Newsletter: Measuring up

Hi divers

Weekend plans

Saturday: Student dives at Long Beach, starting early (casual divers welcome)

Sunday: Boat dives from Simon’s Town jetty to Atlantis at 9.30am / Maidstone Rock at 12.00

Dive report

Last weekend we chose to dive Hout Bay, partly because I expected Simon’s Town to be a little too busy given it was nearing the end of the Lipton Cup, a sailing regatta hosted by False Bay Yacht Club. The sea was flat, with light winds and sunny weather and good visibility. We did three dives but by the third one were a bit chilly! It was sad to see all the poaching boats, and the damage that’s been done to the wreck of the Maori lately.

Diving at Vulcan Rock on Sunday
Diving at Vulcan Rock on Sunday

This weekend I think False Bay will be the place to be. We had really good conditions yesterday and the wind direction has been good for False Bay viz. There is going to be some swell so I think we will shore dive at Long Beach with students on Saturday (I’ll be focusing on my students, but casual divers are most welcome to tag along). We will hit the high seas for boat diving on Sunday. We will launch from Simon’s Town jetty to dive Atlantis at 9.30am and the beautiful Maidstone Rock at 12.00. Text or email me if you feel like a dive.

Physiology at the extremes

I attended a conference today focusing on how the human body responds to extreme conditions, with a focus on cold water immersion (but also including exposure to alcohol, drugs, and hyperthermia). It was fascinating, and one of the important things I took away from it is how important it is to take seriously our dives in Cape Town’s water. Our physiological responses and capabilities change after an extended period of time in cold water, and while you may feel that you’re still mentally sharp and fully in control, the opposite may be true, and this is when accidents happen. I’m looking forward to incorporating some of the things I’ve learned into our day to day diving activities at Learn to Dive Today.

Measuring wind speed on the boat
Measuring wind speed on the boat

Dive travel

Pencil in a trip to Ponta do Ouro in late April/sometime in May next year. We’ll start planning it early next year, but we’ll aim for five days of diving with a day of travel on each side. Start saving now! We have had amazing experiences there – some of our favourite dives were done at reefs called Doodles and Texas.

Faraway friends

We are thinking of our diving friends in far off lands – Bernita and Tamsyn, sending all good thoughts your way!


Tony Lindeque
076 817 1099

Diving is addictive!

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How you (you!) can make a difference for the environment

Here are some suggestions for things you can do at (or near) home that can have a positive impact on the environment.

Mounds of garbage
Mounds of garbage


The first suggestion is the most important!

Be a busybody

Keep tabs on what’s going on in your area. Are there new building projects or developments planned? Community newspapers are an excellent source of information. Attend meetings that give opportunities for public participation, register as an interested and affected party, make objections, write letters to the environmental consultants and your local council representatives. Also, tell your friends and buddies about opportunities to participate as concerned citizens.

Remember that a development doesn’t necessarily need to be in or on the ocean to affect the marine environment. For example, False Bay is where a large amount of the city’s effluent is pumped out. More people means more pressure on the ecosystem. Demand responsible solutions from municipalities and developers.

Keep tabs on proposed amendments to existing laws, and new laws and bylaws. Who is getting permission to do what? Are these decisions well thought out? Is it wise to allow whelk and octopus fisheries to operate in a bay that is visited by large numbers of whales and dolphins?

Hold the government (specifically DAFF and the Department of Environmental Affairs) to account. The environment belongs to all of us, and if it’s being mismanaged, it’s your heritage that’s being squandered.

An excellent example of the concrete results this kind of action by ordinary citizens can have is the recent flip-flop done by the authorities on the proposed diving ban in the Betty’s Bay MPA after many local divers, marshalled by Indigo Scuba and Underwater Africa, registered as interested and affected parties and submitted objections to the proposal.

Banning diving in the area would have essentially left it wide open for poaching. While the local law enforcement can’t and doesn’t do anything to stop illegal harvesting of perlemoen, eyes in the water in the form of recreational divers can at least keep tabs on what’s happening in the reserve.

You can follow the sequence of events by reading these four posts, in order: (1) proposed diving ban, (2) almost immediate initial results after responses from the diving community, (3) a revised proposal, and finally (4) a cautiously promising start to the consultation process (which is by no means finished).

