Christmas gift guide 2018

Chaps, Festivus (for those of you who find tinsel distracting) is around the corner. This year, as a principle, the gifts that I’m giving to the people I care about are skewed towards experiences, and when they are things, I’m trying to make them beautiful things that will enable my chums to live more sustainable lives.

Before I get going, however, can I point you to this excellent, far more comprehensive, far more inspired gifting guide over at twyg? Their first suggestion is “don’t gift at all”, and this is probably something well worth considering, if it won’t cause a domestic diplomatic incident.

Tinsel from the sea (Champia compressa)
Tinsel from the sea (Champia compressa)

Here’s a quick list of ideas in case you’re struggling.

An experience

A dive course or boat dive with Tony, a family photo shoot, a day out at Cape Point or up Table Mountain in the cable car, a digital magazine or streaming television subscription – use your imagination!

Something water wise

It’s likely that most of us will never, in good conscience, be able to resume watering our gardens the way we used to. For this reason, water wise plants are high on my list of excellent gifts for keen gardeners. For ideas of what plants to choose, your local nursery will help, or you and the avid coastal gardener in your life can consult this excellent book.

Something to minimise waste

  • A set of stainless steel or glass straws (Sustainable.co.za is one stockist), glass or copper straws (check out EbonyMoon for these), or a pack of paper or other biodegradeable straws to keep at home and/or carry around like a dork for use at restaurants.
  • A reusable coffee cup – Seattle Coffee Company sells beautiful Keep Cups, as do Vida e Caffe and many supermarkets. ecoffee cup sells beautiful bamboo cups, with a range of designs to choose from.
  • A reusable shopping bag – most supermarkets stock bags of some description, as does Faithful to Nature. 3friends has beautiful Shweshwe printed bags that are very special. We should all have a reusable shopping bag in our handbags, as well as several in the car.
  • A bokashi bin, which you can find at Builders Warehouse or at many nurseries. Don’t be grossed out – we have significantly improved the soil quality in our garden, and don’t put out any food waste or scraps with our garbage any more, thanks to diligent use of this nifty indoor composter!

Something to lift up someone else

Some deserving, marine-related recipients of a donation on your friend’s behalf are:

There are many more excellent non profits than just these three, and so much need, but do your research carefully. My rule of thumb is, if the founder’s face is plastered everywhere and it looks more like a personality cult than an NPO, it’s not a cause that I want to give my bucks to.

A donation of time is a way to do something great, and spend time with someone you care about. Promising to join a friend for a beach cleanup followed by a coffee (in your reusable cup, your treat) gives a gift to the planet, and the gift of time to someone you value. To find a local clean up, follow the Beach Co-Op (facebook) and Cape Town Beach Clean Up (facebook). The Two Oceans Aquarium also arranges periodic beach cleans. (Non-Capetonians, facebook and google search are your friend.)

Looking back

Previous years’ gift guides, which contain some good ideas – if I say so myself:

  • 2017 – for info on Wild Cards or My Green Cards, small specific gifts for divers and water people
  • 2015
  • 2014
  • 2013 – for info on gift ideas for readers
  • 2012
  • 2011
  • 2010

Be safe, be kind, be frugal, be wise! Thanks for reading.

Bookshelf: Scuba Professional

Scuba Professional: Insights into Sport Diver Training and Operations – Simon Pridmore

Have you ever wanted to run away and become a scuba instructor? Have you been intoxicated by promises of a lifestyle of tousled, barefoot, beach-based freedom from the rat race? Have you passed your instructor training course and are trying to decide what to do next? Or are you already a dive professional, perhaps looking to solidify your dive business, diversify your income streams, or branch out in the dive industry?

Scuba Professional
Scuba Professional

This is the final, and possibly most important, book in Simon Pridmore’s scuba trilogy (the other two are Scuba Fundamental and Scuba Confidential). Like the other two, it has much to offer – this time, to dive professionals and wannabe dive professionals.

Some of the topics Pridmore discusses are hard truths, such as the fact that becoming a scuba instructor is less about diving than about teaching. A person who doesn’t feel a vocation to teach should probably look for employment elsewhere in the dive industry rather than trying to attain instructor status. He devotes a whole section to teaching issues, many of which will be extremely useful to new instructors looking to move quickly up the learning curve.

An often overlooked feature of the dive industry is that there are many people who make a living from diving, but not by teaching students. Pridmore includes an incredibly helpful chapter in which he interviews several such dive professionals about their jobs, including a gear distributor, a photojournalist, a liveaboard cruise director, and a dive travel specialist. All of these professions include many of the positive aspects of the dive industry, and should provide inspiration for anyone who is keen on the underwater world but doesn’t necessarily feel the urge to teach.

