Having lived in Asia and done over 200 dives in Southeast Asia, mainly in the Coral Triangle – Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines – I didn’t know much about diving in other parts of the world such as South Africa, so I signed up for a 3-week Marine Science Field Course with Cape Radd to learn more. Come with me on a journey of discovery as I look back on this adventure.

Unique diving experience in South Africa

Coming from Southeast Asia, it was refreshing, both figuratively and literally to see different marine life in South Africa. In addition, there are different water conditions and ecosystems to experience and explore. My personal favourite was the kelp forests. The kelp forest can provide food and shelter for thousands of marine animals and plants. It is a breathtaking view, and you will be in awe weaving through a canopy of an underwater forest following the marine life you may cross paths with.

Diver development

I dare say that I am a confident diver, and even then, diving in new environments brings challenges and presents opportunities to develop you further as a diver. After diving in 27-29 degrees Celsius water, it took some time to adjust to 11-16 degrees Celsius water. Trying out different combinations of scuba diving gear to be comfortable enough, even if it’s just to get 20 minutes of diving in. 

The second thing I’ve become more aware of is the role of corals and how delicate they are. As a diver interested in photography and videography, sometimes I consciously or subconsciously touch corals to stabilize myself, thinking they are just like rocks while trying to get good footage. I’ve learned that corals are actually animals. They are made up of thousands of tiny animals called polyps. By touching a coral, I may be killing hundreds of polyps. Through the course, I’ve gained a deeper understanding of invertebrates, including corals, which has helped me want to do my best in not touching them.

Marine Science Field Course

The course has proved beneficial in providing an overview of various subjects within marine science, particularly as I had a keen interest in expanding my knowledge of biodiversity. Furthermore, it has highlighted the importance of getting data to drive change, and to persuade stakeholders and investors to focus their efforts on important conservation initiatives. For instance, the Citizen Science Fin Spotter project serves a dual purpose of raising awareness within the community about the significance of the endemic and endangered Puffadder Shyshark and at the same time helps in the gathering of additional data to enhance our understanding of the existing situation.

Biodiversity in South Africa – both terrestrial and ocean

Researchers have pinpointed 36 global hotspots of biodiversity. With three locations in South Africa: the Cape Floristic Region, the Succulent Karoo ecoregion, and the Maputaland-Pondoland-Albany corridor. Designating these areas as biodiversity hotspots aids in directing conservation efforts and investments towards safeguarding them. To be classified as a hotspot, an area must exhibit high levels of endemism and species richness while facing significant threats, having lost at least 70% of its original extent. Despite comprising just around 1.4% of the Earth’s landmass, biodiversity hotspots harbour 60% of the planet’s plant, bird, mammal, and reptile species (Merritt M, et al., 2019).

From the 200 Most and Least Biodiverse Countries in 2022 – The Swiftest Report
Definition of Endemism, Khan Academy

Endemic species refers to species that can only be found in a certain geographic location and nowhere else. South Africa has the second highest plant endemism in the world with at least 5,000 species of endemic plants. For example, the red disa, the bird of paradise flower, Cape Everlasting and South Africa’s national flower – the king protea.

South Africa is located at the confluence of three great oceans; the Indian, Atlantic and Southern Oceans which contribute to its marine richness. It is also high in ocean endemism, with an estimated 3,380 to 4,290 species of marine organisms endemic to South African waters. This is the third highest marine endemism after New Zealand and Antarctica.

Some of these endemic species, such as the Puffadder shyshark, are endangered. This is due to direct and indirect human activities. We need to raise awareness and obtain more data to direct conservation efforts to these species. Are you interested in diving in South Africa? Learn more and experience the ocean by joining the Cape RADD Marine Science Field course, like I did, or join a Snorkel for Science.