Newsletter: For the love of snoek

Hi divers

The keel of the Katsu Maru
The keel of the Katsu Maru

We launched out of Hout Bay last weekend, visiting the MV Katsu Maru and the Sentinel on Saturday and the SS Maori and seals on Sunday. Despite planning to cancel Sunday we took a chance and had really good conditions. The Atlantic has been holding its own as far as visibility is concerned and has not gone green as quickly as expected. This I think is partly due to a few days of low 20s temperatures, instead of the expected 28- 30 degrees.

Anemone on the Katsu Maru
Anemone on the Katsu Maru

Below (courtesy of a CSIR weather buoy) you can see just how quickly things can change and the temperature rose by 6 degrees in less than three hours today. Warm Atlantic usually means dirty water but there is a fair bit of southeaster between now and Sunday to make it a maybe day.

CSIR weather buoy data
CSIR weather buoy data

False Bay is currently a little dark and green and we had 2-3 metre visibility on our first dive today at Caravan Reef, with around 6 metre visibility at Pyramid Rock. There is not much weather about that will clear the bay so I doubt we will launch there. Sunday also sees the Peninsula Marathon finishing in Simon’s Town, and that will make getting in and out a bit on the slow side.

On Saturday I will either be in the pool doing Open Water students’ skills, or doing Open Water and Rescue at Long Beach.

The parking area at Hout Bay during the snoek run
The parking area at Hout Bay during the snoek run

The snoek run off Kommetjie has resulted in Hout Bay harbour being a total mess with the most impressive display of bad manners, shoddy parking and general garbage dumping I have seen since the last office Christmas party I attended. It has been like this for most of this week and if it is still like that on Sunday we will do a late start double tank dive. I will make that call early on Sunday morning as there is also some swell, set to drop, but we wont know till early Sunday. Please let me know if you would like to dive on Sunday.

regards

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

Diving is addictive!

Dive sites: North Paw (Monty’s Pinnacles)

One of the pinnacles, rising to within 10 metres of the surface
One of the pinnacles, rising to within 10 metres of the surface

It seems that it’s only on magnificent days that we end up launching from Oceana Power Boat Club. While my colleagues were having an end of year function just above Clifton Beach, I was floating on the surface a few hundred metres off the same beach, waiting to be picked up by the boat after a dive. You’ll recall that we had a week or more of incredibly strong southeasterly winds at the end of November. The wind dropped during the night of 30 November, and hours later we were on the boat. The aim was to complete Christo’s deep dive for his Advanced course, and our hope was for excellent visibility.

Christo & Tony at the safety stop, at the thermocline
Christo & Tony at the safety stop, at the thermocline

The Atlantic is so capricious, however, that the surface layer was already turning green with a layer of happily multiplying phytoplankton when we arrived to dive it. I am unreasonably pleased with this picture of Christo and Tony at the safety stop, right at the boundary of the blue and green water.

Beneath the layer of pale green we discovered crystal clear, freezing cold water. I can well understand how falling into the water in the Southern Ocean or Bering Sea can be fatal after this dive. Towards the end I doubted my ability to swim for the surface, and just wanted to lie down on the bottom and go to sleep!

Sponge with brittle stars
Sponge with brittle stars

Monty’s Pinnacles refers to part of the North Paw complex, a large area of granite reef that has several distinct dive sites within it. We have also dived the northern pinnacle. Monty’s Pinnacles lie a short distance to the north of the exposed rocks that mark the main North Paw reef. There’s a map here. The two pinnacles were discovered by local diving legend Monty Guest while scootering around the area in 2010. They rise to within 10 metres of the surface. The topography is spectacular, with great ridges in the granite that are so straight as to appear to be machine-hewed. Small stands of kelp grow all the way down to 25 metres, testifying to the clarity of the water here at certain times of the year.

