Cape Sea urchins (Parechinus angulosus) make up part of the West Coast Rock lobster (Jasus lalandii) diet. In 1994, it seemed as if the urchins disappeared from the Cape Town coastline. On closer inspection, it turned out that the number of rock lobsters had increased dramatically during that period and was directly responsible for the disappearance of the urchins. Picture: Geo Cloete
At first glance, seeing a dense concentration of a singular species in nature might paint a pretty picture, but often, on closer inspection, an unbalanced ecosystem is revealed.

Local photographer Geo Cloete’s aim to highlight the result of an unbalanced ecosystem has won him second place in the Underwater Seascapes category at the Fifth Annual World Oceans Day Photo Competition.

The contest is jointly organised by the UN Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea, World Ocean Network, World Festival of Underwater Images, IAEA Ocean Acidification International Co-ordination Centre and Dive Photo Guide.

Cloete’s image was captured at False Bay and examines the effect that overfishing and poaching have had on the local rock lobster population, and the resulting boom in numbers of Cape Sea urchins.

“Cape Sea urchins (Parechinus angulosus) make up part of the West Coast rock lobster’s (Jasus lalandii) diet,” he said.

“In 1994, it seemed as if the urchins disappeared from the Cape Town coastline. On closer inspection it turned out that the number of rock lobsters had increased dramatically during that period and was directly responsible for the disappearance of the urchins.

“Fast forward to today and the picture has changed considerably. Because of overfishing and poaching, the rock lobster population has shrunk and today the West Coast rock lobster is listed as threatened.

“This would explain the steady growth in urchin numbers. Although the urchins do provide important protection for juvenile abalone, another species listed as threatened, they also predate on kelp,” he said.

The judges were tasked with selecting the first, second and third-place images from hundreds of entries in six categories: Clean Our Ocean, Above Water Seascapes, Human Interaction: Making a Difference, Underwater Life, Underwater Seascapes, and Youth Photographer. A 2018 World Oceans Day Theme winner was selected by the organisers.

“Although I was born inland, we moved to Cape Town when I was still young.

“I recall the day crystal clear that I got to surf my first wave, as it was also the day that my deep-seated and undying love affair with the ocean started,” Cloete said.

For years, his love for the ocean was expressed through surfing and he only took up scuba diving later.

“I am a creative soul and photography captivated my interest at an early age,” he said. “Life would, however, see me travel along a different path and it was only after completing numerous scuba diving qualifications that I could no longer suppress my desire to want craft and share images of what I was privy to witness underwater.”

Many photographers considered underwater photography as the most challenging of the photographic disciplines, he said.

“I have spent thousands of hours underwater to perfect the basic skills. With underwater photography, all of the elements play a role in whether you can achieve the image you are seeking. After mastering the fundamental principles of photography and being able to visualise that which you want to create, being able to be at the right place during the right conditions is one of the biggest challenges.”

The 2018 World Oceans Day Theme winner was Rosie Leaney. Winners in the other categories included Shane Gross (Clean Our Ocean), Gabriel Barathieu (Above Water Seascapes), Grant Thomas (Human Interaction: Making a Difference), Marc Casanovas (Underwater Life), and Domenico Tripodi (Underwater Seascapes).

Organisers felt the quality of the entries in the youth category was insufficient to justify any mention.