I met Wilfred Chivell at a function at the Two Oceans Aquarium where the research results of marine biologists from the Dyer Island Conservation Trust (DICT) on the Great White Shark population were made public. The researchers were aided in their work by the shark cage diving company Marine Dynamics shark tours based in Gansbaai, where the world’s densest population of great white sharks is to be found. (See http://scenicsouth.co.za//2013/06/great-white-shark-population-may-be-50-smaller-than-originally-thought) Wilfred Chivell, the owner of Marine Dynamics, is also the founder of the Dyer Island Conservation Trust (DICT).
It was obvious from the discussion that followed that Wilfred is a man passionate about the ocean and the denizens of the deep, especially sharks. The shark nets of Kwa-Zulu Natal are clearly an anathema to him. Interested in his background, I asked for further information about him and his work and received the following from Brenda du Toit, a member of his team:
“Wilfred Chivell has a diverse background from working as a President’s guard, diving for treasure – he discovered the biggest coin collection of a wreck called the Nicobar- to owning his own construction company in the 90’s. When the recession hit, he unfortunately had to close doors and let go of up to 200 employees.
As hard as this measure was , it also opened new doors. He followed his passion for the sea and its marine life and has made a successful living from it since while contributing to the conservation of an area he loves with a passion. Starting off with a rubber dinghy more than twelve years ago he started a whale watching company called Dyer Island Cruises. He took his own calls and handled most aspects of the business himself and slowly started building a new vision. He then purchased a shark cage diving company in 2005 called Marine Dynamics and has changed much in an industry that could be used purely for financial gain. That has now grown into a very successful eco tourism business especially due to the research, conservation and education work of the Dyer Island Conservation Trust Wilfred established in 2006.
Wilfred himself will declare he prefers animals to people and his passion for the African penguin and its plight led to him creating the ‘Faces of Need’ housing project for this flightless and vulnerable bird. This project has grown over the last six years with more than 2000 penguin homes, designed by Wilfred, on the protected Dyer Island – the penguin colony there having declined by 90% in 30 years – and other colonies such as Boulders, Stony Point, Robben Island and even as far as Ichaboe Island, Namibia. Wilfred initiated two penguin conferences and pushed for the penguin to be listed as endangered.
Wilfred is passionate about whales, is part of the SA Whale Disentanglement network and has dedicated boats for rescues. He has also recently developed a special rescue cradle already put to use twice – for the removal of a dead great white shark on Dyer Island and a washed up Bryde’s whale. He has personally nursed many birds and been instrumental in their survival.
Wilfred constantly strives for perfection and expects the same from his large team of more than fifty employees while at the same time encouraging them to be confident and take as much from all the experiences they are exposed to for their own personal growth. Both businesses are Fair Trade certified and have been for the past five years. Dyer Island Cruises has been cited as a socially responsible tourism company in two publications. Wilfred is changing the way the shark cage diving industry is viewed and enjoys support of other conservation organisations as well as Two Oceans Aquarium and Africa Geographic. He has structured a business model that not only creates employment but also benefits the environment and which is aimed at protecting our marine heritage. Every day funds are raised from clients visiting the companies and this supports the work of the Trust.
Wilfred’s companies support the Trust in various ways. Their contribution of R1 million towards research and conservation has this past year seen three marine biologists complete their Master’s degrees. Some of the research on sharks done by the team is groundbreaking and includes: population dynamics through fin identification; wound healing; predatory interactions; foraging ecology and seasonal behaviour.
Wilfred also cares about the promotion of the area as a tourist destination and supports tourism efforts. He has been involved in the protection and accessibility of the Klipgat Caves and commemorates the Birkenhead every year with a special trip on the whale and shark boats. The coins Wilfred discovered on the wreck of the Nicobar are held at the Cultural History Museum in Cape Town and the Royal Coin Cabinet in Stockholm, Sweden.
Wilfred’s whole ethos is based on conservation and protection of the environment. Systems are in place at the Great White House for recycling, support of the SASSI fish programme, reduction of waste, and the saving of electricity. The boats use low emission engines. All things that add up to make a difference.
Wilfred is the ideas man whose plan for a Marine Educational and Resource Centre saw the first privately owned whale exhibit erected in the Great White House – a prelude to this vision and a dream seven years in the making. Wilfred’s vision is to build on what exists and create an internationally recognized Centre in Gansbaai that will attract tourists and locals, a place where scientists, conservationists, investors and locals meet and work together towards sustainable marine utilization, conservation, marine research and socio-economic upliftment.”