Evangelise, but not like a crazy person

Wear your heart on your sleeve. Let your friends know that conservation issues and protecting the environment are important to you. Don’t be scary and wild-eyed, just be yourself. (If you’re naturally scary and wild-eyed, I can’t help you.)

When you get an opportunity to discuss an environmental issue with someone who doesn’t know or care as much as you do, stick to the facts. Point them to other sources where they can find information to back up what you’re saying, if they are interested. That way, if they want to relay your argument to someone else, they can do so. Raw outrage isn’t necessarily transmissible (and if you’re too hot under the collar, they may just think you’re a lunatic).

Don’t use jargon. Don’t use cliches (people are smarter than you think). Don’t assume that everyone knows as much as you do about your pet issue – check that you’re pitching your pitch appropriately. Don’t be boring. Show people how beautiful and wonderful and intricate the environment is.

Reef life at Roman Rock
Reef life at Roman Rock

Get your hands dirty

Participate in beach cleanups and underwater cleanups. If you see garbage on a dive (and nothing has taken it for a home), stuff it into your BCD for disposal on land. Get into the habit of picking up stuff that doesn’t belong. Keep an empty bag on the boat for collecting rubbish as you drive in and out of the harbour. Hout Bay is an excellent spot for this. Most harbours are actually filthy.

Consume less of everything

Reduce your carbon footprint. This encompasses all the obvious things: recycle, buy local, seasonal produce, eat less meat, and participate in more recreational activities that are carbon neutral. (Unfortunately diving isn’t technically one of those; even if you do a shore dive, you still need to get your cylinder filled using a compressor that consumes energy.)

Here’s a good carbon footprint calculator that’ll help you identify the areas of your lifestyle that are having the greatest negative impact on the environment. Mine is my commute to work, which produces a horrific amount of carbon dioxide each month. (If I ever needed a justification for running away to sea with Tony and the cats, this is it.)

If you eat seafood, make wise choices that are kind to the ocean. If you fish for fun, follow the regulations defining what and how much you’re allowed to catch.

Donate responsibly

If you have financial resources and want to make a donation to a conservation organisation, first do your research.

  • What will the money be spent on?
  • What is the track record of the organisation? What projects have they worked on already?
  • Do you agree with their aims, objectives and methods? (Would you be proud to have your name associated with their work?)
  • Will the money be spent on branding and advertising (some people mistake this for real action), or on observable projects that will have a direct impact on an environmental issue that’s important to you?

Remember that addressing an environmental problem may very well involve work with people. Sustainable Seas Trust (not an endorsement, just an example) addresses poverty and food security as a way to relieve pressure on the ocean’s scarce resources, thus caring for people and the sea at the same time. It’s great to take kids snorkeling, but after a while (and a lot of kids) I hope funders can demand a bit more originality and effort in that area.

Personally, I prefer to support organisations that follow scientific advice or include a research component in their activities, because I feel that conservation that isn’t based on scientific data is just marketing… But you may feel otherwise.

If your donation is a significant one, ask for feedback on how it was spent.

Don’t fool yourself

Finally, remember that writing tweets and sharing pictures on facebook doesn’t achieve anything concrete (ok here’s an exception), even though your rate of hashtagging may make you feel like your efforts are putting Greenpeace to shame. Sorry kids. Even Shonda Rhimes says so.

Want to target your tweeting for good? I suggest subscribing to Upwell’s Tide Report.

How do you make a difference for the environment? Would love to hear your suggestions.

A Day on the Bay: Running in the motors

Date: 6 April 2014

Team Aquaventures on board ready to roll
Team Aquaventures on board ready to roll

One Sunday in early April, Tony did a very early launch for an Aquaventures PADI IDC, taking the divers to the wreck of the BOS 400 and to dive with seals at Duiker Island in Hout Bay. You can see in the photo above that the sun hasn’t even reached Maori Bay as the divers kit up! The visibility on the BOS 400 was about six metres, and it was about eight metres at Duiker Island. At the wrecks inside Hout Bay (the Aster and Katsu Maru), there were reports of visibility of up to 15 metres.

