The mouth of the Breede River is a fascinating and beautiful location. There’s a treacherous sandbar (more on that just now). There are wide, natural vistas. There are sleepy holiday villages on each side of the river mouth. There’s an additional little frisson of excitement related to the fact that bull sharks use the Breede River, and must be passing by all the time (right?!).
When Tony and I were in the area for a spring break, we explored the area. I wanted to see whether I could find the remains of SS Kadie, a steaam-assisted sailing ship that is an integral part of the history of the area. The Kadie was built in Scotland in 1859, for the specific purpose of navigating the Breede River and up and down the coast, as a trading vessel. She did venture out to sea on longer voyages, on one occasion carrying a cargo of ostriches to Mauritius. (You can read a lot more about her history, and that of the Barry family who operated her, here.)
On 17 December 1865 the Kadie ran aground and sank while attempting to cross the sandbar at the mouth of the Breede River. She is easy to find, but you should visit at low tide. Take the turnoff to the river mouth from the dirt road to Infanta. It’s a small sign and easy to miss! Descend the wooden staircase onto the beach, and walk right. You will soon see pieces of the Kadie on the beach, in the shallow rockpools, and out in the surf zone. Best to go at low tide, or at least not at the peak of high tide.
The Japanese crew of the MFV Meisho Maru No. 38 could not have picked a more beautiful piece of South African coastline to run aground on. Granted, it was 3am on 16 November 1982 when they got into difficulties, and sightseeing was probably not high on their priority list, but the fact remains that the wreck is in a remarkably scenic spot. It is also within spitting distance (OK, two kilometres) of the lighthouse at Cape Agulhas.
It is also very easy to access. By foot, it is a flat walk along the coast for 1.5 kilometres from the signage at the southernmost tip of Africa. There is a well-kept dirt road out of L’Agulhas, which terminates at Suiderstrand, that runs parallel to the coast. If you drive along the road rather than walk next to it, you will see the wreck in short order.
Here’s a picture of what the wreck looked like not long after grounding in 1982. (Compare it to these pictures of the Eihatsu Maru, aground at Clifton…) She was about 45 metres long, and was carrying a catch of tuna. Her entire crew (17 men) managed to get ashore All that remains now is the bow of the ship, facing out to sea after being turned around by the waves. When we arrived, some Egyptian geese were sitting pensively on the railings. The rest of the wreck has broken up and is hidden in the surf zone.
Decimal-form co-ordinates for the wreck are -34.829763, 19.983845, but if you drive from L’Agulhas towards Suiderstrand along the dirt road, you can’t miss it.
James Cameron is best known (to people of my *ahem* vintage) as the director of Titanic, or (to those slightly younger) as the director of Avatar. As a result of these multi-billion dollar grossing films, he has more leisure time than most of us. He has used this to excellent effect in recent years, and achieved something that very few others could have done.
Cameron’s interest in deep ocean exploration seems to have been born out of his interest in the Titanic, and he has used tethered ROVs to explore the Titanic as described in Ghosts of the Abyss. He partially funded and spearheaded a project to build a submersible capable of carrying one person down into deepest known part of the ocean, the Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench, between Japan, Papua New Guinea and the Philippines.
Deepsea Challenger is that craft, and Cameron ultimately piloted it to nearly 11,000 metres underwater, and returned safely. James Cameron’s Deepsea Challenge is the story of the design, construction, and testing of Deepsea Challenger, and of her dive to Challenger Deep. Unlike Robert Ballard, who favours unmanned ROVs, James Cameron is a proponent of manned ocean exploration, and I can identify with his enthusiasm for putting human eyes on the seabed (in a figuratively literal sense).
Fewer people have seen the bottom of Challenger Deep than have been on the moon. The last (and first) manned voyage there was in 1960, when Jacques Piccard and US Navy Lieutenant Don Walsh piloted Trieste, a bathyscaphe, there and back. Trieste used gasoline for buoyancy, whereas a special, extremely buoyant foam was developed to do the same job for Deepsea Challenger. The challenges of descending to and ascending from such a depth meant that here and there, seemingly archaic pieces of technology were included in the craft. I was tickled by the release of steel ball bearings to establish initial neutral or slightly positive buoyancy at times.
