Newsletter: Here’s a challenge

Hi divers

Weekend dive plans

Friday: Shore dives at Long Beach at 8am Saturday: Shore dives at Long Beach at 12pm I have students so I will shore dive both tomorrow morning and Saturday afternoon, after the marathon road closures. Sunday and Monday don’t look like good weather days.

Autumn on Fish Hoek beach
Autumn on Fish Hoek beach

City Nature Challenge

Besides a few days of challenging weather for the long weekend there is a different and way more interesting challenge heading your way: the iNaturalist City Nature Challenge 2019. This is a worldwide bioblitz event, happening this year from 26-29 April, during which you get a chance to get outdoors, spot species, and do some citizen science.

Cape Town is participating! If you like competition, we’re pitted against other cities around the world (last year San Francisco had the most observers, who saw the most species, and logged the most observations). Otherwise, it’s a fun opportunity to go diving (or hiking, or paddling, or however you like to get outside), and to share what you see with others.

With the iNaturalist app (for iOS or Android) or on the website, you can photograph (or upload photos you took with your camera) and record all kinds of wildlife and plants. You don’t even have to know what you’re seeing – experts will weigh in with identifications if you are unsure. These citizen science observations are invaluable for mapping species diversity and distribution and are used for all sorts of projects. You can use the iNaturalist app (or website) any time, not just during the City Nature Challenge, and it’s a great tool for recording flora and fauna that you come across, even in your own garden.

On Wednesday 24 April, Georgina Jones is giving a talk at False Bay Underwater Club about the challenge, and the sorts of species you could spot and record. More details on the facebook event page.

We’ll be diving next weekend, conditions permitting, and hope to have some observations to contribute to the City Nature Challenge. We’d love it if you joined us.

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

Diving is addictive!

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Newsletter: Pedal pedal pedal

Hi divers

Weekend dive plans

No diving This weekend we are hamstrung by the Cape Town Cycle Tour on Sunday – good luck if you are participating! I’m away in Port Elizabeth on Saturday, so I won’t be running dives even if it wasn’t going to be rather windy (it is). I’ll be diving with students during next week, so let me know if you want to tag along and I’ll keep you posted.
Sea star at Long Beach
Sea star at Long Beach

Ocean/Surf night at the Cape Town Adventure Film Festival

Film buff? Love the ocean? Think popcorn is a food group? This event on Friday, 12 April, may be right up your street. Get tickets here. 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!

Visible shipwrecks: the barge Margaret

One of the most spectacular shipwrecks I’ve ever seen was that of the 100 metre long unmanned barge Margaret, which ran aground at Jacobsbaai on the West Coast on 24 June 2009. Margaret was carrying two halves of a floating dry dock and twelve river barges (positioned atop each other in side by side pairs, with two rows of three at the bottom). She was under tow by the tug Salvaliant from the Chinese shipyard where everything was manufactured, to Rotterdam. The barges were destined to transport cargo up and down the navigable rivers in Europe. During a winter storm, the tow parted, and Margaret and her cargo ran hard aground on the rocky reef just outside Jacobsbaai.

The eight storey pile of barges in December 2009
The eight storey pile of barges in December 2009

Salvaging the barges proved to be an almost intractable problem, so Margaret was still sitting firmly a couple of hundred metres off the beach when Tony and I visited six months after her grounding, in late December 2009. The stack of barges and two halves of a floating dry dock (the blue parts of the structure in the images) was clearly visible from a great distance. The sight was even more incongruous than that of the Eihatsu Maru aground on Clifton beach, which was  a wreck-lover’s dream (but unfortunately not a permanent arrangement).

View of the barge Margaret from atop the sand dunes at Jacobsbaai
View of the barge Margaret from atop the sand dunes at Jacobsbaai

I wish I’d taken a picture of what the wreck looked like as we drove down the hill into Jacobsbaai, but you can see one here if you scroll around a bit. It looked like an office block rising out of the ocean. The wreck was so large that it was visible from almost every point in the sleepy town, and the brain struggled to make sense of the sight. It’s clear from the images what a challenge it must have been to tow the barge in the wind, as the forty to fifty metre high, perfectly flat sides of the stack must have provided tremendous resistance in a gale.

Portion of the barge wreck at Jacobsbaai
Portion of the barge wreck at Jacobsbaai

The owner ran out of money to continue salvage in February 2010, and Margaret was becoming increasingly damaged and unstable as time passed. The risk of the upper barges coming loose during another storm, and drifting away to cause a hazard to other ships or coming ashore on the beach, was great. It was decided by SAMSA to persist with an attempt to reduce the wreck, at taxpayers’ expense. Any money obtained by selling off the salvageable barges would go towards defraying costs.

