#SAHeritage: Dive into the Algoa Bay Hope Spot
Dr Sylvia Earle, world-famous oceanographer, was once asked, where’s the best place to go diving?
"Almost anywhere," she replied, "almost 50 years ago."
It’s 2018, and the sea is under siege.
Dr Earle’s response was to begin Hope Spots, "special places that are critical to the health of the ocean" and of ecological and biodiversity significance around the world.
They are citizen driven, relying on individuals to rally around the concept of hope and engage and connect with each area. It’s hoped that this will ensure this ocean heritage is valued and cared for.
In South Africa, we have six:
- Algoa Bay
- Plettenberg Bay
- Cape Whale Coast
- False Bay
- Aliwal Shoal
Hope spot catalyst
The Algoa Bay Hope Spot – a blue marvel of biodiversity stretching from Cape Recife to Cape Padrone in the Eastern Cape – brims with marine and coastal treasures.
Five coastal types are found: rocky shore, sandy shores, offshore, soft sediments and estuaries. Dr Lorien Pichegru, from Nelson Mandela University’s Institute for Coastal and Marine Research, is the Hope Spot ‘catalyst’ in this area, helping citizens from Port Elizabeth to network and get involved in protecting the wonders it contains.
As well as being home to South Africa’s sixth-largest city, the bay’s St Croix islands house over half of the world’s remaining African penguins, and 70 percent of all Cape gannets live on Bird Island. Plus the ocean’s waters sustain whales, sharks and dolphins (it’s the bottlenose dolphin capital of the world, with pods of up to 400 seen cruising the waves).
“It’s absolutely fantastic in terms of biodiversity, as it has so many marine animals but also land animals: the Greater Addo Elephant National Park touches our coast so we have the Big Seven [including whales and great whites],” says Pichegru. “We have amazing weather and clean, Blue Flag beaches. And a very inspiring community of active citizens!”
Such riches deserve protecting, and as all Hope Spots advocate, it’s ordinary, informed people who are the solution. A multitude of small actions add up to make a big difference. The secret is inspiring locals to initiate projects and campaigns that tackle issues Algoa Bay faces, like aquaculture, oil or plastic pollution threats and overfishing.
As such, the Algoa Bay Hope Spot organises or takes part in events that bring people together to learn about the marine environment and take action.
A recent example was the inaugural Whale Festival, held in June at Pine Lodge to welcome the annual arrival of the massive mammals. “We’d like it to become the first marine carnival in South Africa,” says Pichegru.
Oddly enough, the natural environment around us is seldom described as “heritage” – but Algoa Bay’s exceptional natural heritage is as precious as shared history. Just as the 51 key cultural sites on the Donkin Heritage Trail deserve promotion and protection, so does Algoa Bay’s seas and coast, which have sustained people so long.
DO THIS IN THE ALGOA BAY HOPE SPOT
- An environmental lecture
Every month, the Algoa Bay Hope Spot organises a series of talks called Know your Bay. September’s event includes a presentation by Maria Grewar from the Re-Trade Centre, which exchanges food for recyclables in Walmer, and a talk by the Sustainable Seas Trust’s Dr Tony Ribbink, who will talk about teaching schoolkids about plastic pollution and the goal of zero plastic to the seas in PE by 2021. Bayworld, 25 September, free. See the Algoa Bay Hope Spot Facebook page for more.
- Win a penguin encounter
SANCCOB is holding a benefit auction to fund its vital penguin protection and rehab work. Canapes and there will be prizes. R300pp, 28 September, sanccob.co.za
- A beach clean-up
On International Coastal Clean-up Day on 15 September, about 2 000 locals collected a staggering 16 tons of rubbish during a Hope Spot/Sustainable Seas Trust event. The Hope Spot also organise a monthly clean-up – see Facebook for future dates. Or organise your own event and never look at an earbud in the same way again…
- A watery week
The NSRI, SANCCOB and others make presentations to children from dozens of schools, who learn about the wonders and dangers of the sea. Marine Week is celebrated at various locations and hosted by different organisations. It happens towards the end of October, dates to be confirmed. Check nmbt.co.zafor the latest details.
- Go deeper
The silent blue world of the bay contains amazing soft corals and exceptional marine diversity. Evania Snyman of Elite Scuba PE, for one, has found over 50 species of nudibranch in her years of diving. Commercial reef and wreck tours are offered by a variety of operators; visibility is generally better in winter. But even beginners can go looking for toothy ‘raggie’ sharks in alleys just five minutes off Hobie beach from November to May.
- Get wet, gently
Humewood Beach, one of the first beaches in South Africa to be granted Blue Flag status in 2000, has rock pools and safe swimming (there’s a lifeguard). PS: Also flying the Blue Flag are Hobie Beach (with Shark Rock Pier) and Kings Beach (with kids activities like paddling pools, mini-golf and a go-kart track). Pollock Beach has a natural tidal pool.
- Canter on an empty beach
Heavenly Stables offers 2.5 to three-hour rides through the Sardina Nature Reserve; a section of the route unfurls on the wide beach, part of a Marine Protected Area. Besides playing centaur, one may see antelope in the reserve and whales or dolphins in the water. R450pp, daily, heavenlystables.co.za
- Reach for the binos
Raggy Charters offers a variety of cruises into the bay – and plant a tree for each one; they say they’ve planted around 5,000 now. The focus for many is searching for puffs of whale breath above the waves. Both humpbacks and Southern Rights are currently visiting, and there is usually more to see, from whiskery fur seals to dolphins. Trips to St Croix (where Bartolomeu Dias planted a wooden cross in 1488) guarantee penguin sightings. Pelagic seabird trips in winter head for the continental shelf in search of, for example, perfectly made-up black-bowed albatross, petrels and terns. From R1,400pp, raggycharters.co.za
- Dip into the past
Bayworld’s museums and oceanarium, where in the marine hall, some early models of fishes were carved from wood and then painted, unlike today’s fibreglass casts. Bayworld cares for the largest marine mammal collection in the southern hemisphere and 20,300 ear-bones from marine bony fishes... Contact them for any strandings. On 4 October, Lindinxiwa Mahlasela presents a talk on the Spanish Flu epidemic in the city that broke out 100 years ago. bayworld.co.za
- Walk in the shadow of a giant
Meet at the Donkin Reserve lighthouse at 10am on 22 and 29 September to take a Madiba Walk: a free tour of Route 67, the public art route dedicated to the work of the first president. Works include the Fishbone and Mxolisi Dolla Sapeta’s Fish Bird.