Kelp collection – wet, cold and slimy

Only few aquariums in the world have a kelp forest exhibit. And it is because you cannot grow kelp effectively in captivity. In order to maintain living kelp forest, you need to collect the macroalgae on a regular basis. Today I was lucky and could go with the collection team to a nearby bay and collect some sea bamboo. Ecklonia maxima, the sea bamboo, is a species of kelp native to the southern oceans. It is bigger (up to 12m), heavier and way more slimy/slippery than you would imagine. Not the most usual workout ever. We were all wet, cold (includding the cutest puppy in the world, shivering like a leaf). 

On the way, Clair spotted a small Mola mola, sun fish. It is a second time I’ve seen it wild. A truly mythical/magical creature.

I spent the rest of the day wandering in the natural history muzeum, mainly the shark world section and whales and dolphins. Read everything there was to read and walked back to the boat. With tired legs, hot tea and a storm behind the windows, I am now ready to read ‘Love, life and elephants’. 

Sea bamboo kelp forest, as seen from the surface.

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An exhibit in the Two Oceans aquarium.

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Male red stumpnose fish. They all start as females and then change to males when they grow up. 

 

 

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The Royal Cape Yacht Club sailing regattas

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So we’re a professional crew now, you can rent us for the cost of a few beers and we will provide hands for pulling the sheets,lots of smiles and photo coverage.

It has been a privilege to participate in the regattas full of such beautiful boats, yet actually sail on the prettiest one. ‘She’ was the most beautiful lady in the water that day. The wind was perfect, and there were penguins in the water.

Jake even performed his ballerina style sailing technique, as seen on the above photo. Definitely helped us place in the middle of the final classification and not at the end, compared to all those fancy new light boats.

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The biggest success of Pangaea

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The biggest success of Pangaea Mike Horn program, to me, is the created network of like-minded people.In fact - wherever you go, you meet people who you have so much to talk to about, that you become good friends, instantly.

Below are some photos from a quick escapade to hike the Table Mountain with Rick Kotze. A lovely day, a bunch of rusty chains and breathtaking views while enjoying a very interesting conversation. 

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But why think about this…

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“But why think about that when all the golden lands ahead of you and all kinds of unforseen events wait lurking to surprise you and make you glad you’re alive to see?”

― Jack Kerouac, On the Road

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While others sleep… we walk through muddy sea shores.

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Not everyday does one have a chance to swim with endemic seahorses, observe a sleeping octopus and witness a cuttlefish hunting at  night. It would be hard to beat such a day, yet everyday so much happens! each morning brings something unexpected, each day is a new adventure and we continuously learn new things.

You would think that each of those incredible moments has its own price.  To spot colourful nudibranchs you NEED to rent an expensive diving equipment and go with a dive master. To see a hunting cuttlefish at night? You surely need a guided tour, a boat and powerful spotlights. That is what most people think, and why most people pay expensive prices for those things. Yet we managed to avoid that by buying simple masks and snorkels, talking to locals and simply going for it. We had no idea that the biodiversity of Knysna lagoon was so high.

Going to the Thessen island during a low tide was a great idea. When other guests were busy eating expensive punches we wondered off to the quayside to learn about marine life. Just lying down on a jetty and staring into the shallow water we were able to see some amazing estuarine creatures. Mum spotted an octopus that floated next to the wire mesh stabilising the bank. It then faded and blended into the background. A few minutes later it appeared, as if from nowhere and smoothly swam away into the deeper, darker water. We put our masks and snorkels, climbed down the wall and submerged ourselves in the cold and murky water. Although we did not have wetsuits, we were so excited to get into the water and look around with our new masks, that it took us a while to get cold. And among all the other beautiful marine life, we saw what we looked for. The Knysna seahorses. We didn’t want to disturb them, thus decided to not stay for long.

So here you are, local dive school. Managed to not spend a fortune on something that did not require expensive gear rental.

The night excursion – the trio of aspiring scientists, nature lovers and curious observers: mum, jake and me packed head lamps,masks and wet suit shoes and left to seek yet another adventure. We walked through the old knysna railway bridge that used to help people commute between the two parts of the estuary and now serves as a perfect fishing spot. About half way through we walked down into the rocks and searched for signs of life. What an abundance of animals did we find in just 3 meters of shore! Starting from colourful crowned nudibranches, ascidians squirting water (a few of the times straight onto our faces/lamps), dwarf cushion starfish, barnacles, mussels, spiky starfish, numerous little fish and ending on a sleeping octopus, hiding under a rock jus half a meter from the shore. But the true discovery was seeing cuttlefish hunting for little silver fish.  A predator so perfectly camouflaged, so fast and accurate, that would earn everyone’s respect. After a lot of wooows, aaaas and ‘look here’ sounds, our headlamps started to fade out and we decided to come back home and dream about cuttlefish and other exciting sitings of the day.

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“Travel is like…

“Travel is like love, mostly because it’s a heightened state of awareness, in which we are mindful, receptive, undimmed by familiarity and ready to be transformed. That is why the best trips, like the best love affairs, never really end.”

Jimmy Chin

 

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Internship at theTwo Oceans Aquarium in Cape Town, South Africa

ImageTwo ragged-tooth female sharks

Meantime in the Aquarium, the kindest, nicest and coolest people are working hard to keep the fish happy and healthy.

I am deeply grateful to them for offering me a chance to observe the behind the scenes of the aquarist job. I get to assist in veterinary studies, shark behaviour research and daily chores ‘on the other side of the glass’.