An aspect of the documentary that I found particularly touching was the presence of Don Walsh on Cameron’s ship, to witness the dive to Challenger Deep. You can read a bit of a review of the documentary here. There is an excellent series of National Geographic articles that will give you a feel for the project: part one, part two, a photo gallery, details of the submersible, and a video.
Get the DVD of James Cameron’s Deepsea Challenge here, here or here (South Africa).
Blind Descent: The Quest to Discover the Deepest Cave on Earth – James Tabor
In Blind Descent, James Tabor has written a rip-roaring account of the race to find the deepest cave on earth. Two “supercaves” (Chevé in Mexico and Krubera in the Georgian Republic) were in contention for the world’s deepest cave. The “deepest” measurement is one of vertical depth. Bill Stone and Alexander Klimchouk led multiple expeditions, over a period of years, to Chevé and Krubera respectively, striving to extend the deepest known point of each cave.
One of the two men Tabor profiles in this book, Bill Stone, sounds like a real-life Clive Cussler character (I do not say this with unalloyed admiration). Among other impressive accomplishments, Stone invented a type of rebreather (later acquired by Poseidon) that he tested and refined during his cave explorations. (Stone has subsequently turned his attention to space exploration and mining. It turns out I read an article about him from 2004, some time back – it’s a cracking good read and gives you a sense of the man.)
There are many ways to die in a cave – for example by falling, contracting an infection, drowning, getting lost or trapped – a litany of horrors. An array of specialised skills is required to explore supercaves. Cavers spend weeks underground, often in damp, unstable conditions.
An integral part of any team doing caving of this nature, are cave divers. Their role is typically to explore sumps – passages submerged underwater. Visibility may be poor, the water may be in motion, and it is usually unclear whether the sump has an exit at the other end. Squeezing through confined spaces, after doffing dive gear, is not unusual. They also have to get themselves and their dive gear into the cave, rappelling down vertical cliffs, crawling through tunnels, or whatever is required.
Having grown up (as a diver) believing that cave diving is one of the ultimate technical and mental challenges, and certainly one of the pinnacles of diving accomplishment, I was mildly amused and puzzled that Tabor did not make more of these individuals in Blind Descent, and glossed over many of the aspects of cave diving that make it so ridiculously challenging. At certain points he actually makes it seem like something someone who qualified as an recreational scuba diver a year or so ago can do, if they just get shown how the controls on a rebreather work. Right. (If you are brave, watch Sanctum for some dramatised spelunking and cave diving.)
This is definitely not a book about cave diving, but there is some of it in here and it gets overshadowed by other feats of strength and endurance. Blind Descent is, however, a gripping read and I do recommend it.
Read a review of Blind Descenthere and an interview with Bill Stone here. Get a copy of the book here (South Africa), here or here.
Let us continue our armchair travels in the Arctic, among polar bears, icebergs, misty bays where compasses fail to find north, and tundra inhabited by indigenous peoples. Gavin Francis is the author of Empire Antarctica, and in True North (which he actually wrote first) he travels to all the places I’d like to see in the Arctic circle.
He starts in the Shetland Islands, and progresses to the Faeroe Islands, Iceland, Greenland and Svalbard. He concludes in Lapland. Like Antarctica, the Arctic is cold, snowy, and hostile to life. Unlike Antarctica, however, it is home to several indigenous peoples, for the most part wonderfully adapted and exquisitely attuned to their environments. These people are also greatly challenged by the pace of change in the modern world, and by changing climate, and Francis describes a fierce intensity characterising the societies he encounters in Greenland and Iceland, in particular.
There is also the magnificent landscape, and a surprising (to me) depth of history to be found above the Arctic Circle. Francis proves an adept travel guide and historian, referring always to the writings of the explorers and travellers who first ventured into this part of the world. For most of his journey he backpacks, pitching his tent where he can. If you are planning a trip (real or imagined) to any of the places Francis describes in this book I would strongly recommend you read his account.
Junior the Ginger Killer‘s favourite lookout point is on top of the boat cover, under the carport (when the boat is there, of course). The boat cover is a bit bouncy, and I imagine it’s a bit like resting on a giant hammock.
And sometimes he has to give commands, as all captains do. He expects you to listen.
The South African ministry of the environment has proposed to open the country’s oldest Marine Protected Area, the Tsitsikamma marine reserve, to recreational angling by certain community members. The official press release by the Minister of the Environment can be found here.
