Newsletter: It is what it is

Hi divers

Weekend dive plans

No diving

Black browed albatross
Black browed albatross

It is still winter – time for lots of swell, and sometimes odd wind directions. There is all of that this weekend, with too many “maybes” at play to make a diving plan. Hout Bay may work on Sunday but the same could be said for False Bay. I don’t think the odds are too good so we have nothing planned.

regards

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

Diving is addictive!

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Bookshelf: The Seabird’s Cry

The Seabird’s Cry: The Lives and Loves of Puffins, Gannets and Other Ocean Voyagers – Adam Nicolson

The Seabird's Cry
The Seabird’s Cry

This is such a wonderful book that I read it twice within the span of six months. In between my two readings, during the northern hemisphere spring, Tony and I visited Pembrokeshire in Wales. This is not the home of Mr Darcy, but rather the location of several islands on which seabirds breed. Seeing puffins, gannets and shearwaters in all their glorious breeding plumage animated Nicolson’s descriptions of their precarious lives. (I do plan to share some photos and details of that visit in future posts.)

Early in this book, Nicolson points out that seabirds are the only creatures on earth that are at home in the water, on land, and in the air. To most of us, albatross are perhaps the most familiar pelagic seabirds – Carl Safina’s Eye of the Albatross both introduced and immortalised these extraordinary ocean wanderers for a popular audience. Nicolson devotes a chapter to each of ten species of seabird, including albatross, and writes with such extraordinary lyricism that at at times it’s possible to mistake this book for something other than popular science.

This blurring of boundaries is quite intentional, and completely revelatory. Rather than sounding pretentious or foolish, as most of us would if we tried to channel Seamus Heaney while summarising scientific papers and interviewing researchers, Nicolson achieves a remarkable feat of science communication. He speaks of the wonder that comes not from ignorance, but from knowledge and understanding, and how powerful a thing it is to know the facts of these animals’ lives.

If the idea of trying to join the worlds of science and poetry (or literature, or culture) grabs you, you may enjoy this video of a conversation on the subject between Adam Nicolson and Tim Birkenhead, a professor of ornithology.

Seabirds are in trouble worldwide, more threatened than any other group of birds. They are facing – amongst others – challenges wrought by changing ecosystems as the climate warms and industrial fishing robs them of their prey. To help them, we need to act, and action comes after seeing and understanding. In this book Nicolson makes an appeal to a part of us other than the rational, fact-collecting, logical entity, and asks us to empathise with these strikingly “other” creatures. I urge you to read this book.

You can read rapturous reviews of this book on The Guardian’s website, on Literary Hub, and at the Financial Times.

Get a copy here (South Africa), or here. It is available for Kindle, but you’ll have to search for that one yourself!

Newsletter: Trawling

Hi divers

Weekend dive plans

No diving

Fishing trawler at work
Fishing trawler at work

Saturday morning looks to be the best time this weekend for a spot of diving. We are heading offshore on a pelagic birding trip / hunt for fishing trawlers which means no inshore diving for us until next week.

regards

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

Diving is addictive!

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Bookshelf: Beachcombing in South Africa

Beachcombing in South Africa – Rudy van der Elst

Beachcombing in South Africa
Beachcombing in South Africa

Why so quiet? What have we been doing? Working, mostly. Trying to stay alive. And a bit of reading, and some beachcombing. Enter this is marvellous little book from fish fundi Rudy van der Elst (A Field Guide to the Common Sea Fishes of South Africa).

Chapter by chapter, van der Elst describes the types of debris that one might find on a beach. After a brief orientation chapter covering the ocean current regime around South Africa, relevant regulations, safety, beach ecology, tides, pollution and more, we launch into a tour of washed-up treasures.

Predictably, many of the items to be found are organic in nature – plants, invertebrates of various types, eggs and egg cases, fishes, birds, and shells. There are also items such as oceanographic devices, tags from marine animals, fishing equipment, cyalumes, buoys – some of these (such as tags) should be returned to their owners, and others should be removed from the vicinity of the ocean (such as discarded fishing nets and lines).

The chapter on marine animals (resting, nesting and stranded) is exceptionally useful and it is almost for this alone that I’d like to put a copy of this book in every home in every coastal town in the country. Seals, whales, turtles and seabirds can end up on the beach, sometimes in difficulty and at other times not. It can be hard to tell, and well-meaning members of the public can unwittingly cause great harm while trying to assist. A list of useful contacts in this regard appears at the end of the book, such as the Two Oceans Aquarium and the SPCA (region-specific).

