Merry Christmas divers!

If you celebrate Christmas, here are our very best wishes to you and your family. This year we’re having a white Christmas in Stockholm (Clare’s first proper brush with snow… I’ll let you know how many snowballs I manage to land before she exacts retribution)!

If you’re in or on the water this week, be safe and have fun, and spare a thought for – and say thank you to – the first responders who work to keep us all safe, even during holidays. These often unseen angels include the NSRI, lifeguards, Volunteer Wildfire Services, police, traffic officers, and law enforcement.

Santa feeding the fish at the Two Oceans Aquarium
Santa feeding the fish at the Two Oceans Aquarium

Here, also, is a (cellphone) picture of one of the aquarists from the Two Oceans Aquarium, feeding the fish in the I&J Ocean Exhibit this December. The apparent rain of snow is tiny bits of whatever the fish were getting for lunch that day – most likely chopped up squid and white mussel.

Newsletter: Who you gonna call?

Hi divers

Weekend dive plans

Saturday: Boat dives from False Bay Yacht Club

The forecast for Saturday looks rosy so we will launch from the Simon’s Town jetty at 9.30 and 12.00. Both dives will be shallow, most likely Roman Rock and Photographer’s Reef. False Bay is a little patchy so dive sites might change.

Yoshi the loggerhead turtle
Yoshi the loggerhead turtle

Turtles

Amazingly, we still meet people who don’t realise that baby sea turtles – and even big ones, if they’re poorly – can’t survive for long in the cold waters around the Western Cape. Luckily the Two Oceans Aquarium has a well-developed turtle rehab facility, where they look after turtle hatchlings and older turtles brought in by members of the public.

The turtles receive veterinary treatment, vitamin supplements, a healthy diet, and excellent care from a dedicated team of aquarists. The aim is to return all the turtles that regain sufficient health to survive independently, to the wild, as most sea turtle species are vulnerable. These turtles are released in each year in December, when the warm Agulhas current is at its closest to Cape Point, giving the turtles their best chance of survival. The most famous release story is Yoshi, who swam all the way to Angolan waters, and is now off Namibia again, heading south. Maybe she misses us.

If you find a stranded sea turtle, keep it safe and dry, and notify the aquarium as soon as possible. The NSRI can assist with large turtles, and know how to help. There’s more information on what to do here.

Like turtles? Want to read about turtle science in South Africa? We have just the book for you.

Diversnight 2018

This year, Diversnight is on Saturday 3 November. The aim is for as many divers to be underwater at 20h18 as possible. More details to follow closer to the time!

regards

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

Diving is addictive!

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Newsletter: Love is…

Hi divers

Weekend dive plans

Maybe, maybe not (read on!)

I would love to be writing to you, claiming a weekend ahead with stunning dive conditions…. But I am not. The week has had some looooong period large (i.e. Dungeons) sized swell. Although the swell drops off for the weekend, the wind (mostly northerly) and its strength (strong), don’t look all that great.

Heart-shaped sea star
Heart-shaped sea star

I am out on the boat tomorrow and the conditions should be the same for Saturday so if it’s good… I will change my plans, otherwise it is most likely going to be a dry weekend. If you want the option of diving based on tomorrow’s conditions, let me know.

What to do if you find a stranded sea turtle?

A tiny little chap was found at Kommetjie this past week. If you find a stranded turtle, keep it dry, and transport it as soon as possible to your nearest turtle rescue point. If you’re in Cape Town, this is most likely the Two Oceans Aquarium directly, or the Shark Spotters info centre at Muizenberg, who will make sure the turtle gets to the aquarium for rehabilitation and future release. Read more about what to do on the Two Oceans Aquarium website, here.

regards

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

Diving is addictive!

