Under The Spotlight: Kyle Nelson Devine

Health and Safety Director and Dive extraordinaire Kyle Devine tells us about his incredible underwater adventures and his role in creating a Marine Protected Area.

Kyle Nelson Devine
Health and Safety Director & Dive Instructor
Madagascar Research & Conservation Institute

Nosy Komba

In this weeks edition of Under The spotlight we talk with Health and Safety Director and Dive Instructor, Kyle Nelson Devine from the Madagascar Research and Conservation Institute (MRCI).

Let's see what Kyle had to say as he went under the spotlight...🔦

What inspired you to get involved in conservation and the environment?

I was fortunate to grow up in an era with limited technology that keeps many of today’s youths busy. I grew up on a farm in the North West province of South Africa. I had the Magaliesberg mountain range within 3km of my back yard. I grew up hiking, rock climbing, swimming in rivers and later scuba diving.

I started University with a very active and outdoor course, Adventure tourism management. It opened my eyes to the possibility of our environment being used as a means to make a living. I got involved in several adventurous activities such as- Rock Climbing, Abseiling, Mountain biking, Scuba Diving, Sky-diving, sand boarding and white-water kayaking.

I realised very soon after this that to make a living in the tourism/adventure sports Industry, one needs to protect and conserve the environment you are working in. This mantra truly sank in when I became a Scuba diving Instructor. I see everyday how the ocean is mistreated and abused. Sometimes from misinformation or lack of education and sometimes from plain old ignorance and lack of respect for the earth we so often take for granted.

I now help manage a conservation company in Madagascar, (Madagascar Research and Conservation Institute) where everyday is filled with its own challenges and rewards.

If you could change one thing to make a huge impact on the planet, what would it be?

That’s a difficult question to answer as there are so many problems in the world. World peace, free education for all, an end to all racism, eradicate corrupt governments around the world to name a few.

I don't think any of these matter in the long run if we don’t have a hospitable planet to live on. Addressing World pollution would be one of my top picks. Attitudes towards our planet are changing but there are still plenty of sceptics out there. People are slowly coming round to the fact that man-made climate change is real and in need of serious attention. Large accumulations of garbage exist out at sea and the sad truth is that these areas are very unlikely to be fully cleaned out. We can only hope to reduce the irresponsible disposal of trash and plastics in the ocean and review policies in place already to deter the behaviour of the ignorant. Our world may not recover fully but it will carry on.

How would you convince the Donald Trumps of this world that biodiversity is important?

By showing them. I have had the privilege of overseeing a Marine program for a conservation company in Madagascar for the last 6 years. One of our greatest problems was rebuilding the delicate ecosystem that was set off balance by years of constant netting and over fishing practices. We managed to put into effect a marine protected area which has since become a haven for many species. Over the past year we have noticed apex predators moving back into the area. With all data curves heading in an upwards direction, the president of the small island was ecstatic, and talks are in place to set up more sites around the island. Patience is key in these situations but when that tangible proof comes around, flaunt it. Seeing is believing. In my case, fisherman’s catch rate and fish size on the border of our MPA increased. Stakeholders are now happier and are showing more support than ever.

What is your most memorable encounter with an animal or nature?

I've had many wonderful interactions with nature both in and out of the water. When ever this question comes about, I recall my best dive I ever did. The dive site is located just off an island called Nosy Be (North west Madagascar). The site name is Atnam(That’s Manta backward). It was late in the year and getting close to cyclone season. The surface conditions were rough and it took us 40 min to get out there, passing under some big storm clouds and tropical down pores along the way. The group was freezing by the time we got to the continental shelf drop off approximately 14 nautical miles off shore.

We all kitted up quickly and rolled off backwards. The surface was grey and cloudy with bellowing storm clouds behind us. When my head went underwater, my world changed. It went into sepia mode! The visibility was only around 15m (normally 30-40m) but we descended into the unknown.

I didn’t know what to expect and found myself at 40m with a 60 degree white sandy slope on my right shoulder and nothing on my left! Just an endless slope disappearing beneath me. We swam for around 2 minutes until something began to emerge out of the nothingness in front of me. It was big and my mind immediately started to race to identify what I was seeing! It was a mountain! The left side of nothingness rose to meet the slope on my right and more! Hovering at a tremendous depth was the deep “V” shaped entrance to narrow canyon.

Only wide enough for one diver to manoeuvre through at a time, we got into single file and moved forward. Massive gorgonian fans reached out from the walls to greet us from both sides. At times we had to stop and rise a meter or two to continue moving forward. Coming around a bend, we saw a pathway of sand leading into the depths of the unknown, with a large over hang to swim under before we came to what I call the “ballroom”.

It was an intersection with four options. We could either go back the way we came, turn left and down the slope, straight along the slope or up. Unfortunately, due to the depth of the site, our maximum bottom time was quite short so the only way forward is up.

We continued up the sandy slope which started to change from sand to a beautiful coral reef, bustling with fish. 15 or so meters onward, the reef ends and a large sand patch began. On the other side of the pearl white sand pit, the reef starts again and continues to stretch up towards the shallows. We had to begin our final ascent due to us running out of bottom time and being low on air, but I still remember our dive guide pointing into the turbid distance and seeing a shark of some kind laying still in the sand.

Upon surfacing, the world seemed calmer than ever, everyone was happy. Even without seeing many underwater creatures, the sheer magnificence of the structures and corals we encountered have stayed with me all this time.

I have only dived this site a handful of times and sometimes with unbelievable visibility and sometimes without. It still fills me with great excitement when I see the entrance to the path through the deep V.

Who is your conservation role model?

Sir David Attenborough - I am likely one of many that have been inspired by his countless achievements. People who are not particularly inclined to go out and experience nature first hand, have been able to see it and learn about it in all its splendor with Sir David’s hypnotic voice guiding them through it all. I strongly believe in conservation through knowledge. He has done a marvellous job at this time and time again.

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