Newsletter: Enough is enough

Hi divers

Weekend dive plans

No diving

There is a week of strong north westerly wind planned for us… Added to this is a fair amount of swell. As a rule wind from this direction will turn False Bay in to a viz wonderland. Once the swell fades, of course! I have no dives planned for this weekend, but I expect conditions next week to be very good.

Diving humpback whale
Diving humpback whale

Octopus fishermen strike again

UNBELIEVABLY, the octopus fishery in False Bay caught and killed another whale this week. If you haven’t signed the petition yet, please do.

Please also send an email to our new minster of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries, Minister Barbara Creecy. She has solicited suggestions for environmental policies that will shape the future of South Africa to the email address DEAMedia@environment.gov.za, and I reckon this is a good place to start.

The City of Cape Town put out an outstanding press release this afternoon calling for an immediate moratorium on the whale – sorry, octopus – fishery, which I encourage you to read. It pulls no punches: “We cannot expect ratepayers to keep on subsidising the bycatch of whales.”

I suggest letting your ward councillors know that this is unacceptable, even more so in a marine protected area, and that you are behind the City’s call to the government to put a stop to the whaling.

You could also send a letter to Herman Oosthuizen, South Africa’s representative (“commissioner“) on the International Whaling Commission. Dig around here for his contact details (a postal address), or try the email address listed on this paper – click on Author Information just under the list of authors’ names. It goes without saying that you need to be polite, reasonable and respectful when you contact people, no matter how emotional this issue makes you.

Abalone poaching – read all about it

Kimon de Greef, author of the outstanding book Poacher along with Shuhood Abader (the pen name of a former perlemoen poacher), will be discussing the subject next Thursday evening, 4 July, at Kalk Bay books. It’s bound to be a very popular event and rsvp is essential. Details here. (We’re reviewing the book on the blog on Monday.)

regards

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

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Newsletter: Making a difference

Hi divers

Weekend dive plans

Monday (public holiday): Leaving from  Simons Town at 9.30am and 12.00pm for Atlantis and Photographer’s Reef

We are in  a week long period of practically windless days, not quite winter temperatures and not too much of the dreaded, huge winter swells. You could choose to dive on any of the three days this weekend, or all of them, and I have picked Monday. We will launch from Simons Town at 9.30am and 12.00pm for Atlantis and Photographer’s Reef. Let me know if you’re keen to get out on (and in) False Bay.

Brydes whale showing his head
Brydes whale showing his head

Whale entanglement

It’s been a horrible week. A beautiful Brydes whale became entangled in the ropes of the experimental octopus fishery in False Bay, and drowned. Read about it here (there are some disturbing photos, so take care). In response, there’s a petition to end octopus fishing in False Bay – please sign it.

Can I also encourage you to amplify this issue outside of your usual social networks, who are probably ocean-loving people or friends of ocean lovers, and know about this already. Write an email or call the Department of Environmental Affairs, contact the provincial government, talk to your elected representatives, write to the newspaper. There are some other contact details to be found in one of the links we provided in this newsletter from 2014 that may or may not be useful – sadly this is not a new issue at all.

Beach cleanups

There’s a beach clean up in Cape Town practically every weekend, and it’s fantastic. To find out when they are, follow The Beach Co-Op (facebook / website), and Cape Town Beach Cleanup (facebook / website) to start with. Luckily South Africans are used to doing things themselves, and while the amount of trash recovered is eye-watering, it’s wonderful to see how many people are getting involved with looking after their environment.

regards

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

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Bookshelf: Pain Forms the Character

Pain Forms the Character: Doc Bester, Cat Hunters & Sealers – Nico de Bruyn & Chris Oosthuizen

Marion Island is one of South Africa’s two sub-Antarctic Prince Edward Islands, technically part of the Western Cape province. The South African National Antarctic Programme runs a meteorological and biological station there, dedicated to research. The researchers study weather and climate, ecosystem studies, seals (southern elephant seals, and Antarctic and sub-Antarctic fur seals), killer whales and seabirds such as albatross, that nest on the island. Researchers usually spend either three or 15 months at a stretch on the island, whose rugged terrain, intimidating wildlife and challenging weather can be said to “form the character”!

Pain Forms the Character
Pain Forms the Character

Marion Island is also infested by rats, introduced from whaling ships in the 1800s. With no predators, they multiplied to the extent that they threatened seabird populations. Cats were introduced in 1949, and by the 1970s there were 3,400 cats on the island. The cats ate mice, of course, and seabirds. An ambitious eradication program – of which our incredible friend Andre was part – eliminated the last of the cats in the early 1990s. The rat problem has resurged since the cats were removed, but work is in progress to get rid of them, too.

