Coast KZN

19 May 2017

Sailors set for coelacanth experience

Fred Kockott and Zamo Phungula ( Daliy News; IOL)


Amid a day of yacht racing in Durban on Saturday, a host of young sailing enthusiasts from KwaMashu through to Glenwood will get a glimpse into the lives of more than 36 coelacanths living in deep underwater canyons off Sodwana Bay.

Once thought to have gone extinct more than 65million years ago, video footage of live coelacanths made science history worldwide in October 2000 after the late deep-sea diver Peter Timm discovered several in a dark, canyon cave off Sodwana Bay, 104m below the surface.

Sail Africa provides education and skills training to young South Africans, many of whom could otherwise not afford to participate in sailing.

“We are linking up with SeaQuests and Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife in introducing young sailing enthusiasts to the world of marine science,” said Jackie Barnard, director of Sail Africa

A photograph of Timm has pride of place on board the research vessel, the Angra Pequena, which leading marine scientists have since used to monitor thecoelacanths, all of which have since been individually identified based on unique markings or habits.

The visits to the Angra Pequena are being co-ordinated by a team of Ocean Stewards who are expected to accompany a group of leading marine scientists on a 30-day deep-sea research expedition.

“We are wanting to give the learners a sense of what life out at sea is like, and the work that we are doing to protect our rich, biodiverse and fragile marine eco-systems,” said Angra Pequena skipper and head of Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife scientific services division, Dr Jean Harris.

Sail Africa is an NPO that makes sailing accessible to youths of all backgrounds, also grooming them for careers in the marine field.

In interacting with WhaleTime guides, the young sailing enthusiasts will learn about Durban’s history of whaling and other threats that whales still face in the oceans on Friday.

“I will also be telling the kids about the Lady in White,” said WhaleTime guide Nomfundo Mfeka, referring to Perla Siedle Gibson, a soprano artist who became internationally celebrated during World War II for singing troopships in and out of Durban Harbour.

“From April 1940 to August 1945, whether in the early dawn, wind, rain or the blazing sun, she never missed one convoy, not even the one that sailed out on the day she learned that her eldest son had been killed in action,” reads the plaque at the foot of the Lady in White statue at the Port Natal Maritime Museum.

* This story forms part of the Roving Reporters Ocean Watch series sponsored by the Human Elephant Foundation. To read more Ocean Watch stories, visit