the explorer edition


We decided to call the first edition of 2020 ‘The Explorer’ to represent how humanity is entering new territory and in that sense we are explorers of the unfolding pandemic that is unheard of in our generation. During this time, and afterwards, we will be required to explore new ways of living and new ways of relating to the world, nature, animals, society and ourselves. In the same light we also recognise that the virus is exploring a new host. 


We hope that you enjoy the original content of our newsletter!

Visiting the Vema Seamount with Greenpeace

By Rob Anderson (Photos: Richard Barnden)

In 1959, a research vessel from Columbia University, USA, was surveying the South Atlantic when its sonar picked up something unexpected. About 1000 km WNW of Cape Town was an isolated, undersea mountain rising 4 km from the ocean floor to just 25 metres below the surface. They named it Vema after the ship that found it.

 Because seamounts arise from great depths, they often cause an upwelling of deep, nutrient-rich water, forming surface hotspots where plankton and seaweed thrive, producing small, unique ecosystems that are biological jewels. Some seamounts are even thought to influence the direction of deep ocean currents, which in turn control our climate.

Like most seamounts, Vema is an extinct volcano, cone-shaped with a fairly flat top roughly 10 km in diameter. The plateau was cut by wave action during a recent ice age when sea levels were lower than today, and its highest peak, at about 25 metres below the surface, is a hazard for large ships.

In 2019, Greenpeace made a series of voyages between the Arctic and the Antarctic to draw attention to the state of the world’s oceans. Vema was chosen as a biological hotspot in international waters. Thilo Maack of Greenpeace visited Vema by yacht in June, and then arranged a full diving expedition for later in the year to film and photograph as much of the underwater life as possible. I was invited to join the expedition as marine biologist and ‘kelp expert’.

I left Cape Town in late October on a catamaran along with four journalists. The huge swells and strong headwinds made those 24 hours on the cat awful.

The zodiac from the Arctic Sunrise fetching us from the yacht as we replaced another group of journalists who were returning to Cape Town


Although the Greenpeace vessel, Arctic Sunrise, is a flat-bottomed icebreaker without stabilisers and notorious for her rolling, she felt as solid as a rock after the yacht, and I was soon enjoying the first of many excellent vegetarian meals made by Ronnie, the Filipino cook.


My pleasure at being on board the Arctic Sunrise only deepened as the expedition unfolded and I got to know my shipmates. On board were some 36 people representing 16 countries: South Africa, Finland, Russia, Germany, USA, UK, Belgium, Netherlands, Fiji, Italy, Zimbabwe, Philippines, Spain, Russia, South Korea and Lebanon.

The Arctic Sunrise at Vema
The bridge of Arctic Sunrise, with Captain Mike (originally from Kommetjie!) at the controls and Thilo Maack, expedition leader, standing behind him
Maarti, the well-decorated Finnish first mate. The art of the tattooist was very evident on board, and I was probably the only one without epidermal decoration
Pascal van Erp, dive supervisor, preparing to descend the gangway to the pilot’s door and the sea

The spirit on board was excellent, and we were all expected to help wherever we could, from cleaning duties each morning to deck work like launching inflatables for diving. Everything depended on the sea conditions being good enough for divers to operate, or at least to deploy the ROV (remotely operated vehicle), a kind of tethered undersea drone. I couldn’t dive as I’m not qualified to use the highly technical mixed gas and re-breathing equipment for depths below 50 m, and it was frustrating to have to wait for images on a screen when a whole kelp bed full of creatures lay just beneath me!


The launching and recovery of divers was an activity for the young and strong! Each diver, carrying a heavy cluster of compressed-gas bottles, leapt in turn out of the pilot door, swam to a waiting inflatable, and held onto a trailing-board to be towed slowly to the marker-buoy above the seamount. 

Once the divers were assembled at the buoy, they descended slowly down the shotline through the blue water to the Vema plateau. Afterwards, each diver was towed back to the ship, but the weight of their tanks and the ship’s movement meant they couldn’t re-enter the pilot door. Instead, they swam in turn to a platform suspended in the water from a crane.

07 thiloshotropeSF
Thilo holds a collecting bag for kelp samples
It took great strength to kneel on the platform and grasp a horizontal steel bar while being hoisted, swinging wildly, onto the deck, as helpers struggled to steady the platform with ropes
09 chaetodondolosusSF
Chaetodon dolosus, a tropical butterfly-fish that should not be at Vema! The presence of this Indo-Pacific species in the south Atlantic illustrates the enormous value of seamounts as refuges for biodiversity at this time of global climate change



On good days the cameramen and photographer brought back beautiful and informative images. News clips were compiled and sent out by Greenpeace staff, and I was called on to identify some of the creatures captured in the pictures. Identifying seaweeds and smaller animals from images is frustrating for a biologist, because they always seem to lack some essential detail to pin down the species. But a good image of a fish can be perfectly adequate for an ID, and photographer Richard Barnden captured many perfect fish images, including some surprising and unexpected records. 