The final two chapters cover miscellaneous “treasures” such as fossilised sharks teeth, sea glass, logs, and actual treasure, as well as beachcombing through the ages in South Africa. Here we learn about tidal fish traps, coastal caves, and other historical coastal dwellers who made their living from the sea.

We’ve found some awesome things on the beach, from shipwrecks to goose barnacles to rare crabs. Beachcombing is an accessible hobby that requires nothing but time, observation skills, curiosity, and a beach to stroll on.

This is a beautifully illustrated, comprehensive little volume that deserves to come with you on your beach holiday. It’ll prompt more careful examination of the flotsam and jetsam on your local beach, and, probably, more early morning low-tide visits to find the best pickings!

Wild Card magazine featured this book when it was published. Get it online here if you’re in South Africa, or here for your Kindle.

Newsletter: Huffin’ and puffin

Hi divers

Weekend dive plans

Saturday: Boat dives from False Bay Yacht Club

Puffins and a shearwater at Skomer Island in Wales
Puffins and a shearwater at Skomer Island in Wales

We had a good time meeting some North Atlantic wildlife last week, but it’s great to be back in False Bay. This week we’ve had pretty good dives, with 3-5 metre visibility at Photographer’s Reef yesterday, and 5-8 metre visibility at Ark Rock and SAS Pietermaritzburg today, with excellent surface conditions. I’m planning to launch in False Bay on Saturday; let me know if you want to be on board.

regards

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

Diving is addictive!

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Newsletter: Lend a hand

Hi divers

Weekend dive plans

Sunday: Shore or boat dives

Most forecasts predict a southerly swell tomorrow, which does not do good things for False Bay. If anything, Sunday will be the day to dive and we will make a decision on whether to launch or shore dive during the early afternoon on Saturday. Let me know if you need a dose of thalassotherapy and I’ll put you on the list.

Greater flamingos at Strandfontein
Greater flamingos at Strandfontein

Help a flamingo

Thousands of lesser flamingo chicks have been rescued from the parched Kamfers Dam near Kimberly, and are being hand-reared at facilities around South Africa. If you are in Cape Town and have some free time, consider volunteering at SANCCOB. More information here.

Meet a seal

If you haven’t already visited the southern elephant seal that is moulting on Fish Hoek beach, consider doing so this weekend. He’s a magnificent beast and it’s a real privilege – though perhaps not as rare as you might think – to see this type of seal on our shores. Read more about southern elephant seals here. regards

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

Diving is addictive!

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Stompneuspunt beacon

View of Stompneuspunt beacon from inside Shelly Point
View of Stompneuspunt beacon from inside Shelly Point

During the course of a West Coast road trip late last year, we stopped at the unmanned Stompneuspunt beacon. This striking, squat structure sits at the southern end of St Helena Bay. To get there, we had to drive through the eerie, deserted, badly laid out Shelley Point golf estate development (tell the guard at the gate that you want to visit the lighthouse). Persistence through the maze of narrow roads turning in upon each other is well rewarded.

Stompneuspunt beacon
Stompneuspunt beacon

The green-painted lantern house atop the structure looks like a minaret, and the whole building looks like an exotic transplant from the Middle East. The beacon is situated on a beach of coarse sand covered with thousands of empty mussel shells and inhabited by flocks of cormorants. The mussel shells wash up after winter storms and red tides, and because of predation by rock lobsters and other shellfish.

Stompneuspunt beacon
Stompneuspunt beacon

The beacon was commissioned in 1934, at which time it was a pyramid-shaped wooden structure. The present building was completed in 2001. The tower is 8 metres high, and the focal plane of the light is 12 metres above sea level. The intensity of the light is a modest 1,403 candelas, but this beacon doesn’t have to compete with much in the way of onshore light pollution. It’s visible from 10 nautical miles away.

Stompneuspunt beacon
Stompneuspunt beacon

Hit up Lighthouses of South Africa for more information on this charming light.