The research programs that currently exist on Marion Island are the legacy of Dr Marthan “Doc” Bester’s 40 year career as a scientist and researcher, and this book is a tribute to him. For this book, authors compiled photographs and testimonies from Bester’s colleagues, former cat hunters, and students, and he is the thread that ties this beautifully produced volume together. The focus is less on the scientific findings (you can find those online), and more on what it’s like to live on Marion Island, with the text complemented by many, beautifully evocative photographs.

Get a copy of the book here.

Cape Town’s visible shipwrecks: Update on the Commodore II

Until recently, the last time I specifically went looking for the wreck of the Commodore II was in December last year, when I went to Milnerton lagoon beach to show visiting family the beautiful view of Table Mountain. At that time tides and waves had moved the wreck further away from the lagoon mouth, and she was lying on the sand at a spot that would be partially submerged at high tide.

There has been some community discussion about the future of the wreck since late last year, but nothing changed until winter arrived.

Commodore II in December 2016
Commodore II in December 2016

Next time I went to look for the wreck, just after the Cape storm of 7 June this year, I couldn’t find it. A waiter at the Wang Thai restaurant on the beach told me he’d seen it all the way up at the old Wood Bridge at Woodbridge Island, and that people were removing pieces of the wreck and carrying them away. The storm surge had actually lodged the wreck partially under the old Wood Bridge (a sensitive National Monument constructed in 1901), and there was the potential for it to cause damage. There’s a picture of the wreck in this position on page 28 of this document (pdf).

Commodore II, secure for now
Commodore II, secure for now

A few weeks ago Gerhard Beukes, a Milnerton resident, messaged me to say that he had secured the wreck about half way down the lagoon. It had been winched free of the Wood Bridge by Koos Retief, Area Biodiversity Manager at Table Bay Nature Reserve, and had floated back down the lagoon to settle on a sandbank near Gerhard’s home.

Gerhard estimates that the wreck weighs about 25 tons, and with considerable personal effort and some financial outlay he has attached it to the lagoon bank, resting on the sandy bottom in shallow water, with chains and heavy lifting straps. The chain is secured to bolts attached to metal pipes sunk deep into the bank.

The Commodore II in Milnerton
The Commodore II in Milnerton

The arrangement will prevent the wreck from washing around inside the lagoon and potentially injuring kayakers and other water users. It will also prevent it from washing out into Table Bay and becoming a semi-submerged shipping hazard, potentially lethal to vessels (something like the Seli 1 is when her buoy goes missing).

View towards Woodbridge Island
View towards Woodbridge Island

It’s also quite visible: if you walk or drive down Esplanade Street in Milnerton with Lagoon Beach behind you, you’ll come across the remains of the Commodore II next to the bank of the lagoon on your left. The wreck is over 60 years old, which means that under South African law it is protected and removing pieces of it is an offence. I hope that having many local residents’ eyes on the wreck will ensure it some measure of safety, even in the absence of any enforcement of the relevant laws.

How can you help?

To make sure the wreck does not come loose next time a large volume of water washes down the river and into the lagoon after heavy rains, it needs some further reinforcing in its current location. This could be done with a further 5 metre length of heavy duty chain, or (preferably) two loading slings, 25mm steel cable with rings or eyes on both ends. The harness needs to be capable of holding 25 tons of wood in place even under strain, and are necessary to completely stabilise the wreck.

If you have such items lying around unused at home, or are sufficiently moved and interested by the wonderful history of the Commodore II to make a donation, please comment on this post or use the contact form here, and I’ll connect you with Gerhard, the current guardian of the Commodore II.

Are you interested in shipwrecks that you can visit without going underwater? Read more about Cape Town’s visible shipwrecks here.

Article: Outside on shark repellents

A recurring but seemingly never-resolved question that intrigues shark researchers and management entities is that of whether there exists a reliable, non-lethal shark repellent.

Such a shark repellent would solve all manner of management problems: organisations like Shark Spotters exist partly to navigate that tense, thin line between sharks killing people and people killing sharks.

Furthermore, there would be a significant financial payoff associated with a successful patent of such a product. (I do not mean to suggest that this is the primary motivation for doing this kind of research, but untested, untestable products like this cannot possibly be marketed with anything else in mind.)

Life-size model of a white shark
Life-size model of a white shark

There are several ideas that have been either proposed, tested, or marketed. The SharkShield has been tested (not just by us), with mixed results. A shark repellent wetsuit has certainly been well publicised (there’s even a TED Talk), but, like medicines for pregnant women, I can’t see how it can be properly, ethically tested in order to state with some degree of certainty, in a statistical sense, that it works. The test described here has N=2, and there wasn’t a human in the suit.