Tony and some brittle stars on a boulder
Tony and some brittle stars on a boulder

I didn’t see much unusual macro life (perhaps in my near-hypothermic state I had reduced powers of observation), but the rocks are heavily encrusted with mussels, brittle stars, and urchins. There are very large west coast rock lobsters everywhere you look. I saw the odd sea cucumber and a couple of anemones, but the chief beauty of this site for me is the passages and tumbled boulders that one swims among. There are swim throughs here, but we didn’t find them.

Granite reef
Granite reef

The view upon surfacing is spectacular, with the Twelve Apostles and the Atlantic seaboard to feast your eyes on.

Straight cuts through the granite
Straight cuts through the granite

Dive date: 1 December 2012

Air temperature: 28 degrees

Water temperature: 9 degrees

Maximum depth: 25.9 metres

Visibility: 15 metres

Dive duration: 30 minutes

Violet spotted anemonesc
Violet spotted anemones
Mini pinnacle (not one of the official ones)
Mini pinnacle (not one of the official ones)

Article: New York Times & Nature on trawling

The New York Times recently published a short editorial on what commercial trawling is doing to the sea floor. Nature had published a similar article a month or so earlier, describing how the results of trawling were initially mistaken for the aftermath of an underwater landslide. You can see images of its effects here and here, and the Nature article has a close up photograph of trawled seabed.

If you’ve spent any time on the sand at one of Cape Town’s dive sites you’ll know that not only does the surface of the sand provide habitat for all sorts of creatures, but just under the surface live numerous others that may only venture out at night, or not at all. Imagine smoothing over that top layer, and dislodging the anemones, starfish, sea cucumbers, beaked sandfish, rays, worms, bivalves and their friends. Then imagine doing it again, within days, before any of the creatures could re-establish themselves.

In addition to removing all the fish from the ocean, our activities are apparently reshaping the ocean floor. That’s embarrassing, to say the least.

Read the NYT article here and the Nature one here.

Documentary: Frozen Planet

Frozen Planet
Frozen Planet

Another expensive (and totally worth it) production from the BBC, Frozen Planet presents an exploration of the polar regions of earth, focusing on the wildlife and natural processes that make these areas so special.

There are episodes devoted to each season of the year, flanked by an episode providing an overview of the polar regions and one dealing with human activities in these areas. A special feature on climate change wraps up the series. Each episode is followed by a ten minute feature called “Freeze Frame”, which explains how particular footage was obtained – usually through a combination of ingenuity, luck, hardiness and persistence.

The series was dogged by two controversies, one minor (to my mind) and another somewhat more significant. The first involves a very brief piece of footage showing a polar bear mother and her newborn cubs. Rather than being filmed in the wild (which would have been almost impossible, if one thinks about it, because the mother bear is in partial hibernation under the snow while she gives birth), the footage was captured in a zoo. The way in which the footage is interspersed with shots of polar bears in the wild is somewhat misleading, and the voice over gives no indication that the mother and her cubs are in captivity.

The second controversy involves climate change, and the increasingly popular anti-science stance espoused particularly by the religous right, a powerful political lobby in the United States which has managed to transform a purely scientific issue into a political one. In a special feature on the third disc of the set, which deals with the changing polar environment as more and more ice melts each year, any mention of the causes of climate change is avoided, and host David Attenborough intones “The days of the Arctic Ocean being covered by a continuous sheet of ice seem to be past. Whether or not that’s a good or bad thing, of course, depends on your point of view.” Rather than taking a definitive evidence-based stance on the fact that global warming is a result of human activity on the planet – a view which is held by mainstream scientists who base their opinions on statistics, observations, experiments and hard evidence – the producers of the series chose to prevaricate in order to avoid offending a vocal and wilfully ignorant minority.