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Bookshelf: Between the Tides

Between the Tides: In Search of Sea Turtles – George Hughes

I have been late in coming to this book, which was published about five years ago. George Hughes is a world-renowned, South African turtle scientist whose work has done much to ensure protection for sea turtles in the southern Indian Ocean. He was the guest speaker at an event held at the Two Oceans Aquarium to celebrate the release of Yoshi, the loggerhead turtle who spent over 20 years at the aquarium and is now powering along the Namibian coastline in rude health.

Between the Tides
Between the Tides

Dr Hughes was CEO of the Natal Parks Board and then Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, but Between the Tides relates his early career as a student looking for turtles along South Africa’s wild north east coast, in places that today support thriving dive and fishing charters. His legacy of turtle research continues.

Turtle surveys were conducted around Madagascar, the Comores, Reunion, the Seychelles, and on the Mozambique coast. The fact that the iSimangaliso Wetland Park now exists, offering a protected and well-regulated breeding environment for three species of turtles (loggerhead, leatherback and green – discovered there in 2014) is thanks to the early and persistent work of Dr Hughes and his colleagues. Turtles were first found nesting on this piece of coast in 1963, when it was still completely wild and mostly neglected by the authorities. In this book Dr Hughes recounts the development of the tagging program that he started, in which over 350,000 hatchlings were flipper tagged and/or marked over a period of 31 years.

Only about two out of every 1,000 hatchlings survive to return to the area in which they hatched, to breed. Female loggerheads are estimated to reach maturity around the age of 36 years, during which time they navigate an ocean of threats. This makes every surviving hatchling incredibly valuable.

The recovery of the number of loggerheads, in particular, has been quite spectacular, with more modest but noticeable gains in the leatherback population. More recently, as technology has allowed it, satellite tagging has shown their movements around the Indian ocean

If you find a baby sea turtle on the beach (this is the time of year when they start washing up), here is what you should do. The most important thing is to keep it dry, and to contact the aquarium as soon as possible.

Dr Hughes also discusses the sustainable use of sea turtles (for example, for food), something which I’d never thought about and which for that reason is fascinating – and very challenging to come at with an open mind, and appreciating the viewpoints of a scientist who has been steeped in turtle research for most of his life.  This is an excellent, proudly South African marine science book, written to be accessible even to those who aren’t turtle fanatics a priori. Highly recommended.

Get a copy of the book here (South Africa), here or here.

Newsletter: Traditions

Hi divers

Weekend dive plans

Boat dives on Sunday or Monday / Shore dives on Monday (conditions dependent)

Traditionally Easter is a difficult time for diving. Many people are away and the weather does not always play ball. Add to this the traffic congestion from the Two Oceans marathon on Saturday… This weekend we may dive from Hout Bay on Sunday or Monday, or perhaps shore dives from Long Beach, wind dependent.

We are out tomorrow on a full day private charter but I do think Long Beach will be a good option if you feel like shore diving.

We send well wishes to everyone celebrating a religious observance this weekend. For those of you who celebrate Easter, here’s an egg for you:

Catshark egg on a sea fan
Catshark egg on a sea fan

Plastic and Water

On the marathon topic, watch this video and see how the Two Oceans Aquarium and Old Mutual are teaming up to reduce the use and impact of single use plastic, and learn about the aquarium’s turtle rehabilitation program.

This article on how to responsibly stockpile (or just purchase) bottled water, is very helpful if you’re working on water security at home, but don’t want to contribute to an environmental apocalypse.

regards

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

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Christmas gift guide 2017

I wondered when I’d need a picture of a glass of champagne next to some dive gear; this post feels like as good a time as any to use it. I feel obligated to explain that the champagne was being consumed on our pool deck during the course of a late afternoon fool around in and next to the pool with some of my friends. The dive gear was still lying there from a class Tony had led that morning. The juxtaposition was too much to resist.

Don't drink and dive
Don’t drink and dive

That said, it’s time to think about Christmas, Hanukkah, and time off with the family. Some may even celebrate Festivus. I salute you. Regardless, it’s a good time to give gifts to the people you care about. Some suggestions follow below.

