Newsletter: Gremlins

Hi divers

Weekend dive plans

Sunday: shore dives at Long Beach

Monday: boat dives from Simon’s Town, conditions permitting

We had a small gremlin interfere with our newsletter timing yesterday and for this we apologise.

We had decent conditions on Wednesday with dives in the vicinity of Roman Rock. There was a dirty layer on the surface, but underneath there was clear water with visibility of about 12 metres. Today we are taking visitors from Port Elizabeth to explore some local dive sites.

Roman Rock lighthouse on Wednesday
Roman Rock lighthouse on Wednesday

It is the Cape Town Dive Festival this weekend, held at False Bay Yacht Club, so the slipway will be quite busy. I plan for student pool training on Saturday, shore dives at Long Beach on Sunday (working the students hard) and boat launches on Monday (a glorious public holiday).

If you are keen for a shore dive on Sunday or want to be kept in the loop about boat dives on Monday, let me know.

regards

Tony Lindeque
076 817 1099
www.learntodivetoday.co.za
www.learntodivetoday.co.za/blog/

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Say yes to 22 new Marine Protected Areas for South Africa

Twenty two new marine protected areas have been proposed for South Africa. The benefits of MPAs are well known, so this is excellent news for the future of our marine environment. The public is invited to comment on the proposal, and as a responsible ocean loving individual, sending an email to comment would be one of the ways you can save the ocean. Read on to find out the details.

Proposed new MPAs for South Africa (existing ones in navy blue)
Proposed new MPAs for South Africa (existing ones in navy blue)

Included in the proposed new Marine Protected Areas are South Africa’s first offshore MPAs. The press release from the Department of Environmental Affairs states that:

Many of these new MPAs aim to protect offshore ecosystems and species, ranging from deep areas along the Namibian border to a more than tenfold expansion of iSimangaliso Wetland Park in the KwaZulu-Natal Province. They include charismatic features, such as, fossilised yellow wood forest at a depth of 120m off Port Nolloth, a deep cold-water coral reef standing 30m high off the seabed near Port Elizabeth and a world famous diving destination where seven shark species aggregate, at Protea Banks in KwaZulu-Natal. These MPAs also include undersea mountains, canyons, sandy plains, deep and shallow muds and diverse gravel habitats with unique fauna.

What good will these MPAs do? According to the press release:

The new MPAs will secure protection of marine habitats like reefs, mangroves and coastal wetlands which are required to help protect coastal communities from the results of storm surges, rising sea-levels and extreme weather. Offshore, these MPAs will protect vulnerable habitats and secure spawning grounds for various marine species, therefore helping to sustain fisheries and ensure long-term benefits important to food and job security.

The new MPAs will increase the protected portion of South Africa’s territorial waters from less than 0.5%, to 5%. The government has undertaken to get this figure to 10% by 2019.

What does this mean for you?

Scuba diving

If you’re a scuba diver, you probably know that diving in a Marine Protected Area – particularly in a no-take zone – is an extra special experience because of the abundant fish and other marine life. The prospect of richer, more diverse dive sites to explore is an exciting one, but there are more benefits to this proposal than just enhanced eco-tourism opportunities.

Scuba diving businesses will have to acquire permits from the Department of Environmental Affairs (for about R500 per year) to operate in the Marine Protected Areas. (This has been in force for some time, and ethical dive operators in Cape Town who take clients diving in any of the existing MPAs should be in possession of a permit already.) There are also the permits issued to individual scuba divers (for about R100 per year, obtainable at the post office) to dive in an MPA – you will see this mentioned in Tony’s newsletter now and then, as a reminder.

Environmental protection

Some of the new MPAs are in offshore regions that would otherwise be at risk from destructive trawl fishing and other exploitative activities such as mineral, oil and gas extraction from the seabed.

Many of these MPAs will, like the Tsitsikamma MPA, serve as nurseries for fish stocks. Recreational and commercial fisheries will benefit from allowing the fish to spawn unmolested in protected areas along the coast. Holding ourselves back from fishing everywhere, at every opportunity, shows long-term thinking, and will have short-term benefits as well as for future generations.

Undesirable activities

Not all of the MPAs will be closed to fishing – those of you familiar with the network of protected areas around the Cape Peninsula will be familiar with this idea. For example, a number of pelagic game- and baitfish species may be caught within the Controlled Pelagic Zones of the Amathole, iSimangaliso, Protea and Aliwal Shoal Marine Protected Areas. Commercial fishing permits may also be issued for use in the MPAs.