After the early launch, Tony and I took the boat for a drive south towards Cape Point. We weren’t in a rush, partly because we needed to run in the boat’s motors gently, and so we stopped to look at the scenery.

Chapmans Peak drive
Chapmans Peak drive

Chapman’s Peak Drive is carved out of the mountainside at the intersection of the Cape granite and sedimentary layers (geologists love this fact), and this can be seen clearly in areas where the mountain isn’t highly vegetated (such in as the photo above). Tony showed me a strange “door in the cliff” – a neat rectangular opening (it seems) that looks like it should be in The Hobbit. You can’t approach it closely on a boat because there’s foul ground in front of it, and the sea is turbulent even when there’s not much swell.

Sea spray on Long Beach, Noordhoek
Sea spray on Long Beach, Noordhoek

Long Beach is long. There were lovely big waves, with spray unfurling from their tops in the light breeze. We could see horse riders on the beach, surfers in the swell, and at one point right across False Bay to the Hottentots Holland and Hangklip. Further down, the boiler of the Kakapo shipwreck was clearly visible on the sand.

Idle near a small kelp forest off Long Beach, Kommetjie
Idle near a small kelp forest off Long Beach, Kommetjie

Slangkop lighthouse (pardon the blurry photo) is being painted, it seems – the building is completely clad in scaffolding. This was our turning around point, but first we had coffee and a snack. Boating makes you hungry!

Slangkop lighthouse getting a facelift
Slangkop lighthouse getting a facelift

On the way back we stopped a few times to look around (Tony was looking for a whale shark, after NSRI report from St Helena Bay the previous day, and unconfirmed sightings of one in Kommetjie) and dangle our (ok, my) feet in the freezing water. There was an offshore wind blowing. In places the air was freezing cold, and in others the hot wind, smelling strongly of fynbos, made everything wonderfully pleasant.

We took a drive across the mouth of Hout Bay to Duiker Island, where the water looked quite clean. There were snorkelers in the water with the seals. I drove us back from the island (slowly) – I don’t have a skippers licence yet, and in order to get one I need (supervised) hours on the boat. So this was practice.

Once inside Hout Bay harbour, we milled around a bit waiting for the slipway to clear (some poachers were launching, amongst other activity). We came across the Seal Alert boat, which has sunk into disrepair but is a very enjoyable resting spot for some of the local seals. There are also a few boats that have sunk at their moorings – apparently because their drain plugs were stolen.

The middle (bright green) ship in the picture of the fishing vessels moored in the harbour in the above gallery of images, is the sister ship of a ship that ran aground off Betty’s Bay in February, breaking up and spilling huge amounts of fuel near the vulnerable penguin colony.

Newsletter: Registration required

Hi divers

Weekend diving

Friday: Shore dives at Long Beach or pool sessions

Saturday: To be confirmed based on Friday’s conditions

Sunday: Boat dives to Photographer’s Reef and Ark Rock from False Bay Yacht Club

Text or email me if you want to dive.

The BOS 400 looking majestic
The BOS 400 looking majestic

Dive report

We had really good conditions last weekend and launched from Hout Bay on both Saturday and Sunday with 15-20 metre viz. The water was a little cold, 11 degrees on most computers and 9 degrees on others. We have also dived Long Beach this week and had nice conditions.

Today has been relatively calm in False Bay but right now there is a 6 metre swell with a 20 second period rolling in that will have some effect on the Bay for the weekend. It is meant to drop off by Friday, back down to around 3 metres, but the period remains high at around 14 seconds so it will be surgy.

On the boat last Saturday
On the boat last Saturday

Dive plans

Saturday and Sunday do look a lot better with Sunday being the best of all, however weather forecasts on a Wednesday are notoriously inaccurate and all too often the forecast changes dramatically overnight.

My weekend plan is therefore as follows: On Friday we will do shore dives or pool sessions. Regarding Saturday we will decide on Friday, and on Sunday we will launch very early from False Bay Yacht Club and dive Photographer’s Reef and Ark Rock.

