Responsible diving during a drought part 1: Your dive gear

It is no secret that Cape Town is a little low on water. The coastal dive industry, even though we spend a lot of time in the ocean, is actually quite a heavy user of fresh water. Everything thing you learn about taking care of your equipment revolves around the phrase “rinse well with clean water.” Clearly this is not an option in Cape Town at the moment

Dive gear in the driveway
Dive gear in the driveway

So how do you maintain your dive gear and keep it in safe condition during such circumstances? For a dive centre or training facility the volume of gear that needs cleaning can be overwhelming at the end of the day. Here are a few suggestions on how to manage.

No matter how well you de-kit after a shore dive, wet dive gear tends to collect sand. (You can minimise this by using something like the Wetsac, but this isn’t always an option with my students.) I take the gear back into the ocean and rinse it as well as I can in the shallows. This involves several trips as wet dive gear is heavy.

Wetsuits are rugged and don’t too much mind being left salty. They do end up being a little crispy after a while, but the most important, non-negotiable aspect is hygiene. I take a spray bottle with a mixture of Savlon or Dettol and spray the inside of the salty wet suit, then let it dry. Gloves, booties, hoodies and rash vests get the same treatment.

Regulators get a similar treatment, without the disinfectant. I give them an overall light spray with warm water in a spray bottle, with a good spray into the mouth piece. The inflator hose nipple also needs to be rinsed well as this does not handle salt build-up too well and could get stuck during a dive (at best, annoying… at worst, life-threatening).

Cameras, dive computers, torches and compasses do need a little more care, but fortunately are relatively small and have lesser water requirements. I use a narrow, tall bucket and put the bucket in the shower. While showering you can easily catch enough water to cover these items…. Seldom more than a litre is required, and you can leave them to soak.

The biggest challenge is a BCD. Again, it is a tough and rugged piece of gear, but the inflator mechanism does not like salt build up. Using the same bucket of water used for the camera and dive computers, I soak the inflators overnight. I then connect an airline and inflate and deflate the BCD to help flush out the valves behind the inflate/deflate buttons.

Whilst such basic, minimalistic care for your dive gear is not as thorough as that recommended by the manufacturer, it is a method of extending the use of your gear when the availability of fresh water is close to zero. As a rule I prefer to only have two students per class and can effectively wash three sets of gear in less than three litres of water.

It goes without saying that as soon as it rains, you should be collecting that water to give your gear the long, luxurious soak it deserves (and probably needs by that stage)!

City of Cape Town’s new protocol for cleaning tidal pools

Early in November I attended an information session at the Kalk Bay Community Centre, where the City of Cape Town announced that they will be trialling an environmentally friendly cleaning process on five of the 19 tidal pools on the 260 kilometres of Cape Town’s coastline managed by the City. This coast stretches from Silwerstroom on the West Coast to Kogel Bay on the eastern shores of False Bay.

St James tidal pool
St James tidal pool

The presentation was made by team members from the City’s Recreation and Parks department, which – among other things – is responsible for beaches, outdoor signage, ablutions, lifesaving, environmental education, and administration of Blue Flag status for the beaches and marinas that earn it. This department is also responsible for the tidal pools. (Incidentally the City’s assortment of safe seawater bathing facilities includes two of the largest tidal pools in the southern hemisphere, at Monwabisi and Strand.)

Until now, the City would use chlorine to clean the walls (top and sides) and steps in the tidal pools. The cleaning would be done after draining the pool completely. This year, a supply chain management issue meant that there was no cleaning of the tidal pools between July and November. During this time, regular swimmers (some of them members of the Sea-Change project) noticed that marine life flourished in the pools, and engaged with the City to try to find a way to keep the tidal pools safe but also to preserve the diversity of marine species that had been thriving in the pools during the cleaning hiatus. Safety, of course, is why they are cleaned: slippery, algae-covered steps are dangerous.