A bit of background
There is wide acceptance in the scientific community that marine protected areas are a vital tool to arrest the damage caused to the world’s oceans by the over-exploitation of marine resources, which has been occurring for the last thousand years, with accelerating intensity in modern times. You can read about Colin Attwood’s assessment of South Africa’s MPAs, and about why MPAs work, here.
In the Marine and Coastal Component (pdf) of the 2011 National Biodiversity Assessment, Kerry Sink and co-authors found that 47% of South Africa’s marine habitats are threatened (about 30% by area), most of which are coastal environments. They also found that fishing has the greatest negative impact on marine biodiversity. Most of South Africa’s marine resources are over-exploited. The report states:
South Africa’s Marine Protected Area (MPA) network plays a key role in protecting marine and coastal habitats and sustaining fisheries. Coastal protected areas can support rural livelihoods and local economic development through providing jobs and opportunities for ecotourism and conservation-related industries. Protected areas attract foreign and domestic tourists, provide ecosystem services, and safeguard the environment for future generations. Fully protected MPAs help sustain fisheries by protecting breeding resources and by seeding adjacent areas with eggs, larvae or young and adults.
The first of the priority actions recommended in the marine component of the National Biodiversity Assessment is to “expand and strengthen” the network of MPAs around our coast.
South Africa has a network of 23 Marine Protected Areas, covering just under 22% of our 3,113 kilometre coastline (you can find a list of them along with details of their size and other information on page 147 of the National Biodiversity Assessment 2011: Marine & Coastal Component (pdf)). Less than half of the linear extent of coast covered by MPAs falls into no-take zones, where fishing is not allowed at all. The rest of the MPAs permit certain types of commercial and recreational fishing.
The Tsitsikamma Marine Protected Area
The Tsitsikamma MPA is South Africa’s oldest Marine Protected Area, gazetted in 1964. It covers 264.4 square kilometres of Eastern Cape coastline (about 80 kilometres of coast, three nautical miles offshore), stretching from Nature’s Valley to the mouth of the Groot River. No fishing of any kind is currently permitted in the MPA. It is managed by SANParks, who acknowledge its importance in South Africa’s MPA network.
The Tsitsikamma MPA was not originally a no-take zone; since 1975 fishing in the MPA has been gradually reduced, and it was finally closed entirely to fishing in 2000 during a time of crisis with respect to South Africa’s plummeting fish stocks. It gets over 200,000 visitors per year, employs many people from local communities, and is responsible for significant tourism revenue both directly from the reserve, and from activities in the surrounding area. You can find more detail about this particular MPA on pages 34-40 of the WWF’s 2014 technical report on the State of Management of South Africa’s Marine Protected Areas (pdf).
Certain areas in the Tsitsikamma MPA are to be opened to recreational anglers who reside in the Tsitsikamma community, and are in posession of a South African ID document. The anglers cite “cultural, historical and subsistence reasons” for wanting to fish in the MPA, and have been campaigning to do so for years.
These anglers will be permitted to fish and gather bait (with a permit) during daylight hours, from the shore, for at most four days out of every calendar month, and are subject to reduced bag limits. Three per person per day for fish with a recreational limit of less than 10 may be caught. For fish with no recreational bag limit or a limit of more than 10 per day, only 10 may be caught per angler per day. No sharks and rays may be caught.
The reasons for originally closing the MPA in 2000 and the prevailing underlying circumstances have not changed. It is important to note that this decision will not have an impact on food security in the area as the issue dealt with is a matter of recreational fishing.
He also commented that
Opening this MPA to recreational fishing will set a dangerous precedent in a conservation area that is closed to all, for the benefit of all. Allowing a few people access for recreational purposes would negate the benefits that accrue to all South Africans. A decision to open this MPA would effectively have signalled a broader shift in policy on the part of government and the beginning of a new approach that is neither sustainable nor in line with our stated objectives.
He further acknowledged that it would be extremely difficult for effective monitoring and compliance measures to be enforced.
If the MPA is now to be opened to fishing, the question that must be answered is what has changed since 2007? Are any of the reasons cited by van Schalkwyk for keeping the Tsitsikamma MPA closed, no longer valid?
