Bookshelf: The Seabird’s Cry

The Seabird’s Cry: The Lives and Loves of Puffins, Gannets and Other Ocean Voyagers – Adam Nicolson

The Seabird's Cry
The Seabird’s Cry

This is such a wonderful book that I read it twice within the span of six months. In between my two readings, during the northern hemisphere spring, Tony and I visited Pembrokeshire in Wales. This is not the home of Mr Darcy, but rather the location of several islands on which seabirds breed. Seeing puffins, gannets and shearwaters in all their glorious breeding plumage animated Nicolson’s descriptions of their precarious lives. (I do plan to share some photos and details of that visit in future posts.)

Early in this book, Nicolson points out that seabirds are the only creatures on earth that are at home in the water, on land, and in the air. To most of us, albatross are perhaps the most familiar pelagic seabirds – Carl Safina’s Eye of the Albatross both introduced and immortalised these extraordinary ocean wanderers for a popular audience. Nicolson devotes a chapter to each of ten species of seabird, including albatross, and writes with such extraordinary lyricism that at at times it’s possible to mistake this book for something other than popular science.

This blurring of boundaries is quite intentional, and completely revelatory. Rather than sounding pretentious or foolish, as most of us would if we tried to channel Seamus Heaney while summarising scientific papers and interviewing researchers, Nicolson achieves a remarkable feat of science communication. He speaks of the wonder that comes not from ignorance, but from knowledge and understanding, and how powerful a thing it is to know the facts of these animals’ lives.

If the idea of trying to join the worlds of science and poetry (or literature, or culture) grabs you, you may enjoy this video of a conversation on the subject between Adam Nicolson and Tim Birkenhead, a professor of ornithology.

Seabirds are in trouble worldwide, more threatened than any other group of birds. They are facing – amongst others – challenges wrought by changing ecosystems as the climate warms and industrial fishing robs them of their prey. To help them, we need to act, and action comes after seeing and understanding. In this book Nicolson makes an appeal to a part of us other than the rational, fact-collecting, logical entity, and asks us to empathise with these strikingly “other” creatures. I urge you to read this book.

You can read rapturous reviews of this book on The Guardian’s website, on Literary Hub, and at the Financial Times.

Get a copy here (South Africa), or here. It is available for Kindle, but you’ll have to search for that one yourself!

Bookshelf: Beachcombing in South Africa

Beachcombing in South Africa – Rudy van der Elst

Beachcombing in South Africa
Beachcombing in South Africa

Why so quiet? What have we been doing? Working, mostly. Trying to stay alive. And a bit of reading, and some beachcombing. Enter this is marvellous little book from fish fundi Rudy van der Elst (A Field Guide to the Common Sea Fishes of South Africa).

Chapter by chapter, van der Elst describes the types of debris that one might find on a beach. After a brief orientation chapter covering the ocean current regime around South Africa, relevant regulations, safety, beach ecology, tides, pollution and more, we launch into a tour of washed-up treasures.

Predictably, many of the items to be found are organic in nature – plants, invertebrates of various types, eggs and egg cases, fishes, birds, and shells. There are also items such as oceanographic devices, tags from marine animals, fishing equipment, cyalumes, buoys – some of these (such as tags) should be returned to their owners, and others should be removed from the vicinity of the ocean (such as discarded fishing nets and lines).

The chapter on marine animals (resting, nesting and stranded) is exceptionally useful and it is almost for this alone that I’d like to put a copy of this book in every home in every coastal town in the country. Seals, whales, turtles and seabirds can end up on the beach, sometimes in difficulty and at other times not. It can be hard to tell, and well-meaning members of the public can unwittingly cause great harm while trying to assist. A list of useful contacts in this regard appears at the end of the book, such as the Two Oceans Aquarium and the SPCA (region-specific).

The final two chapters cover miscellaneous “treasures” such as fossilised sharks teeth, sea glass, logs, and actual treasure, as well as beachcombing through the ages in South Africa. Here we learn about tidal fish traps, coastal caves, and other historical coastal dwellers who made their living from the sea.

We’ve found some awesome things on the beach, from shipwrecks to goose barnacles to rare crabs. Beachcombing is an accessible hobby that requires nothing but time, observation skills, curiosity, and a beach to stroll on.

This is a beautifully illustrated, comprehensive little volume that deserves to come with you on your beach holiday. It’ll prompt more careful examination of the flotsam and jetsam on your local beach, and, probably, more early morning low-tide visits to find the best pickings!

Wild Card magazine featured this book when it was published. Get it online here if you’re in South Africa, or here for your Kindle.

Newsletter: Huffin’ and puffin

Hi divers

Weekend dive plans

Saturday: Boat dives from False Bay Yacht Club

Puffins and a shearwater at Skomer Island in Wales
Puffins and a shearwater at Skomer Island in Wales

We had a good time meeting some North Atlantic wildlife last week, but it’s great to be back in False Bay. This week we’ve had pretty good dives, with 3-5 metre visibility at Photographer’s Reef yesterday, and 5-8 metre visibility at Ark Rock and SAS Pietermaritzburg today, with excellent surface conditions. I’m planning to launch in False Bay on Saturday; let me know if you want to be on board.

regards

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

Diving is addictive!

