Talk Report – Oct 2018

The Annotated Old Four Legs – The updated Story of the Coelacanth

Dr Kerry Sink, 20 October 2018

South Africa is a country with an incredible marine biodiversity. Seeing the latest ecosystem map we could but wonder at the deep troughs and ridges the map shows. As a country South Africa is strategically positioned with territory in three oceans, the Indian, Atlantic and Southern. We are the only country in the world that can contribute to the protection of life in all three oceans.

Near the land mass, the mixing of warm, cold, and even colder ocean waters produce an amazing diversity of ecosystem types. These systems range from the huge kelp forests that hug the west coast to the cold-water coral-encrusted sea mounts on the south coast, and the sub-marine canyons and deep sea muds on the east coast. Check the new website film!

This underwater fynbos, like the lace coral habitats off East London, are found nowhere else on earth. The deep-water corals and sponges provide safe homes for sea food species, nurseries for young fish, and contain a certain cancer-fighting compound considered to be the most effective remedy in 70/80% of cases. Unfortunately too little of our ocean environment lies within a protected area (0.4%). This is in relation to the 12% figure for parks and private areas that applies on land.

The first Namaqua National Park Marine Protected Area (MPA) has been proposed. A high density of limpets and hake are found there in two new protected blocks. De Beers, while conducting research from a submarine, found fossilised yellowwoods at a depth of 120m!  And the West coast coral system has been saved from mining. This 500 km2 proposed MPA provides the first protection to habitats in the Namaqua bioregion including several critically endangered coastal ecosystem types. The area is a nursery area for Cape hakes, one of our most valuable fisheries resources. The MPA will help the northern Cape to benefit from South Africa’s growing tourism economy, as investment in this remote area has lagged. This MPA is an important component of South Africa’s climate adaptation strategy. The groundbreaking ecological research and detailed ecosystem mapping and monitoring that has been taking place in the area since 1976 means that this area can provide a baseline to understand human impacts – this area tells us how harvesting, mining, the introduction of alien species (such as European mussels and barnacles) and climate change can affect our environment.

Dr Kerry Sink is a passionate and knowledgeable marine scientist. She dons her wetsuit and scuba diving gear to be out in the boat exploring and recording what most of us will never have the chance to see. In her talk, she described the marine reserves individually: The Agulhas Bank has supported the fishing industry for 200 years. The Cape Canyon (the same size as America’s Grand Canyon) has the deepest protected area at 4200 m. There has been a commitment to drill 30 new oil beds!  And trawling has had an impact on brittle corals. Off Port Elizabeth, towards Cape St Francis, in an area 500m wide and 40km long, is where kingklip aggregate in Spring. One can listen and hear them calling to one another!

Living in the Amatole Offshore MPA is the oldest coral in the world (2000 years!). There are many as yet undescribed coral species, as well as the red steenbras, and significantly the place where the first coelacanth was trawled. The endemic South coast lobster is only found amongst this coral.

There was much fascinating information to absorb and the pictures to which Kerry spoke were captivating. We have more sea area than land – let’s not mess it up with plastic!  In our small way, we can each help conserve the natural treasures we already have.

For more fascinating facts, figures and photos, check out the Marine Protected Areas website HERE: