Newsletter: Turning turtle

Hi divers

Weekend dive plans

Sunday: False Bay dives, conditions permitting

Neither day of the weekend looks all that promising for diving. The Atlantic is most likely to have the better visibility, however the swell on Friday and early on Saturday is not really my cup of tea. I will take a look at False Bay on Saturday, and possibly launch there on Sunday if it looks decent. If you’d like to dive, let me know!

Salt marsh at Langebaan lagoon
Salt marsh at Langebaan lagoon

Turtle time!

We are entering into the busiest time for turtle wash-ups on the Western Cape coastline. On Tuesday, 14 (yes, fourteen) baby turtles stranded themselves in Hermanus. These little animals are in a highly compromised state when they end up on the shore, as they can’t cope with the cold waters this far south.

The Two Oceans Aquarium has a sophisticated turtle rehab facility, and, once they’re fattened up and restored to full health, the little turtles are released in the summer months when the warm current is closest to the Cape Peninsula coastline. Read about what to do if you find a baby turtle here. Local drop off points for tiny turtle guests are at the Two Oceans Aquarium (obvs), and the Shark Spotters info centre in Muizenberg.

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

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Hello, Smith’s swimming crab!

One of the things I love about False Bay, and about Long Beach in particular, is the tendency for creatures from all over South Africa’s coastline to end up here, often tropical marine life that got caught in the warm Agulhas current, and then within the circulation of False Bay, ending up just behind the Simons Town harbour wall.

Smith's swimming crab (Charybdis smithii) Smith’s swimming crab (Charybdis smithii)

Thus it was, early in March, that we discovered several adult specimens of Smith’s swimming crab (Charybdis smithii) at Long Beach when we went for a dive. One or two were already dead, and the rest were struggling either on the sand, or in the shallows, looking unhealthy. The water temperature at the time was about 17 degrees.

The first hint that this unusual and rarely-seen visitor had arrived on our shores was a series of social media posts, from January, in one or two of the fishing groups I follow on facebook. (These are excellent places to keep tabs on what’s happening in parts of the ocean I might not routinely visit, and there’s a wealth of knowledge and experience among the members.) Here’s a conversation between local fishermen about seeing large numbers of adult Smith’s swimming crabs just off Cape Point (also facebook). You can also see some photos of one of the crabs from Sea-Change here (facebook), taken on 22 January in False Bay.

Smith's swimming crab (Charybdis smithii) Smith’s swimming crab (Charybdis smithii)

At the same time as these social media posts, there was an influx of small, red crabs on the other side of the Cape Peninsula, at Long Beach in Kommetjie. (But more on that in another post.) Two Oceans says that Smith’s swimming crabs were first described in False Bay in 1838, and then again in 1978, 1983, and 1993. This facebook thread suggests that they may have been last seen off Muizenberg around 2005-2006.

Smith's swimming crab (Charybdis smithii) Smith’s swimming crab (Charybdis smithii)

I read more about Smith’s swimming crab in two papers: this one (Romanov et al), from 2009, and this one (Van Couwelaar et al) from 1997. The more recent paper updates many of the findings of the earlier one. Both teams of scientists behind these papers used trawl data from pelagic cruises to learn about the distribution and life history of these crabs.

Smith’s swimming crab is a pelagic crab that spends the vast majority of its one year, monsoon-driven life cycle in the water column. They are endemic to the western Indian ocean, and are usually found in the area bounded by the Arabian sea (which is west of India) and the latitude of Dar Es Salaam in Tanzania (about 7 degrees south of the equator), and from the east African coast, across east to the Maldives. They may congregate in huge patches, larger than tens of square kilometres, and may reach a biomass of more than 130 kilograms per square kilometre. These swarms are densest between June and September. During July, their concentration can peak at more than 15,000 individuals per square kilometre.

Smith's swimming crab (Charybdis smithii) Smith’s swimming crab (Charybdis smithii)

The crabs congregate on the seafloor of the continental shelf during the months of September to December, mating late in the year. No adult crabs are usually seen between April and June (Van Couwelaar et al speculate that the adults die after breeding), at which time, after metamorphosis, the swarms again become apparent in the western Indian ocean. The crabs grow to about 7.5 centimetres carapace width.

The crabs seem to perform a diel migration, moving deeper in the water column during the day (down to 350 metres’ depth), and returning to the surface at night. They swim continuously and are voracious predators in order to support the high metabolic demand created by this constant activity. They are able to regenerate all their limbs except for their swimming legs (Van Couwelaar et al deduced this in much the same way as Abraham Wald decided which parts of World War II bombers to reinforce – no crabs with partially grown swimming legs were caught in their trawls).

These crabs are important prey for yellowtail, as for other pelagic fish species such as blue sharks, yellowfin tuna and bigeye tuna. The fishermen of False Bay observed that they made excellent bait.

Smith's swimming crab (Charybdis smithii) Smith’s swimming crab (Charybdis smithii)

So what brings Smith’s swimming crab this far south? False Bay is way out of their range. This paper (Chapman, 1988) suggests that prior arrivals of these crabs on our shores have co-incided with weaker than usual summer south easterly winds (which has definitely been a feature of late 2018 and the start of 2019 – we had a gloriously wind-still summer for the most part) and the westward movement of warm water containing the crabs. We did have a spell of unusual westerly wind just prior to these crabs’ arrival.

A fascinating 1984 paper by George Branch describes a temperature anomaly during the summer of 1982-83. This particular Cape summer was characterised by very little of the typical south easterly winds, leading to reduced upwelling, and relatively high sea temperatures (Duffy et al, Effects of the 1982-3 Warm Water Event on the Breeding of South African Seabirds, 1984). The exceptionally warm water on the south and west coasts of South Africa caused mass strandings of some tropical animals (such as portuguese man ‘o war), mortalities of others (such as black mussels), changes in abundance of some species, and extensions of some species’ geographic range. For example, an exceptional number of juvenile turtles washed up on the beaches of False Bay, several months before the usual start of the usual turtle stranding season (which is, very loosely speaking, March-July). Prof Branch records that large numbers of healthy, adult Smith’s swimming crab washed up at Cape Hangklip, and smaller numbers at Boulders Beach, Strand, Milnerton and Blouberg. About 62% of the crabs were female, and many of them survived in aquaria for some time after stranding.

In short, it seems that we had our own little temperature anomlay, however brief, in early 2019, and the pulse of warm water brought with it these rarely seen (in Cape Town) crabs. What luck to spot this unusual visitor!

There are some lovely pictures of Smith’s swimming crab, healthy and in mid water, taken off Tanzania, here.

Newsletter: The joy of kelp

Hi divers

Weekend dive plans

No diving The forecasts vary wildly this weekend. Windy says howling south easter everywhere, whilst other sites say mild wind suitable for some Atlantic diving. The mountain will break some of the wind so I am sure Table Bay sites will be good, and Hout Bay much the same. I have students for the pool this weekend so there are no launches planned.

Kelp forest near Pyramid Rock
Kelp forest near Pyramid Rock

Kelp night

Learn all about kelp at the Two Oceans Aquarium next Thursday evening, 31 January. There will be talks on kelp science, kelp as a habitat, and kelp as a snack. Read more here, and book tickets at Quicket.

Camera housing

Clare is selling her Sony underwater housing that fits the Sony RX100 range of cameras. If you’re interested, drop me a mail and I’ll put you in touch with her.

regards

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

Diving is addictive!

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

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/

Diving is addictive!

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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.