Effective pro-ocean activism is something that everyone who cares about the marine environment can engage in. This is the strong message of the most recent of David Helvarg’s books, Saved by the Sea, and of this short volume, too. It is illustrated by Jim Toomey, creator of Sherman’s Lagoon.
Rather than being overwhelmed by ocean-related doom and gloom, there are very simple actions that we can incorporate as part of our everyday lives that have a direct impact on the health of the marine environment. The Two Oceans Aquarium does a great job of speaking about this aspect of responsible citizenship on their blog and on Twitter – you should follow them if this is important to you.
Cut all loops of plastic and other non-biodegradable materials before throwing them away (this prevents entanglement by seals and other marine life if/when the material ends up in the ocean)
Many of the actions that Helvarg suggests entail simply enjoying the marine environment, and this is a profound but familiar idea. When we care about something, we will protect it, and by enjoying the sea through diving, visiting the beach, or riding on a boat, we will come to care about it and its inhabitants. The emphasis in many of the sections is also on safe enjoyment of the ocean. Helvarg does not explain his focus on safety, but one reason I can think of for encouraging careful and safe enjoyment ocean-related activities is to ensure that these activities will remain available to everyone. Bad publicity after marine accidents can drive people away from the beach!
50 Ways to Save the Ocean connects patriotism and pride with care for the environment, which is an excellent approach for robustly patriotic people like Americans. For South Africans, whose feelings towards their country are – for historical reasons – often a little less straightforward than those of your average flag-waving American, this approach may not be the best one. Helvarg also provides the contact details of a large number of US-based organisations that espouse the values he advocates and engage in the kinds of conservation activities he describes. Someone needs to write a version of this book for South Africans!
This is the kind of book you could go through with a relatively young child, and decide together which actions you’re going to implement together. The reading level isn’t complex.
Get the book here, here or here (if you’re in South Africa).
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.
The sea swallow, Glaucus atlanticus, is a type of pelagic nudibranch. Pelagic means it lives in the open ocean, and being a nudibranch makes it a member of the phylum Mollusca. They are also called blue dragons, blue sea slugs, and a few other similar names. Because of where they live, these striking creatures are not frequently seen, so we were lucky to encounter a few of them after a dive at Batsata Maze in the south western part of False Bay, just south of Smitswinkel Bay.
The blue patterned side of this nudibranch that is visible when viewed from above is actually its underside. The top surface of the animal, which points down, is counter-shaded (like a great white shark). It is a greyish silver colour to blend in with the surface of the sea when viewed from underwater.
Sea swallows suck air into a gas-filled sack inside their bodies, for buoyancy. They prey on blue bottles (also called Portuguese man o’war) and retain and concentrate the blue bottles’ venom in their bodies for use against their own enemies. This makes them extremely venomous with the potential to sting badly.
Luckily the intrepid Carel leaped into the water to scoop one into a cup and we could all take a closer look (don’t touch!) on the boat and get some photographs. Afterwards, our visitor was returned safely to the ocean.
They are widely distributed through many of the world’s oceans, and sometimes wash up on the beaches in False Bay. They are unusual, but not earth-shatteringly rare. If we were more social media savvy we would have managed to use this sighting to manufacture the kind of hysteria generated by that facebook page whose title expresses an intense and profane love for “science“, or a few other media channels. But we’re not, so you get this blog post!
Saturday: Dives from Simon’s Town jetty at 9.00 and 11.30 am, sites dependent on conditions
We had good conditions last week; they held for the weekend and then kept going at the start of this week. Yesterday and today, however, the viz took a bit of a nosedive and is possibly going to settle into the summer visibility groove of a warm 4- 6 metres, depending on your eyesight. There is very little swell or wind in the forecast which will help.
I doubt there will be too much difference between Saturday and Sunday so the plan is as follows: a screechingly early double tank launch on Saturday (6.00 am on the Simon’s Town jetty). On Sunday we will meet for 9.00 am and 11.30 am. The sites will depend on what we find on Saturday.
This Cape long-legged spider crab hitched a ride to the surface on one of the divers’ booties this week. Isn’t he a handsome chap? He is back where he belongs!
