortunate to have dived most of the world’s top diving locations including Sipidan, the Galapagos, Truk Lagoon, the Barrier Reef, Belize and the Red Sea. But for my money there’s nowhere to beat Sodwana on a good day. Every time I dive at South Africa’s SCUBA diving Mecca, I wonder why it’s taken me so long to return! Our first dive, on Seven Mile Reef, was as good as it gets. There were fish everywhere of every colour and hue – including massive schools of yellow snapper and goatfish. We saw bluespotted ribbontail rays aplenty, a huge potato bass, moray eels peeking out of their lairs and swimming across the reef and of course admired the pristine corals for which the reef is renowned. It’s rated as one of the best sites in the world and it lived up to its billing – certainly one of the best dives that I have ever done. On Anton’s reef, we almost had to push the fish aside to get to the reef, which was covered in colourful sponges. We checked out the nudibranchs, the little cleaner shrimps, porcelain crabs, juvenile angelfish and the other little critters hiding in the nooks and crannies and swim-throughs, and spied turtles and massive rays.”

The Shootout is an awesome opportunity for the dive community to get together and share the magnificence of Sodwana’s underwater world, while the new categories, particularly the “Marine ID” and “Caught in the Act” YouTube type videos make it much less intimidating, and more fun for novice photographers to mingle with and learn from the pros.

Photographer Shaen Adey: "Sodwana on a good day rates as one of my top five places in the world to dive"

Craig Bishop – Media 24: "Sodwana holds a very special place in my heart, both on land and underwater, and I am thrilled that this annual photographic competition aims to extend this magic to as wide an audience as possible."

One of the new categories in the 2017 Shootout is that of ‘Marine ID Images’, with this year’s theme being a ‘Nudibranch Hunt’. This category is for everyone with the emphasis on education rather than the quality of the photo, the aim being to photograph and correctly identify as many of these beautiful creatures as possible. (The above selection was beautifully captured by Chris Pienaar – winner of the 2015 Intermediate Underwater category)

The nitty gritty

As has been the practice in the past, both marine and terrestrial images shot within the Park will be allowed in separate categories. This, coupled with the varying levels of professional abilities, greatly expands the possibilities for any photographer to achieve a winning place, and fantastic prizes including underwater housing by Nauticam, dive and accommodation packages and a whole lot more.

Underwater photography must take place in the ocean in the Sodwana Shootout area, which is defined as the area that the dive concession holders may dive. Land photography may take place anywhere within the iSimangaliso Wetland Park during the dates of the competition. In order to be fairly judged, the shooting period for video footage and both underwater and land still photography is only between 22 and 26 May 2017 (inclusive).

According to the Sodwana Shootout committee chairman Christo van Jaarsveld, “We are looking forward to an outstanding event and another crop of breathtaking images. In order to prevent any behaviour detrimental to wildlife or the environment, we have adopted the Conservation Rules established by EPIC. Marine life should never be stressed or endangered for the sake of a photo or video clip. Conservation rules will apply to all entries and decisions will be final. We are here to celebrate nature, not interfere with it.” And on that note, we invite all photographers to try their hand and get an entry in!


There are several options for photographers of all levels of proficiency and interest: Competitive Video: Music or Documentary Video; Competitive Images (Novice, Intermediate or Advanced); Creative; Marine ID Images; Caught in the Act Video.

How to enter

Entrants should register at where a comprehensive list of rules and details will be found. 

For Park information, visit

Sodwana Bay Diving

Nightjar Travel