First, here are the obligatory links to previous years’ editions of this guide: 20102011201220132014, 2015. Unfortunately, 2016 was an annus horribilis best left undiscussed. As usual, this year’s guide owes much to previous versions. There’s nothing new under the sun.

Donations

For the person who has everything, or because you’re feeling grateful, consider a donation on behalf of your friend or loved one:

Experiences

Don’t forget to add a memory card for the lucky recipient’s camera if you plan to gift any of these! Contact Tony for prices.

For the non diver, you could inspire a love for our oceans with one of these:

As usual our Wild Card was an absolute blessing this year. It has been used for multiple park visits and also gets us a discount on our toll fee on Chapmans Peak Drive‘s frequent user program. The full card is a bit pricey, but there’s a great alternative called My Green Card, that costs R145 and gives twelve entries to any of the paid sections of Table Mountain National Park (so, Cape Point, Boulders, Silvermine, Oudekraal, and a few braai areas). Read the fine print carefully though – if you use it up quickly, you have to wait for the 12 months to pass before you can purchase another one. But I think you can also share the 12 clips with friends, whereas a regular Wild Card is tied to your identity. You will have to go to the SANParks office in Tokai to get a My Green Card.

SanParks is introducing differential pricing for Table Mountain National Park, with significantly lower prices for locals, starting next November, so some mathematics will be required this time next year to determine whether a Wild Card is still worth the expense.

Something to read

Everything you need to know about finding a book related to the ocean can be discovered in our list of most recommended books, and our guide to finding the book you need (on this blog, at least!). There are a couple of children’s books there, too.

A magazine subscription is also a fairly reasonably-priced gift idea. I can’t tell you which of the dive magazines are worth reading these days – our current subscriptions are Maritime Review (which is free, so that’s perhaps cheating) and CAR magazine…

Something beautiful

Clip Clop designs and prints beautiful tide charts for Cape Town and Durban and moon phase charts for the year. You can order online or usually find them at Exclusive Books or Noordhoek Farm Village (just browse the shops there, one of them has the tide charts right at the door).

You could also print and frame a photo, or create a photo book. Most camera stores can assist with a range of printing media.

Dive gear and water-related stuff

Some excellent water-related gifts I’ve received over the years include:

 

  • WetSac (seriously, check it out) – order online
  • A hooded towel – surf shops often stock them, try the strip at Surfers Corner in Muizenberg
  • A stand up paddle boarding lesson
  • A reel and/or a surface marker buoy – make sure it’s one of the ones that isn’t negatively buoyant

Otherwise, just think a little bit about what might be useful before or after a dive…

  • Sunscreen, conditioner, cleansing shampoo, detangling spray
  • A reusable metal water bottle (glass is a bad idea for the boat)
  • A mini dry bag to keep phones and keys safe
  • A beanie for cold days on the boat or a cap for the sun, or a buff for hair management or neck protection (the Aquarium sometimes sells turtle ones to fundraise for their turtle rehab)
Be safe, be kind, be lekker. Thank you for your friendship and for the dives!

Bookshelf: Octopus

Octopus: The Ocean’s Intelligent Invertebrate – Jennifer Mather, Roland Anderson & James Wood

I think I said I was done with reading about octopus for now, but I wasn’t. I found this book on my Kindle, obscured by more recent purchases, and decided to continue my cephalopod streak. This book distinguishes itself with a raft of beautiful, detailed photographs, and for this reason I’d advise you to try and get hold of a hard copy – pictures on e-readers are terribly unpredictable.

Octopus
Octopus

The authors of this volume are marine biologists, one of whom worked at the Seattle Aquarium. Their focus here is very much on the natural history of the octopus, with each stage of its life history explained in some detail. Their approach is noticeably different from, but complementary to, that of Peter Godfrey-Smith’s in Other MindsGodfrey-Smith is largely concerned with considering octopus cognition from various angles, but in this book the authors are as concerned with the physical properties of the octopus as they are with its congnitive abilities.