During the salvage work on the barge Margaret
During the salvage work on the barge Margaret

Salvage

Tony and I visited the wreck again in April 2010, after the demolition that freed six of the topmost barges. The seaward wall of the upper piece of floating dry dock, weighing 91 tonnes, had been cut away to allow the barges to slide off freely.

The remains of the barge Margaret in April 2010
The remains of the barge Margaret in April 2010

Over two tons of explosives were used in total.  Small (125 kilogram) explosive charges were set off one after the other to create a ripple effect that dislodged the top six barges. These were towed to Saldanha, and then sold.

The wreckage of Margaret and her cargo in April 2010
The wreckage of Margaret and her cargo in April 2010

If you like reading court judgments, here’s one in which the owners of the barges attempt to claim damages (massive ones) from the owners of the tug Salvaliant. There’s also a great collection of photos of the wreck in her various incarnations here.

The wreckage of Margaret in late April 2010
The wreckage of Margaret in late April 2010

In late April 2012, Tony snapped this lucky shot of two of the barges leaving Simons Town harbour under tow. They’d been moored against the harbour wall for at least a month, to the consternation and fascination of the local paddling community.

Two of the salvaged barges leaving Simons Town harbour in April 2012
Two of the salvaged barges leaving Simons Town harbour in April 2012

The remains of Margaret and her cargo were further demolished down to sea level and below, and now comprise an artificial reef. Fortunately there was no fuel or other pollutants in the stack of barges, which made the process significantly less polluting than it might otherwise have been.

The barge Margaret today

Tony and I visited Jacobsbaai to check out what remains of Margaret and her cargo in September 2018. The path to the wreck, which was formerly blocked off by hazard tape and “salvage in progress” signs, is wide and easily walkable. One can go right up to the rocks and view the wreckage from reasonably close up. Watch your foothold here, as it can be slippery and the rocks aren’t all firmly packed.

The remains of the barge Margaret and her cargo
The remains of the barge Margaret and her cargo

Look out for a small memorial to one of the salvors, who passed away in an accident on the wreck during the course of the salvage operation.

Sharp wreckage sticking out of the sea
Sharp wreckage sticking out of the sea

Parts of the wreck look like shark fins in the water, and it is possible that even more of it is visible at low tide.

The remains of the barge Margaret in 2018
The remains of the barge Margaret in 2018

You can find the wreck by turning off the R399 towards Jacobsbaai, and continuing towards the coast until the road becomes gravel. Carry on this road, and when you reach a T junction take a right turn to circle around the tiny, sheltered bay in front of you. When you can’t drive any more – there will be a small housing development in front of you – park the car and either walk up the steps on the dune to get onto the beach, or, preferably, through the houses. The paved area will give way to a wide gravel path that the salvors used to access the wreck. Continue straight along it and you’ll soon spot the wreckage on the rocks ahead and to your right. Co-ordinates are approximately -32.964140, 17.881612.

Path to what remains of the barge Margaret
Path to what remains of the barge Margaret

If you’re interested in visible shipwrecks, check out my ebook Cape Town’s Visible Shipwrecks, and this post.

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!

Baboons on the beach

Baboon on the beach Baboon on the beach

A recent low tide visit to the beach at Platboom near Cape Point, on the Atlantic coast of the peninsula, enabled us to watch a troop of Chacma baboons (Papio ursinus)  foraging for limpets, mussels and other marine snacks on the rocks at low tide. The baboons bite the tops off the limpets with their formidable incisors, or pry them from the rocks intact to get at the protein-rich flesh. They also eat mussels.

Baboons foraging for seafood at Platboom Baboons foraging for seafood at Platboom

This foraging behaviour is extremely rare among primates. In baboons, it is only observed on the Cape Peninsula and in one other species in Somalia. Matthew Lewis studied this troop of baboons as they foraged around the Cape Point nature reserve, and his thesis makes for fascinating reading. (Wild Card Magazine also featured Matthew’s research.)

Baboon on the beach Baboon on the beach

The amount of time the baboons are able to spend foraging on the shore is largely determined by the height of the tide, and by weather conditions. As a result, the amount of time the baboons spend seeking marine food sources is small compared with the time they spend looking for roots, bulbs, insects, berries, and small animals.

Low tide at Platboom Low tide at Platboom

These baboons are part of the Kanonkop troop which ranges freely in the Cape of Good Hope section of Table Mountain National Park and whose home range does not bring them into conflict with humans (or, as a rule, allow them access to any anthropogenic food sources). They were completely uninterested in us and our vehicle, unlike the baboons we see further up the peninsula around Millers Point, for example.

Concentrating baboon Concentrating baboon

A Day on the Bay: A Brydes whale for company

On a beautiful, calm day in early June this year, shortly after dropping my divers in the water, I was visited by a friendly Brydes whale. A Brydes whale – I suspect the same one – had been showing a strong interest in boats in western False Bay over the last couple of weeks.