For owners of dive businesses such as dive shops, charters or small training operations, Pridmore has much advice gleaned from running his own dive centre on the island of Guam. Many of his recommendations seem like common sense to anyone who has paid attention to the cycle of boom and bust that seems to characterise the dive industry in some locations, but they are hard-won insights that likely are only obvious after the fact. Unsurprisingly (perhaps?) several relate to safety considerations and gear maintenance. Many of the recommendations Pridmore provides are illustrates with anecdotes describing how he arrived at his viewpoint.

A whole section is devoted to developing a culture of safety in diving, something that featured in Scuba Confidential as well. It can be difficult to discuss dive safety and it seems to me that the industry doesn’t even try. None of the professional member forums I’ve attended, presented by training agency employees with access to incident reports, statistics and trends, has ever addressed dive safety directly. It would be tremendously helpful for instructors and divemasters to know that, for example (I’m making what follows up to make a point) most potential dive accidents happen on dive two of the Open Water course, during mask remove and replace, or during regulator recovery. Because instructors are obliged to report such incidents, training agencies know all about them.

Finally, the future of the dive industry comes under the spotlight, with a discussion of rebreathers (are they the future?) and the likely origin of the next wave of scuba diving students and tourists (Pridmore reckons, China). I was surprisingly moved (for a book about being a dive professional) by the chapter about dive tourism businesses, which concludes with the insistence that the only way a dive business in a remote, exotic location will flourish, is by involving the local community, training them to work in all levels of the business, and spreading a message of conservation that includes the people who live in the paradise in question. This kind of cultural sensitivity has not been the norm in many places, but where it is, the results are special.

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

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: Dust off

Hi divers

Weekend dive plans

Saturday & Sunday: Deciding the day before whether conditions will permit a dive or two!

There has been a south south westerly swell over the last two days. False Bay does not like the southerly component, and prefers a westerly swell. The weather sites also can’t agree on the wind direction, and resolving the variation in the forecasts is fairly crucial to determining whether False Bay will be diveable.

This doesn’t mean its all doom and gloom. It means we will decide by 4.00 pm on Friday afternoon if we are launching on Saturday, and the same applies for Sunday. If you’d like to be on said launches, let me know and I’ll keep you informed.

Seahorse at Shark Alley
Seahorse at Shark Alley

This week seems like a good time to dust off our protocol for diving with sevengill cowsharks. Let me just say that we didn’t have to use any imagination to come up with some of the things in the code.

For ocean nerds

On Wednesday 30 August, Nick Sloane, the South African salvage master who orchestrated the parbuckling of the Costa Concordia cruise ship wreck, is speaking at the Iziko South African Museum at 6 pm. He is a world-class salvor and it’s a fairly rare opportunity to hear him speak. Tickets are R30 if you’re not a friend of the museum (in the formal sense).

regards

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

Diving is addictive!

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A Christmas dive with cowsharks

One of Cape Town’s best known dive sites is called Shark Alley, located close to shore near Pyramid Rock in False Bay. Here, broadnose sevengill cowsharks may be seen fairly reliably. There are times when they aren’t around (perhaps owing to a recent orca predation, or some other mysterious cause).

Jerrel filmed this beautiful footage on a dive at Shark Alley in December 2014, on a calm day with pretty good visibility. Look out for our boat, Seahorse, and of course the sharks. Thanks to Jerrel for the video!

If you’re curious as to how one conducts a dive with three metre long apex predators, check our our protocol for scuba diving with cowsharks. An ethical dive operator will also inform you of the likelihood of seeing the cowsharks, and whether they have been seen recently (i.e. in the last few days) by divers, before accepting money to take you diving at the site.

Newsletter: The right thing

Hi divers

Weekend dive plans

Saturday: Boat dives from Hout Bay / shore dives at Long Beach

It would seem from the forecast that it is a open and shut case of where to go and what to do this weekend. To be honest I am not too sure of the right thing to do! Both the Atlantic and False Bay are a colour that does not exactly inspire one to throw on a wetsuit.

Peace and quiet in Hout Bay
Peace and quiet in Hout Bay

The wind has blown more easterly and north easterly today than was expected, so it will not have done much for the visibility on either side. Sunday is out of the question as the forecast is for humping south easter, so that leaves Saturday.

I am launching from Hout Bay tomorrow afternoon and will have a better idea of whether it is clean enough for Saturday. The other option is shore diving at Long Beach. I reckon that there is about a strong chance that the water won’t be clean enough for any diving at all, though.

Privileges and responsibilities

We are very privileged to be able to dive with some beautiful and charismatic marine life around the Cape Peninsula, but with that privilege comes responsibility. Here are reminders of our best practices for diving with seals and with the sevengill cowsharks.