I digress. Outside Online has an interesting article this month about the efforts by Eric Stroud, a pharmaceutical consultant, who – after much experimentation – settled on several compounds found in decaying shark flesh, which seem to work well as a repellent of about 30 species of mostly coastal sharks. The compound can also be synthesised, although the real thing, from a dead shark, apparently works better. Stroud’s financial backers travelled to Mossel Bay to visit Oceans Research, a multi-disciplinary research organisation with several shark scientists on its staff, to test the chemical on great white sharks. The article provides an overview of the history of shark repellent technology, and brings us up to date with this new chemical alternative. It’s early days…

Read the full article here. And remember, kids, that while the only thing that will keep you completely safe from a shark is not going into the sea at all, there are a bunch of simple, sensible things you can do to reduce your chances of meeting a man in a grey suit. Do them!

New regulations about threatened and protected marine species

I’m back from an overly lengthy blogging hiatus (sorry) to resume a function that I’ve performed once or twice in the past. Fortunately I have had octopus on my mind and had already started posting again, and so we aren’t doing a standing start.

Humpback whale on the beach
Humpback whale on the beach

I have read some legislation so you don’t have to, will try to tell you what it means, and – if necessary and possible – I will tell you how to object to it. Someone has to do it, and my mathematician’s brain actually quite likes trying to follow the logic of these documents. (Previous efforts along these lines include this one on seals, this one on new MPAs, and this one on the Tsitsikamma MPA.)

The new legislation this time is actually two documents that were published in the Government Gazette on 30 May. Before we get into these two most recent documents, however, it may be instructive to look back at the original act that they refer to.

National Environmental Management Act: Biodiversity

The act in question is the National Environmental Management Act: Biodiversity, number 10 of 2004 (pdf full text). We will call it NEMBA for short. This act is a framework which provides for the management and conservation of South Africa’s biodiversity, as well as the protection of species that require or deserve it, the fair apportionment of benefits that may arise from the country’s biological resources, and the establishment of SANBI.

The important sections of this act for us, right now, are sections 56 and 57. Section 56 empowers the Minister of Environmental Affairs to publish in the Government Gazette, from time to time (at least every five years or more often than that), a list of critically endangered, endangered, vulnerable, and protected species. A species may be protected but not endangered; a case in point is the Cape fur seal.

Section 56 of NEMBA
Section 56 of NEMBA

I am not knowledgeable enough to state confidently that the extract above is using a set of widely accepted definitions here. However, this list of definitions from (critically) endangered to vulnerable does look a lot like the IUCN categories for classifying species at risk of extinction.

The next section talks about activities involving species that fall into one of the categories defined in section 56. Provision is made here for the Minister to define activities that are “restricted”, and section 57 specifies that if an activity is restricted, a permit is required in order to perform it. The definition of restricted may vary from species to species (but I am getting ahead of myself).

Section 57 of NEMBA
Section 57 of NEMBA

Finally, section 97 of NEMBA, which is on page 40 of the PDF file I linked to above, empowers the Minister to make regulations dealing with a large number of matters, mostly permits, and threat-minimisation for threatened ecosystems.

Marine Threatened or Protected Species regulations

With that preamble, let us turn to the most recent regulations, which were made in terms of section 97 of NEMBA and pertain to threatened or protected marine species. They come in two parts. The first (pdf – all page numbers below refer to this file) is a set of regulations, mostly related to permits. This sounds very boring, but there are some interesting bits, and an important definition. Definition first:

Definition of harassment
Definition of harassment

This is a very important definition (from page 10-11) as it essentially determines what is legal and what is not in terms of the act, and one that I think is perfectly reasonable. You can still take photos of and dive with seals, turtles and most sharks. Whale sharks and basking sharks are not to be bothered up close, though.

Notice also that we now have a definition for harassment of dolphins; it has been my understanding (perhaps incorrect) that until now there has been a loophole in that there has been no legal prohibition on approaching dolphins in a boat, whereas boats must stay at a distance of 300 metres away from whales. I can think of other things I have seen boats doing with dolphins – such as corralling them by speeding in a circle at full throttle – that also seem like harassment to me, but don’t quite fit this definition. But I think this is a start. Also, no swimming with dolphins – for profit or not.

