March 16, 2023
By Louise Baldwin, Hope Spot Specialist
Header image: Beautiful underwater scene in the False Bay Hope Spot © Raoul Coscia
(FALSE BAY, SOUTH AFRICA) –
Southern Africa is home to a particularly rich array of marine diversity with over 13,000 species, almost 6% of all coastal marine species worldwide. Even more impressive is that 35% of these are endemic (occurring nowhere else in the world). This species richness is largely attributed to the fact that two major current systems, the warm Agulhas and the cool Benguela current sweep along its coastline.
Mike Barron, False Bay Hope Spot Champion says, “I am lucky enough to have traveled the world diving and even worked on the Great Barrier Reef, but on a good day, there’s nowhere quite like diving in the Great African Sea Forests.”
In 2014, Mission Blue established six Hope Spots along the coast of South Africa, with the aim of increasing community engagement and raising awareness about the amazing marine habitats and extensive biodiversity found there. One of the chosen areas was False Bay, which is located on the southwest coast of South Africa. If you were to immerse yourself in the chilly waters you could encounter dense underwater kelp forests teeming with marine life, where huge fronds sway hypnotically with the current. Smaller residents of this beautiful ecosystem include a brightly coloured collection of invertebrates such as nudibranchs (Nudibranchia), sea stars (Asteroidea), anemones (Anemone) and abalone (Haliotis). The area is also home to rocky reefs and soft corals which attract a diverse selection of fish species such as seabreams (Sparidae), hottentot seabreams (Pachymetopon blochii) and kilpfish. Marine megafauna are also a common sight in the False Bay area with humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae), southern right whales (Eubalaena australis) Bryde’s whales (Balaenoptera edeni brydei) making regular appearances. The charismatic cape fur seal (Arctocephalus pusillus), African penguin (Spheniscus demersus), and white shark (Carcharodon carcharias) further add to the list of incredible species that make this special place their home.
In 2019, Mission Blue was delighted to name Cape RADD (Research and Diver Development) as the False Bay Hope Spot Champions. Founded by two passionate marine biologists and conservationists, Cape RADD marine research facility aims to serve as a platform for marine research whilst passing on their expertise to early career scientists. The organization runs a range of research projects designed to assist with scientific monitoring of the local marine habitats and their biodiversity. They also host Marine Science field courses that allow students to gain hands-on experience as marine scientists, conduct a number of outreach and environmental education programs, and offer a citizen science experience that allows members of the public to assist researchers on marine surveys.
Barron says, “To be a Mission Blue Champion and have Cape RADD affiliated with this amazing organization and with Sylvia Earle is a great pleasure and makes us very proud of the work we are doing here.”
The last year has been an exciting one for the organization, with the first official international university collaboration with a group of Microbiology, Zoology and Oceanography undergraduate students from the University of Reading in the UK. The group joined for a 2 ½ week marine science field course where they were able to take part in scientific dives to collect data for conservation research projects, as well as expanding their knowledge of project design, survey methodologies and data analysis – all important skills for any budding scientist! The Cape RADD team loves passing on their expertise and knowledge to the next generation of scientists and is looking forward to increasing the number of collaborations with international universities.
The last year has also seen the team engaging with citizen scientists on a number of long-term research projects on their Snorkel for Science initiative, with 1,000 snorkelers passing through their doors in the past year. Members of the public can join for a guided snorkel with a marine biologist in the search for a range of benthic sharks which are found in the area. The sharks are photographed and the images are then submitted to the Fin Spotter database to improve population estimates. SCUBA divers are also able to collect data for Cape RADD’s long-term research project on kelp diversity and the influence of grazers on its abundance.
In addition to the data collected by citizen scientists for the long-term kelp monitoring project, the team have been developing AI software which they hope will enable them to detect kelp populations along the coast, further improving their knowledge of the species range and fluctuations to population densities.
Barron describes his appreciation for diving through kelp forests. “ [It] is a very unique experience; you’re actually inside this 3-dimensional ecosystem, not just floating over it but moving through the canopy, you become a part of it.”
Recently, Mission Blue partners at The Ocean Race paid Cape RADD a visit and got to film them in action! If you’d like to get your feet wet and experience the underwater wonders in the False Bay Hope Spot, whilst also learning about and contributing to the exciting biodiversity and conservation projects running in the area, then check out Cape RADD’s website.