The tidal pool at Millers Point
The tidal pool at Millers Point

It was agreed that five of the pools – St James, Dalebrook, Wooley’s Pool, and the two pools at Kalk Bay station – would be subject to a trial of a new, environmentally friendly cleaning regimen. These pools are relatively close together in the north western corner of False Bay. The aim is still to ensure that the tops of the pool’s walls and steps are not slippery, and thus safe for bathers. But a second aim has been added by the City, which is to ensure the environmental integrity of the pools.

Under the new cleaning protocol, the following will be done:

  • the pools will be drained only when necessary, and only as far as is required to reach areas that are covered by water and in need of cleaning (for example, the steps at Dalebrook)
  • animals in harm’s way will be relocated
  • excess kelp and sea urchins will be removed from the pools
  • the tops of the walls and steps will be scraped to remove algae (the sides of the walls used to be scraped too, but this will no longer take place)
  • environmentally friendly chemicals will be used to remove the algal residue after scraping – no more chlorine and no more whitewashing!

All of the above means that the pools will be ready for use by the public immediately after cleaning, in contrast to the old protocol, which renders the pool unusable for a period after the cleaning crew has chlorined it.

I’ve asked the City for more information about the drainage procedure, and for more information about the earth-friendly chemicals that the cleaning contractor will use, but with no response so far. (If I get one I’ll obviously update this post.)

Buffels Bay tidal pool inside the Cape Point section of Table Mountain National Park
Buffels Bay tidal pool inside the Cape Point section of Table Mountain National Park

Many of the City of Cape Town’s tidal pools fall within the Table Mountain National Park Marine Protected Area, and it therefore makes perfect sense to aim to protect the animals living in them while maintaining public safety. Dr Maya Pfaff, another speaker at the information session, even suggested that some of the animals that may now thrive in the pools may actually help to keep the water clean. Mussels and feather duster worms filter the water and improve the clarity, algae take up nutrients, and limpets clean algae off the rocks.

Particularly over the festive season, the beaches and tidal pools around Cape Town are extremely busy. This is a wonderful opportunity for thousands of beach-goers to experience both safe swimming and a little bit more of what the ocean has to offer, instead of a sterile, salt-water pool devoid of healthy marine life. Bringing a snorkel and mask with you when next you go swimming will be well rewarded. To see some pictures of the amazing animals – from nudibranchs to a cuttlefish with eggs – in the St James tidal pool, check out Lisa’s instagram profile.

Do you swim regularly in any of the five pools in which the new cleaning regimen is being tested? What do you think about it? If you think that environmentally gentle cleaning of tidal pools is a good idea, what about letting the city know that you appreciate having tidal pools that are both safe and biodiverse. A short message on the City of Cape Town facebook page to say thank you and keep up the good work (and a request to extend it to the other tidal pools) is a good place to start!

You can read a news article about the new cleaning protocol here.

Article: Exploring False Bay’s kelp forests

Kelp forest in Sandy Cove
Kelp forest in Sandy Cove

Environmental journalist Pippa Ehrlich writes beautifully for Safarious of diving in the kelp forests of False Bay with Sea-Change founder Craig Foster. You might be familiar with Sea-Change from an exhibition at the Sea Point promenade a couple of years ago.

The idea of getting into this freezing world every day without a wetsuit was daunting. We did some stretching and breathing to warm up. The sky was grey and my feet had gone numb in the shallow water we’d had to walk through. I was not looking forward to being fully submersed in it.

Ehrlich and Foster (and others from the Sea-Change team) dive daily in False Bay, sans wetsuits. It is their mental (spiritual?) approach to the marine environment, however, that sets the project apart. It’s a mindset that may be unfamiliar to many divers, especially those of us who favour scuba, but it is worthy of serious consideration. The article reads like a story of love and healing.

The accompanying photos are beautiful, too. Read it.

A Day on the Bay: Freedom Swim 2016

Maryna and Table Mountain
Maryna and Table Mountain

A day early in April was the date for the annual Freedom Swim, a 7.5 kilometre open ocean cold water swim from Murray’s Bay harbour on Robben Island to Big Bay near Blouberg. As we have in several previous years, we provided boat support for a swimmer.