Existing discharges of effluent are permitted to continue – specifically into the Aliwal Shoal MPA.  This means that SAPPI may continue to pump wood-pulp effluent onto the dive sites there.

What to do?

If you would like to show your support for the proposal – and who doesn’t love a well-chosen MPA? – send an email to MPARegs@environment.gov.za. You have until 2 May 2016 to do so, and you can include any other relevant comments about the MPA proposal in your missive.

You can download the full document detailing the proposed new MPAs complete with maps, management regulations and co-ordinates (a 336 page pdf) here.

Tony and I are looking forward to passing over some of the new MPAs on the Agulhas Bank (maybe numbers 11 and 12 on the map above) next year – without getting wet. You can come too! (But you may have to impersonate a twitcher.)

Who to thank?

This project has been spearheaded by a team at SANBI (the South African National Biodiversity Institute) led by Dr Kerry Sink. Dr Sink has been awarded a prestigious Pew Fellowship in Marine Conservation for 2016, and her fellowship work encompasses a range of projects aimed at strengthening and expanding South Africa’s network of Marine Protected Areas.

We are extraordinarily fortunate to have a scientist and conservationist of Dr Sink’s calibre as a champion for MPAs in South Africa. So you can thank her!

Newsletter: Guest photographers

Hi divers

Weekend dive plans

Sunday: Launching from the Simon’s Town jetty at 8.30 am for Maidstone Rock / 11.00 am for Atlantis

Georgina at Boat Rock, photographed by Arne Gething
Georgina at Boat Rock, photographed by Arne Gething

I think most people are keen for summer to arrive. I know I am. We dived last Friday at Atlantis and Boat Rock and had pretty good conditions – thank you to Arne for the photo above! Last weekend was a washout and the week has been dry thanks to the spring tides, swell and some wind.

The whales heard my complaints from last week, and on Friday a young whale breached in front of us again. This time while Geoff was holding the camera and he got a great photo!

Breaching whale, picture by Geoff Spiby
Breaching whale, picture by Geoff Spiby

False Bay is currently flat but not very clean. We are meant to have two days of westerly or north westerly winds so I think Sunday will be an option. There is also less swell on Sunday. I don’t think it is going to be paradise, but it will certainly improve over what we have right now.

We will launch on Sunday from theSimon’s Town jetty at 8.30 am for Maidstone Rock and 11.00 am for Atlantis. This is the plan, but the dive sites may change as I prefer to dive in better visibility if we go that far south, so will change sites to suit the conditions.

In other news

Diarise Diversnight 2015 for the evening of Saturday 7 November! More details to follow.

Also, as of yesterday we are a PADI Resort Dive Centre – the only major difference so far is that we now appear here

regards

Tony Lindeque
076 817 1099
www.learntodivetoday.co.za
www.learntodivetoday.co.za/blog/

Diving is addictive!

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Newsletter: Loose ends

Hi divers

Weekend plans

Saturday: Launching from Hout Bay to the BOS 400 and Tafelberg Reef

Text me or reply to this mail if you want to dive.

We did not manage any diving last weekend as the boat was scheduled to launch in Gordon’s Bay for the Aqualung Fun Day on Saturday but we were cancelled on Friday evening because of bad visibility on that side. Sunday was a howling south easter day so no diving was done.

This weekend has a forecast similar to last weekend but with a few differences. The 3 metre swell that is in every forecast does not appear to be around as the Atlantic wave buoy registers 2 metre swell at the moment and False Bay was relatively flat today. The wind is another matter… There is however less wind on Saturday, so an early launch in Hout Bay is on the cards. We will dive the BOS 400 and Tafelberg Reef. Sunday will be too windy for my kind of diving.

Thanks very much to Jerrel for this week’s photo – taken two weekends ago on a dive to Roman Rock.

Silvertip nudibranch at Roman Rock, by Jerrel van Beek
Silvertip nudibranch at Roman Rock, by Jerrel van Beek

Mozambique trip

There is still space on the Mozambique trip (28 June – 4 July). Remember to book your flights if you’ve decided to join us – get more info from Clare. That is how you will confirm your spot.

regards

Tony Lindeque
076 817 1099
www.learntodivetoday.co.za
www.learntodivetoday.co.za/blog/

Diving is addictive!

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Newsletter: Creatures of the deep

Hi divers

Weekend dives

Saturday: Aqualung Fun Day at Harbour Island

Sunday: Boat or shore dives in False Bay, to be confirmed

Simon's Town harbour looking pristine last Sunday
Simon’s Town harbour looking pristine last Sunday

We dived last weekend in False Bay. The conditions were great for being out and about on the boat, but the visibility was a little mediocre. In fact we should have just dived under the jetty in Simon’s Town, as the viz was not too bad there. The good thing is that the ocean always has a surprise ready and we were treated to the sight of a lesser spotted, light blue, teeth-chattering frozen Andre and his henchman Jesse as we brought the boat in after the first dive.