Environmental and economic impact
A WWF-funded report estimated in 2006 that the fish stocks built up in the Tsitsikamma MPA could be fished down in approximately 33 days (page 7). The benefit to opening the MPA would thus accrue very quickly to the local fishermen, after which the MPA would have fish stocks of similar quality and size to those outside the reserve and everyone would be worse off.
The largest fish, which spawn exponentially more (example – section 5.4) than their smaller counterparts, would be taken first. The MPA plays a vital role in re-seeding areas along its boundaries with new fish.
Enforcement continues to be a major challenge in most MPAs. The primary hindrances to enforcement activities include inadequate staffing, the lack of suitable regulations and poor morale. Morale would be boosted and enforcement efficiency improved if the judiciary became more aware of MPA issues and if all necessary enforcement actions were supported at the highest governmental levels without discrimination between law breakers. A lack of clear objectives for each MPA and a similar lack of understanding of the role and importance of MPAs at higher political levels poses a continual risk of existing MPAs being opened or de-proclaimed.
Can we expect SANParks to properly police the MPA when it is opened to fishing? What is the record of SANParks when it comes to policing of the other MPAs for which they are responsible? How, for example, will they determine whether an individual has already fished for his designated four days in the month? Will there be boots on the ground and boats in the water? There is already an illegal fishing problem in the reserve.
In announcing the proposal, Environment Minister Edna Molelwa states that “A detailed monitoring plan which includes fixed underwater cameras and process will be implemented. Furthermore SANParks has developed an operational plan which includes additional manpower for monitoring of access and regulations of permits.” (As an aside, do you think she’s talking about BRUVs?!)
Where is the funding for the “additional manpower” going to come from? If SANParks can whip it out of a hat at such short notice, why have they failed to provide proper support and enforcement to the other MPAs that they are responsible for?
Is the community goodwill that will be generated by opening the MPA to fishing sufficient that this proposal can be explained by the proximity of the 2016 elections? (I don’t know.)
If the proposed fishing is “subsistence” fishing as Minister Molelwa’s statement suggests, and stringent bag limits apply, is four days of fishing per month even a meaningful concession to subsistence fishermen?
Balancing human rights and conservation
For the other side of this debate, I ask you to consider how you would feel if you were accustomed to engaging in an enjoyable activity – one that perhaps even made you a bit of money now and then, and fed your family – close to home, but then were prevented from doing so. This is the experience of the angling community around the Tsitsikamma reserve, who were allowed to fish there until the closure of the MPA to fishing in 2000. Many, or even all, of the fishermen who have been campaigning to fish in the Tsitsikamma MPA are from groups of people who have historically had very limited access to South Africa’s resources, who lack the resources to travel long distances to other fishing spots.
Thursday’s post about balancing customary rights to fish with environmental imperatives is required reading for this section of the debate. What might a compromise look like, if you accept the view that the local fishermen have a case for being allowed to fish in the area?
Unfortunately you don’t get to be a thinking adult in South Africa without engaging with some hard questions with shameful historical origins. So get to it.
How to submit your comments
Send an email to MPARegs@environment.gov.za, or use the postal address provided on page 4 of the relevant Government Gazette (pdf). Send your comments before 1 February 2016. Rationality and respect are never out of place when you’re trying to be heard.
You are welcome to copy and paste from this blog post when you put together your comments, although I haven’t made it as easy to do so as I did with the seal snorkeling issue because I don’t think it’s necessarily quite as clear cut. May I respectfully ask that if you talk to the press on the subject, or communicate about it in any public forum, that you use your own words.
Update (1 December 2015)
It appears that the fishermen are exerting pressure on SANParks to open fishing in the MPA by 15 December. Some sources (facebook) report that this is a done deal; other news sources (Times Live, The Herald) seem to indicate that this aspect is still under negotiation. The facebook report seems credible, particularly given the stroppy tone evinced in the comments by the original poster, when asked for more information.
In any case, giving in to pressure from the community would put the nail in the coffin of any theory other than expediency, ignoring scientific advice, and political pressure as a motive for the opening of the MPA.
Can someone explain to me (or the Environmental Affairs minister) how it is possible to both benefit society (by allowing fishing) AND to ensure the fish are protected for future generations (this would entail keeping the MPA closed)? Do fisheries scientists know that new knowledge has apparently revealed that allowing fishing protects fish? Has someone told them? This quote is from the Times Live article, emphasis mine:
Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa said the move would benefit society and ensure such benefits were protected for future generations.
