October 28, 2016

Book Review || The Moon by Whale Light by Diane Ackerman

Celebrated naturalist Diane Ackerman’s intriguing and enlightening collection of essays ‘The Moon by Whale Light and other adventures among bats, penguins, crocodilians, and whales’ is one of those books that reaffirms the majesty and beauty of nature and its creatures, and how humans, who have declared ourselves the most intelligent and the most deserving of God’s blessings, have lost their way by not remaining connected to the natural world.

Ackerman’s passion for her subject is revealed in beautiful, detailed and eloquent descriptions of, literally, everything: from the many sunrises and sunsets she has been honoured to witness and the many people she has met to the utter magnanimity of nature and the creatures she has been sent to study.

The four essays that form part of this collection focus on very different creatures, and yet they are all connected through their very real need for society, nourishment, love, and survival - needs humans happen to share with them.

In Praise of Bats is my first favourite of the collection since it focuses very much on the bats themselves, such as their positive characteristics and interesting facts about them, the mythology that has controlled how we see them, and how they positively contribute to their environments and ours.

The Eyelids of the Morning, while taking as its focal point the lives and times of crocodilians, is a more poetic look at the animals in question, but still quite eye-opening if you ever thought that these animals were nothing but hulking, hungering beasts.

The Moon by Whale Light is my second favourite of the collection. It is a treaty about cetaceans and how little we truly know about the ocean and its depths.
We ache to know of other forms of equally intelligent life in the universe, and yet here are creatures as unknown as extraterrestrials right among us, moving in a slow-motion ballet under the ocean. [112]
In this essay, Ackerman delves into such mysteries as humpback whale singing but it is obviously geared at showing us how much we have yet to learn about the animals we share this earth with and how little we are doing to respect them. She also spends more time speaking about the people who have devoted their lives to studying these animals.

Diane Ackerman
White Lanterns I enjoyed the least, not because it was uninteresting but because the focus seemed to shift from describing the journey to and terrain of Antarctica to the penguins rather than following a single thought - it was as though there was so much to see and learn that Ackerman tried to cram the essay with everything she could.

All four essays, however, are connected by the common thread of the danger in which these animals are from the creature at the top of the so-called food chain: us. Through our relentless boring into and robbing of the earth, we have not only changed the environments these animals live in but in some cases have irreparably damaged their habitats and populations. And we don’t stop there: we slaughter them for food, leather, trophies, or personal gain. Just this week, results of a study were published that found that nearly three-fifths of vertebrate animals had been wiped out by us since 1970. Global wildlife stocks could drop to just two-thirds in the next four years. Four years!? And what will we do when we are all alone on this planet?

It seems this is the question Ackerman poses to her readers in all her essays, and the solution can only be to respect them all and the natural environment that we share. Is it crazy for us to believe we can stop it all now? Is it too late?

{Image credit: Larry D. Moore [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons}
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October 19, 2016

The Dive Sites of South Africa || My Bucket List

I have lived in South Africa all my life and still have not see an iota of what beauty the country has to offer me. I wish that I could simply caravan across the country, living on the land, bartering, taking photos. Sweet dreams these, but until then, all I have are my to-do lists! After reading Anton Koornhof's detailed 'The Dive Sites of South Africa', underwater sites have also found a way onto my bucket list of life.

Here are the top 11 diving sites I hope to visit when one day I have that skill:


1. Elands Bay

While I wouldn't go diving in Elands Bay for the common reason - crayfishing - I would love to see some kelp forests and watch the crayfish in their natural environment. Perhaps I should also learn how to surf and while I'm at it I'll visit the cave to see some ancient art, cut open my feet on Mussel Point, and visit Verloren Vlei.


2. Justin’s Caves and Coral Gardens Oudekraal

The appeal of Justin's Caves is not only its easy access; being a shore dive, it is filled with large boulders that are stacked to create overhangs, tunnels, and cave-like features. Coral Gardens is one of the top 10 dive sites in South Africa. It has stunning biodiversity and interesting topography.


