The sublime fulfilment of diving Cape Town's kelp forests without a wetsuit

2018-10-12 14:03 - Gabi Zietsman
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Aerial view of a man snorkelling in the atlantic o

Discovering new species in Cape Town's kelp forests without a wetsuit. (Photo: Sea-Change Trust)

When I opened my eyes, the world was pristine. It had just been born and I was seeing it for the very first time. I walked around in wonderment, licking shells, staring at algae on the rocks and laughing like a fool. Hours went by. It started to rain and that was wonderful.

- Ross Frylinck, Founding Director of Sea-Change Trust

Along the shores of Cape Town, a secret world floats just beneath the surface. From above kelp just looks like a slimy plant that gets washed up on the shores, but in the African kelp forests underwater, an alien landscape comes to life without having to leave the planet to see.

In these forests live over 14 000 documented species, but while only 0.4% of South Africa's oceans are protected, their survival is threatened by ever-growing threats.

The Sea-Change Trust wants to change this, and with their new book - Sea Change: Primal Joy and the art of underwater tracking - they want to put the kelp forest "on the map as one of the great natural wonders in the world".

SEE: Getting fishy: What you should know about SA's 19 marine protected areas 

But what makes their tracking methods so unique? 

It's all done by diving in the cold ocean waters without any wetsuit or scuba equipment, known as 'cold water skin diving'. Craig Foster, co-founder of the Sea-Change Trust and one of the world’s leading natural history filmmakers; and Ross Frylinck, founding director, published author and journalist, are the ones leading a team of scientists, storytellers, journalists and filmmakers to take on this wild adventure that's spanned eight years and hundreds of hours of exploration.

Through diving in cold water every day, their bodies have adapted and they have been transformed by the powerful physical and neurological effects of cold water immersion.

Ultimately, Sea Change reminds us that we are all connected and illustrates the profound fulfilment and joy that human beings can experience through an intentional relationship with the natural world.

The team has pioneered new ways of understanding our marine environments, having filmed a groundbreaking octopus and shark sequence for the BBC’s Blue Planet II TV series and discovering at least seven new species and over 40 new animal behaviours.

Sea Change is a gripping, personal story about friendship, fathers and sons, and the healing power of wilderness.

Foster first got into tracking animals as a filmmaker with the San of Central Kalahari, the best of the best at tracking, and he wanted to transfer those skills he learned to the ocean, where an everchanging ecosystem provides a much more challenging environment to track marine wildlife.

WATCH: 10 cool Southern African dive spots that will make you want to take a deep breath  

The supreme teachers of tracking underwater have been the animals themselves: the octopus, the clingfish, the helmet shell, the urchin, the cuttlefish, the otter, and the pyjama catshark. It’s their marine tracks that are the strings and keys that make up the musical instruments of the wild, instruments that eventually allow the tracker to tap into the symphony that is our original dance with nature.

The book will be launching in mid-October in leading bookstores across SA, and will be followed up by more initiatives including a series of exhibitions, field courses, an ongoing outreach campaign and a feature documentary film that chronicles Foster's relationship with a wild octopus in the kelp forest. Find out more on their website. 

The next  time you decide to take a dip in the ocean waters, try a swim past our beautiful kelp forests with a new perspective.

WATCH: How to snorkel in 7 easy steps 

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