Newsletter: Magic wand

Hi divers

Weekend dive plans

No weekend dives, but next week looks promising!

A magic wand would be the right tool to fix the weather. The wind has been relentless and despite odd periods of calm, mostly early in the mornings, there has been reasonably good visibility in between the patches of red tide.

Frilled nudibranch
Frilled nudibranch

Sadly this weekend is again going to be dry as the window of light wind is really small early on Saturday, and then it howls again until Tuesday. Wednesday and onwards next week do look like good diving days so if you are up for a weekday dive get in touch.

regards

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

Diving is addictive!

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Coastal foraging part II: the feast

The various edible seaweeds that we foraged
The various edible seaweeds that we foraged

After foraging on the sea shore for edible seaweeds and mussels under the guidance of Roushanna and Gael from Good Hope Gardens, we returned to Gael’s house in Scarborough to prepare a meal with our finds. The group divided into four, and we worked together to prepare the food using recipes provided by Roushanna.

Decorating the sushi rolls
Decorating the sushi rolls

Sushi rice mixed with finely chopped sea lettuce (Ulva spp) formed the base of vegetarian sushi rolls, which were decorated with kelp, tongue weed, radishes, avocado, mayonnaise, and a secret sauce (recipe for the rolls here). Sea lettuce was also the seaweed of choice for a couscous and rocket salad, decorated with hibiscus flowers and miniature tomatoes (recipe for the salad here).

I worked on the coleslaw, made from finely sliced red cabbage, carrots, and hanging wrack (Brassicophycus brassicaeformis) – a seaweed I found so tasty and crunchy I could have sat right there in a rock pool and eaten it directly off the rocks. The mussels were picked over, scrubbed, and prepared with white wine, cream, onion, and garlic. Crusty ciabatta soaked up the sauce. Once we were done, it looked as though we had enough mussel shells for our own personal shell midden!

Rinsing and scrubbing the mussels
Rinsing and scrubbing the mussels

Roushanna prepared nori (purple laver, Porphyra capensis) crips for us (like kale chips, but with a crispier texture and more flavour), and chocolate nori ice cream for dessert. We supplied our own drinks. During breaks in the lunch preparation some of the group enjoyed a face (and hand) mask made from seaweed ingredients. Others of Roushanna’s recipes you can explore for yourself are for sea biscuits (scones made with sea lettuce), fruity vegan jelly, and kelp and avo salad.

Lunch was a collaboration, and a tasty culinary adventure. I found it marvelous to discover what is available on the sea shore, and to get a small hint of how our strandloper ancestors foraged on the Cape Peninsula.

Preparing our foraged lunch
Preparing our foraged lunch

(Puzzled what this is all about? Read my first post about coastal foraging here.)

Coastal foraging part I: the forage

Roushanna educates us about foraging for seaweed
Roushanna educates us about foraging for seaweed

A chance conversation with a friend who also volunteers at the Two Oceans Aquarium led to me enrolling in a coastal foraging course with Roushanna and Gael Gray from Good Hope Gardens, the nursery between Scarborough and Cape Point. Their coastal foraging courses are run during the summer months (I went in December), on dates close to spring tide, so that the maximum possible area of shoreline is available to forage on. The course takes the form of a rock pool expedition on Scarborough beach, followed by lunch – prepared by the participants – at Gael’s beach cottage.

Foraging for edible seaweed
Foraging for edible seaweed

As I get older I am finding it increasingly difficult to suppress a wildly eccentric streak that frequently finds me – consciously or unconsciously – making small preparations for some kind of apocalypse (zombie or otherwise). This might be related to living on the South African roller coaster for too long, but whatever the origin of this latent anxiety, it has served to make our home life more sustainable and – little bit by little bit – more independent of the electricity grid, the municipal water system, and grocery stores. The idea of coastal foraging dovetails nicely with my desire to learn how to live a little bit more off the land than off the shelves at Woolworths!

Mollusk permit inspection by fisheries officials
Mollusk permit inspection by fisheries officials

It is important to respect some simple rules to ensure that your foraging is sustainable, safe, kind to the environment, and legal. Each of us had purchased a mollusk permit allowing us to harvest mussels, obtainable from the post office (available for R94 using the same form as the scuba diving in marine protected areas permit), and these were inspected by fisheries officials quite early on in our forage. You don’t need a permit to harvest seaweed (however if you wanted to do it on an industrial scale you might need to go through official channels).

There are three types of mussels found on South Africa shores: the ribbed mussel and black mussel are indigenous, and the Mediterranean mussel is introduced. Unfortunately Mediterranean mussels out-compete the indigenous varieties, and we only saw one or two black mussels while we were out. The mussels we harvested were the Mediterranean variety, distinguishable from black mussels by the thick, flat edge to their shells. Black mussels have pointy edges all around their shells, making them more streamlined.