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Newsletter: The best coast

Hi divers

Weekend dive plans

No diving for us

Rustbucket
Rustbucket

We’re heading up the West Coast for a long weekend for repairs and a re-spray (OK, some R&R), so we won’t be diving in Cape Town in the next couple of days. Saturday looks like the better day if you’re going to hit the water. Be safe!

regards

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

Diving is addictive!

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Cape Columbine lighthouse

The lighthouse at Columbine Nature Reserve
The lighthouse at Columbine Nature Reserve

The Cape Columbine Nature Reserve is just outside the small fishing town of Paternoster on the West Coast. It’s the reserve that contains Tietiesbaai campsite, and is a popular camping location during crayfishing season. Tony and I camped there several years ago, and enjoyed the space and the ability to set up anywhere we wanted to.

Cape Columbine lighthouse
Cape Columbine lighthouse

Inside the reserve is the Cape Columbine lighthouse, which has an art deco feel to it. Built on top of a rocky outcrop called Castle Rock, it was commissioned in 1936. The lighthouse is a 15 metre high masonry tower topped by a 5,040,000 candela light with a range of 30 nautical miles. It covers a particularly treacherous coast, prone to fog and gales, and with many hidden reefs.

Cape Columbine lighthouse
Cape Columbine lighthouse

Cape Columbine lighthouse is manned, and can be visited by the public on weekdays between 10.00 and 15.00.Cape Columbine was the last manned lighthouse to be constructed in South Africa. We haven’t passed by on a weekday yet, so I haven’t been inside.

As of late 2018, the Cape Columbine lighthouse needs a coat of paint!
As of late 2018, the Cape Columbine lighthouse needs a coat of paint!

When we camped at Columbine Nature Reserve in 2009, the lighthouse was in much better shape. I took the picture below on that trip. If you drive around the lighthouse, you may see a small green tower inside a fenced off area that houses a fog detector, and a fog signal that sounds when fog is detected. This apparatus used to be housed at the lighthouse, but in 1995 the opportunity was taken to move both sets of devices (detector and signaller) closer to the sea.

Cape Columbine lighthouse
Cape Columbine lighthouse

Learn more about South Africa’s lighthouses from Lighthouses of South Africa.

Stompneuspunt beacon

View of Stompneuspunt beacon from inside Shelly Point
View of Stompneuspunt beacon from inside Shelly Point

During the course of a West Coast road trip late last year, we stopped at the unmanned Stompneuspunt beacon. This striking, squat structure sits at the southern end of St Helena Bay. To get there, we had to drive through the eerie, deserted, badly laid out Shelley Point golf estate development (tell the guard at the gate that you want to visit the lighthouse). Persistence through the maze of narrow roads turning in upon each other is well rewarded.

Stompneuspunt beacon
Stompneuspunt beacon

The green-painted lantern house atop the structure looks like a minaret, and the whole building looks like an exotic transplant from the Middle East. The beacon is situated on a beach of coarse sand covered with thousands of empty mussel shells and inhabited by flocks of cormorants. The mussel shells wash up after winter storms and red tides, and because of predation by rock lobsters and other shellfish.

Stompneuspunt beacon
Stompneuspunt beacon

The beacon was commissioned in 1934, at which time it was a pyramid-shaped wooden structure. The present building was completed in 2001. The tower is 8 metres high, and the focal plane of the light is 12 metres above sea level. The intensity of the light is a modest 1,403 candelas, but this beacon doesn’t have to compete with much in the way of onshore light pollution. It’s visible from 10 nautical miles away.

Stompneuspunt beacon
Stompneuspunt beacon

Hit up Lighthouses of South Africa for more information on this charming light.

Newsletter: All systems go!

Hi divers

Weekend dive plans

Sunday: Shore dives at Long Beach

Christmas at Kungsträdgården in Stockholm
Christmas at Kungsträdgården in Stockholm

We’re back from the far north, and almost forgot that it’s newsletter day.

But we’re getting back into the swing of things immediately, with a launch for some film work in Hout Bay today, students in the pool on Saturday, and shore dives with students at Long Beach on Sunday.

If you’d like to tag along for a shore dive or two on Sunday, let me know!

regards

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

Diving is addictive!

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Happy new year!

Detail of the Piazza Mosaic a the Donkin Reserve Detail of the Piazza Mosaic at the Donkin Reserve

Happy new year to all of you! May 2019 be less “interesting” than 2018 was. And in case it isn’t, let’s all continue to do what we can to make our corner of the world happier, safer, cleaner, and more sustainable.

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: Up, up and away

Hi divers

This will be the last newsletter from us until Thursday 10 January. We’re off north to look for reindeer, the aurora borealis, snow, and maybe some orca.

Baboon footprints on Olifantsbos beach
Baboon footprints on Olifantsbos beach

The conditions in False Bay are remarkably good for this time of year, and the wind in the forecast is more modest than many a December we’ve experienced, so you should try to get some diving in if you can.

Stay safe, have a great festive season, and see you in 2019.

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!