Swimming with dolphins
Swimming with dolphins

The regulations go on to state that their purpose relates to the permit system provided for in NEMBA, to registration and legislation of facilities like wildlife breeders and rehabilitators, and to the regulation of activities defined as “restricted”. The regulations also provide some further stipulations regarding boat-based whale and dolphin watching, and white shark cage diving. It is specifically stated that the regulations are to be applied in conjunction with CITES, international regulations which circumscribe international trade in wildlife (and in this way achieve protection for some species).

Page 17-18 defines restricted activities (in other words, activities which you either cannot do at all, or for which you need a permit).

Restricted activities
Restricted activities

Page 18 further clarifies that a permit is required in order to carry out a restricted activity, and the regulations go on to define various types of permit in terms of their period of validity and other criteria.

Permits required for restricted activities
Permits required for restricted activities

There is a lot more on permits, the risk assessments required before they can be issued, and criteria to consider in permit applications. (Does the applicant have a record of offences under NEMBA? Are there objections to issue of the permit? And so on.)

Page 38 mentions that in the case of a captive breeding or exhibition facility, no whales, dolphins, seals, sea birds, white sharks, basking sharks or whale sharks may be introduced from the wild. If I read this correctly, this puts paid to the restocking of dolphinariums with wild-caught animals. Also a start. If you are interested in this aspect of the regulations, I would encourage you to go through the document yourself.

There are some more good provisos aimed at the regulation of wildlife sanctuaries, but that isn’t my main area of interest here.

You may have picked up that some of the activities defined as restricted may be required actions in the event of a whale stranding, for example, or the entanglement of a seabird or turtle in fishing lines. What to do?

One must still act within the law when a stranding occurs
One must still act within the law when a stranding occurs

The regulations make specific provision for the cases in which one might need to handle, move, or even kill an animal listed as threatened or protected. Only those individuals or organisations which are in possession of a permit may perform any of these restricted activists; this largely precludes members of the public from assisting in any significant way at whale stranding, for example. I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing.

Exceptional circumstances
Exceptional circumstances

Finally the regulations turn to white shark cage diving, and boat-based whale and dolphin watching. I am not sufficiently familiar with the existing regulations of these two industries to comment on what is different or new here, but it is interesting to read through the provisions for each. They seem well regulated. Free diving with white sharks is specifically forbidden. Additionally, as item (e) below states, even if an operator is in possession of a cage diving permit, this does not permit them to chum (“provision” or “attract” sharks) anywhere else.

Cage diving conditions
Cage diving conditions

List of Threatened or Protected Marine Species

The second part of the Government Gazette publication on 30 May is a list of threatened and protected animals. This list mentions fish, whales, seabirds, turtles, and even hard corals. This document (pdf – page numbers below refer to this file) has a very particular tabular layout.

How the list of species works
How the list of species works

Column 2 defines the restricted activities that are prohibited in terms of section 57 of NEMBA (see above). Column 3 provides the exceptions to that rule. [This column of the table mentions section 57(4) of NEMBA – you’ll see my extract above only goes up to (3). I suspect there’s an amendment to the act that I haven’t found that includes this item.]

There is very little variation in the list of restricted activities (column 2) across all the animals and birds; whales have the most interesting list of exempt activities (column 3), which is why we will look at them as an example. This table is from pages 138-139. Click to enlarge.

Whales (page 138-139)
Whales (page 138-139)

Column 2 of the table above defines all the things you can’t do to whales – the “restricted activities”. Column 3 lists a whole lot of terrible-sounding things that can be performed under certain exceptional conditions, in the event of a whale stranding itself on the beach, for example.

This is a good time to practise using the definitions. Notice that column 3 allows “harassing [of the stranded whale] by any Departmental official.” This does not mean that someone from Environmental Affairs is allowed to go and prod a stranded whale with a stick, or throw sand at it. We are talking about harassment in terms of the legal definition above, and this may include “disturbing” the whale, or approaching closer than 300 metres on a boat, for example.

If you’re interested to go and look, the pages of the species list pertaining to seals and their relatives is on pages 141-144. There are no special provisions to worry responsible water users, and the definition of seal harassment as shown above (approaching a colony closer than 15 metres in a boat or 5 metres as a human) is I think entirely reasonable.

Finally, here’s an extract from the permit application form. I include this to show you that all the restricted activities for which permits are required are pretty extreme, and not things that your average recreational diver would reasonably want to do.

Restricted activities permit application form extract
Restricted activities permit application form extract

This has been long, but I hope helpful. The regulations aren’t open to comment (I think I may have missed that earlier this year or last year… oops), they are final.

Energy and advocacy is best directed towards things that the diving community can have an impact on as a collective voice, and in ways that will have a chance of success. In other words, perform actions out in the real world, and align yourself with organisations that do real, scientifically informed conservation work.

