Reef assessment in the Garden Route

This morning, visiting our fixed point photography locations at Gericke’s Point to get progress photographs of the reef condition, I decided to check under a shelf afterwards.

There is a colourful world beneath the waves the waves in the Garden Route National Park which requires protection from plastic and chemical pollution.

The marine life under the shelf is diverse and is associated with a small arch, both of which have a prolific community of sea fans, sponges, algae and other colourful fauna and flora with schools of fish continually on the lookout for a morsel of food.

I did not expect to see strands of woven plastic entangled on the reef.
The threat posed by this plastic pollution is twofold.

Tangled strands of woven plastic caught on the reef beneath an overhang.

Firstly, it presents an entanglement threat to diving birds like Cape Cormorants which fish here.

Secondly, less direct, it will slowly break down into micro plastic particles and be ingested by a variety of marine life.

Tragically, most marine fauna tested in the area contain some level of micro plastics in their muscle tissue, a source of micro plastics which transfer to anyone who eats the ‘catch of the day’.

Municipalities and residents need to collaborate to stop the loss of plastic pollution into the ocean via rivers and municipal infrastructure.

Site #1

Fixed point photography Site #1.
In 2014 the reef in this image was barren. When we started documenting the reef condition in 2019, it had recruited a healthy cover of sea fans. Since the first quarter of 2021, the red and corraline algae have started growing, as seen in the bottom left of the image.
Strandloper Project is investigating methods to regenerate damaged reefs at Gericke’s Point and other sites in the Garden Route.

Take a glimpse at the micro fauna on the reef

A flatworm gliding across a sponge hanging beneath an overhang.
Despite its vivid colours, a Cape Dorid is capable of blending into the surrounding reef community. This one popped out of the coralline algae while I was photographing a sand shrimp.
The translucent body of Sand shrimp make them difficult to see on a healthy reef. Getting close to them is challenging and requires patience. After their initial escape swim as you approach them, if you remain still, they return to investigate and may even ‘sample’ your skin with their pinchers.
You can’t help but feel a sense of festive cheer when you focus in on a Strawberry Anemone.
Fan Worms are delicate creatures, most often tucked away amongst the marine fauna and flora on the reef. Endowed with and array of lenses on their ‘fan’, they are incredibly sensitive to any movement towards them. To capture them, you need to approach slowly and be patient for them to re-emerge.

Countering Reef Damage

Reef regeneration around the world has been demonstrated to be both feasible and extremely effective in combating climate change related to coral reefs. In more temperate latitudes, while there are very few or no coral reefs, soft corals and other reef communities are also threatened by both direct and indirect processes of climate change. The Strandloper Project has been monitoring reef health at chosen sites in the Garden Route and is currently researching methods to cultivate and plant out sea fans, soft coral, eel grass and other marine flora to combat inshore reef damage caused by recreational fishing, lead poisoning and agricultural and chemical poisoning.

Strandloper Project

The Strandloper Project began as a group of citizen science volunteers to clean up recreational fishing debris from popular fishing sites in the Garden Route. Based in Sedgefield, they focused on reefs at Gericke’s point, in the Knysna Heads and in the Swartvlei Estuary. They have documented incidents of ghost fishing, avian entanglements, lead poisoning and physical reef damage caused by recreational fishing activities.

When the outbreak of avian flu in Cape Cormorant colonies was declared a State of Emergency in the Western Cape, the Strandloper project was able to submit data in real time to the relevant authorities.

Expanding their research, they conduct coastal research expeditions and have surveyed 605km of the South African coastline for plastic pollution and fishing debris. Their baseline database has proved valuable for the 2020 nurdle spill that washed ashore from Nature’s Valley to Cape Point in October 2020. On their 2021 expedition, they were able to share real time data for the avian flu epidemic which decimated Cape Cormorant colonies in the Western Cape as well as contribute data on Cape Fur Seal fatalities along their expedition route. For more details of their research programs, visit the Strandloper Project website from this link : Strandloper Project

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