10 vema kelpunderstoreySF
The kelp Ecklonia radiata thrives on Vema’s sunlit plateau


Animal life on Vema has been studied in detail, but there are no recent collections of seaweed suitable for DNA analysis, so I was very keen to get samples. Although the kelp species pictured is found in SA and other places, detailed genetic analysis could shed light on the origins of this population and the evolution of this and other kelp species. The samples are now being processed in a lab in Europe. 


Each seamount is biologically unique in its own right. As with many seamounts, some 22–30% of Vema’s species are found nowhere else in the world, according to a paper published in Nature.

Here a lobster, Jasus tristani, sits below a group of cup-sponges in a landscape of invertebrates and seaweeds, some of which are found only on Vema Seamount
A rusty Chinese fishing vessel greeted our arrival at Vema, but quickly fled. While remote seamounts can provide refuges for overfished species, their remoteness also makes them difficult to protect



In the mid-1960s, the study of Vema’s abundant marine life began. This was the first seamount to be studied by scuba divers without special equipment. But the news of abundant rock lobsters quickly attracted commercial fishing. In 1965 alone, around 270 metric tonnes of frozen lobster tails were taken from this small plateau, and within just a few years they were commercially fished out. Slowly the population recovered, only to be fished out again by the 1980s. For now the South-East Atlantic Fisheries Organisation has closed Vema to fishing for all but highly migratory fish, but some illegal fishing continues, as in most international waters.






As the world starts feeling the effects of climate change, seamounts could be critical, as each spans a wide range of depth and sea temperature, enabling a species population to remain within its temperature limits and avoid extinction by moving into deeper or shallower water. This is seldom possible on the edge of a continent where the gently sloping continental shelf usually extends for tens or hundreds of kilometres.  

Expedition leader Thilo Maack and a lobster eye each other
Jack Feary and Bukelwa Nzimande collecting seawater samples off an inflatable. Jack, who is studying whales, will send the filtered samples to the US where they will be screened for whale DNA
Preparing the ROV to shoot underwater footage

After almost a week at Vema the weather began to deteriorate. When diving became impossible, a final day was spent acquiring ROV footage of the Vema plateau. When the weather got worse, the equipment was packed up for a rough trip back to Cape Town. After the daily bustle at Vema, the 3-day trip back seemed tedious, and the only highlights were mealtimes, signalled by the aroma of Ronnie’s cooking drifting through the ship.

The Arctic Sunrise rolled spectacularly at times, and the last night was the worst. My bunk ran across the axis of the ship, so one moment my feet were shoved into the baseboard, and the next my skull was rammed against the headboard. Someone needs to design Velcro bedding and sleep suits! Celine, a young Belgian crew member, went down to sleep on the floor of the lounge, a deck below the crew cabins, where it rolls less. But around 5 am she woke to an early-morning shower from a table-load of half-empty beer and cool drink cans, the aftermath of the evening’s festivities. The ship had rolled up to 43 degrees!

Back home, it took 3 days for the earth to stop moving! Although it was good to get back to solid ground and my own space, the Vema trip was a marvellous experience that left me with deep respect and affection for those dedicated souls who carry the Greenpeace flag. I found them hardy, disciplined and dedicated, and I sincerely hope that the images of Vema will raise awareness and ultimately help protect the world’s oceans.


Richie Barnden, you are a scholar and a gentleman, Sir, for letting us use your pictures! My thanks to Thilo Maack and the crew of the Arctic Sunrise for an amazing experience. Finally, to Greenpeace: long may your great work go on – you are heroes!    

16 robslopeSF




Rob Anderson and his girlfriend (now wife) Hazel came to Noordhoek from Johannesburg in 1977, as a First Stop Before the Rest of the World. However, they realized Noordhoek would be hard to beat so they stayed and raised a family here. Rob also did a PhD in marine biology at UCT and worked (mainly on seaweeds) for 36 years before retiring in 2018. He was a founder member of NEAG and is currently Vice-Chairperson.  He says Noordhoek has changed in the last 40 years, but is still a damn fine place.

Could Covid-19 be a blessing?