“The trade-offs between benefits and the protection of the resources that provide benefits are complex and subject to continuous change as human needs evolve and new knowledge accumulates,” she said.
“The government must be prepared to continuously reassess these trade-offs in consultation with its various partners.”
You know what to do. Send a jolly email: MPARegs@environment.gov.za. Send your comments before 1 February 2016. If you don’t send a formal response, but only bleat about it on facebook and other forums, you won’t be heard by the people making the decisions. Be a good citizen!
South African legislation has not yet addressed the conflict between customary rights to marine resources by the communities who depend(ed) on them, and environmental law that designates certain areas as reserves and forbids fishing.
In essence, it lays down a proportionality requirement, in terms of which it must be shown that the law in question (the Marine Living Resources Act) serves a constitutionally acceptable purpose and that there is sufficient proportionality between the infringement and the purpose that the law is designed to achieve.
a very clear constitutional duty on the government to ensure that natural resources such as marine resources are managed in a manner which acknowledges the economic interests in fisheries, but at the same time ensures that ecosystems and species are protected to ensure long-term viability.
Feris describes arguments for fisheries management approaches that make use of indigenous communities as custodians, assessors of the fishing stock, and managers and enforcers. The aim of such an approach would be to confer both a right (to harvest) and a duty (to protect) upon the local communities that have traditionally had access to a marine resource. Ensuring that employees at national parks and protected areas are drawn directly from the surrounding communities is one way to enact this type of philosophy.
Can I suggest Feris’s article as some Sunday afternoon reading? This is not a problem that is going to disappear in South Africa any time soon, and as a trying-to-be-compassionate human and conservation-minded ocean person it’s good to familiarise oneself with the grey areas that challenge one’s convictions.
Sustainable Seas Trust is endeavouring to strike the balance that Feris writes about in her article, and – should you be at a loss as to how to proceed – you could consider supporting them.
First up, let me refer those of you who are truly bloody-minded Christmas shoppers to the gift guides from previous years: 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014. This one draws heavily upon all of those, and you may safely skip the past editions unless you really want lashings of Christmas gifting cheer. I am tempted to say, as usual, that if you haven’t started thinking about this already, you’ve left it too late… But prove me wrong. (Plus, I’m publishing the gift guide a bit earlier than I usually do – you’ve got a month to get busy.)
For the person who has everything, or because you’re feeling grateful, consider a donation on behalf of your friend or loved one:
We’ve really got our money’s worth from our Wild Card this year. It has been used for multiple entries to Cape Point, for De Hoop, and for one or two other trips, and paid for itself in a few months. The full card is a bit pricey, but there’s a great alternative called My Green Card, that costs R110 and gives twelve entries to any of the paid sections of Table Mountain National Park (so, Cape Point, Boulders, Silvermine, Oudekraal, and a few braai areas). Read the fine print carefully though – if you use it up quickly, you have to wait for the 12 months to pass before you can purchase another one. But you can also share the 12 clips with friends, whereas a regular Wild Card is tied to your identity. You will have to go to the SANParks office in Tokai to get a My Green Card.
A DVD – either a movie, a series box set, or a documentary – is not a bad gift idea!
Clip Clop designs and prints beautiful tide charts for Cape Town and Durban and moon phase charts for the year. You can order online or usually find them at Exclusive Books.
If you take your own photos, you could print and frame a couple, create a photo book (Orms can help with this if you don’t know where to start), or experiment with stretched canvas prints if that’s your thing. A digital photo frame pre-loaded with underwater images is also a lovely gift for a diving friend.
Dive gear and useful stuff
Smaller items of gear such as cutting tools, masks, clips and other accessories won’t break the bank. Contact Tony for some ideas and suggestions as to what to get and where to find it.
You can order a WetSac online (seriously, check it out). Otherwise, a fabulous hooded towel that will be the envy of everyone at the dive site can be obtained from one of the surf shops (try Lifestyle Surf Shop and just walk in there with your head up like you don’t care you’re not a surfer) next to Primi Piatti at Muizenberg.
Otherwise, just think a little bit about what might be useful before or after a dive. Sunscreen, deep conditioner, cleansing shampoo, a mini dry bag, a beanie for cold days on the boat,