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: Rescue Warriors

Rescue Warriors: The US Coastguard, America’s Forgotten Heroes – David Helvarg

Rescue Warriors
Rescue Warriors

Much of this book reads like one of the Reader’s Digest “drama in real life” stories that I used to devour from the magazines that my granny brought us when she came to visit. (She’d also bring a packet of Sparkles or Cadbury Eclairs.)

Journalist, activist and former war correspondent David Helvarg (who also wrote Saved by the Sea and 50 Ways to Save the Ocean) spent two years embedded with various branches of the US Coastguard in order to experience their work.

I had naively thought that the US Coastguard, despite being funded by the government, and despite their website having a .mil for military domain name, was just a slightly larger, more financially flush version of South Africa’s National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI).

I was wrong. The mandate of the US Coastguard is to enforce maritime law (this is its primary difference from the NSRI) as well as to perform search and rescue operations. Viewers of the Deadliest Catch series will be familiar with the rescue work of the Coastguard in extremely challenging conditions. As a result of its law-enforcement mission, the Coastguard uses weapons and provides a lot more military-style training than you’d expect from a pure rescue operation. The Coastguard falls under the department of homeland security and operates cutters (with guns), icebreakers, small boats, helicopters, and other aircraft.

Helvarg’s conservationist tendencies shine through in several parts of Rescue Warriors, and he does not shy away from confronting the aspects of the Coastguard that he finds problematic. His contention is that the Coastguard receives far less publicity than it deserves. This book goes some way towards bringing attention to the individuals who have saved tens of thousands of people during Hurricane Katrina, via water evacuation during the September 11 attacks, and in countless other less well-known emergency situations.

This is a gripping read which I thoroughly enjoyed. I was amazed by the amount of funding and equipment that the Coastguard has at its disposal compared to the NSRI, even though the organisation is actually badly underfunded, especially when considered relative to the rest of the United States war machine. I was also impressed by the egalitarian approach that draws many women to join the Coastguard and enables them to rise in its ranks. The Coastguard made all its jobs available to women in 1977, something which other branches of the military have not yet done.

You can get a copy of the book here (South Africa), here or here.

A visit to the Bredasdorp Shipwreck Museum

Exterior of the shipwreck museum
Exterior of the shipwreck museum

In the centre of Bredasdorp, the sleepy town in the Overberg that you will likely pass through on your way to De Hoop, Cape Agulhas, Arniston or any of the surrounding areas, is a museum devoted to shipwrecks. Tony and I paid it a visit while we were staying at De Hoop in September last year, and enjoyed it immensely. The museum is situated in an old church, and spills over into two other adjacent historical buildings.

Artefacts from SS Maori
Artefacts from SS Maori

The shipwreck museum contains artefacts from a wide variety of wrecks – many of them from the coastline between Danger Point and Cape Agulhas, but others from further afield (including our neck of the woods)! There is a display about SS Maori, including some of the pottery that was in the mixed cargo on the vessel.

Interior of the shipwreck museum
Interior of the shipwreck museum

In addition to cargo items (including a vast array of bottles spanning a few hundred years of history), there are figureheads, binnacles, ship’s bells, cannons and anchors – the latter located outside in a beautiful garden behind the museum. The ship’s wheel of SS Kadie, wrecked at the mouth of the Breede River, is also on display. The Arniston, Queen of the Thames, and Birkenhead wrecks also feature prominently. Familiarising yourself in advance with some details about the most prominent wrecks of the Overberg region will enrich your visit.

A separate garage-like structure (technically known as the Old Coach House), accessible over a tiny river bridge in the garden, contains a historical fire engine, carriages and other vehicles and implements of everyday life from a century ago. There is even a rocket-propelled breeches buoy apparatus, used from shore to rescue shipwreck survivors.

Tony for scale!
Tony for scale!

Another building included in the museum facilities is a fully furnished historical Overberg home called the Old Parsonage – when we walked through, there was even a (real live) cat having a cool nap on a hand-sewn quilt in one of the bedrooms.

Reminder about regulations pertaining to shipwrecks
Reminder about regulations pertaining to shipwrecks

Since we’re thinking about shipwrecks, a reminder about South African legislation pertaining to historical wrecks is timely!

If you’re in the area the Bredasdorp Shipwreck Museum is definitely worth a visit. Opening hours and contact details can be found here. The entry fee is minimal.

