We seem to be in a cycle of great diving days in the week and not so great conditions on weekends. This weekend looks much the same as the last few and neither day is going to be great.
We have a scientific charter first thing on Saturday before the wind comes up, so won’t be running boat dives that day. By mid-morning on Saturday, the wind will be up at around 25 km/h from the south, and on Sunday it’s meant to be closer to 50. Sadly I think its best you haul out the lawnmower.
Thanks to Arne for this photo, taken at Boat Rock a couple of weeks ago…
I think most people are keen for summer to arrive. I know I am. We dived last Friday at Atlantis and Boat Rock and had pretty good conditions – thank you to Arne for the photo above! Last weekend was a washout and the week has been dry thanks to the spring tides, swell and some wind.
The whales heard my complaints from last week, and on Friday a young whale breached in front of us again. This time while Geoff was holding the camera and he got a great photo!
False Bay is currently flat but not very clean. We are meant to have two days of westerly or north westerly winds so I think Sunday will be an option. There is also less swell on Sunday. I don’t think it is going to be paradise, but it will certainly improve over what we have right now.
We will launch on Sunday from theSimon’s Town jetty at 8.30 am for Maidstone Rock and 11.00 am for Atlantis. This is the plan, but the dive sites may change as I prefer to dive in better visibility if we go that far south, so will change sites to suit the conditions.
In other news
Diarise Diversnight 2015 for the evening of Saturday 7 November! More details to follow.
Also, as of yesterday we are a PADI Resort Dive Centre – the only major difference so far is that we now appear here…
The first event to do this was a free speaker evening, held at the Bluebird Garage in Muizenberg on Monday 7 September. Hundreds of people attended; I took the photo above before the room got so full that no one could move!
Here’s a link to a collection of coverage of the events on Storify, and the same compendium is embedded below. There are also some images in there from the welcome evening for the symposium, which was held at the Save Our Seas Shark Centre in Kalk Bay.
The first, hosted by the staff of the Two Oceans Aquarium, was about safe and ethical handling protocols for sharks and rays. Scientists apply tags, take samples and measure animals in order to learn about them, and some contact is inevitable. It is vital to do all the work as quickly as possible, and with as little stress to the animal as possible. I didn’t attend this workshop, but comments from participants indicated that it was extremely useful and practical, with a hands-on section conducted outdoors.
The second workshop, hosted by the team from the Save Our Seas Shark Education Centre in Kalk Bay, was about science communication, which is dear to my heart. I tweeted quite a lot of detail from this workshop (keep reading…), and it was fantastically useful.
The final workshop was hosted by the Save Our Seas Foundation and its CEO Michael Scholl (also known as “the drone guy”!), and dealt with automated identification of sharks from the shape of their dorsal fins – FinPrinting! I didn’t attend this workshop either, and would be interested to hear more about it.
As for the first and second day of the symposium, I created a storify timeline that compiles tweets and images from the day. You can view it here, or read through it below.
Collaboration between scientists leads to amazing things, like the massive acoustic tracking system that covers the entire south and east coasts of South Africa.
You can tell a lot about what an animal is doing, without necessarily being right next to the animal all the time, with some clever technology and mathematics (yay maths!)
There are tiger sharks that are partially resident off Ponta do Ouro, Mozambique. They are being tracked and studied. Something to bear in mind next time you visit!
Sharks that cross borders (e.g. tiger sharks, great white sharks) are hard to conserve and face huge risks when they move out of protected areas.
False Bay’s great white sharks are incredibly well understood (great work has been done in the last 5-10 years), and at the same time the more we know, the more questions there are!
We are beginning to get a better understanding of sevengill cowsharks in False Bay and research is ongoing. Plus, did you know there’s a huge sevengill population around Robben Island?
Many of the shark and ray populations around South Africa’s talks are not comprised of separate groups of animals (e.g False Bay’s white sharks, Gansbaai’s white sharks and so on), but interbreed all along their range. This means you can’t protect one aggregation site and expect the species to survive and thrive – you have to think about threats along the entire range of the animal. This was a common theme in the genetics talks (which is a difficult subject to explain to peasants like me).
Juvenile hammerhead sharks aggregate in Mossel Bay at certain times of year! (This wasn’t the point of what was an excellent talk, but I was excited to hear it.)