This entails providing a straight course for the swimmer so as to minimise the distance swum, and keeping an eye on them to ensure that they don’t get too cold or show any other symptoms of hypothermia or distress. It requires communication with race control by radio, and a bit of boat and swimmer dodging in the early stages of the race when the water is thick with activity.

There was a 3.5 metre swell on the day, which made the ride out to the island a bit bumpy. As soon as we were in the shelter of the island, however, the sea was flattened as the swell diverted around the island. The water remained calm until we got quite close to shore, at which point the swell picked up. The final stretch from the rocks at Big Bay to the beach must have been very hairy for the swimmers!

Our swimmer, Maryna, swam in a wetsuit. She was part of the Lighthouse Swim relay team we supported last year. The water was relatively warm (13-16 degrees) clear at the island, and we could see kelp and quite far down into the sea. Great red streaks of water, probably an algae bloom, were filled with sea jellies (which stung Maryna, but she continued strongly). These were replaced by murky green water close to the shore, where the swell had lifted the sand particles into the water column.

It was a good day out, and always a pleasure to see Table Mountain in its majesty from the water.

Newsletter: So you think you can swim

Hi divers

Weekend dive plans

Saturday & Sunday: Boat or shore dives on both days

We spent Saturday morning shadowing a swimmer doing the Freedom Swim from Robben Island to Big Bay… Around 7 kilometres in 14 degree water that at times looked like brown onion soup filled with jellyfish. The swimmers are a brave and dedicated bunch and I admire them. Our swimmer did the crossing in just over two hours, but some of the swimsuit folks spent 5 hours in the water, bravely swimming into a humping current.

Swimming across Table Bay
Swimming across Table Bay

Dive conditions

The forecast looks like a piece of cake for the weekend… Light winds, not much swell and warm sunny skies. False Bay, however, looks a little off, colour-wise, and there are large colour fronts scattered across much of the bay. There is no certainty on where they will go with the light winds over the next couple of days so it is going to be a matter of making the “call to action” early each morning.

I have both shore dive and boat dive students ready to go, so will do either shore or boat based on what it looks like when we wake up, early, on both Saturday and Sunday.

Text, Whatsapp, email or carrier pigeon you desires for the weekend and I will add you to the early morning wake up call list…

Photo exhibition

If ever you had the urge to show a friend the beauty of the underwater world that you enjoy, now is your chance. Haul them off to the Two Oceans Aquarium and show them some of the stunning creatures captured on camera at a wide range of dive sites scattered along Cape Town’s shores. The photo exhibition runs for two months and is included in your entry fee to the aquarium. Read more about it here.

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 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…

Newsletter: Try it out

Hi divers

Weekend dive plans

Saturday: 6.00 am on Simon’s Town jetty for double tank dives in the Roman Rock vicinity

Saturday: Dives from Simon’s Town jetty at 9.00 and 11.30 am, sites dependent on conditions

Dive conditions

We had good conditions last week; they held for the weekend and then kept going at the start of this week. Yesterday and today, however, the viz took a bit of a nosedive and is possibly going to settle into the summer visibility groove of a warm 4- 6 metres, depending on your eyesight. There is very little swell or wind in the forecast which will help.

I doubt there will be too much difference between Saturday and Sunday so the plan is as follows: a screechingly early double tank launch on Saturday (6.00 am on the Simon’s Town jetty). On Sunday we will meet for 9.00 am and 11.30 am. The sites will depend on what we find on Saturday.

A Cape long-legged spider crab
A Cape long-legged spider crab

This Cape long-legged spider crab hitched a ride to the surface on one of the divers’ booties this week. Isn’t he a handsome chap? He is back where he belongs!

Try diving in the pool

In the month of December until Christmas, we are offering Discover Scuba sessions (try dives) in our pool, free of charge, every Wednesday and Thursday after 3.00 pm. If you have a friend that needs a little persuasion to qualify as your future dive buddy, then bring them along. Booking is essential. Get in touch if you want to reserve a slot.