Scattered shipwreck: The nameplate of MV Antipolis

Plaque and Antipolis nameplate at the Twelve Apostles
Plaque and Antipolis nameplate at the Twelve Apostles

MV Antipolis ran aground off Oudekraal, along the Cape Peninsula’s western coast, in July 1977. The wreck is visible at low tide, and can be seen from the deck at the nearby Twelve Apostles Hotel – you can admire it while drinking cocktails (or Fanta Grape, if you’re as wild as Tony and me) at the Leopard Bar.

Plaque commemorating wreck of the Antipolis
Plaque commemorating wreck of the Antipolis

I was quite surprised to discover the (a?) nameplate of the Antipolis, along with a small plaque commemorating the wreck, on the large terrace adjacent to the Leopard Bar, which I accessed during the course of a very lovely wedding at the hotel. I am sure that if you asked nicely, or moved smoothly like a lizard, you could do the same, even without a wedding invitation in hand. You might be able to crane your neck from the deck of the Leopard Bar, too.

Antipolis nameplate
Antipolis nameplate

If you’re interested in visible shipwrecks, check out my ebook Cape Town’s Visible Shipwrecks: A Guide for Explorers!

Visible shipwrecks: RMS Athens at Mouille Point

RMS Athens seen from the sea
RMS Athens seen from the sea

An observant visitor to the promenade between Mouille Point and Green Point may notice something man-made sticking out of the ocean, less than 100 metres from shore. This artifact is the iron engine block of the Royal Mail Steamer Athens, which ran aground here in the great north westerly gale of 17 May 1865. Seventeen ships were wrecked during this colossal gale – reports of the events of that day (including a mention of the Athens) can be seen in this historical newspaper.

The engine block of RMS Athens is barely visible
The engine block of RMS Athens is barely visible to the left of this image

It is possible to dive the wreck; indeed, owing to its accessibility from shore, it has been extensively “salvaged” in the last 150-plus years! There is more information about diving the wreck on wikivoyage, but suffice it to say it’s a shallow dive best done when there is no swell to speak of. The wreck is very broken up and overgrown with kelp and invertebrate life, by all accounts.

There’s a great article on the history of RMS Athens on the Submerge website: click here to read it.

If you want to go and see the remains of the wreck, I’ve geotagged this instagram picture of the engine block.  My photos of the engine block as seen from the sea were taken while we were aboard the Ocean Adventurer. If you’re interested in other visible shipwrecks around Cape Town, you could visit the Kakapo, the Clan Stuart, and (by boat) the BOS 400, to start with!

If you’re interested in visible shipwrecks, check out my ebook Cape Town’s Visible Shipwrecks: A Guide for Explorers!

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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Who you gonna call (if you see a poacher)?

Anyone who has dived out of Hout Bay harbour, or spent time at Betty’s Bay or Pringle Bay, has probably seen abalone or rock lobster poachers in action. Miller’s Point is another hotspot for this kind of illegal activity – a poacher whose friends had deserted him once tried to sell his gear to Tony in exchange for some cash. We have called the police in Hout Bay about poachers on the slipway on more than one occasion, but they usually “don’t have transport”. (One can also identify with this lame excuse to some extent – it is not unheard of for poaching syndicates to threaten the families of local policemen and women.)

Poachers heading out from Hout Bay
Poachers heading out from Hout Bay

I still volunteer once a month (when my car is working properly) at the Two Oceans Aquarium in Cape Town. Tinus, the Operations Manager, recently shared details of who to contact when a poaching operation is observed. The aquarium sometimes gets calls about poaching from concerned members of the public, but there are direct routes to report it and you should use those. Tinus has agreed for me to share the information here – the wider the audience the better!

Should you ever witness a marine poaching operation in progress in the greater Cape Town area, or non-compliance with fishing regulations (number of fish, species, size, etc) this is the number to contact: 028 313 2703. This is the Green Scorpions’ 24 hour manned operation room situated in Hermanus where all calls are recorded, logged and acted upon. (The Green Scorpions website is currently offline. They are also known as the Environmental Management Inspectorate, EMI.)

Alternatively, or for environmental offences throughout the republic, whether marine or terrestrial, the 24 hour toll free number for the Environmental Management Inspectorate is 0800 205 005.