Diving ban in Betty’s Bay

There is a plan to possibly ban diving in Betty’s Bay. The reasons is because the government is unable and unwilling to police the area in order to rein in the abalone and lobster poaching, so they are proposing to ban everyone and everything. The only thing is it will not stop poaching – it will in fact make it easier to fish illegally as there will be no one watching. You can read more about it on Indigo Scuba’s blog. Please take the time to register as an interested and affected party, and submit an objection using the template provided (or your own words).

If you think this sounds far fetched, remember that there is already a ban on diving in an area in False Bay close to Cape Point for the very same reason. It sets a disturbing precedent that could one day seriously hinder our freedom to enjoy the beautiful ocean on our doorstep.

Things to remember

There is a DAN Day on 17 May – let me know if you want more information. These are always informative events that also allow you a behind the scenes look at facilities you wouldn’t otherwise get to visit.

Please remember that if you book a boat dive, you need to cancel before 16h00 the day before otherwise you will be billed for the dive. Also, make sure your MPA permit is up to date! You can get one at your nearest post office for about R100 – just take your ID along and ask for a scuba diving permit.

A good tip for all divers: never go deeper than the bottom.


Tony Lindeque
076 817 1099

Diving is addictive!

To subscribe to receive this newsletter by email, use the form on this page!

Lecture: Adam Barnett & Alison Kock update on sevengill cowshark research in False Bay

Late in November 2012 we attended a talk about the research being done on broadnose sevengill cowsharks, at the Save Our Seas Shark Centre in Kalk Bay. Almost exactly a year later, in November 2013, Shark Spotters Research Manager Alison Kock, and Deakin University researcher and OceansIQ founder Adam Barnett (who we’ve listened to before) updated us on the sevengill project in False Bay.

I’d suggest you read through my write up of Dr Barnett’s talk last November. There’s a lot of background information on these beautiful animals in that post.

Cowshark with a small external tag
Cowshark with a small external tag

Why tagging studies need to be done

Here is an explanation, in relatively simple terms, of why cowsharks are tagged for scientific research. Tell your friends.

  • We don’t know much about sevengill cowshark behaviour and habitat use in South Africa’s waters. Actually we know almost nothing.
  • Because we don’t know for sure where they mate, give birth, and rest, we don’t know how best to protect them.
  • We can’t protect every bit of coastal water and every species of fish. Because why? Because we live in the real world, where there are extensive commercial interests, finite amounts of funding, and a lack of resources and will to police things.
  • We can’t go on suspicions and gut feel when deciding which areas and species to protect. This is because there are extremely limited resources (see above), and designating a certain area an MPA or a no-fishing zone needs iron-clad justification. Just try and tell an angler that he can’t fish somewhere, without giving a reason.
  • Scientific research provides us with facts, on the basis of which wise and informed decisions can be made.
  • The way to find out, scientifically, where sevengill cowsharks go, and what they do there, is to tag them. There is no other way to find out what they do when they’re not swimming around you at Shark Alley. The ocean is (ahem) quite large.
  • Once we know where they go, we can find out how to protect them. The most important sevengill habitats to conserve are those related to reproduction. The fact that Shark Alley is in an Marine Protected Area isn’t enough: the sharks don’t give birth there, and there is almost no policing of MPAs in South African anyway. A baby sevengill is about 45 centimetres long. Have you ever seen one less than a metre long at Miller’s Point? I thought not.

If you enjoy diving with the sevengills (from the shore or a boat), if you enjoy photographing them and winning photo competitions with your images, if you make money from taking other divers to see these sharks, or if you’re in favour of making the best effort to get the maximum results with the very limited conservation resources that are available in South Africa, then I hope you can see that this is vital research for the future of the species.

What sort of tags are used?

There are two types of tags suitable for use on sevengills. The primary one is acoustic tags, which send out a ping every two minutes. Receivers placed in False Bay and around South Africa’s coast (many of them part of the Ocean Tracking Network) register and save these pings when a shark is close enough (up to 500 metres away in deep, still water; significantly less in shallow, noisy areas). The data is downloaded from the receiver after retrieving it from its position in the sea.