I’m sure you all can think of other ideas, but I do have one suggestion regarding a species that isn’t listed here. The sevengill cowsharks that we see at Millers Point aren’t protected (they are “data deficient” on IUCN Red List). If you feel strongly about them, can I suggest as an easy first step, writing some letters (the letter in that link is out of date due to ministerial shufflings, and shark finning in South African waters is banned but this is poorly enforced – but you get the idea).

Once again here’s a link to the regulations, and here’s a link to the species list. Both are pdf files, hosted on this site in case the Government Gazette links above break one day.

 

Octopus playing the imitation game

We saw this octopus on a dive at Long Beach in March. It seemed to be imitating seaweed with its tentacles, but I’m not sure. What do you think?

If you haven’t read it yet, this article from the Daily Maverick illuminates some aspects of the until-now impenetrable octopus fishery in False Bay, while we’re on the subject of octopus. The permit-holder has been on a temporary permit for over 15 years, as the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries has been rolled over the five year permit three times so far.

Whales appear to be the by-catch of this fishery – an issue that I don’t think is addressed sufficiently in the article. There is a potential human cost here, too, as the teams that disentangle whales do so at considerable risk to their own lives, and without compensation. The intelligence of octopus is not controversial, and it is interesting to examine the ethics of the fishing method specifically as it relates to this.

Newsletter: Life aboard

Hi divers

Weekend dive plans

Staying dry

The swell peaks at 8 metres with 18 second period tonight. It starts to drop off during the following few days, however I doubt the conditions will have settled enough on Saturday for training dives. Sunday has some south easter so we will have a dry weekend.

SA Agulhas II berthed in Cape Town
SA Agulhas II berthed in Cape Town

SA Agulhas II open day

Visit the East Pier Quay at the V&A Waterfront on Saturday (24 June) to get a rare opportunity to go aboard South Africa’s state of the art polar research vessel, SA Agulhas II. A little bit more info from the Department of Environmental Affairs is available here (pdf). We visited the ship a few years ago – read more about that visit here.

regards

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

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Newsletter: Warmer and warmer

Hi divers

Weekend dive plans

Friday: Shore diving at Long Beach at 10.00 am

Saturday: Launching from False Bay Yacht Club at 7.00 am for a double tank dive

The days are getting longer and the daytime temperatures are slowly creeping upwards… Well, on some days. Saturday looks like a better bet for False Bay with Hout Bay being an option on Sunday. The water colour off Dungeons has improved slightly today.

Tomorrow I am shore diving students at Long Beach at 10.00 am. On Saturday we will do an early False Bay double tank dive at 7.00 am. Let me know if you’d like to get wet.

 

DAFF octopus fishing gear
DAFF octopus fishing gear

Here’s a little bit of reading on the octopus fishery in False Bay (courtesy of Yvette!). This NSRI blog post, and the comments, are also required reading.

Coming up

As part of First Thursdays, you can attend the opening of the Birdlife Oceans of Life photographic exhibition at the South African Museum on the evening of Thursday 6 October. There’s information here (facebook) – this year’s exhibition includes a retrospective of the last few years’ best images.

Diversnight is on Saturday 7 November, so start charging your torches!

regards

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

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Newsletter: Testing 123

Hi divers

Weekend dive plans

Saturday: Two launches from False Bay Yacht Club, meeting at 8.00 am

A long period 3 metre swell arrives tomorrow, drops on Saturday and then builds again on Sunday. I am planning two launches early on Saturday morning as I have several students to certify. We will meet in the car park at False Bay Yacht Club at 8.00 am. Destination unknown and weather dependent. If you’re keen on a magical mystery tour, drop me an email, text or Whatsapp.

The boat from underwater
The boat from underwater

Keeping busy

In case you missed it on the blog this week, we tested one of our self-inflating life jackets in the pool, to see what would happen when it got wet. It works!

Maritime archaeologist John Gribble is speaking at the auditorium of the South African Astronomical Observatory on Wednesday 17 August, 4.30 for 5.00 pm. His talk is entitled “From Shipwrecks to Hand Axes: An Introduction to South Africa’s Maritime and Underwater Cultural Heritage” and is described as follows:

South Africa’s maritime and underwater cultural heritage is surprisingly diverse and extremely rich. Although shipwrecks are the most obvious elements of this rich heritage resource, there are a range of pre-colonial maritime heritage resources that are less well known. This talk will introduce South Africa’s maritime and underwater cultural heritage, highlight the archaeological importance of this resource, and touch on a few examples of interesting, local historical wrecks.

There is no need to book, the event is free to the public.

regards

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

Diving is addictive!

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