Marine-related MOOCs from edX

As a fourth and final (perhaps) installment to our guide to ocean-related MOOCs for the curious armchair scholar, here is a list of offerings from provider edX, including one about SHARKS. All about sharks!

I have only just discovered edX, so (unlike Coursera, Future Learn and Open2Study) I have not done any of these courses, and don’t speak from experience. The format looks similar to Coursera, so you can pay to get a “verified certificate” for the course, or just choose to audit it (like a Scientologist… bad joke, sorry), which doesn’t cost anything. Like Coursera, edX has an app so you can work (on certain mobile-friendly courses) on your iPad or Android tablet.

Sharks! Global Biodiversity, Biology, and Conservation is from Cornell University and the University of Queensland, and looks like a complete primer about sharks, from their evolutionary and life history all the way through to management issues and human-shark interactions. The next sessions starts on 28 June. Will I see you there?

Tropical Coastal Ecosystems (also from the University of Queensland) is self-paced, which means you can start whenever you want to. The Great Barrier Reef is used as a study example in many instances, and the course deals with coral reefs, seagrass meadows, and mangrove swamps.

Two courses that are focused more specifically on climate and related science are:

Climate Change: The Science from the University of British Columbia in Canada doesn’t have any current or future sessions scheduled, but you can still view the course material. This course not only covers climate, science, but aims to equip you to evaluate climate science, and to communicate facts about the climate to others.

Sensing Planet Earth – Water and Ice from Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden deals with the measurement and monitoring of earth’s ice and water bodies, in order better to understand the changing climate.

Have fun!

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!

Bookshelf: Sharks in Question

Sharks in Question – Victor G Springer & Joy P Gold

Sharks in Question
Sharks in Question

After an extremely enjoyable and informative experience with Whales and Dolphins in Question, another volume in the Smithsonian’s “in question” series, I sought out Sharks in Question.

Published in 1989, this book is chiefly enlightening as a primer in how shark science and attitudes towards sharks have progressed in the last quarter century. Like Ainley and Klimley’s Great White SharksSharks in Question is seriously dated. Far from making this a frustrating reading experience, I found it incredible how much more certain we are of so many things that the authors mention here in speculative terms.

If you’re looking for some current shark science, I would recommend Global Perspectives on the Biology and Life History of the White Shark or Sharks of the World. You could also check out the BBC’s wonderful Sharks series. If you are looking to complete your library of all things shark, however, you could find a place for this volume.

You might be able to get a copy here (South Africa), otherwise here or here.

Giant short tailed sting rays at Millers Point

Giant short tailed sting ray behind the boat at Millers Point
Giant short tailed sting ray behind the boat at Millers Point

Giant short tailed sting rays reliably appear in the warm, shallow waters of False Bay during the summer months. They are seen frequently at inshore dive sites such as Long Beach, but mostly during the warmest months of the year.

They can be seen fairly reliably year-round, however, near the Millers Point slipway. As with Parrie the ray at Struisbaai harbour, the rays at Millers Point have figured out that the discarded fish guts thrown overboard by the fishermen returning from a day on the bay are a steady source of snacks.

Here’s some fly by traffic coming past the boat one November day near the slipway, where we paused between double tank dives to change cylinders and de-gas.

It is illegal to feed these rays or to bait the water to attract them (or anything, if you don’t have a permit), but a short cruise in amongst the fishing boats queuing for the slipway will cause them to come and investigate. Snorkeling or diving this area is very risky because of the boat traffic, so take care.

Newsletter: The right thing

Hi divers

Weekend dive plans

Saturday: Boat dives from Hout Bay / shore dives at Long Beach

It would seem from the forecast that it is a open and shut case of where to go and what to do this weekend. To be honest I am not too sure of the right thing to do! Both the Atlantic and False Bay are a colour that does not exactly inspire one to throw on a wetsuit.

Peace and quiet in Hout Bay
Peace and quiet in Hout Bay

The wind has blown more easterly and north easterly today than was expected, so it will not have done much for the visibility on either side. Sunday is out of the question as the forecast is for humping south easter, so that leaves Saturday.

I am launching from Hout Bay tomorrow afternoon and will have a better idea of whether it is clean enough for Saturday. The other option is shore diving at Long Beach. I reckon that there is about a strong chance that the water won’t be clean enough for any diving at all, though.

Privileges and responsibilities

We are very privileged to be able to dive with some beautiful and charismatic marine life around the Cape Peninsula, but with that privilege comes responsibility. Here are reminders of our best practices for diving with seals and with the sevengill cowsharks.

Happy snaps

There are some super photos on facebook, taken by local photographer Mark Harley, from when Dungeons was pumping last week – check them out here.

regards

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

Diving is addictive!

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Documentary (BBC): Arctic with Bruce Parry

1422966653_ARCTICfMuch of my recent Arctic obsession has been historical, with a related interest in the hostile environment that has stymied (and killed) so many explorers over the centuries. Bruce Parry is a British documentarian (didn’t know that was a thing, but it seems fun) who seems to be dearly loved and some kind of national institution to the Brits. After watching this five-episode BBC series on the Arctic and its people, we could understand his charm.