Acoustic listening device
Acoustic listening device

Acoustic tags are about the size of your little finger and are surgically inserted into the shark’s abdomen. The procedure takes approximately two minutes and the incision heals remarkably fast (as animals that bite each other during mating, it’s in a shark’s best evolutionary interest to be a fast healer). Their battery life is measured in years, so a tagged shark can provide data over multiple reproductive cycles. This is how large scale movement patterns are picked up, much like the white shark research in the US that I wrote about recently. This enables scientists to identify what the sharks use different areas for.

The other type of tag that has been used on three of our local sevengills so far is a pop up archival tag (PAT). Meaghen McCord explained these tags to us when she talked about her research on bull sharks in the Breede River. These tags are applied externally and programmed to release from the shark and float to the surface after a certain number of days. On the surface, they broadcast their location and start transmitting some of the data that they’ve collected. The full suite of data, including diving depths, is only accessible if the tag is physically retrieved.

What results have been obtained so far?

So far seventeen female cowsharks have been tagged with acoustic tags. The tagging was done in March, at Shark Alley. Blood and tissue samples, from which hormone levels can be obtained (to indicate a readiness to mate, or pregnancy, for example), were also taken.

Three PAT tags were deployed. One popped up after 48 days far out to sea on Agulhas Bank, the other came off after 88 days between Gordon’s Bay and Pringle Bay, and the third came off after 136 days close to Silwerstroom Beach on the West Coast, just before Langebaan. The cowshark whose tag popped off on Agulhas bank had spent most of its time at depths between 10 and 60 metres. The West Coast shark had spent the bulk of its time between 10 and 40 metres’ depth. The False Bay shark, interestingly, recorded most of its time at depths of between 40 and 60 metres – pretty much the maximum depth you can get in False Bay. So it didn’t just hang out at Shark Alley while in False Bay!

More detailed results will be made available on the Shark Spotters blog. It’s early days yet!

How you can help

Go and like the Spot the Sevengill Shark – Cape Town page on facebook. Then get your camera out and go for a dive, or dig through your photo library. The researchers are looking for photographs of sevengills taken from above, with the following accompanying information: the date, the shark’s gender (males have two external claspers, females have smooth abdomens), and the location. Software and some human intervention (when the computer falls over) will be used to identify sharks by the markings on their bodies. This will enable the researchers to build a database of shark individuals, and to track their presence at the known aggregation sites visited by recreational scuba divers.

There is a slightly similar citizen science project on sevengills happening in San Diego. It’s very exciting for us to be able to advance the cause of a species that is so charismatic and beloved by the Cape Town diving community.

Surviving underwater in an air bubble

A news story in June resonated uncomfortably with me: a Nigerian sailor survived for two days in a pocket of air trapped beneath the tugboat he was in, which capsized in heavy seas. The tug was servicing an oil platform off the Nigerian coast.

I was immediately reminded of the Miroshga, an unseaworthy whale watching vessel that capsized in appalling conditions off Hout Bay in October 2012. The boat had its bilge pump installed UPSIDE DOWN, and was rated for over 40 passengers when it’s only five metres longer than our boat – which can take seven passengers (and when Seahorse is fully loaded, she feels full). Furthermore, the Miroshga hadn’t had a SAMSA inspection since fundamental changes were made to the vessel and its engines. The money-hungry decision to head out in a 25 knot south easterly wind and high seas was incredibly irresponsible.

Most people who go on seal cruises, whale watching or cage diving don’t spend half their lives on or near the sea, and simply don’t have the tools to assess whether conditions are safe and whether the boat is seaworthy. The passengers trusted the charter operator and SAMSA, and were badly let down. One man drowned, and three women were trapped under the boat in pockets of air for several hours, their limbs dangling in the freezing water, until rescue divers brought them out. I cannot imagine how traumatic the experience was for them. The rest of the passengers were rescued by a boat full of poachers, and by some incredible NSRI volunteers. It was a shameful day for the boat charter operators, and for those responsible for legislating and enacting maritime safety provisions in South Africa.

I digress. What happened in Nigeria? Out of the twelve crew on board the tugboat, ten bodies were recovered, one was lost, and the twelfth crewmember, Harrison Okene, was discovered alive, under the boat in 30 metres of water, surviving by breathing from an air pocket. Upon being rescued by divers sent to retrieve the crew’s bodies (can you imagine their shock at being greeted by a living person when they were expecting only corpses?), Okene had to undergo sixty hours of decompression in order to avoid being bent. He’d been breathing air at four atmospheres for two and a half days!

