Beneath the surge and sway of the ocean’s surface around the Cape Peninsula lies a forest.
Like terrestrial forests, these ‘trees’ also grow upwards towards the sun. They cluster in clumps like trees, with trunks and foliage.
But as a few adventure-seeking Capetonians have discovered, there is much more to the ‘golden kelp forest’ than feeble comparisons.
When surfing, many know the kelp only as a hindrance when trying to paddle for a wave.
They are blissfully unaware of what lies beneath: a vast, vibrant and vibrating liquid wonderland, a sun-shafted underworld populated by a teeming myriad of animals.
As filmmaker Craig Foster, who this week launched the book Sea Change with co-author Ross Frylinck, says: “You’ve got this explosion of life happening the whole time.”
Of the wondrous species you will spot in the kelp forests – from colourful gastropods to cuttlefish and squid to the bizarre Blue Dragon sea slug – Foster says: “They are so incredible and so entertaining they make our most extraordinary science fiction seem dull in comparison!”
When you see the bizarre and beautiful beings Foster and Frylinck have tracked, monitored and well, just “hung out” with, you would agree.
Take the Gasflame Nudibranch. This brightly-hued gastropod mollusc appears to be sprouting flames from a gas burner.
The speckled and camouflaged puffadder shyshark (or striped pyjama shark) is only 60cm long, and curls up when threatened. If you saw a Blue Dragon sea slug, you’d scratch your head in wonder.
The book is the culmination of years of diving along these nutrient-rich fringes of our shores, from Oudekraal to Simonstown, and into the Cape Point reserve.
They have dived so much with many of these creatures they have become ‘friends’, you could say. Over time, the wild animals lost their fear.
But what is apparent in this deep and personal story of moving away from the pain and stress of life on land, illustrated with large-format photographs of ocean fauna and flora, is that the experience has been life-changing.
As Foster says: “It is a powerful, in your face, extraordinary experience. And it jolts you back to being real, and feeling alive, and feeling authentic.”
At the launch hosted by the Clifton Lifesavers, Frylinck tells the story of a stingray that lovingly wrapped itself right around Foster, who disappeared in the embrace.
He is somewhat of an animal whisperer.
The duo are part of a broader group of scientists and storytellers who are going back to a time when humans were part of nature, and not removed from it by dint of a little digital screen.
Ironically, I have noticed a growing number of Instagram accounts filled with kelp forest imagery.
I believe the cool word for someone with large Instragram followings nowadays is ‘influencer’.
However, if you can’t beat it, use it to show others how wondrous the golden forest is. That’s smart conservation strategy.
But they’re also making biological discoveries from animal behaviours and even new species that has attracted to the interests of the big conservation players, from scientists to BBC Blue Planet producers.
They don’t use Scuba gear. They don’t wear wetsuits. The skin-only, hold-your-breath method grows the authenticity of the experience.
Basically, their bodies have adapted and have been transformed by the powerful physical and neurological effects of frequent exposure to natural ocean chemicals and the coldness itself.
Even Derek Hynd, the famous Aussie finless surfing maestro, is fascinated with the Sea Change journey.
I chatted to him earlier this year in Jeffreys Bay and all he could talk about was the spiritual and physical resonance of the kelp forest: an ancient window into the human connection with nature.
The point they make is that all around us in Cape Town, sometimes a mere spit away, lies a wild place that offers adventures almost beyond our wildest dreams, and it’s free.
So grab a snorkel, masks and fins and dive in. The water’s cold!
The stiff south-easter has made the water freezing. The surf looks flat today in lighter SE breezes.
Muizenberg has a lot of windswell, but looks messy. Tomorrow, a fresh northerly blows, and a swell arrives 3-4’ in the afternoon. Muizenberg looks fun, dwindling 2-3’ in clean offshore.