These things aside, Frozen Planet is a magnificent production that shows the scope and complexity of these little-seen parts of our planet. The resourcefulness and adaptations of the animals and birds that spend all or part of their lives enduring the extreme climate and landscape of the polar regions are magnificent. There is wonderful underwater footage, showing penguins, orcas, beluga, seals, narwhal and whales hunting, socialising and feeding, and urchins, sea stars and corals far under the ice. The underwater visibility is astonishing, as is the courage of the cameramen who venture under thick ice into freezing water to obtain footage.

Ice caves under Mount Erebus in Antarctica are spectacular and untouched, and the scale of the plateaus and mountains of the Antarctic is incredible. (In comparison, the Arctic seems like a bustling metropolis!) The completely hostile environment got me all choked up thinking about the early polar explorers who risked (and lost) their lives in efforts to extend the frontiers of human knowledge.

The final episode deals with man’s presence at the poles (scientists in Antarctica, and indigenous people in the Arctic). I loved the footage of Longyearbyen in the Svalbard archipelago (on my “must visit” list). Tony and I particularly enjoyed the segment showing the Danish navy officers  patrolling in Greenland, with fourteen huskies, a sled, skis, and a vast snowy wilderness larger than France and the UK combined.

You can buy the DVD here if you’re in South Africa, otherwise here or here. The US version is narrated by Alec Baldwin.

Newsletter: The luck of the draw

Hi divers

This weekend

Saturday will be filled with Open Water training somewhere in False Bay and most likely in Simon’s Town at Long Beach.

Sunday is Advanced training and fun dives, and we will boat out of either Hout Bay or Miller’s Point depending on the conditions.

Anemone on the top of the mast of the MV Aster
Anemone on the top of the mast of the MV Aster

Last week’s diving

The past few weeks have delivered some days of stunning dive conditions with a sprinkling of dodgy days. Last weekend we planned to do Open Water training on Saturday but the weather did not oblige, and when we arrived at the beach the conditions were less than optimal. Sunday we did Advanced training and launched out of Hout Bay, and it was a terrific day with really good conditions. That’s the luck of the draw with weather related activities.

Fortunately for me and divers free during the week we have had a lot of week day courses and there have been some really good days in the ocean. The water temperature during the week has plummeted from 21 degrees on Monday to a coolish 13 degrees last night. Seven of us braved the slightly cooler water last night and enjoyed a really good night dive with a display of tentacles from an octopus, small cuttlefish being all “scary” and a host of other sights. With all the torches, cyalumes and flashing strobes it is amazing to see just how big a pool of light seven people can make. Sitting in a circle at the start of the dive we all turned off or buried our lights briefly and it is quite unreal how much light there still is below the surface despite the late hour.

Mozambique

Clare and I are booking plane tickets to Durban tomorrow. I’ll let those of you who are coming or who have expressed interest know which flights we are on so you can get on the same flights or ones with similar departure and arrival times.

Soapbox

If you’re wondering why I sometimes cancel diving in conditions that I deem poor, you can read an explanation here!

Divers ascending in Hout Bay
Divers ascending in Hout Bay

Winter diving

The winter season has not yet arrived and I am not planning to rush it in but it does usually signify a slowing down of new divers to the sport – isn’t it too cold, they ask. During the winter months we run fewer Open Water courses but there is an increase in Specialty courses such as Deep diver, Wreck diver, Nitrox etc, and this also heralds the “boat season” as most of these specialties are boat dives. Winter diving is in fact some of the best diving the Cape has to offer as we have the best visibility in False Bay during these months.

We did a deep dive last winter on the wreck of the SAS Fleur that lies in the middle of False Bay in 42 metres of water and at 25 metres we could see the wreck clearly below as well as the boat’s hull and shiny propellers on the surface.