We had exceptional conditions last Saturday and again on Tuesday, and I’m not just saying that because we had cake on the boat on both days… It was clean, cold and spectacular. It is the time of the year for that. This weekend, somewhere out there someone is going to have spectacular conditions… They are just not going to be near us. Sadly the forecasts have big swell from different directions, varied wind speeds and a different opinion on cloud cover. For us it mean we will not plan anything specific. We will however be ready to rock and roll on Sunday, at very short notice… If things change.
On a more serious note: check out the summaries of the talks presented at the shark symposium this week. It’s not often one gets such a good look “under the hood” at what work is being done, much of it right on our doorstep in False Bay, to understand sharks and how to protect them. There are many people, in science, government and industry, who are working hard on all sorts of shark-related things – like ways to keep humans safe from sharks without harming the sharks, ways to manage shark populations sustainably, and on understanding how sharks interact with the rest of the ecosystem. Clare has also written a short summary of the first day of the symposium if you want a broad overview.
Be sure to head down to the walkway between Muizenberg and St James to see a great outdoor underwater photography exhibition sponsored by Save Our Seas which is a tie-in to this week’s symposium. It’ll be there through the summer.
Earlier this week I had the great privilege of attending the 3rd Southern African Shark and Ray Symposium, which was held from 7-9 September at the Blue Horizon Estate above Simon’s Town. I am not a shark scientist (these days I am probably best described as a lapsed mathematician) but have an interest in the subject so I went to listen. If I had to provide some bite-sized takeaways from the first day of the symposium, jotted down without applying any of the science communication principles I learned at the workshop yesterday, it would be these:
Shark mitigation – avoiding negative interactions between humans and sharks – is HARD and a lot of smart people are working on the problem.
The City of Cape Town is a world leader in shark mitigation efforts, along with Shark Spotters. They really think about the problem, and care about both people and sharks.
If you are not blessed with high coastal terrain and surface-swimming sharks (which would permit a shark spotting program like Cape Town’s one), other shark mitigation measures are in the pipeline… From orca-patterned surfboards (and wetsuits?) to shark exclusion nets to large-scale electrical repellent cables.
The KZN Sharks Board catches a lot of sharks, rays and other animals in their gill nets and drum lines, and this is upsetting and far from ideal. But they facilitate an incredible amount of scientific study, too – their catches do not go to waste.
The KZN Sharks Board is committed to finding measures other than gill nets and drum lines to keep bathers safe, and they are actively working on the problem (refer to the electrical shark repellent cable I mentioned above).
Sometimes scientific research doesn’t look the way you expect or imagine. Ruth Leeney of Protect Africa’s Sawfishes spent months on the ground interviewing Mozambican villagers in the far north of the country to assess the population status of sawfish in Mozambique. She collected data that no one else could have obtained by other means!
Smaller, less charismatic sharks, like catsharks, need more love. There are also whole families of sharks that divers don’t see (such as dogfish) and hence aren’t really aware of. They are caught prolifically as by-catch and not much is known about them. But some smart people are working on this!
There are motivated, talented scientists working hard in South African government departments to protect our marine resources and making recommendations to manage them sustainably. (There’s also many a slip ‘twixt cup and lip, but they are trying very hard.)
Technology – be it cameras, software, or tags – is enabling great leaps in our understanding of what’s out there, which will enable us to protect and conserve things better.
Ocean acidification as a result of climate change could affect sharks directly, by actually wearing away their denticles (tooth-like structures on their skin). Denticles protect sharks and help them to swim faster.
Being (in midlife) a creature of the south peninsula, I tend to focus my attentions on False Bay and the Atlantic coast from Hout Bay southwards. But there are rewards for the shipwreck hunter who ventures further north, and even for the shipwreck hunter who doesn’t necessarily want to get their feet wet. A visit to Milnerton beach, and a walk north from Milnerton lighthouse, reveals two shipwrecks in the surf zone. Milnerton beach is surpassingly filthy, but while I was there a beach cleanup was making some headway on the mounds of rubbish tossed off ships in Table Bay that ends up on the beach. The view of the lighthouse from the beach is also far more fetching than the view from the car park, if you can overlook the garbage.
About one kilometre north of the lighthouse, where the beach is cleaner and pebbles roll euphoniously in the waves, you will come across the massive boilers of the Hermes in the surf. The NSRI gets calls every year from concerned locals worried that a whale is stranded near the beach; the sea spray sometimes pushes through holes in the top of the wreck creating an illusion of a whale’s blow. The Hermes was a liner, built in 1899, on her way to Cape Town with a large cargo of livestock, forage and a few passengers. When she arrived in May 1901 the harbour was full, and she was forced to drop anchor for the night. A north westerly gale came up, she dragged her anchors, and when the captain ordered her engines started, they failed.
