The Cape of Good Hope is situated 60 km's to the south of Cape Town on the original trade route from Europe to the East. Early Portuguese explorers named it “The Cape of Storms” and it is rich in shipwrecks, both old and new. Sir Francis Drake, the first Englishman to round the Cape of Good Hope in 1580, described this unforgettable sight thus: “This Cape is a most stately thing, and the fairest Cape we saw in the whole circumference of the earth”. If you round the Cape you enter False Bay.
Framed by majestic mountains this bay, as spectacular above water as underwater, once inspired me to say: “He who is tired of False Bay is tired of life”, with apologies to both Samuel Johnson and London.
Here the offshore southerly wind, predominant during summer, brings cold nutrient rich water to the coast. This up welling supports massive blooms of phytoplankton, starting a food chain that includes zooplankton, filter feeding fish and predatory fish and marine mammals (mostly seals and dolphins). Once the wind backs off, the surface water is warmed by the summer sun and the blooms of phytoplankton turn brown and sometimes bright red. This is known as red tide and can be toxic. The process is also so oxygen demanding that inshore the levels of dissolved oxygen in the water can drop to such a degree that rock lobsters crawl onto the land in their millions, only to die in the hot African sun.
Within a 60 minute drive from Cape Town you can, during the suitable season, see seals, dolphins, penguins, sharks or whales, or dive on a number of interesting reefs and shipwrecks.
Due to up welling, this is a highly productive area, ranging from the rather drab and uniform reefs (lower species bio diversity and higher species biomass) off Namibia and the west coast of South Africa to unique and very colourful reefs off Cape Town and Cape Point (also spectacular from the air) where a particularly active up welling cell exists.
Interesting reef subjects include:
- Kelp "forests", a complex ecosystem with many filming opportunities. The kelp ecosystem is home to exquisitely marked little cat sharks and the much larger sevengill sharks and Cape fur seals.
- Hagfish, a primitive jawless snake-like fish, that feeds by burrowing into its prey while discharging a slimy substance that protects it from some predators but seals occasionally feed on them.
- Noble coral, a hard and slow growing coral, only found in cold water. Beautiful shades of red and yellow normally found in sea caves and crevices with dramatic reef profiles.
- These cold water reefs near Cape Town also support a wealth of other colourful subjects such as sponges, anemones, nudibrachs, red and yellow sea fans etc.
- Black and white basket stars with delicate feeding "arms", often perched on red sea fans in deeper water.
- Large groups of box jellyfish congregate around kelp beds during summer up welling events. Another good visual indication of up welling is massive numbers of small swimming crustaceans.
- The larger red-banded jelly fish suddenly appear in on the west coast in their millions, feeding on plankton and fish larvae.