A shot of Landers Reef, near Park Rynie on KZN’s south coast is one of the province’s many dive dive attractions. Picture: Dennis King
A shot of Landers Reef, near Park Rynie on KZN’s south coast is one of the province’s many dive dive attractions. Picture: Dennis King

KZN ’s underwater attractions not too shabby either

By Mervyn Naidoo Time of article published May 2, 2021

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THE West Coast of South Africa grabbed the headlines this week, because the Academy Award winning documentary My Octopus Teacher was shot there.

As the “Oscar” was handed to the documentary’s directors, Pippa Ehrlich and James Reed, the loudest hurrah, ostensibly, would have come from marine conservationists.

Not only did the film capture one man’s (Craig Foster) harmonious interaction with nature (an octopus in the ocean), it also brought to life the dazzling beauty of life underwater.

Experts are unanimous the movie’s traction will do wonders for marine conservation.

Foster had no qualms with plunging into the icy cold waters covering the kelp forest of False Bay for his outings with an octopus, the documentary’s setting, for many months.

The success of the documentary got local experts also marvelling over the undisputed beauty of KZN’s underwater world. Some remarked movie magic could also be made on the east coast, considering it’s dive friendly conditions.

“It’s the perfect place to make a movie,” said Doctor Judy Mann, a conservation strategist with the South African Association for Marine Biological Research.

Dr Mann said what set KZN’s coastline apart was its warm waters and richness in biodiversity, and it has octopuses too.

“They filmed in really cold water. You have to be tough to dive in the Cape. Whereas we have lovely warm water in KZN, making it easier for diving and snorkelling.

“While we have nutrient poor water, it is incredibly rich in biodiversity. The range of different species that one could see in terms of corals, marine animals and fish is much more diverse than the west coast.”

Mann said if someone were to explore our rocky shores there was a good chance they could sight an octopus, without diving.

She said singled out three KZN dive hotspots.

The Aliwal Shoal, off the uMkomaas coastline, is known for beautiful reefs, old sand dunes and ragged tooth sharks breeding there.

Sodwana Bay, on KZN’s north coast, near St Lucia has some of the world’s most beautiful coral reefs and fish.

Mann rated diving or snorkelling when sardines occur along the south coast was another “incredible experience”.

She was grateful that Isimangaliso (north coast), Aliwal Shoal, Protea Banks (Shelly Beach, south coast) and Tugela Banks were marine protected areas (MPA) by law.

MPAs are sections of coastline, protected for the benefit of the environment and people.

“At least my grandchildren can see and explore these beautiful places some day,” Mann enthused.

But she is also mindful that “our oceans are in great danger”.

“Oceans are the engine room of our planet’s climate. The distribution of rain and all sorts of things rely on it.”

In west coast areas, on the same latitude as Durban, there is no agriculture like sugar cane because of the cold climate. But on the east coast, we have warm waters. So we are able to grow crops and have incredible biodiversity.

Instead, on the west coast they have incredible productivity in sardines and anchovies.

“That’s an example of how oceans drive our climate and weather patterns. If they are in trouble, we are in trouble.”

Mann said we have developed some bad habits in handling our oceans.

“We have been extracting food like we can do it forever, thinking there were plenty of fish in the sea. We have been mining fish at a rate that is unsustainable and their populations’ have been hammered.

“We thought the solution to pollution was dilution. So we pump everything in the ocean, like it was a dump.

Also, fertilizers and pesticides were also making its way into our oceans.”

She said climate change was definitely happening in the ocean as changing temperatures made it more acidic, and oil and gas extraction was another challenge.

The way forward, Mann suggested, was for people to know the importance of oceans to sustain life on earth.

“That is where My Octopus Teacher helps to build society’s desire to care for the ocean.

“We need the appropriate rules and regulations, and we need the political will to implement them.

“Then we need a knowledgeable public to hold government accountable for their actions.”

Mann said the documentary was an introduction to the wonders of the marine environment for many.

“It is like opening the door for them. We now need them to step tin and see what is actually happening.”

Professor Andy Green, a geological scientist based at the University of KZN’s marine geology department, believes wild life documentaries takes people closer to the natural world. “It stirs a relationship and they want oceans to remain and they move towards preserving the status quo.

“In many places around the world, many people don’t have a tangible link to the ocean because of their location. They don’t realise the effects of their actions.”

Green said from a geological perspective, it was “frightening” that there was not a part of the ocean without plastic in it.

“Plastic has been found in the deepest depth of ocean trenches.”

“Bottom trawling, which is trawling for shrimp etc on the sea bed, was also problematic.”

He said trawling mobilised huge amounts of sediment on the seabed and this disturbed the ocean’s natural processes in handling sediment.

“We are overriding natural processes,” warned Green.


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