Mediterranean mussel (left) and black mussel (right)
Mediterranean mussel (left) and black mussel (right)

There is only one type of seaweed growing along our coast that is harmful to eat (acid weed – Desmarestia firma, which has sulphuric acid in its fronds). This brown algae species does not grow on the rocky shore but only further out in the surf zone. This gives rise to the simple rule of only harvesting seaweed that is growing on the rocks, and never collecting seaweed that is floating free.

When harvesting seaweed, we used a pair of scissors to avoid pulling the entire plant off the rocks, and cut no more than a third of the leaves. Seaweed is full of vitamins and minerals, particularly iodine and potassium. It isn’t something you’d make a whole meal of, but it is a healthful addition to many dishes and – once you know how to prepare it – tastes pretty good!

Clouds at Scarborough
Clouds at Scarborough

You can read more about the Good Hope Gardens coastal foraging experience here and here. Watch this space for more about what we prepared with our seaweed spoils…

Sea life: Sea swallows

Sea swallow (Glaucus atlanticus)
Sea swallow (Glaucus atlanticus)

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.

Sea swallow
Sea swallow

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.

Photographing a sea swallow
Photographing a sea swallow

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!

If you are looking for a marine life reference, first prize for Capetonians is A Field Guide to the Marine Animals of the Cape Peninsula, otherwise the Two Oceans guide.

Newsletter: Smoke on the water

Hi divers

Weekend dive plans

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!

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

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.

Simon's Town fire
Simon’s Town fire

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.

Diarise

Don’t forget the Shark Spotters fundraiser on Sunday – should be fun!

regards

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

Diving is addictive!

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Newsletter: Shades of blue

Hi divers

Weekend dive plans

Saturday: launching from Simon’s Town jetty at 8.30 for Omega Reef / 11.00am for Atlantis Reef

Sunday: shore diving at Long Beach or A Frame at 10.00am

Fiery nudibranch at Outer Photographer's Reef
Fiery nudibranch at Outer Photographer’s Reef, picture by Georgina Jones

We had planned not to launch last weekend based on the forecast. The conditions changed dramatically and on Sunday we ventured out for a film project and must admit to being pleasantly surprised by the good visibility. After filming the bits that needed doing, we went to Outer Photographer’s Reef, where Georgina took the picture above.

Dive conditions

The week’s wind has helped improve this and False Bay looks really clean right now despite the 5 metre swell that was forecast for today.

This weekend we should have an acceptable amount of swell, light winds and some sun. Windguru has only used their blue crayons this weekend as opposed to the purples they used a couple of weeks back, and we like the shades of blue. On Saturday we will launch from Simon’s Town jetty at 8.30 and go to Omega Reef, I have been told that it is stunning and have not yet seen it. The second dive at 11.00am will be to Atlantis Reef. If the swell has lingered we will dive the SAS Pietermaritzburg instead.

On Sunday we will shore dive at either Long Beach or A Frame at 10.00am. Text or email me to book a spot on either day.

regards

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

Diving is addictive!

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The shell midden at Miller’s Point

(An alternative title for this post could be: How I Got Really Excited About Walking Around on a Historical Garbage Dump.)

The secluded bay at Millers Point
The secluded bay at Millers Point

On the seaward side of the parking areas at Miller’s Point is a short string of beautiful, secluded coves demarcated by rounded granite boulders like the ones that shelter Windmill Beach, Fisherman’s Beach and Boulders Beach further north. This area is much beloved by free divers and snorkelers, and also by day trippers who make use of the braai area and massive tidal pool on weekends and during holiday seasons.

To get to these coves, and to the braai area (located on the site of a former whaling station) and tidal pool, one must walk past and over what looks like an overgrown sand dune. The truth is, it’s something a bit more special than that. For one thing, the dune vegetation is considered an excellent example of Coastal Duneveld, one of the last remaining undisturbed sites on the Cape Peninsula, for which reason you shouldn’t go trampling on it at will.

A path cut over the top of the midden
A path cut over the top of the midden

Furthermore (and the point of this post), the sand dune at Miller’s Point is actually a Late Stone Age shell midden, or ancient garbage heap. Early inhabitants of this stretch of coastline discarded the shells of the shellfish that they consumed in distinct areas, of which this is one. Embedded in the sand and between the roots of the dune vegetation are thousands and thousands of shell fragments, representing the highly nutritious marine diet of hunter gatherers who moved along the southern African coastline.

According to the City of Cape Town’s local development framework for Miller’s Point, a 2004 document, at least the top and/or edges of this midden probably date from the early 1700s:

Early pre-colonial references to the use of the site are contained in a shell midden associated with the large dune immediately west of the tidal pool recreation area. A shell midden is an accumulation of shellfish, bone and stone artefacts, which mark places where people stayed or prepared food. The presence however of early 18th Century colonial artefacts mixed in with the shell deposits suggests that part of the midden was deposited fairly recently. The preservation of this midden is important for a number of reasons, one of which is that the presence of colonial artefacts may represent evidence of contact between indigenous groups and early colonists.

