The first time I spotted a brooding cushion star, on an eye-wateringly cold dive on the SS Maori, I was reminded of nothing so much as a cupcake or similar edible baked good. These sea stars are fairly rare (according to A Field Guide to Marine Animals of the Cape Peninsula) and are found all around the South African coastline. When threatened they apparently secrete mucous to deter their predators.
These sea stars have a soft outer skin that is supported by a layer of spines, beneath which lies another layer of skin. The space between the two skins is used as a brooding chamber for eggs, and once the eggs have hatched the young sea stars emerge from a ventilation hole on the top of the mother. Prior to the eggs’ hatching, the ventilation hole is used to suck in and expel water which aerates the eggs.
I saw another of these tasty-looking sea stars on 13th Apostle reef, also in the Atlantic. I haven’t seen one in False Bay yet.
My sister and brother in law announced to us in September 2010 that they were expecting a baby boy. Asher was born on 9 March 2011, and his first Christmas present from me and Tony was an alphabet poster that we put together from (mostly) underwater photographs that we’ve taken (mostly) in Cape Town, Sodwana and Malta. When it was still a work in progress, I blogged about it here, here, here and here.
I am not a particularly arty or crafty person, and eschew the slightest digital manipulation of my pictures after I’ve taken them (I will crop at a push, but there’s nothing worse than seeing a picture taken in False Bay with a mysteriously metallic blue hue to it that you know has never been seen in real life). Also, I’m lazy. Putting the poster together, then, was a fairly (for me) mammoth undertaking.
It took more than a little while to sort through 16,000 underwater images and try to choose the best ones for the poster. I used BorderFX to overlay text on the photos, printed them, laid out the poster, scanned it at ArtLab, and then took it to Stephen at Art Assist for printing. Plastic Sandwich laminated it, and it was presented to Asher (now a bouncy 11 month old) on Christmas eve.
The upshot of this is that because I now have the poster in extremely, frighteningly high resolution digital form, I’m able to produce copies up to A0 size. I wouldn’t recommend the A0 version – it’s large and striking, but almost prohibitively expensive for what it is. Sizes between A1 and A0 work quite well, and can be reasonably cost-effective.
Illustrated with lots of beautiful photographs, this is the sort of book one can dip into – I can even imagine reading it with my nephew when he’s old enough. Each two-page spread covers a single topic, like parasitic/symbiotic relationships, reproduction, moving about, schooling behaviour, life in the deep ocean, habitats chosen by different creatures, predation, diet, and more. There are side bars with short facts (such as, there are 30 kinds of barnacles that ONLY live on turtles), and just enough information to make one feel that you’ve learned something.
My only complaint is that the pages are black, which means that I left lots of fingerprints all over them!
I’d highly recommend this book – it’s definitely something a child with an interest in the ocean would enjoy, but it’s written for adults and the photographs of beautiful and exotic creatures from the ocean are magnificent and absorbing.
The book is available here if you’re in South Africa, otherwise click here.
Final installment of my nephew’s underwater alphabet… About time, since he was born on 9 March! Do you know how hard it was to find things for some of these letters?! Here are part one, part two and part three.
U is for urchin
V is for vessel
(can you feel me stretching?!)
W is for whale
X is for x-ray
Y is for yacht
Yacht at Long Beach
Z is for zebra
As soon as I’ve figured out the layout of the poster and printed it off, I’ll share!
Tony and I are getting a little nephew soon (thanks to my sister and brother in law for doing the work), and I am making him a present for his bedroom wall. It’s a marine alphabet… Hopefully he’ll love the sea, as well as guitars and words (when his parents are done with him)!
Tami and I finished our WreckSpecialty course independently of Kate, because she was on a deadline and had to get back to Mud Island (which is so deep in snow at the moment that it should be renamed!). We finished the course in spectacular fashion with a dive of surpassing magnificence on the SS Maori just outside Hout Bay.
Dive 4: SS Maori
Like the dive we did on the SAS Pietermaritzburg for the second dive of our Wreck Specialty, the Maori is at a moderate depth and none of the stupidity that comes with deep diving (at least for me) or rapid air depletion is an issue. It’s a large, spectacular wreck but more broken up than the Smitswinkel Bay wrecks. It was carrying an interesting cargo, much of which is still visible at the site. The large amount of metal lying around means that a compass is next to useless.
Here’s a picture to whet your appetite, but more information can be found in a detailed post about the Maori, to follow!
Much to Tony’s relief (probably), the three of us – Kate, Tami and me – are now certified Wreck specialists. Tami and I did not do any penetrations as part of the course – the wrecks we ended up diving on didn’t permit it – but when we get a chance to visit the MV Aster in Hout Bay with Tony, we hope he’ll show us how!