By Glenn Ashton

What happens when Covid-19 ends? Will we just pick up where we left off, or will there be a whole new normal? A growing tide of opinion suggests that this crisis offers us a unique opportunity to shift to a better way of living together with planet Earth.


Those of us who grew up during the 60s and 70s recall those times with fondness. The distinct collective shifts in social consciousness, the rise of feminism, the questioning of authority. It was time of hope. Popular protest ended a war, public pressure cleaned up rivers and the air, and Rachel Carson’s book ‘Silent Spring’ led to the first meaningful regulation of pesticides and the first Earth Summit in Stockholm in 1972.


But aside from a few notable victories (the banning of CFCs which healed the ozone hole over Antarctica, and the banning of the dirty dozen persistent chemicals, such as DDT and dieldrin) the corporate world counter-attacked. The book ‘Merchants of Doubt’[1] neatly captures how corporations enlisted captive ‘scientists’ and PR agents to ensure that deadly but profitable products like tobacco, pesticides, fossil fuels and the resulting pollution evaded meaningful regulation.


Today the most powerful nations are the beneficiaries of the free market liberalisation of Thatcher and Reagan, who enabled our world to be led by a corporate-political nexus, fuelled by dreams of endless growth. This is how the Western model became the global model. Even Putin’s Russia and Xi’s China have adopted the doctrine of exponential growth on a finite planet. And while absolute poverty may have fallen, the inequality is unprecedented. Today the richest 1% have twice as much wealth than 6.9 billion people.[2] Wealth has never been as abundant yet so unequally distributed.


So what has this do to with Covid-19, and what happens after we (hopefully) get it under control?


Like Ebola, HIV/AIDS, Zika, SARS and MERS, Covid-19 is a zoonotic disease that has emerged as a consequence of human exploitation of our natural world. As we expand into otherwise unspoilt natural spaces, we expose ourselves to previously hidden pathogens that then shift into the human ecosystem.


What drives this expansion into previously unspoilt areas? Many would say overpopulation, but it’s more than that. Our economic model is founded on the exploitation of natural resources. From mining to fishing, timber to agriculture, every resource is wrested from our planetary bounty. Similarly, we dump the waste from processing these resources into our rivers, oceans and atmosphere. This bounty is appropriated from the earth without respect for the myriad intricate systems that link the natural world into a seamless whole. We have disrupted our planet to the extent that this era is termed the Anthropocene, the age of humans; we now shape the climate, ecosystems and even the geological processes.

The emergence of zoonotic diseases is just one inevitable result of our plunder, and Covid-19 just one symptom of our brutal economic system, along with climate collapse, ecosystem loss, species extinction, ocean acidification, fisheries destruction and chemical pollution.

Yet our current isolation in Covid lockdown presents us with an extraordinary opportunity to reflect deeply on the reality of our human existence on this tiny planet circling an insignificant star in an endless universe. Whatever comes next, as Homo sapiens – thinking humans – we need to consider whether we can continue enabling, through our consumerism, the devastation of our planet to make a quick buck.

And supposing we want to change, how do we start?

Imagine this. What if the US redirected its military budget of nearly a trillion dollars per year (around five times South Africa’s GDP) into supporting global sanitation, education and health? It would have no more enemies to fight once the real enemies were vanquished.

At a local level, South Africa is one of the most unequal nations on earth. We can never be secure if our fellow humans are insecure through the hoarding of wealth by a tiny elite. Why can we not shift toward more local organisation, and redesign our inhumanly anonymous cities? By working locally we can support resilient, inclusive regional socio-economic and socio-ecological systems.

If we get land restitution and redistribution right, there is no reason we can’t farm the land using agro-ecological methods to provide healthy affordable food for all. Imagine creating new markets and distribution channels that both bypass the monopoly of supermarkets and shift us away from cheap but unhealthy industrial food, while circulating money within communities rather than bleeding it upwards to corporate exploitation.

By creating such openings, we enable people to build communities that can supply services to those newly settled lands, provide schools that provide hope instead of the terror of townships and gangsterism, all of which are the inevitable results of exploitation and inequality. Surely these are the echoes of our dreams of 1994?

These are just some of the kinds of seeds that can be planted to enable a new Anthropocene. By creating these opportunities we can transition toward healthier, more egalitarian socio-ecological systems where both people and the planet can benefit, in contrast to our current path of endless growth spiralling into various shapes of disaster.

The choices we face are stark. But by making different choices to those we habitually make, perhaps in future we will see Covid-19 as a blessing rather than a curse, in that it provided a chance to take stock and reassess our place in the world.