Try diving in the pool
In the month of December until Christmas, we are offering Discover Scuba sessions (try dives) in our pool, free of charge, every Wednesday and Thursday after 3.00 pm. If you have a friend that needs a little persuasion to qualify as your future dive buddy, then bring them along. Booking is essential. Get in touch if you want to reserve a slot.
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,
Sunday: Boat or shore dives, conditions dependent!
We have had terrific conditions all week and have been taking full advantage. False Bay is cleanish and warmish. Visibility has varied from site to site but the bay is full of life. On Tueday we spent our surface interval time photographing sea swallows at Batsata Maze. Wednesday’s surface interval was spent filming giant short tail sting rays at Millers Point, and today we were fortunate enough to have two orcas swim by close inshore whilst the divers were on the SAS Pietermaritzburg this morning. Who knows what we will see tomorrow!
Sadly the diving today was somewhat overshadowed by the raging fire that descended on Simon’s Town with the westerly wind, despite the best efforts of many firefighters. Watching from the water you could see the speed at which the fire traveled and I doubt anything other than a thundershower was going to slow it down. On the run back into Simon’s Town we went through really thick smoke.
The weekend, however, does not look too rosy. At cowsharks this afternoon the swell was quite noticeable and although it stays at 3 metres for most of tomorrow, the forecast is for 5-6 metres on Saturday. It seldom reaches the height in the forecast but even at 4-5 metres diving becomes less than great. Surge and low viz are on the cards. I think there will be a better than good chance that Sunday will be semi-decent so I will provisionally schedule diving, either from the boat or perhaps a shore dive or two… Text me if you want to join and I’ll keep you posted.
Watching Whales & Dolphins in Southern Africa – Noel & Belinda Ashton
This is an enormously useful book for local whale watchers, and provides details on the life history and characteristics of the cetaceans found in Southern Africa’s waters. The text is illustrated by beautiful paintings and photographs showing the animals in full from various angles, including what you’d see if they were on the surface of the sea or about to sound.
Noel Ashton is an artist, sculptor and conservationist, whose sculptural work can be seen in the foyer of the Two Oceans Aquarium in Cape Town. Nature writer and designer Belinda Ashton has co-authored several books with him. The Ashtons also provided the whale and dolphin identification posters upstairs between the Predator Exhibit and the Kelp Forest tank. Their love for the natural world is evident in the beautiful illustrations and careful attention to detail in this book.
There is a history of whaling in South Africa, but fortunately there is now a yearly strong recovery in whale numbers and an appreciation of the economic value of whales alive rather than dead. There are incredible whale watching opportunities all around South Africa’s coast, including world-class shore-based viewing from Cape Town to De Hoop via Hermanus and De Kelders. There is boat-based whale watching out of Cape Town and from Gansbaai, Hermanus, Knysna, Plettenberg Bay, Durban, St Lucia, and other locations in between. For those who do not remember whaling, it is easy to become blasé about this embarrassment of cetacean riches, but it makes us, as South Africans, extremely privileged indeed.
For ocean lovers, this book is as indispensable as a bird book to a twitcher. It is highly recommended.
You can get a copy of the book here (South Africa) or here.
Here’s a quick read on shark repellents from Smithsonian.com. While it only takes a few paragraphs to explain the different attempts humans have made to avoid encountering sharks while using the ocean, the task of actually developing technology to do this is far more complex. Testing shark repellents is also ethically difficult – in the same way that it’s hard to test medications for use during pregnancy, as one could be causing harm to human subjects.
(It’s worth reading a bit about the Shark Shield device pictured above for more on testing. Testing the efficacy of stripy wetsuits, on the other hand, is almost impossible, and for this reason they can be almost impossibly lucrative – imagine a product where you don’t have to prove whether it works, and when it fails you can (a) throw up your hands and make an excuse along the lines of “it was a freak event”/”the guy must have been wearing it incorrectly” or (b) close the company and disappear.)
The “electronic fence” mentioned at the end of the article is the shark repellent cable that the KwaZulu Natal Sharks Board tested at Glencairn last summer. You can read more about that (also from Smithsonian.com) here.