South Africa has a stunningly beautiful coastline of 2,500km that stretches from the desert border with Namibia on the Atlantic Ocean to the tropical forest of the Mozambican border on the Indian Ocean.
And it’s off the coast of South Africa that the two oceans meet – at Cape Agulhas, to be specific. It’s thanks to the combination of the chilly Benguela and warm Agulhas currents that South African waters have an astoundingly rich and varied marine life. Nearly 13,000 species of marine fauna and flora thrive along our coast.
To celebrate the sea on World Oceans Day on 8 June, we’ve come up with a list of marine activities that will make you fall in love with the Big Blue all over again.
Swim with penguins
Boulders Beach in Table Mountain National Park is home to a unique land-based colony of African penguins. It’s one of the few places in the world where you can see these endangered birds up close. The area consists of three boardwalks for penguin viewing as well as three pristine beaches. The massive granite boulders that give this cove its name also protect it from wind, waves and currents. It’s a magical spot for a swim and you couldn’t ask for better companions. The tuxedoed birds might look comical on land, but in the water they turn into sleek and astonishingly fast swimmers.
See gannets dance
With their bright blue eyes lined in black, Cape gannets are undeniably beautiful birds. But wait till you see them dance. At Lambert’s Bay Bird Island Nature Reserve off the West Coast, you can view thousands of these elegant seabirds engaged in their courtship display. Gannet pairs have an elaborate greeting ritual that involves stretching their necks skywards and lightly tapping bills together. Just as touching as the pas de deux is the male’s solo: he will bow and shake his head from side to side.
Explore below the surface
Tsitsikamma, “the place of much water”, is well named. The magnificent canyon at Storms River Mouth is where the river runs into the sea. Because the park is a Marine Protected Area, you’ll find a wealth of marine life, from frolicking dolphins to tiny fish sheltering close to shore. Through Untouched Adventures, Garden Route National Park offers snorkeling and scuba diving in this underwater wonderland.
Go rock pooling
Rock pools are found in the intertidal zone, the part of the shore that lies between low tide and high tide levels. De Hoop Nature Reserve is characterised by sheltered bays, countless rock pools and white sandy beaches that stretch as far as the eye can see. Take a walk along the shore at low tide when the sand underfoot is firm and the coastal limestone platforms are exposed. The platforms are covered in mussels, barnacles and reef worms and it’s great fun to watch black oystercatchers feed on the rocky platforms. Somehow they know when a wave is going to break and they take off just in time to avoid getting soaked.
The Wild Card is your passport to visiting parks and reserves around South Africa and Swaziland – more than 80 in all. Whether you fancy a walk on the beach or a swim in a marine protected area, you can visit 365 days a year, without paying for entry every time.
Protect our ocean
World Oceans Day on 8 June is a reminder to appreciate our incredible coast and do our utmost to protect it. This year the focus is on preventing plastic pollution. Plastic poses a serious threat to the creatures that live in the ocean. Sea turtles, birds and fish confuse plastic for food and choke or get sick by eating it.
And with more than 80% of marine litter coming from land-based sources, it is in everyone’s power to cut down on plastic. Take your own reusable bag to the shops, say no to plastic straws and fill up your own durable water bottle.
Did you know?
• Oceans cover more than 70% of the Earth’s surface.
• Less than 0.1% of the world’s oceans are formally protected.
• Every day half a million disposable plastic straws are used around the world.
• Every minute almost 2 million single-use plastic bags are distributed.
• Annually 8 million metric tons of plastic end up in the ocean.