3. Vulcan Rock

Vulcan Rock is close to Hout Bay and is the exposed pinnacle of a large granite reef. Below the waves, the rock is peppered with holes and caverns, and there is one cave, called 'balloon cave', with a domed ceiling - something I'd particularly like to see. There is also a long tunnel, and the site is close to Di's Cracks, another popular site. There are plenty of sponges and even some nudibranches.


4. Smitswinkel Bay

There are five diveable wrecks that were scuttled by the military in Smitswinkel Bay in order to create an artificial reef. This dive may be too challenging for me (since I'm so unfit :P ) but getting fit may be worth it simply to see the monstrosities rise up from the sea bed, and the wrecks are covered with starfish and nudibranch, as well as some anemones.

5. Partridge Point

Partridge Point's dive site features underwater caverns and swimthroughs and is filled with diverse invertebrates. I may be lucky to see some pipefish and it is practically inevitable that I'll encounter members of the seal colony that lives on Seal Rock close by.


6. The ‘A’ Frame

The 'A-Frame' is on my list because of the kelp forest and boulders, where there are also overhangs and swimthroughs. Perhaps I'll be lucky enough to see an octopus! Plus, the site is quite pretty out of the water, too!

7. Santos Reef

Santos Reef is on my list because of the 'garden of featherworms' (I know them as tube worms) as well as the possibility of seeing octopus and sea fans. Maybe I'll find a sand dollar.


8. Tapas Jetty

A graveyard of scrap metal I will mostly ignore, the Tapas Jetty is popular for the opportunity to see the Knysna seahorse. I've only seen them in aquariums and would love to see them in their natural environment - well, as natural as it can get for a shore dive.


9. Bruce se Bank

I would like to see the most beautiful reef in the country. It is known for the prolific invertebrate life, including cauliflower corals and white starburst corals. Alas, I cannot find a picture of this reef :'(.

10. Jacob’s Poort 

This one is on my list because I would love to see the dolphins, whales, sunfish and rays the area is known for.

11. Sodwana Bay

Sodwana Bay is arguably one of South Africa's most popular diving sites. Near the St Lucia estuary and Lake Sibhayi, this one's on my list for the whale sharks.

{Image credits:
Lead: By Neville Wootton from Liskeard, UK - 020 - Chasing Manta's, CC BY 2.0, Link
Elands Bay: By Ralph Malan (01 Elands Bay_1) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Justin's Caves: User: (WT-shared) Pbsouthwood at wts wikivoyage [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Vulcan Rock: By User: (WT-shared) Pbsouthwood at wts wikivoyage, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22710887
Smitswinkel Bay: By Jean Tresfon (http://www.flickr.com/photos/jtresfon/sets/) [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
A-Frame: By User: (WT-shared) Pbsouthwood at wts wikivoyage, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22709177
Santos Reef: By Seascapeza (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons

Tapas Jetty: Flickr/flowcomm [CC BY-SA 2.0
Bruce se Bank: By Philippe Bourjon - Don de l'auteur à Wikimedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=31179214}
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October 13, 2016

Book Takeaways || Shipwrecks of The Dive Sites of South Africa

Anton Koornhof's 'The Dive Sites of South Africa' has me wanting to take a scuba diving course and explore South Africa's coast. While outdated, having been published back in 1992, its highly-detailed descriptions of dive sites are filled with facts and tips. Some of the most attractive listings, for me, are those delving into the background of shipwrecks around the coastline.

Koornhof shares literally dozens of shipwrecks that can be accessible by divers, from the novice to the experienced. Even the SA History site lists only 26 shipwrecks, obviously including only those of historical import. Koornhof lists no fewer than 64 shipwrecks along the coast, with backgrounds ranging from the tragic to the mysterious. Most of the wrecks are the result of poor visibility or suddenly deteriorating weather conditions - the reason the southern-most point of Africa is known as the Cape of Storms.

So what is it that interests us so much when it comes to shipwrecks? It certainly isn't (only) the promise of some lost treasure, is it? I believe it is much more than that. Not only is it an opportunity to look into the past, or to see something that is not everyday and something that not many people have the chance to see, but it sparks something inside us about the mystery and transience of life: the wreck used to belong to someone; someone took the time to design it and build it and pay to make it; it used to be filled with living people, each with their own stories; it (usually) made more than one journey and imagine what it saw; and we love to think, 'If only this ship could tell us its story'. We are all storytellers by nature, and it is how our minds run away that intrigues us.

