By: Geo Cloete
Water is still dripping from my partly undressed wetsuit. With my towel comfortably wrapped around my shoulders, I can feel the heat of the African sun warming me up nicely. It’s a stunningly beautiful winter’s day in Cape Town and although there is a crispness to the air, I feel in no rush to leave. As my mind reflects back to the wonders spotted during two incredible dives, I witness the majestic Hottentot Holland mountain range along the Eastern shore of False Bay. The soft shadows of the afternoon sun render the topography of the mountains beautifully. It won’t be long before the sky starts to turn a gradient of light blues and pinks as the sun dips lower to meet the Atlantic Ocean at sunset. Like countless times before, I am utterly mesmerized by False Bay’s beauty and easily understand why it’s considered to be one of the great bays on Earth.
Discovered in 1488 by Bartolomeu Dias, the bay was first named “the gulf between the mountains.” Iconic mountainous landmarks are evident on both sides of the bay, Cape Hangklip to the East and Cape Point to the West. The two landmarks gave birth to the current name of the bay. In later years, after Bartolomeu’s discovery, sailors returning to Europe from the East confused Cape Hangklip for Cape Point. A mistake not too difficult to make from the ocean. These sailors wrongfully sailed into the bay, thinking they were entering Table Bay. For this reason, early Portugese seafarers named Cape Hangklip, Cabo Falso, now known as False Bay.
Although steadily climbing, a relatively small number of people explore and witness the beauty hidden below the wide expanse of water filling False Bay. Winter is the best season to explore the many dive sites along its Western shore. Descending onto the colourful reefs teeming with all sorts of marine creatures while sun rays dance all around you is a blissful high. The rich and diverse marine life of False Bay is the reason it was selected to be one of six Hope Spots in South Africa. Whales, orcas, various shark and ray species, dolphins, cape fur seals, jackass penguins, an extensive list of reef fishes, octopi and a few jellyfish species all call False Bay home, or visit it seasonally.
Once you slow down (as I often love to do) and start to admire the macro life, the critter list grows exponentially. Nudibranch which has captured the fascination of many people are common to False Bay. Training the eye to spot one of these magnificent creatures among the densely covered reefs takes awhile, but it also means learning about so many other small critters you may have missed if you were to just swim along.
In addition to False Bay’s beautiful coral reefs, there are also kelp forests which hold a mysterious beauty of their own. Imagine being able to fly through a forest, which is exactly the freedom you feel when you dive in the kelp forests. Where you fancy, you can go. For instance, gliding along the forest canopy or diving down to the forest floor, where the play of light and shadow constantly changes your visual environment. A particular highlight from local divers over the years is regularly diving with one of the oldest sharks species alive today, the seven gill cow sharks. These prehistoric looking sharks perfectly contribute to the majestic nature of the forests as they quietly appear out of nowhere, staring straight into your eyes as they glide past inches away from you, only to disappear as mysteriously as they arrived.
In a world where the ocean is generally considered an unlimited source of food, it’s sadly no surprise a bay with such diverse and abundant marine life would draw the attention of those seeking to take rather than appreciate. Although False Bay is a Hope Spot and rightfully so, it could benefit from more help to flourish. Even with Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) status with no take zones, commercial and recreational fishing operators still fish within these areas. I would love to see the MPAs not only be proactively patrolled but also increased in size. I find it heart breaking to see a company given the right to fish octopi within the MPA. Not only is it questionable if the octopi traps granted are sustainable, but there is an increase in the number of whale entanglements in the ropes linking the traps and the buoys on the surface every year.
I would also like to see that the water quality in the bay be addressed in earnest. I recognize the pumping of sewerage and other pollutants into the ocean is not unique to False Bay, but authorities should not turn a blind eye. There is a huge body of evidence indicating how important a healthy ocean is to our existence and survival on Earth. It can’t be ignored, yet so often it is. It’s up to us, those who love the ocean and who already understand its importance to keep on spreading the message of hope. Let’s work together to grow support through our positive actions and sharing the wonders of the ocean. False Bay gives me hope.