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: The Reef Guide

The Reef Guide: East & South Coasts of Southern Africa – Dennis King & Valda Fraser

The Reef Guide
The Reef Guide

It was with extreme joy that I discovered this book. I brought it home and placed it on the table in front of Tony with an air of insufferable smugness and satisfaction – the same attitude he displays when he’s done something cool to the boat or his car. This book is excellent news for warm water divers, even part-time ones like us.

It’s a combination of Reef Fishes and Corals by Dennis King, and More Reef Fishes and Nudibranchs, by King and Valda Fraser, as well as a lot of additional material. It covers the south east and north coast of South Africa, so will be indispensible for trips to Sodwana and Durban. It also applies to Mauritius, Reunion, the Seychelles, the Comores and the Maldives. So I’ll have it with me for our 2016 Maldives live aboard trip… Diarise!

I’ve always travelled to Sodwana and Durban with my copies of Reef Fishes and Corals and More Reef Fishes and Nudibranchs, but if I must be honest I find it very hard to navigate the two books. There isn’t a clear division of species between them, so there are parrotfish (and wrasses, and rays, and so on) in both books and I’d need to check twice over to try and identify each creature I saw. This got tiring. Plus, the indices have a few incorrect page numbers in them, and if one thing is going to make me want to toss a book across the room, it’s a frustrating index. (A poorly drawn up index can render the best cookery book almost unusable, but that’s another story.)

The Reef Guide is a triumph. It covers 578 species of marine fish and 228 invertebrate species. Each creature has a beautiful photograph to identify it and brief details of appearance, behaviour and distribution. There is an index of scientific names (which is useful when travelling outside of South Africa, because common names vary widely) and common names as used locally.

There is also a glossary and a further reading section, referring the interested reader to books by local authors like Georgina Jones (A Field Guide to Marine Animals of the Cape Peninsula) and Guido Zsilavecz (Coastal Fishes of the Cape Peninsula and False Bay, Nudibranchs of the Cape Peninsula and False Bay). Some of the species in this book are found in Cape waters, but I wouldn’t use it as a primary reference. The further reading list also points to George Branch’s The Living Shores of South Africa, the invaluable Two Oceans by Branch and Griffiths, et al, Heemstra’s Coastal Fishes of South Africa, and Rudi van der Elst’s Guide to the Common Sea Fishes of Southern Africa. We are extremely fortunate to have a veritable library of marine reference books to consult as South African divers.

You can read more about The Reef Guide here.

Grab a copy here, before your next diving holiday. I’m looking forward to using it.

Newsletter: Say good bye to the octopi

Hi divers

Six hundred experimental octopus traps have been sunk in False Bay, in an attempt to create a new fishing sector.

Sea Freeze, a Hout Bay-based fishing company, last month deployed seven exploratory octopus long lines between Simon’s Town and Fish Hoek.

Each line is about one kilometre long, with two main buoys on each end. The buoys have radar reflectors and lights and are visible about 500m from the shore.

Ropes weighed down with cement drag the lines down vertically. The traps are placed horizontally along the lines, far beneath the surface of the water.

The above info courtesy False Bay People’s Post. I can only wonder at the risk of entanglement for whales and other large ocean creatures!

Two stroke engines may smoke, but not as much as this navy ship
Two stroke engines may smoke, but not as much as this navy ship

On a lighter note…. Weather and ocean this week have not been too diver friendly and the southeaster blew so hard yesterday I could hardly get out of the harbour in Hout Bay to test the new motors on the boat. The water however was clean and the viz good.

Today I was out in False Bay and the water looked a dark greenish brown colour, very patchy and not great surface conditions. At Photographer’s Reef I could not see the top of the reef when the sonar said it was 4 metres deep. The same at Atlantis and the Brunswick.

There is some northerly and westerly wind coming, but not a lot so I doubt we will have anything better than 5-6 metre viz in False Bay. There is also a little rain in the forecast to contend with. Hout Bay will probably stay clean as the air temperatures for the next few days barely bump the 20 degree mark.

Fitting the new motors to Seahorse
Fitting the new motors to Seahorse

The weekend

There wasn’t much diving last weekend or during this week but there was much boat work to be done and we have replaced both motors, been out twice to test them and I am happy to say all is well again.

We will do a double tank dive on Saturday really early, as I have a family in Stellenbosch expecting me there late afternoon for training. On Sunday we will do two launches, both shallow. Whether it’s False Bay or Hout Bay depends on the conditions we find tomorrow and Saturday.

Back home with fully functional motors!
Back home with fully functional motors!

Travel

We are heading to Durban on the long weekend of 16 June, and staying a few days of the following week. If the weather is favourable we will do a day trip to Aliwal Shoal and if it’s atrocious we will dive the aquarium. We plan to dive some of the interesting wrecks and reefs that Durban has to offer.