Midden’s are distinguishable from random piles of shells by the fact that they contain a uniformity of species (this one is mostly the shells of abalone and limpets with some little whelks, as far as I can tell) of a size that would make them worthwhile to collect for food (i.e. not too small), as well as the remains of bones, tools and charcoal.

Steep slope of the shell midden
Steep slope of the shell midden

It goes without saying that as a historical site, which should be signposted and boardwalked to protect the vegetation and shell midden remains, you shouldn’t remove anything from the area, or be too free and easy wandering off the sandy paths, many of which have been cut straight through the midden. Hopefully SAHRA and the City of Cape Town will one day be able to protect and preserve this site. But these things take time and money, both of which are in short supply, so in the mean time let us be responsible citizens: excited about our nearby midden, but respectful and mindful of its cultural and historical value.

To further your education about shell middens, should you wish to, I recommend Shorelines, Strandlopers and Shell Middens – there is much to be discovered and investigated along this coastline of ours. For an interpretation of how our local history may have looked, you could also investigate the Sea-Change exhibition while it’s still on the Sea Point Promenade.

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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Bookshelf: Shorelines, Strandlopers and Shell Middens

Shorelines, Strandlopers and Shell Middens – John Parkington

Shorelines, strandlopers and shell middens
Shorelines, strandlopers and shell middens

I’m currently delving into some subjects I know nothing about, stone age archaeology being one. I harboured a childhood dream of excavating ancient Egyptian artefacts, but that came to nought and I ended up a mathematician – manipulating things I can’t even see or touch. Ah well.

Strandlopers are the people who lived as hunter gatherers along the Southern African coastline, related to the San. A shell midden is basically an ancient dustbin, and the strandlopers would have generated these when they stopped at a location for any length of time. They are typically densely packed collections of shells that are all of a certain size (large enough to be worth harvesting and eating) and from a limited set of edible species. In this way they are distinguishable from random heaps of shells. A midden of considerable size would have been built up in a relatively short time owing to the sheer number of molluscs it is necessary to consume in order to have something approaching a decent diet! Shell middens exist around South Africa’s coast, including a couple in False Bay which I plan to hunt down. It is believed that the consumption of shellfish – which are extremely nutritious – by early humans contributed to increased brain size and the development of more complex civilisations.

John Parkington, the author of this book, is a lecturer in archaeology at the University of Cape Town. His writing style is clear and expository, and enabled me to follow along with little to no background knowledge on the subject. The book is extensively illustrated with photographs, including of Parkington’s collaborators at the university. I appreciated the fact that each person’s full name was provided.

If you’re interested in knowing more about the early history of humans along South Africa’s coast, I’d recommend starting with the series Shoreline, which provided an excellent introduction to the subject. The Sea-Change project also explores our ancestors’ interactions with the marine world.

You can find this book here, or perhaps at Kalk Bay Books.

The illegal abalone trade in the Western Cape

The words “organised crime” don’t typically intrude into our privileged Capetonian lives (if you can afford to scuba dive recreationally, you’re privileged), but in reality there are networks operating on our doorstep, and many of our activities as scuba divers actually cause us to cross paths with these syndicates. Sometimes it is a very literal crossing of paths, and other times it’s simply sharing the same space as individuals who are advancing the interests of a criminal organisation.

Khalil Goga, a researcher who has been focused on organised crime since 2009, published a report on the Western Cape’s illegal abalone trade  for the Institute of Security Studies in August 2014. This paper can be seen as a companion to Jonny Steinberg’s 2005 ISS report on the illicit abalone trade in South Africa. While Steinberg’s paper deals with poaching’s socioeconomic and political origins and has a broad geographic focus within South Africa, Goga lays out the structure of poaching operations from harvesting the resource to its arrival in Asia, with special reference to the Hangberg community of Hout Bay.

Half sunken in Hout Bay harbour
Half sunken in Hout Bay harbour

The state of Hout Bay harbour – with corrupt or no access control, no checking of catches by Marine and Coastal Management or monitoring whether vessels are compliant with SAMSA regulations, and sunken ships at their berths – visually demonstrates how easy it is to base a poaching operation out of this location. The individuals who do the hard work of diving, driving, and carrying abalone over the mountain are drawn from the communities surrounding the harbour. Despite the involvement of these impoverished and sidelined communities, however,

The abalone trade has moved from largely being in the hands of a marginalised population to one that is ‘dominated by outside opportunists’. It has evolved from an informal activity by fishers into ‘a highly organised commercial fishery run by organised criminal syndicates’.

Read the complete ISS report here (PDF). It’s clear, easy to understand without glossing over the complexity of the issue, and absolutely fascinating. If you would rather read a shorter article on the abalone trade emanating from Hout Bay, you can try this M&G piece.