Below, I have linked to information on most of the wrecks if you're interested in learning about their backgrounds:

- HMS Sybille (1901) | This ship was blown off course and hit a reef off the coast of Lamberts Bay.
- SS Saint Lawrence (1876) | Ran aground at Paternoster Point.
- The Merestein (1702) | One of the more popular dives, as there is apparently quite a hoard of missing silver Dutch ducatoons dating from the 1600s to be found; the Dutch East Indiaman tried to port at Saldanha Bay to alleviate scurvy but hit reefs near Jutten Island. Only 99 people survived the wreck out of 200.
- MV Winton (1934) | Ran aground off Milnerton Beach in heavy weather and due to the captain becoming confused by a red light in the city.
- The Reijgersdaal (1747) | After anchoring off Robben Island, the weather deteriorated, cuasing the anchor cable to break and sending the ship careening into a reef of Springfortein Point; only 15 crew members survived.
- SS Hermes (1901) | Wrecked on Milnerton Beach after dragging anchor in a north-west gale.
- SS Hypathia (1929) | Grounded on Whale Rock and pounded by swells.
- MV Daeyang Family (1986) | Wrecked on Whale Rock when anchors dragged in heavy weather.
- RMS Athens (1865) | Wrecked during a hurricane in Table Bay; the Piscataqua wreck lies on top of her.
- SS South African Seafarer (1966) | Ran aground in storm off the Green Point Lighthouse.
- The Thermopylae (1899) | Ran aground in storm off the Green Point Lighthouse.
- George M. Livanos (1947) | Ran aground at Mouille Point, burning away.
- The Vis [PDF}(1740) | AKA De Visch; Wrecked when its captain attempted to sail it into Table Bay at night.
- The Trafalgar (1839) | Ran aground after anchors failed to hold; one person was killed when a mast fell over. There are two links to this one, with one reporting a grounding at Sea Point and the other a grounding at Table Bay.
- The Fame (1822) | A north-westerly storm threw the ship onto the rocks at Sea Point; remained undiscovered until 1965 when looted by divers.
- The Schuilenberg (1756) | Ran aground near Camps Bay in rough seas and has been identified as one of the first slave trading ships of the Portuguese.
- The Kraaiestein (1698) | Ran aground in thick mist; a popular site as three of 19 chests containing treasure still remain unaccounted for.
- The Antipolis (1977) | Well known because visible at low tide; lost her two and ran aground during a gale.
- The Romelia (1977) | Broke tug and ran aground during a gale.
Condenser of the SS Maori
- SS Maori (1909) | Ran aground in a storm near Llandudno; not much remains of the cargo, while wine bottles could still be found in the 1970s, exploding when brought to the surface.
- The Oakburn (1906) | Wrecked in fog, hitting the rocks of Maori Bay.
- Katzmaru (1970s) | Sank off the coast of Hout Bay in order, it seems to create a wreck-diving site for scuba divers.
- Clan Monroe (1905) | Wrecked in a storm off Kommetjie; was used to tell the tide's height until it broke up and sank.
- SS Lusitania (1911) | Wrecked in fog on Bellows Rock off Cape Point; its wreckage resulted in the construction of a new lighthouse on Cape Point.
- The Clan Stuart (1914) | Ran aground in a south-east gale; attempts to repair her were futile as the engine room flooded when she was refloated. Her engine still stands above the water at Mackerel Beach.
- The Meridian (1828) | Only discovered in 1965.
- The HMS Birkenhead (1852) | This wreck is apparently where the 'Women and children first' protocol came from.
- Esso Wheeling (1948) | Photo
- SS Adelfotis (1956) | Ran aground in thick fog near Quoin Point.
- MV Oriental Pioneer (1974) | Sprung a leak and beached near Cape Agulhas Lighthouse.
Repulse, an East Indiaman similar to the Arniston.
- The Arniston (1815) | One of the most tragic stories, with only six out of 378 people surviving. Enveloped by an unexpected hurricane off Agulhas Bank, causing her to hit a reef out at sea and break up. Survivors were discovered two weeks later in a nearby cave.
- Galera (1892) | Wrecked in a big gully near Danger Point, Mossel Bay with a cargo of copra, or the dried meat of the coconut.