You could also quite happily read this book in tandem with Sy Montgomery’s The Soul of an Octopus, which is largely written from the perspective of a volunteer aquarist. Mather et al’s Octopus fills in the scientific insights obtained from studying cephalopods in public aquaria, while Montgomery focuses more on interacting with the animals in a non-scientific context.

Most of the cephalopods used as detailed examples in this book are found only in US and Caribbean waters. The giant Pacific octopus features strongly, but it is hard to remain unmoved by an octopus that can weigh 45 kilograms when fully grown. The behaviour and broad aspects of their life history, however, seem to overlap with what is known about the octopus species we usually see while diving in Cape Town (generally the common octopus, Octopus vulgaris).

There are excellent references at the back of the book, for those who haven’t had enough of cephalopods yet and want to learn more. There is also a chapter on keeping octopus in captivity in a home aquarium, if you’re that way inclined (rather please don’t).

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

Newsletter: A splash of colour

Hi divers

Weekend dive plans

Saturday: Launching from Hout Bay at 9.30 am

We launched yesterday and had pretty good conditions in False Bay at Fan Reef and the northern pinnacles of Roman Rock. It was grey and rainy, but great to be out on the bay.

I’m going to count on the strong south easterly wind tomorrow cleaning up the Atlantic. The very southerly swell on Saturday will not be felt as strongly in Hout Bay, so we will most likely go there for dives. I’ll check the water colour tomorrow afternoon and confirm the final destination. If you want to be on the boat, let me know.

A grey day out on False Bay
A grey day out on False Bay

Diversnight

Don’t forget that Diversnight is coming up next weekend, on Saturday 4 November. There is no charge for the dive, and the more the merrier. If you need to rent a cylinder or any other gear, please let me know in advance (i.e. not next Saturday)!

Farewell to Yoshi

Yoshi, the loggerhead turtle and undisputed star of the I&J Ocean Exhibit at the Two Oceans Aquarium, will be released soon. The aquarium is hosting a farewell event for her in November, with turtle experts and aquarists as guest speakers. More information here.

regards

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

Diving is addictive!

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Bookshelf: Other Minds

Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness – Peter Godfrey-Smith

THIS is the octopus book you have been waiting for all your life. Philosopher of science (and, importantly, scuba diver) Peter Godfrey-Smith traces the origins of intelligence through the tree of life, pausing at length on the cephalopods. These animals – cuttlefish, octopus, squid – stand out as exceptionally intelligent among animals, but only live for a year or two, the females expiring after they finish nurturing their first and only clutch of eggs (this is called semelparity). Both they and the males undergo a brief and catastrophic period of senescence, during which time they lose limbs, lose pigmentation, and their cognitive functions appear to be in sharp decline. (As an aside, I think that this cuttlefish may have been experiencing this very late-life decline.) Why, speaking evolutionarily, invest the energy required to develop such a complex brain, if its owner is going to live for such a short time?

Other Minds
Other Minds

This is the ultimate question that Godfrey-Smith grapples with. Prior to arriving here, he leads us on wonderful explorations of octopus physiology, the origins of life, and the nature of intelligence. Refreshingly, he takes a nuanced view of intelligence in cephalopods and resists the ever-present temptation to anthropomorphise these fascinating creatures. He points out, for example, that it is easy to mistake dexterity – eight arms and all – for smarts. I read this book while recuperating from a head injury whose degree of seriousness was not yet clear at the time of reading (it was mild, and I’m fine now). This uncertainty as to the state of my own brain made my reading of the sections on intelligence and the nature of minds somewhat poignant. The octopus brain is distributed throughout its body, with neurons in its legs as well as in places you’d be more likely to look for them.