Sunburst soft coral on the MV Aster
Sunburst soft coral on the MV Aster

Boat dives – the way forward

All dive planning generally happens on a Thursday afternoon or thereabouts. Once the boat charter newsletters go out the boats sometime fill very fast and there is not always time for me to text 20-30 people and wait for responses. I want to try something a little different and it will work like this:

I will text or email you by Wednesday each week about which days we will be on the boat. The text will not have specific info on dive sites but will ask whether you’re available for the boat on the weekend, which days, and what launches. If you then respond with a text it will give me far more lead time to plan and organise a good day of diving. At this point you will only be tentatively committing to diving and once we have Grant’s newsletter I will finalise the details with you and you will then still have a chance to back out.

This way we stand a far better chance of all getting on the boat on the days we wish and if we fill a boat we will hopefully be able to choose the site we dive from the options Grant gives us, dependent on where he launches from. Last winter we had many, many stunning days out on the water – one highlight was a detour we made after a dive to view a pod of a few hundred dolphins off Kalk Bay harbour one sunny winter Sunday.

There are more divers than boats in Cape Town so something to remember for this coming season is that if you book to dive and don’t arrive you are still liable for payment as it is not possible to fill that spot at the last minute.

regards

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

Diving is addictive!

Dive sites: Sandy Cove

On the surface in Sandy Cove
On the surface in Sandy Cove

Sandy Cove is a beautiful little bay that serves as the entry point for a number of the dive sites at Oudekraal, as well as being quite a pleasant dive in its own right. It is located just north of the Twelve Apostles Hotel, and access to the site is down a steep slope from the road. There is a small sign on the roadside, and the path starts around about there. If you drive past the site on a weekend in summer, you’ll see numerous divers’ cars parked in the yellow line as the traffic whizzes by. This, and the fairly steep climb (which is actually no worse than the one at Shark Alley) are the major negatives of diving here.

The path down from the road takes three branches. The first is to Justin’s Caves, the second leads to quite a difficult entry point to Sand Cove, over a boulder beach between large granite boulders, and the third – which is the longest – leads to a small sand beach with convenient resting places that provides the easiest entry at this site.

Tony in the kelp
Tony in the kelp

The cove itself is ringed by kelp forests, with a sandy patch in the middle. The depth is only four to five metres inside the cove, and it’s sheltered enough that it could be used for confined water skills training. The anchor of the Het Huis Te Kraaiestein, a very old wooden wreck that lies just outside the cove, is located on the fringe of the cove closest to the road.

Tiny klipfish on a rock in Sandy Cove
Tiny klipfish on a rock in Sandy Cove

The other dive sites that can be reached via Sandy Cove are Geldkis, Strawberry Rocks, Mushroom Pinnacle, and Geldkis Blinder. You could also swim around to Justin’s Caves from here, but it’s not the shortest route. Negotiating the kelp forest can be a bit tricky, but there are sufficient distinctively shaped rocks and granite formations that with a bit of practice navigation will come quite naturally.

Hottentot feeding off the sand
Hottentot feeding off the sand

Dive date: 25 December 2011

Air temperature: 26 degrees

Water temperature: 13 degrees

Maximum depth: 5.8 metres

Visibility: 10 metres

Dive duration: 42 minutes

Safety in numbers

There are many reasons why animals would gather together in groups. It may be for safety, like the moulting Japanese spider crabs in the Oceans DVD, it may be to find a mate and to socialise, or it may be because something tasty has fallen to the ocean floor and everyone wants in on the action.

Starfish convocation at Long Beach
Starfish convocation at Long Beach

Certain creatures, like sea cucumbers, rock lobsters, brittle stars and abalone, are always seen together. Sea stars, however, are usually quite solitary and seem absorbed in their own little world. A dive at Windmill or occasionally at Long Beach may sometimes reveal starfish engaged in huge pile-ons like over-excited school boys. Usually there are mussels involved!

Rock lobsters on the Maori
Rock lobsters on the Maori

Rock lobsters generally congregate in cracks and crevices in the rocky reefs they frequent. Unfortunately this habit of living in close proximity to one another makes them particularly vulnerable to over-exploitation by poachers (and by that I mean anyone who operates without a crayfishing permit, in violation of its terms and conditions, or outside official crayfishing season).