Jesse and Andre under the jetty
Jesse and Andre under the jetty

This weekend sees the first Aqualung Fun Day in Gordon’s Bay on Saturday. Our boat will be there and we are hoping for good conditions. Here’s how to get there. On Sunday we will dive from Simon’s Town but at this point it is difficult to be sure whether we will shore dive or boat dive. It is a spring tide, and low tide will be close to midday plus the wind forecast is a little hectic. If you’d like to be on standby to dive, reply to this mail or send me a text message.

regards

Tony Lindeque
076 817 1099
www.learntodivetoday.co.za
www.learntodivetoday.co.za/blog/

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Newsletter: Wind water fire

Hi divers

Weekend diving

No dives planned

For some time now it has been difficult to write a NEWSletter as we have done so little diving. The harsh conditions have been relentless and decent weekday diving has also been dramatically curtailed. Whilst we wait for great diving conditions many, many people struggle to relax and feel safe while the raging fires have either cost them dearly or continue to pose a risk.

The number of hard working, dedicated people out there fighting these fires (including volunteer fire fighter slash Divemaster Gary, who many of you will know) makes you realise that being disappointed in another weekend of no diving is hardly worth a mention. I became anxious when the fire was still more than a kilometre away from our home, whilst other people were hosing their houses down in a hail of embers in an effort to save them.

The fire over Boyes drive on Tuesday
The fire over Boyes drive on Tuesday

So be grateful you have a home to hide from the wind and avoid the ocean this weekend. A 4 metre swell and 30 km/h winds are on the cards so it is once again a no diving weekend. If you’re doing the Cycle Tour on Sunday, good luck! We’re sorry you won’t be passing through our neck of the woods any more, but be safe and have fun anyway.

Fun stuff

There is an Aqualung dive festival happening in Gordon’s Bay in two weeks’ time on 21 March, with great prizes on offer for participating divers. There are still tickets available so contact Indigo Scuba or Underwater Explorers to book.

Those of you who expressed an interest in Mozambique in June-July can expect an email from Clare by the end of the weekend… Plans for last weekend’s email blitz were derailed by some smoke and flames! If you don’t know about the trip and want more info, let me know.

regards

Tony Lindeque
076 817 1099
www.learntodivetoday.co.za
www.learntodivetoday.co.za/blog/

Diving is addictive!

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Newsletter: Load shedding tips

Hi divers

Weekend diving

No diving!

Conditions report

It is once again a weekend that does not bode well for diving. We are looking at pretty much the same conditions that were around last weekend and from what I have gathered the conditions last weekend were somewhere between lousy and appalling. A 3-4 meter swell arrives tomorrow. It drops but lingers on Sunday and reappears in force on Monday. Both False Bay and Hout Bay are very green and brown and viz reports have been very poor.

I doubt the weekend will deliver any good diving, sure if you really need to dive and can deal with the surge and low viz then try sheltered sites from shore. For us, we will stay high and dry.

Congratulations

Life of Brian
Life of Brian

Brian, whom many of you will know from the time he spent here in late 2013 during which time he did his Advanced course and got comfortable diving in cold, not always clean water, qualified this week as a diving instructor in Hawaii. He has accepted a job at a dive centre there, and if you head out that way be sure to visit him. He is pictured above doing the aircraft recovery specialty, the raw egg specialty, and his best Grumpy Cat face. Well done Brian!

Load shedding tips

One way to guarantee that your area will not experience load shedding is to buy a generator, fuel it, wire it for connection to the mains, and then wait, with the excitement of a child, for the power to go out. It won’t, I promise. You can thank me later.

regards

Tony Lindeque
076 817 1099
www.learntodivetoday.co.za
www.learntodivetoday.co.za/blog/

Diving is addictive!

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New shrimp species found in False Bay

Guido Zsilavecz is the author of two essential reference books on the marine life around the Cape Peninsula: Nudibranchs of the Cape Peninsula and False Bay, and Coastal Fishes of the Cape Peninsula and False Bay. He is also one of the founder members of SURG, the Southern Underwater Research Group, and monitors the questions at surg.co.za email address to which you can send pictures of all the creatures you can’t identify. Despite this prolific marine biology-related output, he is actually a computer scientist by day – photographing and researching marine life is a passion rather than a profession for him.