The incident prompted a fascinating discussion on StackExchange, a discussion forum for a variety of disciplines (I lurk in the statistics and quantitative finance forums). A user posed the question:

How large does the bubble have to be so that a person in it can have indefinite supply of breathable air?

The reason it’s even possible to have an “indefinite” supply of air is that if the bubble is large enough, oxygen will diffuse out of the surrounding water back into the bubble, and carbon dioxide won’t build up to fatal concentrations. You can read through the discussion if you want to (fun to see physicists arguing, nice if you like formulas!) or there’s a news article here about the theoretical bubble size that would be required for survival. Turns out the actual air bubble was close to the size calculated by the physicists that would allow survival for at least the time that Okene was submerged. Lucky, lucky man!

Update: Here’s the helmet cam video from one of the rescue divers who brought Mr Okene to the surface. The text at the beginning is wonky – persist. Note the South African accents! The diver’s voice is squeaky – I think because he’s breathing a gas mix with helium in it. It gets good at about 5:30 but it’s extremely interesting to watch in its entirety to see what sort of conditions these divers work in, and how the surface support talks them through their tasks and keeps them calm.

Dive sites: The Sentinel

Tony in the boat under the Sentinel
Tony in the boat under the Sentinel

I don’t think this dive site has a name (other than what we call it), or that it’s high on anyone else’s list of fun places to dive, but it’s proved to be a reliable and quite lovely site that’s specially suitable for new divers.

The Sentinel is that striking mountain outcrop that stands at the entrance to Hout Bay, dropping off steeply into the Atlantic. Beneath it is a fairly dense kelp forest and a scattering of smallish round boulders that add variation to the underwater landscape. The maximum depth in the area is not more than about eight metres.

Kelp forest
Kelp forest

We dived the site after a dive on the SS Maori, on a day when the visibility was not magnificent, but tolerable. Tony has on many occasions taken students there and found that the water is far cleaner than it is at Duiker Island nearby (probably less run off of seal bodily fluids…) and inside Hout Bay. The site can be a little uncomfortable when it is very surgy, as the movement of the kelp and the seaweed beneath you on the rocks is disconcerting.

Kate is neutrally buoyant
Kate is neutrally buoyant

There are not many large fish – this is typical of the inshore Atlantic sites we dive – but in summer clouds of West coast rock lobster larvae and other fish fry may cause the water to shimmer hazily. I can guarantee you that you will not see a single abalone, though if you swim right up to shore in this area you will see thousands and thousands and thousands of empty abalone shells in the shallows and on the beach. This is where the poachers who rule Hout Bay shuck the perlemoen before carrying them up the mountain to dispose of them.

Dive date: 17 February 2013

Air temperature: 25 degrees

Water temperature:  10 degrees

Maximum depth: 7.6 metres

Visibility: 6 metres

Dive duration:  22 minutes

Coral and seaweed encrusted rock, with limpets
Coral and seaweed encrusted rock, with limpets