Parry visits people living in Siberia, Greenland, northern Canada, Alaska, and the far north of Norway. He throws himself into their activities – whether rounding up reindeer, hunting for seals on the ice, fishing in Alaska (I had some serious lifestyle envy at this point), or racing up mountains. He is sensitive and respectful, and seems to forge genuine bonds with the families he visits.

The common thread that marks the lives of many of the tribes and peoples’ that Parry visits is that climate change, and the encroaching changes wrought by the pace of modern life, are challenging their traditions and lifestyles. Having lived sustainably off the land for generations, these people’s movements, traditions and futures are now circumscribed by all sorts of interventions from modern society. Not least of these is a lack of understanding of and respect for how they live.

Tony and I found much to discuss – for example, after the episode covering a traditional whale hunt in Alaska. Is there a difference between Japanese industrial whaling and an Inuit community’s subsistence hunting  for a couple of whales a year, done with reverence, prayers, and gratitude for the whale, whose bones will be scraped clean by polar bears after the entire carcass has been distributed in the village? Is it possible to kill an animal as large as a whale, humanely? Is all whaling wrong? These are difficult questions but it is worth grappling with them. As my friend Tami has exhorted me in the words of Rilke (in a different context, admittedly), “live the questions!

The series was filmed over the course of a summer, during which time much of the usual ice that marks the Arctic landscape was absent. The look of the landscape initially puzzled (and disappointed) me – without the icy covering, everything looks quite barren and gravelly!

You can get the dvd here (South Africa), otherwise here or here.

Article(s): The Longform guide to sea creatures (some holiday reading!)

Here are some holiday reading recommendations – not too taxing, not entirely insubstantial – to enjoy while lounging under an umbrella by the pool or waiting for a flight to board. You will probably enjoy them because they’re about marine life, and I assume that if you didn’t have a passing interest in the ocean, you wouldn’t be reading this blog.

Octopus at Pyramid Rock
Octopus at Pyramid Rock

Longform is a website that provides reading recommendations – usually (as the name suggests) long form stories, not restricted to a particular range of topics. I am a subscriber to the Longform newsletter, and lately a user of their iPad app.

The Longform guide to sea creatures is a short list of juicy long articles whose common thread is that they focus on marine animals. I’ve shared some of them with you already – Killer in the Pool and Moby Duck being the most notable. Others are about giant squid, octopus, tuna, whales, and the Loch Ness monster. It’s a page worth bookmarking, should you anticipate requiring a couple of hours of thoughtful, fact-checked, well researched reading on the subject of marine life.

You can find the list of Longform sea creature articles here, and a mostly overlapping but slightly different version on Slate.com, here. (The advantage of the Slate list is that you can send the articles to your Kindle, to read later.)

 

Visible shipwrecks: Meisho Maru No. 38

Meisho Maru 38 in the distance
Meisho Maru 38 in the distance

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.

The bow of the Meisho Maru 38
The bow of the Meisho Maru 38

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.

Balancing conservation imperatives and traditional fishing rights

How can we strike a balance between scientifically-driven conservation priorities and taking care of people, South Africans, many of whom have historically not been cared for at all?

Giant roman at Photographer's Reef
Giant roman at Photographer’s Reef

Loretta Feris, in a paper called A Customary Right to Fish When Fish Are Sparse: Managing Conflicting Claims between Customary Rights and Environmental Rights (pdf), grapples with the issue of “what happens when an indigenous community attempts to exercise its customary right to fish and the nearest access to marine resources is located in a marine protected area.” This issue is not peculiar to South Africa, but has arisen in many countries that were colonised.

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.

The South African Bill of Rights sets out the criteria for justifiable restrictions on the rights it enshrines. Feris writes,

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.

In other words, if your rights are infringed by legislation, the purpose of that legislation must be consistent with the Constitution of South Africa, and the infringement of your rights must be proportional to the benefits accruing by having such a law on the books. According to Feris, the National Environmental Management: Protected Areas Act No. 57 of 2003 (pdf), which provides for the establishment of Marine Protected Areas, places

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.

Christmas gift guide 2015

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.)

This is our Christmas tree. It's cat proof.
This is our Christmas tree. It’s cat proof.

Donations

For the person who has everything, or because you’re feeling grateful, consider a donation on behalf of your friend or loved one:

Experiences

Don’t forget to add a memory card for the lucky recipient’s camera if you plan to gift any of these! Contact Tony for prices.

For the non diver, you could inspire a love for our oceans with one of these:

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.

Something to read

Everything you need to know about finding a book related to the ocean can be discovered in our list of most recommended books, and our guide to finding the book you need (on this blog, at least!). There are a couple of children’s books there, too.

Something to watch

A DVD – either a movie, a series box set, or a documentary – is not a bad gift idea!

Something beautiful

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,