We were delighted to see an article on the front page of the Weekend Argus two weekends back, announcing Guido’s discovery of a new shrimp species in False Bay: the striking little stargazer shrimp, named Mysidopsis zsilaveczi after him! You can read another news report about it here.

Stargazer shrimp, photograph by Guido Zsilavecz
Stargazer shrimp, photograph by Guido Zsilavecz

Guido very generously answered a barrage of questions from me about the shrimp, and the process of scientific discovery, and agreed to let us publish his answer here (thank you Guido!). If you’re a citizen scientist in the making, or a regular diver who appreciates False Bay’s biodiversity, and you want to know how you can contribute to new discoveries, read on – it’s a fascinating and encouraging story:

The first photographic record I have of the stargazer shrimp is from Windmill – in 2002. That I took a photo shows that it was something that caught my eye and interest. Normally when I see something new and unusual I file it into the back of my mind, so I keep a casual look-out for it – as the key to any of these things is to be able to “target” it, i.e. find it consistently. A single sighting doesn’t really help, as there’s every chance the animal was there by accident as that it could be its habitat. So over the years I’ve photographed some here and there (including, by the way, the Atlantic side – that seems to have been lost in the article), generally when I was going slowly with macro. It was during dives where I was using super-macro (beyond 1-to-1) that I started finding it more often.

Crustacea, like shrimps and crabs, are often very hard to identify for non-experts – very often you need to look at minute physical characteristics in order to determine what it is. From its overall look I figured out it had to be a mysid, but beyond that, well, I don’t have the right equipment or reference material to figure that out. But, I also know from interactions with the scientific community that if you draw attention to them regarding something like this, that they struggle just as much with just photos as we do, and that they need a specimen just as much in order to identify it. So, unless you can actively target it, there’s actually usually little point in bringing it to their attention. So, when I was in such a position, I approached Prof. Charles Griffiths, with whom I had been working before, and asked him if he knew what it was. He said no, and asked for the requisite specimen. I got that to him, and even with that he couldn’t identify it, so he contacted Prof. Karl Wittmann, who is an expert. He concluded that it was indeed new, and Charles (Charlie) decided that after having helped with other things in the past, to have it named after me – which is of course quite an honour!

There are a few interesting things about this shrimp: the eyes are the first bit that stand out – those rings seem to be quite unique, although not all of them have those. Another feature is that very often there are two blue-and-orange semi-circles on the “shoulders” – again, not all of them have that. All the specimens I’ve collected are male, and were found on bare rock (sometimes on growth on rocks), individually (rather than in swarms, as many mysids are found), and they are not particularly skittish – they are not easy to spot, and you need to get your eye in, but going slowly over rocks does yield a few specimens. I’ve seen them from Castle to Windmill, and Oudekraal – places I dive commonly, but that means they should be everywhere, in depths from a few meters to 15m or so – more indicative of the dives you can do, rather than delineating environment.

The big question still is, where are the females? That we hope to find out sooner or later.

Whether something is a new species is done both via taxonomic (physical) comparisons, as well as DNA – both work well enough – in this case it was simply a taxonomic inspection – and Prof. Wittmann probably has all the relevant material to be able to determine this.

What does one do if one thinks one has something new? If you have exhausted your own resources (guide-books, for example), ask us! The reason we formed SURG is to be the link between research scientists and normal divers. Research scientists are busy, so the less one disturbs them with “trivial” stuff, the more they are inclined to help with the non-trivial stuff. Not to blow our own trumpets, but between ourselves the SURG team have vast experience and knowledge, so we’ll be able to quickly spot something that’s interesting vs. something that is common. Most of the time I get questions about things which are not unusual – and I’m perfectly happy answering those questions (SURG’s by-line for me is “conservation through education” – if you know what it is, you’re less likely to destroy it – and “trivial” questions with non-trivial answers is part of that!) – if we do find something unusual, we can then pick up on it and take it further. Of course, we don’t have all the answers – for example, I recently received a number of questions about sponges – they are impossible to ID visually, except for some few species, and you really need tissue samples to find out what they are – even passing photos on is mostly pointless, but these are more the exception than the rule.

Have contributors to SURG helped? Absolutely! By creating this forum where people can ask questions we get a big group of eyes and cameras looking – more so that the few of us can cover. So we’ve had many sightings of visitors, range extensions (if something is seen often enough and the reference guides say it isn’t found here – well, this shows it does, and one can re-draw boundaries), as well as new species – I think Carel van der Colff’s Sydney Opera House nudibranch is the most distinctive of new findings – but there are others.