Movie: Dark Tide

Dark Tide
Dark Tide

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that this is the worst movie ever made. I don’t think a worse movie could be made; I’m willing to make this prediction even if the human race continues making movies in their current form until the end of civilisation. The fact that this is an appalling film shouldn’t put you off seeing it if you live in Cape Town, however. If you’re a Halle Berry fan, you will probably also be interested in this offering, and your enjoyment will probably be enhanced by viewing the film with the sound turned off. The movie was filmed a couple of years ago in Simon’s Town (False Bay Yacht Club, Bertha’s restaurant, and the jetty outside Bertha’s all feature) and False Bay. There is brief footage at (I think – it’s dark) Miller’s Point, Boulders Beach, and a fair amount shot at Seal Island. The underwater footage looked like it was shot in a kelp forest off Duiker Island in Hout Bay. Lots of seals. There was a lot of kelp – more than I remember there being at Seal Rock near Partridge Point. It could also have been shot at Seal Island (where it purports to be) in summer, but the water is quite clean which makes me unsure. There are about six characters, most of whom are played by local actors. We are treated to a variety of accents, sometimes several different ones from a single individual. There is a lot of supposedly endearing and humourous banter between Berry and her local staff members, which I just found patronising and offensive. Halle Berry’s character, Kate, freedives with white sharks. After causing the death of her safety diver (he was eaten), she retires from shark diving and takes people on boat tours to Boulders Beach to look at penguins and to Seal Island to look at seals. She can do this all in one short trip because Boulders is on the way to Seal Island when you sail out of Simon’s Town. Right? Right! (Another interesting fact I didn’t know about the geography of False Bay is that Seal Island is a 20 minute surface swim from Miller’s Point. The abalone poachers apparently do it often, but have a “less than 50% chance” of making it back.) It was fun to see Simon’s Town on film, and to identify that Kate’s office is actually the clubhouse for the kids’ dabchick sailing school at FBYC. A wealthy man of indeterminate nationality wants to swim with white sharks outside a cage. Kate is tricked (sort of) into taking him to do so. At seal island they see a couple of sharks, but the millionaire cannot follow instructions (“stay in the cage”) and Kate discovers that her boyfriend promised him a cageless dive without consulting her. After an INORDINATE amount of shouting and screaming on the boat, Kate loses her rag and decides to take the millionaire “around the point” to “Shark Alley” where the really big great white sharks can be found, to teach him a lesson. (Readers unfamiliar with Cape Town should know that there is a place here called Shark Alley, but it’s inside False Bay and no white sharks are found there… Only sevengill cowsharks.) Despite the worsening weather they make the trip, and at this point the movie becomes a cross between The Perfect Storm and Jaws. There is a lot more shouting on the boat. Lots of people get eaten by sharks. No doubt the NSRI is called. Not many of the characters make it home. To sum up, several people die in extremely violent and gory shark attacks. The blame for all of the deaths can be laid at Berry’s character Kate’s feet. She is immature, has a bad temper, and is incapable of assessing risk. Unfortunately she survives. Some of the shark footage is nice. An alternative title for the film could be “Shouting on a Boat” or “Halle Berry in Small and/or Tight Clothing”. If either of those appeal, by all means, be my guest. I hope the Department of Environmental Affairs, FBYC and STADCO made some nice money out of issuing permits and renting facilities for this film (really). It’s great that local venues are benefiting from the international film industry. SharkLife apparently sponsored a lot of the clothing worn in the film. Their logo was everywhere. I watched the credits with greater attentiveness than I did the rest of the movie, looking for familiar names among the stunt divers, skippers, cameramen and extras who featured. I found some! You can buy the DVD here if you’re in South Africa, otherwise here or here.

Article: New York Times on small-scale fisheries management

I hope I’m not using up your ten free articles credit at the New York Times too fast this month…

The New York Times published an article by Carl Safina (Song for the Blue Ocean, Eye of the Albatross, Voyage of the Turtle, A Sea in Flames) and Brett Jenks, on fisheries management. They are surprisingly optimistic on the fate of the world’s commercial fisheries, because – they say – there is “still time” to turn fish populations around, and many commerical fisheries are benefiting from improved, science-based management in recent years.

A harder problem to solve is the management of small-scale fisheries serving communities close to the coast (such as South Africa’s abalone-fishing communities). Most of these fisheries are unregulated, unobserved, and over exploited. Safina and Jenks describe a management plan that gives local fishermen exclusive rights (“territorial use rights” or TURF) to their fishing area in exchange for the establishment of no-take zones, which can demonstrably increase fish populations more than four times over. This is a simple, inexpensive solution but it needs to be implemented on a massive scale, across thousands of coastal communities.

There’s an economic explanation of how TURF is different from common property (“the tragedy of the commons” should be a phrase you’re familiar with as regards the world’s oceans) here. The distinction is important. TURF proposes that only the local population has access to the fishing grounds that abut it, and it is this exclusive use that enables the tragedy of the commons to be avoided, and hopefully eliminates the need to poach.

Read the article here.

Article: Jonny Steinberg on the illicit abalone trade in South Africa

South African writer and scholar Jonny Steinberg wrote one of my favourite books, The Number, which should be required reading for every Capetonian. He has written several other books and is a scrupulous and thorough researcher with a wonderfully readable writing style. He also does not shy away from complexity, refusing to settle for simple and expedient explanations.