The aquarium as an institution, the people involved with it and the educational value they created are all incredibly successful. They are rising awareness through various courses such as the Young Biologist course. It is a pleasure to observe youth being so excited about learning. Something we somewhat lost in the evolution of our education system.

The Two Oceans aquarium also has got a bus with little tanks that takes the knowledge to kids in the impoverished areas and allows kids to touch the animals and learn about the importance of oceans.

I could write for ages about how amazing this place is. But let the images speak through themselves.

 ImageNemos, or anemonefish, are undoubtedly what each kid wants to see in the aquarium. 

ImageIt is possible to dive in the kelp and predator tanks in the aquarium

ImageMichelle Kirshenbaum in the culture lab. Michelle makes sure that the rotifers, artemia and nannochloropsis cultures are doing just fine. This is crucial for the aquarium as it is food for many organisms living there.

ImageKnysna seahorses are the most endangered ones among all the seahorses of the world

ImageEach day all the food has two be prepared with the focus on nutritional value and individual dietary requirements of all the animals.

ImageRockhopper penguin Eudyptes chrysocome

ImageYoung Biologist course at the aquarium. One of many educational initiatives there.

ImagePierre De Villeirs feeding fish in the kelp tank.

ImageGen Rochecouste doing a great job volunteering at the Aquarium

ImageMichelle giving a tour to the future Young Biologists

ImageMe waitering for the fish

ImageTube-dwelling anemones, Ceriantharia

 

ImageThe roof of the aquarium.

ImageThe azaming saint Joseph shark or Cape Elephantfish, Callorhinchus capensis

 

ImageRagged-tooth female shark.  Carcharias taurus

ImageShort tailed sting ray, Dasyatis brevicaudata

ImageJouvenile loggerhead turtle, Caretta caretta

ImageThe classroom for the youngest.

ImageMichelle’s culture lab.

ImageNicholas Nicolle, an ichtiologist, teaching volunteers about individual dietary requirements of the fish.

ImageEntrance to the Two Oceans Aquarium. 

ImageFrogfishes, family Antennariidae, are a type of anglerfish in the order Lophiiformes. 

 

ImagePilchards that are used to fed the bigger fish in the aquarium. 

Image View from the top of the building.

 

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The Boat

The Boat

Nereid, Bermuda 77

a beautiful 77f cat sitting in the Knysna harbour prior to its Atlantic crossing

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Sunset over the Knysna Lagoon

Sunset over the Knysna Lagoon

Sunset over the Knysna Lagoon, South Africa

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An Ibis that wanted a scratch and more amazing aminals

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This Ibis was one hit by a car. He was rescued and brought to good health by some kind people. He never forgot that and still loves humans. I could sit for hours with him and he would gently pinch me with his long beak.

 

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SONY DSCEco Tourism – what a weekend!!

Zoos make me sad – wild animals, captured and caged,  under stimulated and overfed, watched by a contingent of humans with similar problems, only the humans at least have a choice in the matter. Zoos tame and often damage wilderness rather than conserve it, and what is worse quite often fail to educate even their staff, let alone visitors, to the plight of animals in the wild. So as usual I had low expectations for the Birds of Eden, and even lower for Monkeyland. But finding myself there, decided to make the best of it. And what a fantastic surprise!

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Birds of Eden

This is basically a massive net, strung over a densely forested valley, with wooden walkways and bridges giving easy access everywhere. The forest is full to bursting with rescued birds. They come from zoos, circuses, private owners, other sanctuaries, and wildlife vets. They fly freely well above the canopy, are fed daily, have streams and ponds and trees or all kinds and sizes and are protected from every danger. Most are familiar with people, a few landed on our shoulders, and one Ibis wanted his head scratched for hours. The sanctuary is a fair trade business, paying fair wages and sourcing fruit and feed from eco-conscious suppliers. The birds live out their lives in a paradise, and are looked after in every way by researchers and vets. It left us all feeling positive, and glad to have supported such a wonderful and unique place. Every type of bird from Toucans and Hornbills to Scarlet Ibis and Zebra Finches lives in harmony together. A classic tourist trap, and one of the most peaceful and restorative experiences that can be bought anywhere.

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Monkeyland

Nextdoor to Bitds of Eden, a similar sanctuary looks after rescued monkeys. These are free to come and go as they please, and have the run of a massive range of wilderness. Most are South American species, rescued from private homes, zoos and circuses all over Africa. They are fed daily, to supplement their diet with food from their natural habitats, and largely stay around the park out of choice, despite the large and vatied population there. From the tiny Squirrel Monkeys to elegant Spectacled Langurs, most are relaxed around people, and as food is never taken inside, not very interested in stealing from people either. It was lovely to see them so happy and healthy, free to roam and explore, with no bars in sight. A wonderful place for captive monkeys to live out their lives, and another that left a good feeling.

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Jukani Wild Cats Sanctuary

After the freedom of the first two sanctuaries, seeing elegant big cats in small enclosures, fattened daily with dead meat and contraceptives, was a sad sight indeed. These cats were all rescued from closing zoos, game farms, private owners and circuses. None had known the wild, or learned to hunt. Overweight and unfit, they will live out their lives in enclosures the size of a large garden, with nothing to do but pace the fences and wait for feeding time. These cats, unlike the birds and monkeys, are not happy. I can’t help but feel they should be freed in a reserve somewhere to take their chances, but hand reared cats can rarely catch their own food. The evil has been done already, taking the wild from them, and even this sanctuary can never give it back.
With only 250 Siberian tigers left in the wild, and those in activity inbred to the point of partial blindness and other congenital disorders, they are a symbol of our short-sighted selfishness, and I am ashamed.

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