Cape Recife lighthouse

The road to Cape Recife lighthouse
The road to Cape Recife lighthouse

My favourite lighthouse in Port Elizabeth (the others are the Hill lighthouse and the Deal light) – and possibly anywhere in South Africa – is Cape Recife. It’s magnificently situated on a headland at the south end of Algoa Bay, surrounded by shifting sand dunes (which sometimes complicate road access after high winds) and rocky reefs. I visited it very early one morning, with only fishermen about.

Cape Recife lighthouse
Cape Recife lighthouse

Cape Recife lighthouse was commissioned in 1851, the fourth lighthouse to be commissioned in South Africa. Of those still operational, it is the third oldest (after Green Point and Cape Agulhas). It comprises an octagonal masonry tower. It was originally painted with bands of white and red; today (as you can see from the eleventy million pictures I took) it’s painted black and white. This change was made in 1929.

Cape Recife lighthouse
Cape Recife lighthouse

The tower is 24 metres high, with focal plane 28 metres above sea level. The light’s intensity is 4,000,000 candelas (compare the Deal light’s 592,000 candelas) and is visible from 29 nautical miles away.

Lantern house of Cape Recife lighthouse
Lantern house of Cape Recife lighthouse

The Cape Recife light has the only large lens in South Africa that rotates on a steel track, resting on brass and steel rollers. The other large lenses (for example at Slangkop) float on a bath of mercury, an arrangement which has the advantage of being virtually frictionless. This allows for much faster and smoother rotation, with no wear and tear on the component parts. Unfortunately frequent exposure to mercury entails serious health hazards.

Tower of Cape Recife lighthouse
Tower of Cape Recife lighthouse

The lighthouse is situated next to the Cape Recife nature reserve, which has excellent bird watching. A small fee to enter the area is required – permits obtainable at Pine Lodge Resort (or possibly at the gate). Check before visiting. No diving is allowed in the area, and you will be fined if you are found with dive gear in your vehicle. SANCCOB (formerly SAMREC) runs a seabird rescue centre on the way to the lighthouse. If you visit SANCCOB, and get your entry ticket stamped to prove it, the permit fee is waived.

Cape Recife lighthouse
Cape Recife lighthouse

It’s possible to go inside the lighthouse on weekdays, by calling ahead to make an appointment. The number on the sign outside was (041) 507 2484. If dialling from outside South Africa, replace the (041) with +27 41.

Footsteps on the sand outside Cape Recife lighthouse
Footsteps on the sand outside Cape Recife lighthouse

Lighthouses of South Africa has a lot more information about this gorgeous lighthouse, along with extensive pictures of its interior.

Newsletter: Playing the odds

Hi divers

Weekend dive plans

Sunday: Boat dives, location TBC

The odds are good that diving will be sort of okay on both sides of the peninsula, on both days of the weekend. We had 3-4 metre visibility yesterday in False Bay with lots of red tide patches. Strong south easterly winds tomorrow should push the red tide a little further into the bay.

The weekend has very little swell and although the wind does fool around a little, I think Sunday will be the best option. Hout Bay or False Bay I cannot say but will decide that on Saturday. If you’re up for a dive, get in touch.

Gannets at Bird Island in Lamberts Bay
Gannets at Bird Island in Lamberts Bay

Diversnight

Next Saturday, 3 November, we’re night diving at Long Beach. If you’re keen to participate in Diversnight, we’d love to see you. If you are going to need gear, let me know sooner rather than later.

regards

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

Diving is addictive!

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Bookshelf: Antarctica

Antarctica: An Intimate Portrait of the World’s Most Mysterious Continent – Gabrielle Walker

THIS is the book about the Antarctic that I have been looking for all of my life. It’s unlikely that this discovery will stop my obsessive consumption of polar-related literature and documentary material, but this is likely a book I will return to again.

Antarctica
Antarctica

The author, a science writer, has visited Antarctica several times, and is thus able to weave her personal experiences of  life on the driest continent with accounts of the science taking place there, and the scientists doing the work. Walker has had the sort of access to the scientists that most of us can only dream of, and makes reasonably good use of it.

Mixed in with stories of her Antarctic travels and meetings with researchers, Walker also briefly recounts the stories of some of the explorers of last century who opened up the interior of the continent. She is able to visit Western Antarctica, a part of the continent that very few people get to, and where the effects of climate change can be seen most clearly.

There’s a much more comprehensive review from The Guardian here. If you’re interested in the Antarctic, and the science that is being done there, you should read this book.

Get a copy here (South Africa), here or here.