Imagine my delight when I discovered – purely by accident – that he wrote a 2005 paper about the illicit abalone trade for the Institute of Security Studies, a policy think-tank focused on Africa, and concerned with all aspects of human security (more information here).

Steinberg identifies four factors which caused the tremendous growth in the abalone poaching industry in the early 1990’s, as South Africa became a democracy:

  • The rand-US dollar exchange rate weakened from R2.55 at the end of 1990, to R11.99 by the end of 2001. This made exports of US dollar-denominated commodities (with cost of production in rands) an extremely lucrative way to make money.
  • An efficient Chinese organised crime presence had already existed in South Africa for many years.
  • South Africa has notoriously poor border controls and porous borders.
  • The changing political situation had a significant impact on the coloured fishing communities along the coastline.

Steinberg identifes the fourth factor as the most important one. He says this:

The transition to democracy carried with it a universal expectation that access to the sea ought to open up quickly and dramatically. To make the politics of the moment more complicated, many members of coastal coloured communities were deeply suspicious of the recently unbanned ANC. Come South Africa’s first democratic election in April 1994, the coloured working class would vote overwhelmingly for the ruling party of the apartheid era, the National Party, in the hope that it would provide a bulwark against their fears of an African majority government.

It was a potent combination: on the one hand the expectation that democracy ought to be coupled with the speedy implementation of a just fishing regime; on the other, a deeply held suspicion that the new government would betray the coloured working class. This cocktail of expectations and fears could not have been more propitious for abalone poaching. The resource was lying there in the sea and growing more lucrative by the day. Given the politics of the moment, a great many people who had lived their lives on the coastline believed that they were entitled to it, and to a share of the benefits that accrued from harvesting it.

Compare the sentiments described above (“people who had lived their lives on the coastline believed that they were entitled to it, and to a share of the benefits that accrued from harvesting it”) to those expressed by the poacher whom Tony described meeting. It’s very hard to argue against this viewpoint.

Abalone on the slipway at Miller's Point
Abalone on the slipway at Miller’s Point

Last year 7 tons of South African abalone left our shores. One ton of it was legally produced (farmed, with about 150kg harvested from the sea), and the rest was poached. The technicalities of poaching are surprisingly straightforward, for various reasons. Here is one – the nature of abalone itself:

Abalone can be dried, preserved for months or years, and then rehydrated and returned to its natural state. This is crucial to the smuggling process for several reasons. First, live or frozen abalone has a pungent and distinctive smell and is thus difficult to transport or ship undetected. Dried abalone can also be disguised as another product, particularly when border and law enforcement officials have not been trained to recognise it. Second, dried abalone can be preserved indefinitely, which means that it can be gathered over long periods and shipped in bulk. Finally, dried abalone shrinks to about a tenth of its original mass, making it possible store and ship very large consignments.

Dried abalone looks nothing like fresh abalone, and in some cases DNA tests are required to establish what it is. Some of the exported abalone is bartered for drugs, or the ingredients to manufacture them (tik being an obvious example), from the east.

It is clear that this is a problem that does not have a simple solution. However, I don’t believe that the entire subject should be brushed under the carpet by the recreational dive industry because it’s hard to deal with and creates an uncomfortable conflict of interest between the desire to protect our marine environment and the desire to make money selling gear and filling cylinders for poachers. I don’t know – at all – how to address the problem, because refusing to serve someone at a dive shop because you suspect they’re engaged in illegal activity isn’t practical or, necessarily, moral. It could also be personally dangerous. Does anyone have any thoughts or suggestions?

Here is a link to the full text of the paper on the Institute of Security Studies website.


Steinberg mentions that at the time of his writing (2005), the South African government was considering listing abalone in the CITES agreement. CITES, which stands for “Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora”, is an international agreement that requires that certain species must be accompanied by special documentation when are moved across international borders. Rhino horn, some sharks, and seahorses are other examples of animals and animal products subject to CITES.

In 2007, the South African government did in fact go ahead with the CITES listing. There is more information on that decision and the extent of the poaching problem here.