- The Paquita (1903) | Ran ashore and filled with water; lies at mouth of Knysna Lagoon.
- The Fairholme (1888) | Caught alight near Cape Agulhas and drifted to Knysna, grounding on the Knysna Heads.
- MFV Athina (1967) | Hit Whale Rock and wrecked on Robberg Beach; had three names aside from Athina: Penstemon, Galaxidi, Rosa Vlassis.
- Sao Gonzalo (1630) | The 100 survivors of this wreck were the first known Europeans to inhabit the Plettenberg Bay area. A hundred and fifty sailors lost their lives when a storm hit the bay as repairs were underway on the ship causing it to sink.
- Queen of the West (1850) | Wrecked off of the Tsitsikamma Coast, losing all crew members to the ocean.
- HMS Osprey (1867) | Wrecked west of Seal Point Lighthouse in Cape St Francis.
- Cape Recife (1929) | Washed ashore in thick fog that kept even rescuers from discovering the wreck's whereabouts; found as a result of all crew members making a noise.
- HMS Zeepaard (1823) | Wrecked in fog at Sardinia Bay.
- SS Western Knight (1929) | Wrecked at Chelsea Point; this ship was illegally salvaged by an experienced diver, who became the first person to be sentenced with South Africa's heritage laws.
- SS Ourimbah (1909) | Wrecked in fog at Chelsea Point.
- SS Queenmoor (1934) | Ran aground. An engineer was found guilty of attempting to salvage metal from this ship despite its age and heritage status.
- SS Strathblane (1890) | Ran aground.
- MV Pati (1976) | Struck Thunderbolt Reef and sunk.
- MV Kapodistrias (1985) | Grounded off Cape Recife, spilling around 500 cubic metres of oil over 15 days.
- SS Itzehoe (1911) | Ran aground off Cape Recife near the lighthouse; artefacts can still be salvaged from the wreck.
- SS Fidela (1873) | Wrecked in fog near Cape Recife Lighthouse; used by SA Air Force to practice bombing skills.
- The Haerlem (1987) | Scuttled in Algoa Bay and turned into a haven for divers, but began to be plundered as scrap metal in 2014.
- The Inchcape Rock (1902) | Ran aground in a gale.
- The Briseis (1859) | Ran aground on a reef off Port Alfred; residents tell they woke up one morning to find the ship abandoned by its crew.
- SS Valdivia (1908) | Appears to have scraped open her bottom on an uncharted obstacle. Although it requested to urgently enter the harbour in East London, port authorities did not give permission and could no longer be contacted and the ship had to be abandoned.
- SA Oranjeland (1974) | Wrecked off the Esplanade in East London, just after dropping ashore the survivors of the Produce (see below), which had recently wrecked on Aliwoal Shoal.
- The Lady Kennaway (1857) | Wrecked in the mouth of the Buffalo River after losing both anchors in a gale.
- SS King Cadwallon (1929) | Collided with rocks off and caught alight, drifting for 41 days before resting in East London. Pieces of coal, which was the ship's main cargo, can still be found along the beach on occasion.
- The Produce (1974) - | Ran aground on the Aliwal Shoal.
- The Nebo (1884) | Thought to have capsized due to a huge wave hitting her near Aliwal Shoal, while other theories say it hit a pinnacle of the reef that has not been seen since or that it was overloaded, making the possibility of capsizing more likely. It has been alleged that this ship was the third vessel sharing the name Nebo that sunk on its maiden voyage.
- Ovington Court (1940) | Anchor dragged in heavy surf and the boat ran aground; it was reported the captain called for the ship to be abandoned: the crew was packed into the two lifeboats and while the first made it to the beach safely - amidst the cheers of locals - the second capsized. Local municipal and voluntary lifesavers managed to pull all 12 occupants from the sea, although four later passed away in hospital.

{Image credit: Wreck of the Birkenhead, Charles Dixon [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
SS Maori Condenser, User: (WT-shared) Pbsouthwood at wts wikivoyage [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Repulse, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=266224}<script>
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