The whale makes its presence known
The whale makes its presence known

I knew it was a Brydes whale because of the small, sickle-shaped dorsal fin far back on its spine. This one circled the boat a few times, and then headed straight for me like a submarine on the surface. It pushed a small wave of water ahead of it as it came.

The Brydes whale near the boat
The Brydes whale near the boat

It was a slightly intimidating sight as it ploughed through the water. It was an extremely calm day, so the boat’s motors were switched off. I waited with some anxiety to see what the whale would do.

The whale comes to investigate
The whale comes to investigate

After a close pass by the boat, the whale circled Seahorse several times, blowing lustily. It came back to the boat repeatedly over a period of at least half an hour. I kept the engines off, and made sure my life jacket was fastened. I hoped the divers might also be able to see what was happening! The whale was not hostile in the least, but an exuberant animal weighing between 12 and 20 tons, moving at speed, could accidentally tip me into the water in a heartbeat.

Brydes whale circling Seahorse
Brydes whale circling Seahorse

The whale lifted its head out of the water a few times, showing me the three rostral ridges on top of its head and the grooves under its throat, which also help with confirming its identification as a Brydes whale. Our whale book says that these whales often have small, circular cookie cutter shark scars, specially if they’ve been in tropical waters, but I couldn’t see any.

Brydes whale showing his head
Brydes whale showing his head

I find Brydes whales a little mysterious, because they can be seen year round in False Bay and somehow lack the predictability of the Southern right whales and humpbacks whose rowdy presence is apparent close to shore in False Bay between June and November. If you see a whale in the first half of the year in False Bay, it’s almost certainly a Brydes whale.

These whales calve year-round, because they don’t ever go into really cold water (False Bay is at the southern end of their range). This preference for warmer water is probably related to their relatively thin layer of blubber. They eat schooling fish and plankton.

Brydes whale off the bow
Brydes whale off the bow

Their blows are low and bushy, as you can see from my photos. They don’t aggregate in big groups like other whales seen along South Africa’s coastline, and you’ll see at most two animals together at a time, if that. These whales are still caught by the Japanese as part of their “scientific” whaling program.

After a while the whale seemed to lose interest, and left me to my thoughts as I waited for the divers (who were gloriously oblivious, it turns out) to surface. While it’s an incredible experience to have an animal like this approach you so close and with such confidence, I am glad it left. Ship and boat strikes are a very real danger to whales, and a whale that is so curious about boats could get itself into trouble in the busy boating areas close to shore in False Bay.

The whale disappears into the Bay
The whale disappears into the Bay

Regulations state that unless you’re in possession of a whale watching permit (and there’s only one operator in False Bay who has one of those), you are not to approach a whale closer than 300 metres, anywhere in South African waters. If a whale approaches you, move away if you can do so safely. If there are divers in the water, your responsibility is to stay close to the divers, so turn off your engines and enjoy the moment!

Bookshelf: Shark

Shark – Brian Skerry

Brian Skerry is a National Geographic photojournalist, with whose TED Talk you may be familiar. This book is a collection of articles – about sharks – that appeared in National Geographic magazine, accompanied by one magnificent shark photograph after another. Each chapter’s text is reasonably short. Here, the photos are the primary focus.

Shark
Shark

The chapters focus on four species of shark: great white, white tip, tiger sharks, and mako sharks. Additional text is contributed by several National Geographic writers, and experiencing the familiar editorial quality and stylistic approach of the magazine is like settling down for a chat with an old friend.

The final chapter of the book, written by Skerry, is an appeal for increased understanding of sharks and their vital place in ecosystems, and increased protection for them – in the form of marine reserves, and less fishing, for example. The photographs selected for this chapter makes it clear that in Skerry’s view, science (especially tagging studies) is vital to the endeavour of better understanding sharks, and protecting them.

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

Bookshelf: Manta

Manta: Secret Life of Devil Rays – Guy Stevens & Thomas Peschak

I found this book to fill a significant gap in my manta ray knowledge, which was (to be honest) virtually nonexistent. Author Guy Stevens is founder of the Manta Trust and a Save Our Seas project leader, and has spent 15 years in the Maldives studying these enormous, charismatic elasmobranchs. The Manta Trust co-ordinates global manta research efforts, with the aim of protecting and conserving mantas and their relatives.

Manta
Manta

The photographs in this book are by Thomas Peschak, co-founder of the Manta Trust, with whose extraordinary work you should be familiar. (If not, look here, here and here.)

Everything you might want to know about mantas is here, without being glib about the fact that there is still much we do not understand about these animals. The text covers their biology, life histories, threats to their survival, an identification guide, and numerous accounts by field scientists who study mantas and devil rays. (It was hard not to be envious reading some of the day-in-the-life bits!)

This is a beautiful, substantial book. Get it here.

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.

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!