A gas flame nudibranch among strawberry sea anemones at Partridge Point
A gas flame nudibranch among strawberry sea anemones at Partridge Point

Strawberry anemones are gregarious, and live in colonies that cover patches of reefs and wrecks, right down to over 40 metres. Other creatures (such as the nudibranch above) often show little regard for their personal space, and walk right over these tiny pink creatures.

Anemones at Partridge Point
Anemones at Partridge Point

In both the picture above and the one below, you can see the dense congregation of sea cucumbers – more than one different kind – that covers many of the reefs in Cape Town. Even on sandy sea floors, such as around the Cape Matapan, golden sea cucmbers form fields of delicate tentacles protruding from the sand. In terms of biomass, sea cucumbers of all sorts are believed to be among the most prolific creatures in the ocean.

Urchins and sea cucumbers at Partridge Point
Urchins and sea cucumbers at Partridge Point

Newsletter: Christmas is coming

Hi divers

Weather, hmm, this time of year it is a tussle between the Atlantic and False Bay with the Atlantic winning more often than not. We decided not to dive last Saturday as I felt the conditions unsuitable for newish divers. Those that braved these conditions (see the picture below) were rewarded with 8 degree water and mind blowing viz.

Fun times on the boat out of Hout Bay harbour
Fun times on the boat out of Hout Bay harbour

As I write this newsletter I can see outside that the southeaster is hammering the bay and despite the wind dropping off tomorrow I don’t think False Bay will be very clean for the next few days. This weekend’s conditions are once again sending the boats and divers to the Atlantic. Saturday does not look good but Sunday seems at this point to be much better. Grant will launch on Sunday from Hout Bay. Please contact him directly to book… I will be spending most of the weekend in the pool with new students!

Feather star finds a home
Feather star finds a home

We did dive False Bay this last week before the southeaster became problematic. On Sunday we were at Long Beach, and later in the week I dived with tourists primarily and had 6 metre visibility with 17 degree water. We also dived at A Frame and saw gully sharks in the swim-through. I only saw two, but there have been up to 8 seen at once so it appears they have made it their home.

Burrowing anemone at Long Beach
Burrowing anemone at Long Beach

Many people are on leave, have odd days off and want to get some diving done. This time of the year also sees an influx of tourists so planning and pre-booking is essential. The dive schools are also all busy so getting on a boat can be difficult as Cape Town has far fewer dive boats than number of dive schools. If you have a few days off in the next couple of weeks try and plan ahead, and if I text or email you about a boat dive, let me know chop-chop if you’re in.

The Learn to Dive Today website has had a bit of a revamp – we are currently busy switching over from the old to the new one, which can take up to 48 hours as the new hosting information propagates across the internet, so service may be unpredictable. If you do go check it out, please let me know if you find any broken links or typos!

regards

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

Diving is addictive!

P.S. For gift ideas for the scuba diver in your life, or as a list of hints to give to your mother, girlfriend, granny or second cousin to assist them in buying you a present, you can check out our Christmas gift guide. Also works for Hanukkah!

Sea life: Root-mouthed sea jelly

We had a huge number of sea jellies in False Bay at the start of the summer – the usual compass and box jellies, and then some other very large visitors whom I hadn’t met before. Root mouthed sea jellies (Rhizostoma pulmo, formerly known as R. octopus, and called barrel sea jellies, sea mushroom jellies, or dustbin lid jellies elsewhere in the world) are the largest known sea jellies, can grow to up to 1.5 metres in diameter and can weigh tens of kilograms. They are usually white, yellowish, or blue, and we’ve seen specimens of various hues this summer.

A root-mouthed sea jelly
A root-mouthed sea jelly

Root mouthed jellies have eight robust tentacles with frilly edges that emerge from the centre of the bell; they do not have long trailing tentacles, and are harmless to most humans. They may cause a mild rash if you have sensitive skin, but you shouldn’t touch them anyway.