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!

Genius gear: the Wetsac

Using the WetSac
Using the WetSac

Several years ago the wonderful Tami gave me a WETSAC for my birthday. It sounds like something squishy and perhaps offensive, but in fact it is a marvel of ingenuity and designed to improve the lives of divers and surfers and outdoorsmen everywhere. She bought it at a craft market in Hout Bay, and both of us have been hunting for a retailer of this product since then. Recently, I struck it lucky with a well phrased google search (something like “wet bag”).

How many times have you struggled out of your wetsuit on a rough surface (Miller’s Point parking area and Hout Bay harbour, I’m looking at you), hurting your feet, standing on the neoprene and pressing it into the tar? You’re damaging yourself and your gear! Then you toss the dripping, smelly wetsuit into the back of your car – into a box, if you’re organised – and hope it doesn’t spray seawater and bits of grit from the parking area everywhere while you drive home.

WETSAC is here to help. Essentially a mat that converts into a waterproof bag, it comprises a circular piece of tough fabric with a drawstring around the edge. You stand on it to get out of your suit, throw in your gloves, hoodie and booties, then step off and pull the drawstring tight. Toss the bag into your divemobile and don’t worry about remnants of your diving and changing adventures ending up all over the boot. It is beyond convenient. Plus, you can buy it online. Make a note for next Christmas!

(I was not compensated in any way for this post… The thing is just geninuely nifty!)

Scuba diving parties for kids

Learning to snorkel
Learning to snorkel

Earlier this month we hosted a scuba diving birthday party in our pool, for a group of extremely excited eight year olds. It was a slightly chaotic but enormously enjoyable day! The boys first mastered the use of snorkels, making drawings on slates while submerged. We were impressed by how well they took to skin diving, and they rocketed up and down the pool like sea otters.

After that they tried out scuba gear, and we were amused by the various ways they found to enjoy themselves. One of the boys kept inflating his BCD because he liked the sound the over-pressure valve made. Another made foamy fountains of water by purging his octo in the shallows. Others seemed to feel like Jacques Cousteau as they explored the pool! We taught them how to inflate an SMB using their spare regulator, and brought out our collection of underwater cameras for them to take innumerable selfies and group portraits that they could take home with them.

Parties like this are ideal for small groups of four to six participants, as they are supervision-intensive and a small group lets each child fully enjoy their turn to try out scuba gear under the supervision of the instructor. A little bit of advance planning is recommended for the purposes of paperwork, so get in touch sooner rather than later if you think this is something your child might enjoy. We can conduct the event in your swimming pool at home if it’s less than two metres deep, or at our pool. We have conducted a similar event at the Virgin Active gym, but that requires special permission. Be warned, the scuba diving bug might bite!

Sketching on slates
Sketching on slates

The PADI Bubblemakers and Seal Team programs are designed for kids aged 8-10, and enable them to master the use of scuba gear in the swimming pool. You can read more about those programs on the PADI website. From the age of 10, children can obtain a Junior Open Water qualification, which upgrades to a full Open Water qualification when they turn 15.

I’ve carefully chosen these photos so you can’t identify the kids, hence their mixed quality! The big kid with the silver hair is Tony.

Night dive on the wreck of the Clan Stuart

Before the Clan Stuart night dive
Before the Clan Stuart night dive

This footage is five years old and very grainy, but has some sentimental value to me. Tony filmed it after a night dive on the SS Clan Stuart, which on Friday celebrated (?) 100 years aground in False Bay. It was his first night dive in Cape Town (might have been his first dive of any kind in Cape Town, but I’m not sure) and my first ever night dive. I was pretty freshly qualified as an Open Water diver but still had (have) a lot to learn.

I can see just enough of myself towards the end of the video to note that I have my mask pushed up on top of my head, which is stupid. Don’t do that, kids.