Godfrey-Smith commences this book with a description of giant cuttlefish (the same corgi-sized beings we read about here), and this cements my desire to one day meet such a creature. My favourite chapter, however, deals with how cephalopods change colour. The complexity of this process is incredible, and not yet fully understood. In particular, it seems that they cannot see in colour, and yet they perform feats of camouflage that would seem to be impossible without knowing what colour and pattern to aim for.

The book is beautifully, lyrically written with a gentleness and compassion that I think comes from Godfrey-Smith’s own extensive observation of cephalopods in their natural habitat. He returns compulsively to Octopolis, the first octopus “city” discovered off the coast of Australia. I’ll leave you with this quote:

The chemistry of life is an aquatic chemistry. We can get by on land only by carrying a huge amount of salt water around with us.

You can find a comprehensive list of reviews and interviews on the author’s website. There’s a fetching giant cuttlefish picture in this article from The Guardian. If you are in South Africa, get a copy of the book here. If in the US, here, and for the UK go here.

For an equally awe-struck but completely different take on octopus, written largely from the perspective of an aquarium volunteer, you could also check out Sy Montgomery’s The Soul of an Octopus.

Diving in the I&J Ocean Exhibit at the Two Oceans Aquarium

The I&J Ocean Exhibit is the largest tank at the Two Oceans Aquarium, and has been open since mid-2016. It features a full 10 metre long tunnel, and is home to Yoshi the turtle, two green turtles, bonito, musselcracker, a guitarfish, some rays, and several other species. Watching the animals being fed at 12pm on a Sunday is a highlight of my monthly shift at the aquarium.

Yoshi the loggerhead turtle
Yoshi the loggerhead turtle

I needed to dive in the tank, and Tony and I were lucky to be escorted by the wonderful Angie, who has been a Divemaster at the aquarium for several years. The dive is easy: the tank is shallow, warm, and the visibility is to all intents and purposes limitless. Angie pointed out that in an out of air situation, we’d just do a CESA to the surface. (This makes the aquarium perhaps the only location you’d use this skill in its pure form…) The animals aren’t dangerous, but they need to be respected, and the soft acrylic windows pose a particular challenge as a careless bump with some dive gear would scratch them from the inside.

Angie and Bob the green turtle
Angie and Bob the green turtle

The green turtles are special. Bob was found in poor shape on the beach at De Hoop when he was the size of a dinner plate, and after several months in intensive care, regurgitated a quantity of plastic, including ribbons and balloons. Now, he is friendly and very attached to humans – he especially loves to have his shell tickled, and wriggles from side to side in appreciation. As a result of the amount of time he spent in veterinary care, he will stay at the aquarium for his own safety.

Tony and Sandy the green turtle
Tony and Sandy the green turtle

Sandy was most likely struck by a boat propellor near Witsand at the mouth of the Breede river. The scars are visible on her carapace in the photo above. She was recently discovered to be definitely female (turtles are tricky). She’s not quite as interested in humans as Bob is, but she was mesmerised by her tiny reflection in Tony’s camera lens, and approached closer and closer to examine it.

The giant guitarfish
The giant guitarfish

In addition to the turtles, Tony enjoyed the fantastic giant guitarfish, and spent much of the dive looking for it. The rays are like puppies, full of youthful exuberance and energy. The schooling fish mostly keep out of the way of the divers, near the surface of the tank, but are a treat to be close to.

We last dived in the aquarium a couple of years ago. The kelp forest, which was an enormously enjoyable dive, is currently closed for renovations but will be re-opening soon. The new shark exhibit will also be open for dives soon (it is already open for looking at, with nine ragged tooth sharks in residence). Meanwhile, the Ocean Exhibit provides more than enough diversion on a day that doesn’t offer good enough weather for a sea dive.

Dive date: 29 April 2017

Air temperature: 30 degrees

Water temperature:  24.8 degrees

Maximum depth: 6.1  metres

Visibility: 15 metres

Dive duration: 36 minutes