Surface of the root mouthed jelly's bell
Surface of the root mouthed jelly's bell

The frilled arms each equipped with a mouth are used to filter plankton out of the water, which is then channeled directly into the gut. Their appearance in False Bay corresponded with a massive plankton bloom that was visible both above and below the water – I haven’t figured out if they came in (involuntarily) with the water bearing the plankton, or followed it into the bay!

Frilly tentacles (these ones have some sand on them)
Frilly tentacles (these ones have some sand on them)

Predators of jellyfish include sunfish, turtles (particularly leatherback sea turtles), some birds, whale sharks, some crabs, and certain kinds of whale (such as the humpbacks). We also witnessed some extremely happy sea anemones eating dead compass sea jellies that had gotten caught on the reef or died and fallen to the sand during the invasion described above. Suffice it to say, looking at the conservation status of most of the jellyfish predators listed here, we’re all going to be having a lot more sea jellies in our future unless something changes, fast.

Tentacles of the root mouthed sea jelly
Tentacles of the root mouthed sea jelly

Here’s a short video, with Tony for scale.

Newsletter: 6am dive, anyone?

Hi divers

To everyone that voted for us in the SA Blog Awards we say thank you very much, but we did not make it to the finals. Oh well.

This time of year most people start winding down in preparation for Christmas; often nothing much happens in the office and you might not even be missed if you slip out and go for a dive. Here’s a secret… Go online and buy all your Christmas presents now! Then every morning you can claim that you’re out shopping for a different member of the family. You will be surprised at how long you can milk this excuse with your boss… Try it!! (I cannot be held liable for dishing out bad advice.)

Use this early morning time for a few very pleasant early morning dives. The first year I was in Cape Town I spent a lot of time learning the dive sites, often ready to go in the water by 6.30 or 7.00 am. You will be pleasantly surprised at how often the wind is absent, no traffic and no people around… Come and try it this summer, you can be in the office by nine.

What we have been up to

Safety stopping in a plankton bloom
Safety stopping in a plankton bloom

Last weekend was very odd. Friday I was stunned by the crystal clear blue water of the Atlantic. Saturday we did two boat dives in pea soup (see above) and the visibility only opened up at 20 odd metres so it was very dark. I was fortunate enough to see a huge sunfish swim slowly by – this was the first time I have ever seen one underwater. Two years ago I spent 10 days in Table Bay driving a boat for a film shoot and we saw several sunfish daily on the surface. Clearly this time of year is their chosen time to visit us so hopefully we will get to see more of them.

Waiting on the surface for the boat
Waiting on the surface for the boat

Sunday I had a bunch of new students and we spent the entire day in the clean warm (26 degrees) pool. I dived with these new students on Monday in False Bay with a good 6 -8 metre visibility and on Tuesday, since they were on a tight schedule, they had to brave 2 metre visibility to complete their course. It never ceases to amaze me the speed at which the ocean conditions can change.

Anemones and mussels fighting for space
Anemones and mussels fighting for space

This weekend

On Saturday we will be in False Bay, where, I can’t say, but I will look for the best site. Given the winds we have had this week it’s a difficult call until we get there; I will also have a look tomorrow to see how the water looks. Either way we will meet at Long Beach at 9.30am and move on from there.

Rutger and Kelly starting a dive at Long Beach
Rutger and Kelly starting a dive at Long Beach

Grant will launch from OPBC on Sunday and I am booking for both launches, the first, a wreck called the Highfields and the second a wreck called the SS Cape Matapan. I have yet to dive from OPBC without seeing the permit checkers drive through or lurking in the vicinity, so make sure you have a valid dive permit. Please also remember that boat dives are now R220 per person, per dive.

Nelly at Long Beach
Nelly at Long Beach

Please let me know if you would like to join us on any dives this weekend, and I will do my best to make it happen.

regards

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

Diving is addictive!