 During office hours, you can also contact the Green Scorpions on 021 402 3361, 021 402 3430 or 021 402 3506/16/25/29/33.

Hopefully you will not have to resort to this, but should the agencies above not respond as required by law, please contact the National Anti-Corruption Hotline for Public Service, 24 hours toll-free on 0800 701 701.

It would be nice if there was a similar number to report parties damaging and looting shipwrecks that are older than 60 years – does anyone know of one?

Article: Vanity Fair on Nick Sloane, the salvor of the Costa Concordia

Promising wreck dive in the harbour?
Promising wreck dive in the harbour?

The most recent issue of Vanity Fair has an article on Nick Sloane, the salvage master who refloated the Costa Concordia and oversaw the towing of the ship to Genoa. Wonderfully, the article is written by William Langewiesche, author of The Outlaw Sea and this article on piracy off the coast of Somalia.

Sloane is a local boytjie who lives in Somerset West when not abroad doing salvage work. He agreed to talk to Langewiesche for this article on condition that they did not discuss the Costa Concordia (I imagine he was utterly exhausted and sick of that subject). Many of the salvage jobs that Sloane has worked on are off the Cape coast – notable examples dealt with in this article are the wreck of the MV Treasure (now a dive site) in Table Bay, and the Ikan Tanda which ran aground off Scarborough in 2001.

… one of the greatest seafarers at work today is neither a naval commander nor an old-salt merchant mariner but a certain marine salvage master with a taste for chaos and a genius for improvisation. He is a burly South African, aged 53, by the name of Captain Nick Sloane. His job is to intervene where other captains have failed, and to make the best of ships that are sinking, burning, breaking apart, or severely aground. Usually those same ships are threatening to leak bunker fuel—the sludge that powers them—along with crude oil or other toxins in quantities that could poison the environment for years to come. Sloane boards the ships with small teams—by helicopter from overhead, or by Zodiac from oceangoing tugs—and once he arrives he stays aboard and fights, sometimes for weeks at a stretch.

Do not be put off by the fact that the article doesn’t deal with the Costa Concordia salvage at all – I imagine we’ll see a book about that in a couple of years’ time.

Read the full article here. It’s a fascinating read.

Bookshelf: Treasure – The Search For Atocha

Treasure: The Search for Atocha – Robert Daley

Treasure: The Search for the Atocha
Treasure: The Search for the Atocha

Legendary American treasure hunter Mel Fisher searched for the wreck of the Nuestra Señora de Atocha for more than sixteen years. The Spanish galleon sank off the Florida Keys in 1622, loaded with precious metals, jewels, tobacco and other cargo. She and another ship from the Spanish fleet (the Santa Margarita), were driven by a hurricane onto a reef near a group of islands called the Dry Tortugas.

This is a fascinating account of a protracted treasure hunt for Atocha by a very determined man. Fisher had the requisite permits to search for and salvage the wreck (imagine that!) but was involved in numerous lawsuits for the duration of his search, and his financial state was insecure. He was constantly on the brink of bankruptcy. He had to continually raise money from investors and devise fund raising schemes in order to maintain the search. The search for Atocha was also marked by tragedy: during the years he spent looking for the wreck, a storm capsized one of his boats, killing his son and daughter in law, and one of his divers.

The Florida Keys are a beguiling part of the world. Shallow, crystal clear blue water, white sands and several centuries of shipwrecks – many carrying treasure like Atocha – make this a paradise for treasure hunters and recreational divers alike. While the search for Atocha involved years of diving effort – thousands of underwater hours by many individuals – the key to finding the wreck was arguably provided by Dr Eugene Lyon. Lyon spent hours in the archives in Seville, Spain, searching for information to pinpoint the location of the wreck. The Spanish had found the wreck shortly after her sinking (the masts protruded from the water, which was less than 20 metres deep) and spent several years retrieving treasure from the wreck, so there were descriptions of her location (all tantalisingly vague).

Fisher’s family are still cashing in on his legacy, and working the wreck. The part of the wreck with the most valuable cargo – the stern castle – has not yet been located.

You can get a copy of the book here or here. There are many other books covering this topic – I don’t know how this one stacks up against the rest of them, so best do some research first if this is a subject that interests you.

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!

To subscribe to receive this newsletter by email, use the form on this page!