Happy snaps

There are some super photos on facebook, taken by local photographer Mark Harley, from when Dungeons was pumping last week – check them out 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!

Documentary (BBC): Arctic with Bruce Parry

1422966653_ARCTICfMuch of my recent Arctic obsession has been historical, with a related interest in the hostile environment that has stymied (and killed) so many explorers over the centuries. Bruce Parry is a British documentarian (didn’t know that was a thing, but it seems fun) who seems to be dearly loved and some kind of national institution to the Brits. After watching this five-episode BBC series on the Arctic and its people, we could understand his charm.

Parry visits people living in Siberia, Greenland, northern Canada, Alaska, and the far north of Norway. He throws himself into their activities – whether rounding up reindeer, hunting for seals on the ice, fishing in Alaska (I had some serious lifestyle envy at this point), or racing up mountains. He is sensitive and respectful, and seems to forge genuine bonds with the families he visits.

The common thread that marks the lives of many of the tribes and peoples’ that Parry visits is that climate change, and the encroaching changes wrought by the pace of modern life, are challenging their traditions and lifestyles. Having lived sustainably off the land for generations, these people’s movements, traditions and futures are now circumscribed by all sorts of interventions from modern society. Not least of these is a lack of understanding of and respect for how they live.

Tony and I found much to discuss – for example, after the episode covering a traditional whale hunt in Alaska. Is there a difference between Japanese industrial whaling and an Inuit community’s subsistence hunting  for a couple of whales a year, done with reverence, prayers, and gratitude for the whale, whose bones will be scraped clean by polar bears after the entire carcass has been distributed in the village? Is it possible to kill an animal as large as a whale, humanely? Is all whaling wrong? These are difficult questions but it is worth grappling with them. As my friend Tami has exhorted me in the words of Rilke (in a different context, admittedly), “live the questions!

The series was filmed over the course of a summer, during which time much of the usual ice that marks the Arctic landscape was absent. The look of the landscape initially puzzled (and disappointed) me – without the icy covering, everything looks quite barren and gravelly!

You can get the dvd here (South Africa), otherwise here or here.

Article: Smithsonian on whether shark repellents really work

The Freedom7 SharkShield unit outside its neoprene case
The Freedom7 SharkShield unit outside its neoprene case

Here’s a quick read on shark repellents from Smithsonian.com. While it only takes a few paragraphs to explain the different attempts humans have made to avoid encountering sharks while using the ocean, the task of actually developing technology to do this is far more complex. Testing shark repellents is also ethically difficult – in the same way that it’s hard to test medications for use during pregnancy, as one could be causing harm to human subjects.

(It’s worth reading a bit about the Shark Shield device pictured above for more on testing. Testing the efficacy of stripy wetsuits, on the other hand, is almost impossible, and for this reason they can be almost impossibly lucrative – imagine a product where you don’t have to prove whether it works, and when it fails you can (a) throw up your hands and make an excuse along the lines of “it was a freak event”/”the guy must have been wearing it incorrectly” or (b) close the company and disappear.)

The “electronic fence” mentioned at the end of the article is the shark repellent cable that the KwaZulu Natal Sharks Board tested at Glencairn last summer. You can read more about that (also from Smithsonian.com) here.

To bring our attention back to the original topic: here is the article on shark repellents at Smithsonian.com, with ample links for you to pursue interesting avenues of exploration!

Southern African Shark & Ray Symposium 2015 – workshops

View from the top of Red Hill, over Simon's Town
View from the top of Red Hill, over Simon’s Town

The final day of the 3rd Southern African Shark and Ray Symposium comprised three workshops.

The first, hosted by the staff of the Two Oceans Aquarium, was about safe and ethical handling protocols for sharks and rays. Scientists apply tags, take samples and measure animals in order to learn about them, and some contact is inevitable. It is vital to do all the work as quickly as possible, and with as little stress to the animal as possible. I didn’t attend this workshop, but comments from participants indicated that it was extremely useful and practical, with a hands-on section conducted outdoors.

The second workshop, hosted by the team from the Save Our Seas Shark Education Centre in Kalk Bay, was about science communication, which is dear to my heart. I tweeted quite a lot of detail from this workshop (keep reading…), and it was fantastically useful.

The final workshop was hosted by the Save Our Seas Foundation and its CEO Michael Scholl (also known as “the drone guy”!), and dealt with automated identification of sharks from the shape of their dorsal fins – FinPrinting! I didn’t attend this workshop either, and would be interested to hear more about it.

As for the first and second day of the symposium, I created a storify timeline that compiles tweets and images from the day. Storify is no more, so you can view it here (large pdf).