Glenn is a PhD candidate at the University of Stellenbosch’s Centre for Complex Systems in Transition. He has a long history of engagement with environmental management, food security, biodiversity preservation and community work. His curiosity about our place on the planet continues to shape his life.

Collective Acts of Kindness are Transforming Our Communities

By Ceinwen Smith

Over the past weeks we have all felt the impact of Covid-19 on our freedom, our work and our ability to connect with family and friends. Some of us are using this time to scale down, retreat, take a ‘staycation’ and share quality time with family. Others are finding innovative ways to adapt their work using online networking, virtual tours and shows, or testing out new ideas and creative expressions.

Meanwhile, those on the front lines are working tirelessly to ensure that we’re safe, our services continue and our health care systems are prepared and properly functioning.

But while these ‘essential services’ continue, there are huge discrepancies and gaps in the delivery and dissemination of these services that the government is not managing to address. In response, communities, NPOs and individuals countrywide have stepped up to fill the gaps – organising, networking and collaborating to identify specific needs in their communities and create solutions.

Community Action Networks

How Can You Support?

The pandemic has sparked initiatives such as Cape Town Together (CTT), a rapidly developing community-based platform (on social media) where local community groups, NPO’s and individuals can join forces to share ideas, information and resources to tackle the spread of the virus and the related community issues, such as food security and access to information. CTT aims to:


…inspire ordinary people in every community to form local Community Action Networks or CANs… to take action at the neighbourhood level to educate each other on accurate information, support the most vulnerable and high-risk residents, and share ideas and resources with other CANs across the city.


There are currently 66 active CANs across the city, with more than 10 in the Deep South. In our valley, Noordhoek CAN is on the front line linking Masiphumlele NPOs and Masi CAN to other local community groups, individuals and organisations to ‘provide support, information, resources and quick response to urgent need.’ Their activities include raising awareness, gathering donations, distributing soap and sanitiser, collecting and distributing food parcels and coordinating the sewing of masks. By partnering with Care Company Benefit Trust, a credible local NPO, they are able to receive funding and donations to support these activities.


‘Our primary focus at the moment is food, because the need is urgent and dire’, says Nicola van Schaik (1), lead coordinator for Noordhoek CAN.


Local businesses, including The Friendly Grocer, Food Barn Deli, Dis-Chem and Checkers are helping by providing collection trolleys for food donations and other essential items. Other stores, like Pick n Pay Longbeach are working directly with NPOs in Masi to collect donations of essential non-perishables.


Here are some of Noordhoek CAN’s contributions so far, in collaboration with partner organisations:


 – Supporting two existing feeding schemes run by Ukama Community Foundation and their SOUPerHeroes Matilda and Zanyiwe, collectively feeding 200 children five days a week and supporting 100 families between them.
 – Coordinating donations and deliveries of around 250 family food parcels, 200 bars of soap and sanitiser, and over 200 face masks.
 – Supplying 700 meal packs to Masi residents, including non-South African citizens.


‘As our sources of food and financial donations expand,’ says van Schaik, ‘so will our ability to partner with more members of the Masi community’. In partnership with Masi CAN and Care Company, Noordhoek CAN are ensuring that food is collected and distributed safely and directly to those in need in Masi.

  1. There are several ways you can support the growing community efforts to feed those who are most vulnerable in Masi. See below a list of options put together by Noordhoek CAN, Ladles of Love and Masi Creative Hub:
1. Donate food and other essential items directly to Noordhoek CAN by contacting to arrange dropoff at their central collection point in Noordhoek.
  2. 2. Drop off the following food items on Tuesdays and Fridays from 8–11 am, at the Food Barn Deli, Lake Michelle, Chapman’s Bay or Stonehaven Estate, for Ladles of Love:
    •  – Bread and non-perishable foods (cans, dry foods, onions, potatoes, butternut) for use in soups, stews or food parcels.
    •  – Sandwich supplies – cheese, spreads, jam or peanut butter 
    • (Note: These will be prepared and distributed by Ladles of Love who follow strict hygiene protocols).
  1. 3. On your next shopping trip add what you can (such as butternut, onions, carrots, potatoes, rice, canned foods, pulses, soap, hand sanitiser, baby formula) to the donation trolleys at:
    •  – Checkers, Dis-Chem or The Friendly Grocer (Sun Valley) for Noordhoek CAN.
    •  – Pick ‘n Pay or Food Lovers (Longbeach Mall) for Masi Creative Hub.