We’re booking our Red Sea trip next week. If you’re interested in “accidentally” ending up on the same liveaboard as us, I’ll give you details as soon as it’s finalised…

regards

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

Diving is addictive!

* If one wants to be pedantic, the plural of octopus is not octopi… But it’ll do!

Newsletter: Changing seasons

Hi divers

As the seasons change so does the wind and swell. We had good conditions last weekend in False Bay and have had several good days on the bay this week. The highlight must be a dive at Pyramid Rock on Tuesday, with lots of cowsharks and a truly magnificent huge diamond ray chilling in the sand in Shark Alley. Long Beach has also produced a few stunning ray sightings this week.

Kate, Craig and Mark on the jetty at the yacht club
Kate, Craig and Mark on the jetty at the yacht club

Diving this weekend

The wind today and for the next few days is making it difficult to call for the weekend. The Atlantic, Hout Bay in particular, looks incredibly dark green and I think it is going to take more southeaster than is forecast to clean it up. The temperature off Kommetjie peaked at 19 degrees yesterday so I think the plankton bloom there is going to require some serious wind to clear.

There is a 3.5 metre swell in the bay today and although it drops off from tomorrow the combination of swell and wind don’t bode well for the diving on Saturday. We’re going out for Clare’s birthday lunch on Sunday, so I reckon we will have a dry weekend.

Alpha flag at Shark Alley
Alpha flag at Shark Alley

Training

I’ve got Open Water, Advanced, Rescue and Divemaster on the go at the moment, so a full suite of courses. I haven’t forgotten about the Equipment Specialty, but am waiting for things to slow down a bit and for us to get a dining room table at home so I don’t have to drag you all into the garage…

Divers at Long Beach (no buoy?)
Divers at Long Beach (no buoy?)

Travel

We are planning (slowly) a trip to Durban with a day trip to Aliwal Shoal (if conditions justify it) for a six dive/four night package from 14-18 June. We will leave Cape Town on the Friday afternoon or early evening, and dive Saturday, Sunday and Monday, and fly back on the Tuesday. Monday 17 June is a public holiday.

We will stay at Anstey’s Beach Backpackers which has a range of self catering options ranging from about R120-R200 per person per night.

The dives in Durban with Calypso are R260 per person per dive (there’s a surcharge for far sites) excluding gear. Rental of tanks and weights is R100. You can read more about the Durban dive sites here. The Aliwal Shoal dives are R435 per dive including tanks and weights. We will only pop down the coast if conditions are truly special, as the dives are a bit pricey to waste on unpleasant weather and water. If the weather is really bad everywhere and you’re desperate to get wet, we have the option of diving in two of the tanks at the aquarium in Durban.

There’s also return flights to Durban (for you to book), meals, and car hire to factor in. Cars can be shared among the group once we know how many people are coming. If you’re interested let me know and we’ll set the ball rolling. For this trip you’ll need your own SMB, and an Advanced qualification. Nitrox would be an advantage.

Also a reminder that we’ll be booking our Red Sea trip at the end of March. We’re looking at the Northern Wrecks and Reefs itinerary with Blue O Two, sometime in October. You’ll need a dive computer and an SMB of your own if you plan to join us on this trip as well as minimum Advanced.

regards

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

Diving is addictive!

Newsletter: Weather windows

Hi divers

Kate swims over the helipad of the BOS 400
Kate swims over the helipad of the BOS 400

We were lucky last weekend and had a full diving weekend, it’s been a while. We were at Long Beach on Saturday, and on Sunday managed four launches (to the BOS 400, seals and two parts of the reef under the Sentinel) out of Hout Bay with 10 – 15 metre viz and very little wind or swell. I did sleep well on Sunday night.

The conditions during the week have not been all that great – some big swell and some weird wind directions – but the wind has eased and switched a lot and tomorrow it turns westerly at midday. This will hopefully improve the conditions in False Bay. We are launching tomorrow afternoon, and will have a better idea of the viz tomorrow evening.

Safety stopping in Maori Bay
Safety stopping in Maori Bay

Weekend diving

I plan to launch on Saturday from Simon’s Town at 8.30 and 11.00. I don’t want to pick sites just yet but after tomorrow’s dives I will and depending on who is on the boat we will pick something we haven’t dived in a while. Wait, I forgot we haven’t dived anywhere in False Bay in ages.

On Sunday, conditions permitting, we’ll finish some Rescue courses and Open Water students at Long Beach.

Under the Sentinel in Hout Bay
Under the Sentinel in Hout Bay

Training

I have quite a few courses running, both SDI and PADI, and several Divemasters. Some of the DMTs are just starting, and some close to finished, and one lost in space. Since the beginning of the year I have been focusing on E-learning and it is most definitely far easier for students to do the theory online at their own pace. I can track their progress and review any area they have difficulty with. It is the way forward and more and more courses have this option.

Travel

I will have more news on the travel front next week I hope – there have been one or two other scheduling priorities that have to be dealt with! We are still looking at Aliwal Shoal/Durban, with dates around the public holiday on June 16th. I’ll have dates for you next week. In the mean time, keep calm.

regards

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

Diving is addictive!

