WATCH: Up close and personal with sharks in Gansbaai

I was sceptical. 

Shark cage diving has always been one of those adventure things I found unnecessary. The idea of being centimetres away from a great white shark - even if it was from within the safe confines of a steel viewing cage - just didn't appeal to me. 

Anxiety-producing, and downright scary, I'll be the first to admit I am a wimp when it comes to wild animal encounters.

But, despite my reservations, I tried it. And the experience was rather phenomenal. 

WATCH: Divers swim with giant 7m great white in Hawaii 

An almost 3-hour journey Cape Town, you arrive in Kleinbaai, a small port town forming part of Gansbaai, for breakfast served by the Marine Dynamics team. The renowned shark cage diving company offers guests an immersive experience, one which is not only about shark cage diving, but also about discovering and being educated about the challenges of this particular marine ecosystem.

shark

(PHOTO: Marisa Crous) 

Sightings include great whites, copper sharks and stingrays - but are of course not guaranteed. These are unpredictable waters. And nature answers to no one. 

The team of guides, interns, volunteers and marine biologists on board the excursion vessel are not just there to give you a packaged tourism experience. Stressing the global importance of marine ecosystem protection through world-class scientific research, the focus is firmly on protecting the long-term future of the species which live there by translating knowledge into evidence-based conservation initiatives and legislation.

The company's goal is to educate - local communities, legislation and visitors - by informing and actively involving them in achieving a state that will benefit all players. 

READ: Where are the Great Whites? Bronzies and cow sharks taking over False Bay 

A day excursion with Marine Dynamics will cost an adult R2250. However, aside from transfers, breakfast and lunch, a day trip on the boat and the shark cage diving experience, your money will go towards conservation efforts. 

shark

(PHOTO: Marisa Crous) 

shark

(PHOTO: Marisa Crous) 

Founded in 2006 by Wilfred Chivell, the Dyer Island Conservation Trust delivers unique conservation and research programmes in a fragile marine and critically important marine eco-system. Striving to protect the largest surviving colonies of the endangered African Penguin whose numbers are at an all-time low; the globally important breeding and calving grounds of the Southern Right Whale; and the world's densest populations of the vulnerable great white shark.

Now critically endangered, great whites are at a high concentration in Gansbaai, but only 532 individuals remain. 

shark

(PHOTO: Marisa Crous) 

shark

(PHOTO: Marisa Crous) 

Invaluable research on great white sharks by marine biologists employed by Marine Dynamics includes tagging and tracking, behavioural surveys, wound healing, environmental parameter monitoring; parasite load and daily observational data contributing to population studies.

Despite some controversy surrounding shark cage diving, the tourism aspect feeds into the conservation of an area that is not currently a recognised Marine Protected Area. Various other shark cage diving companies focus only on the tourism aspect, which is a shame.  

For me, this experience ignited a new sort of wonder for the ocean and its creatures. Like the iconic explorer, Jacques Cousteau famously said: 

"The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever."

Yet, without conservation, there will only be wonder left as nature as we know it, will be gone. 

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