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Black oystercatcher running along the waves on Kleinmond's main beach

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Marine Life

The South African government recognises the coast as a national asset: a place of value and a place of opportunity. In its vision statement, the Western Cape recognises the potential of the coastal environment to make significant contributions to achieving sustainable livelihoods and strive to maximise this potential in a sustainable manner.

About 30% of the Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve (KBR) lies off shore. The marine component of the KBR stretches two nautical miles out to sea and is currently divided into two zones: a transition zone with a small core area from Stony Point to Jock's Bay, Betty's Bay (Betty's Bay Marine Protected Area).

Resources

Off the tip of Africa, cold Atlantic currents intermingle with the Indian Ocean's warmer Benguella current, producing a rich biodiversity made up of species from both contrasting currents. Because of its riches, this coast has been over-exploited for many years and poaching of resources remains a problem to this day, though the KBR's previous M.A.R.I.N.E.S. initiative (Management Action for the Resources of Inshore and Nearshore Environments) has achieved considerable success in catching and prosecuting poachers along our coast.

There are only two legal forms of marine resource utilization in South Africa waters:

  • Recreational
    Permits are available from any Post Office. The onus is on the permit holder to ensure knowledge of all catch limits, size, method and time restrictions, etc. Catches on Recreational Permits are for self consumption and may not be sold.
  • Commercial Quotas
    Quota applications must be applied for. If successful, the quota holder is obliged to adhere to all regulations pertaining to the quota.

A concern in the KBR is the lack of provision for traditional subsistence fisherman along our coast. Many fishermen used to sell the crayfish they caught, thereby earning a small but welcome income. This is an issue that needs to be addressed within the KBR in line with biosphere reserve principles of sustainable living.

Whales, Whale Watching and Whaling

While whaling is banned internationally, whale watching has become an extremely valuable and sustainable industry and the KBR is fortunate to have this natural and lucrative resource.

It was recorded in the mid 1700's that about 20,000 Southern Right whales migrated along South Africa's coast. During the 1800's, however, demand for whale oil (used in candles and lamps) and other whale products such as 'whalebone' (tough and flexible baleen plates used in corsets, umbrella ribs and even as the first typewriter-key springs) had spawned a huge whaling industry. Many species of whale were brought to the brink of extinction and by 1935 whaling had reduced the Southern Right population to less than 100. Because of their friendly and inquisitive nature, Southern Rights were easy to harpoon and – most importantly – they floated when harpooned, making them the 'right' whale to hunt.

In the early 1900s, a whaling station was established at Stony Point, Betty's Bay. During 1913 alone 10,000 whales were taken from South African waters and populations were diminishing rapidly. After World War 1, the Depression caused the prices of whale oil to drop and the whaling station at Stony Point was closed down in 1930. Some vestiges of the Stony Point whaling station are still visible today and photos of whales lined up with the oil vats behind their great bodies can be seen at The Whaling Station Restaurant, Betty's Bay.

Finally, in 1935, whaling was banned but not very successfully. In 1979 the South African Government placed a total ban on all whaling activities along the South African coast and the International Whaling Commission declared the Indian Ocean (north of 55 degrees south) a sanctuary.

Today, whale watching – both shore-based and from licensed boats – has become a welcome tourist attraction earning millions in tourism income and helping job-creation within the KBR.

Abalone / Perlemoen

Before the Asian market developed a taste for this sea snail, great pockets of abalone could be seen lying 2-3 deep in the waters off the coast. Now illegal poaching operations have robbed South Africa and its people of this resource and the income that could have been derived from its sustainable harvesting, forcing the Government to impose a total ban on gathering abalone by recreational divers and limiting commercial quotas.

The scientific name of the abalone along the KBR coast is Haliotis midae. In the wild, they take 6 to 7 years to reach sexual maturity and at this age the shell diameter is a minimum of 80-90mm but more commonly 130-140mm. Fertilization is external. When a female releases her eggs in the water (many thousands at a time) it stimulates the male to release his sperm. The trigger for this release is normally a change in pH or very high DO levels coupled with a specific water temperature. This might seem to be a wasteful method as many ova may remain unfertilized but this is why nature has decreed that so many should be released at a time. The fertilized eggs then grow into so-called veliger larvae, which drift around as part of the plankton, again with a very high mortality rate.

When they reach a stage where they are ready to settle on the near-shore seabed, they must be in the right environment, otherwise they die. Ideally, they find a sea-urchin under which to settle. Not only do sea urchins protect the tiny abalone from predation by fish, urchins also feed on kelp so there's a supply of detritus for the developing abalone. Once the young abalone achieve a shell diameter of about 30-50mm, they find a rocky surface on which to settle. By then they have developed a rasping tongue or radula that allow them to rasp away at kelp fronds to feed.

Abalone must be gregarious and live close together otherwise the female eggs will go unfertilized if there are no males nearby to release sperm. This is where over-exploitation (including poaching) have brought wild abalone stocks to the point of extinction. This is exacerbated when undersized and therefore sexually immature abalone are taken, which place more strain on stocks already under stress.

All of this shows how important it is that there should be strategically placed marine reserves where wild stocks of marine organisms can live and reproduce unhindered by man.

West Coast Rock Lobster (Crayfish)

Commercial harvesting of West Coast Rock Lobster takes place during the specified season.

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