Seawards and to the north of Hermes, the engine block of the Winton is visible, in much the same way as the SS Clan Stuart can be seen at Glencairn in False Bay. The Winton came aground in July 1934, carrying a cargo of wheat from Port Lincoln in Australia to Liverpool, England. Her captain was unfamiliar with Table Bay and had mistook the red lights on top of the radio mast at the Klipheuwel Wireless Telegraph Station near Milnerton for the harbour lights. Attempts were made to pull her off the beach and some of her cargo was salvaged, but the wheat ignited and efforts to refloat her were to no avail.
On a calm day, an aerial view of the site reveals the full outline of both vessels surrounding the parts that protrude from the water. When I visited, it was rough after a large swell, but the tide was low. At high tide the view will be considerably less impressive.
It is possible to scuba dive this site, and Underwater Explorers dives the Winton every year during their summer Table Bay wreck diving jamboree. Obviously very calm, low swell conditions are required because the wreck is so shallow and so close to the beach.
We first saw the Commodore II on Lagoon Beach, Milnerton, when we went to Sophie and Jacobus’s wedding. It was a summer’s day, and she had a boogie board and a pool noodle lying on her keelson, a bride and groom (not Sophie and Jacobus) posing for photos on her, and a gazebo secured to some of the rivets protruding from her timbers. I was fascinated by the strength and size of what remains of the ship, and returned on a clear winter morning, before the beach filled up, to look at her again.
The Commodore II was a four masted schooner built in the United States, with a film credit as one of the sets in the 1935 Clark Gable film Mutiny on the Bounty. Privately owned, she ended up in Durban in the late 1930s and fell into disrepair after her owner died.
She was then towed to Saldanha, where she became a floating coal hulk during World War II. After the war she transported coal to South America and timber back to South Africa, but according to one of her crew, the ship ran into many difficulties and conditions on board were dire.
It was either in 1945, 1946 or 1948 (sources differ but I tend to believe the 1946 or 1948 dates) that she was set on fire and allowed to run aground off Milnerton. This was apparently considered an acceptable way of disposing of the vessel.
Not done yet, the Commodore II made an appearance in 2008, when a storm uncovered her remains at Milnerton. At the time the Cape Argus published an interview with one of her former crew, who described his love for the ship and described some of her history. I’m not sure of the status of the wreckage between 2008 and 2013, but the NSRI suggests that during that time the wreck washed into Milnerton lagoon and was secured inside the lagoon by residents who feared for the safety of water users if she was left to move about at will.
In September 2013 she came loose and washed out of the lagoon onto the beach. City officials promised to remove her, but two years later they still have not (for which I am glad). Today she lies in front of the Lagoon Beach Hotel, at times right on the edge of the Milnerton lagoon mouth (which moves around on the beach a bit). It is quite conceivable that another storm will wash her off the beach, back into the lagoon, or to a slightly different location, but for now she makes for an arresting sight on a crisp morning.
Finally, because it’s special, here’s one of the official trailers for Mutiny on the Bounty, featuring the Commodore II. I assume that’s her in the long shots, and perhaps the deck and below-deck scenes were also filmed on her. Enjoy –
What we did find was quite disturbing: a hissing, pulsating patch of water beneath which the rusty wreckage of the Seli 1 lies, very close to the surface. There was no wind and very little swell when we were searching for the wreck, and initially we thought it was a school of baitfish disturbing the surface in that way. Fortunately we approached the spot slowly, because if we’d ridden over the wreckage this would be a different kind of blog post altogether.
We rode around the spot as close as we dared, watching the image of the objects below us on the sonar. The buckled plates of the wreck, where the SA Navy divers did their work with explosives to reduce it below the waterline in 2013, were clearly visible. The wreckage – particularly the shallowest part pictured above – is a definite hazard to any boat with a keel. We couldn’t tell exactly how much clearance there is between the top of the shallowest part of the wreck and the surface, but it didn’t seem to be more than half a metre. I hope it’s more than that, and I also hope that SAMSA pays attention to our request for a replacement marker buoy on the wreckage to warn ships (but considering how many channels of communication I had to try before not getting some kind of error, I haven’t a lot of hope).