So, what do we do when we get something very interesting? First of all I encourage that person to keep their eyes open in case they see it again, and to take pics. Very often I also try to find it myself after asking the person more detailed questions as to where, when, depth, environment, etc. I do some preliminary research, and if I then don’t find a reference, I contact a research scientist somewhere, and we take it from there.

Can one as a “garden variety” diver contribute to this? Absolutely – remember that, as such, I’m such a garden variety – I don’t do this for a living! It is all a question of being interested, following it up, reading up about it, and so on.

One thing worth remembering is that that scientists at places like UCT have a very focused job, whereas we garden variety divers go to have fun – that means we can look at everything – and that means that, collectively, we see more than the scientists do! And people like Prof. Griffiths really appreciate that, because they help him immensely as well!

Are we interested in anything specific? No, not really – we like everything! And largest group with undescribed species – yes, invertebrates – but that’s a huge group to start off with, so a bit unfair to say that. I think fish and nudibranchs are best known, followed by crustaceans, and then we go onto the much harder groups – and those are often the least studied, and hence more likely to have more new species.

Finding something new is a question of luck, definitely, but also building up an ability to distinguish the known from the unknown (to yourself), continuously reducing the latter list, until you maybe have something new! And, even though False Bay has been studied a lot, there’s still many new things that can be found, we are sure!

Newsletter: Back to business

Hi divers

Weekend dives

Saturday: 9.00 and 12.00 from Hout Bay to the Romeliathe Maori and/or the BOS 400

Sunday: 9.00 am double tank dive from OPBC to North and South Paw and/or the Cape Matapan

The week(end) that was

We had a dry weekend last week as we spent three days at the CTICC participating in the Cape Town International Boat Show. We met a lot of new people, some old friends and a few really cool dogs. Many of the visitors to our stand expressed an interest in diving and asked to be added to the newsletter. To new readers we say welcome and hopefully we see you all soon in the water!

The special offers on Open Water, Advanced, Refreshers and Nitrox Specialty will hold for another few weeks, so if you missed the show you can still be part of the summer diving bunch.

Clare at the boat show
Clare at the boat show

Conditions report

The south easterly wind has been hectic all week so theoretically the Atlantic should be crystal clear. I drove home along the coastline today and there are huge patches of clean water and huge patches of darker water. It looked very clean around Llandudno so I think the Romelia is on the cards for the weekend. I doubt False Bay will be good as apart from the wind, the swell is in a southerly direction which does not improve conditions at all.

Saturday looks like the best option for diving, and Sunday a maybe. If you want to dive, reply to this mail or text me. Sunday’s launches will be confirmed late on Saturday afternoon.

Saturday: launching from Hout Bay at 9.00 and 12.00. I have mostly students so we will look for clean water around the wrecks of Maori Bay and the Romelia wreck area.

Sunday: conditions permitting, we will be launching from OPBC at 9.00 for a double tank dive. We will look at the viz around the wreck of the Cape Matapan, and if it’s not clean there we will dive the pinnacles at North and South Paw.

Safety stopping in Maori Bay
Safety stopping in Maori Bay

Congratulations are in order

for Shane and Odette, who got engaged this week. Wishing you all the happiness! Also congrats to Brian, who has just completed his Divemaster course in… wait for it… Hawaii! Brian is starting an Instructor Development Course this week. Good job!

regards

Tony Lindeque
076 817 1099
www.learntodivetoday.co.za
www.learntodivetoday.co.za/blog/

Diving is addictive!

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Newsletter: Slow boat

Hi divers

Just a short and sweet newsletter this week as we are at the Boat Show at the Convention Centre for the next three days, and therefore won’t be diving. Besides boats there are other water related products and services to check out.There are some interesting speakers scheduled for the show, including Monty Guest who will talk about coelacanths tomorrow, and various experts on subjects from sharks to boat electronics to shipwrecks and salvage. Check out the full list of speakers here and plan your visit accordingly.

In short: pop in and say hi. Also, please bring cake.

Parked at the jetty
Parked at the jetty

Dive conditions

We had good diving on Saturday out of Hout Bay, visiting the Maori and Duiker Island, and again yesterday in False Bay. We visited Atlantis, Fan Reef and Boat Rock, and the divers reported good viz of 8-12 metres. If you want to dive this weekend there will always be someone keen to dive, and I know Alistair of Underwater Explorers will be launching on Sunday.

Be good and have fun.

regards

Tony Lindeque
076 817 1099
www.learntodivetoday.co.za
www.learntodivetoday.co.za/blog/

Diving is addictive!

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