Newsletter: Windless weekend?

Hi divers

So, finally the weather forecast shows a weekend of little or no wind. Our boat has spent the last three weekends on the trailer and not too many weekday launches to brag about either. In fact we have not done nearly as much diving as we had hoped given the nice high day temperatures. Visibility has also been hampered by the strong south easterly winds. Never mind, that’s all about to change. False Bay recovers very quickly when the wind drops and turns and that’s what’s coming.

Our plan is as follows: I have four launches tomorrow so I will spend the day in False Bay, above and below the water. If the viz looks good we will dive the Smits wrecks and possibly Atlantis on Saturday. If the viz sucks we will launch from Hout Bay instead. The Atlantic goes green very quickly once the south easter stops. We will start really early, launching at 8.00 and 11.00 as I need time to fill cylinders for a night dive. The night dive will be at Long Beach and we will meet in the parking at 6.30.

Sunday will be a late start as I will first do a shore dive at Long Beach and then take the boat out.

Text me if you want to dive on any of the days/nights.

Travel

We have still not finalised the details for an Aliwal Shoal trip as the weather has a huge influence on the size of the surf through which the boats launch. We are also still looking at Durban and the wrecks they have as a back up plan and this is the cause of the delay. Well, the real delay is just me, but let’s blame the Durban wrecks.

Durban beach on a windy day
Durban beach on a windy day

Training

Becoming an SDI Resort Dive Centre was a good move for us and the competitive prices and range of other courses we have added to our selection has been good. January was the first full month and the results have been promising. I now am able to offer close to 30 different training courses in the world of diving. Take a look on the website and see if there is anything that tickles your fancy.

regards

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

Diving is addictive!

Newsletter: Training and travel

Hi divers

It has been a hectic period and we have dived almost every day for the last two weeks. Gary, Oscar and Dineo are doing their Divemaster course and the weather has not been too hectic. Last Sunday we had amazing conditions in Hout Bay (facebook photos here) and again on Monday and Tuesday. On Wednesday we did shore dives in the morning and boat dives in the afternoon. Today we dived with the sevengill cowsharks and the visibility was 6-8 metres, far better than we had on Outer Photographer’s Reef (2 metres) on Tuesday.

Christo near the shot line
Christo near the shot line

Weekend dives

Once again we approach a weekend full of expectant divers and reading and deciphering the forecasts is a little like Russian Roulette. The weather websites (the nine I check) forecast a south westerly wind today but I can assure you the wind blew north north west the entire day. It kind of makes believing in the weekend weather a little difficult.

It is going to be a play it by ear weekend so please text me your preference for Saturday or Sunday and I will text you by 7.00 am on the relevant day if it’s on. Why you ask? Well the current Atlantic water temperature is 21 degrees which most often means green dark no viz diving. Also, the forecasted wind is extremely strong and not quite from the right direction to clean things up in the Atlantic. But we might get lucky.

Data from a weather buoy on the Atlantic side of the peninsula
Data from a weather buoy on the Atlantic side of the peninsula

There may be an option of False Bay diving as the wind today made some improvement to the water colour and the temperature has dropped to 18 degrees…. Most often good viz in False Bay means cooler temperatures.

Michael and Christo ascending
Michael and Christo ascending

Training

I am currently busy with SDI Open Water training, and PADI Open Water, Advanced, Rescue, Nitrox and Divemaster. Next up will be Research Diver, Equipment Specialty and Deep Specialties. As usual I am available to chat about training if you want to extend your diving qualifications.

An unusual view of the boat
An unusual view of the boat

Red Sea trip

We are 90% certain that we’ll be taking a week long live aboard dive trip to the Red Sea in October. The company we will use is probably blue o two. You can see package prices on their website to get an idea of how much you’ll need to set aside (note that not all costs are included – click on “Availability” to get the detailed timetable of trips, and under package details “Click for more details” to see what isn’t included). We will make a booking early in April. I won’t be doing a group booking for this trip; Clare and I will just let you know which itinerary and dates we plan to do, and you may book the same ones if you’re keen. We might be able to assist with finding you a cabin buddy if you don’t have one already, but the booking is completely up to you. You’ll need to be Nitrox certified and an Advanced diver to make this trip worthwhile – you will have the opportunity to do four or five dives a day, and if you’re on air they’ll be extremely short!

Aliwal Shoal trip

Our planned dates for this trip are 26/27 April to 1 May. Worker bees will need 2-3 days’ leave for this. If the weather at Aliwal Shoal is too rough for launches, we can do some dives at the aquarium in Durban and possibly off the boat or shore there. I will have more information on this in next week’s newsletter. You’ll need to be an Advanced diver and confident on boats for this trip. We’ll fly to Durban and drive about an hour south to Umkomaas.

regards

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

Diving is addictive!