  2. 4. Contribute to the Noordhoek CAN Relief Fund via the NPO Care Company Benefit Trust (see details below).
  4. 5. “Adopt” a family or individual you know for the duration of lock-down – send money via e-wallet or use the Shoprite E-voucher system.
  6. 6. Follow Noordhoek CAN on Facebook to stay updated on their latest activities and find out how you can get involved.
Food items of maize, oil, milk and rice delivered to Masi CAN, ready for sorting and distribution to the Masiphumelele community (photo credit: Khanyiselo Silo)
Food donations are sorted into family food parcels, sanitised and distributed to those in need by Masi CAN volunteers (photo credit: Khanyiselo Silo)
Donation trolleys outside Checkers, Pick 'n Pay and Dischem are collection points for you to drop off essential items that will be distributed to those in need (photo credit: Ceinwen Smith)

Acts of Kindness

While this time has highlighted the striking disparities and challenges we face in our country, it has also revealed the incredible capacity of South Africans for collaboration, compassion and kindness towards our fellow citizens. These qualities, these acts of kindness are laying the foundation for transforming our country (2). The self-organising community-led groups in the form of CANs are doing more than merely responding to the needs of the most vulnerable. They are ‘linking not only neighbours, but neighbourhoods in ways that bridge the divides of apartheid urban planning’ (2), awakening in us the possibility (and necessity) of creating deeper connections between our communities. We are, after all, intrinsically interdependent.


One positive impact of the Covid-19 pandemic is the powerful impact that community connection and solidarity can have – when we come together in collective action and contribute however we can, something magical unfolds.



I am only one,

But still I am one.

I cannot do everything,

But still I can do something;

And because I cannot do everything,

I will not refuse to do the something that I can do. – E. E. Hale


These words invite us to look at what we can offer, however small, and then act. Acts of kindness contribute to creating a community of giving that connects us to those in dire need – whether physical, mental, emotional, or financial. No community can be healthy, happy and abundant unless all its members have access to health, happiness and abundance.

In celebration of these acts of kindness, Dr Jess Auerbach has created an Archive of Kindness to record the emergence of a ‘connected compassionate country’ and help us remember that when lockdown ends, life cannot return to ‘normal’. If we are to heal the social – and ecological – ills our nation and world are suffering from, Auerbach reminds us that:


None of us is entirely powerless, and as this archive makes visible, it will be the little actions of humanity that define both our experience now, and our reactions to what lies ahead. (2)


So I invite you to consider small ways you can contribute, and who or what you are moved to support. Let’s co-create and share more stories of kindness, compassion and abundance, to remind us that we CAN transform our communities, spread compassion, inspire collective action, and build resilience through solidarity, to ensure we are all better prepared for the uncertainties that lie ahead.



Donations to Noordhoek CAN

CareCompany Benefit Trust,

FNB branch code: 250 655

Acc#  62588949449

NB use ‘NoordhoekCAN’ as your reference to ensure the funds are allocated to the correct scheme AND email details to Noordhoek CAN at for accounting purposes.


  1. [1] Nichola Van Schaik, Personal communication (email), 17 April 2020.
  2. [2] Jess Auerbach. Micro kindnesses are laying the foundations for a transformed South Africa. Daily Maverick, 15 April 2020.

Ceinwen Smith was born in Noordhoek and grew up exploring the mountains, oceans and wetlands of this beautiful valley on horseback. She is a freelance research consultant with an MSc in Oceanography and currently the project manager for the Ingcungcu Sunbird Restoration Project. Her curiosity and passion for exploring nature has lead her to engage young minds and hearts in nature-based education – with the aim of restoring our relationship to, and our intrinsic interdependence of, our natural systems. She is currently growing indigenous plants in her home nursery and reflecting on the gifts of possibility and transformation that this crisis brings.

Wondering what is the secret to life?

If you are feeling down or like lockdown is getting to you. This is the video for you! A beautiful South African story that will leave you with both a tear and a new hopeful look at life. 

Green Renaissance is a group of creatives who want to share positive stories with the world. They see the world as filled with inspirational stories just waiting to be captured. If you like what they are doing consider donating.

Loss and grief during the Covid-19 pandemic

By Andrea Marais

Having experienced personal losses during the past two years – my mother, then my mother-in-law, followed by my beloved dog – I notice that I and others around me are responding to this pandemic in ways similar to those of loss and grief. These can include anxiety, loneliness, fatigue, helplessness, shock, numbness, guilt, avoidance, crying, despair, reorganising behaviour, and different coping strategies.


In addition to the trauma and pain of those suffering directly from the virus or losing people to it, there are also indirect psychological losses as the pandemic sweeps through our communities:


– Death of the status quo – our lives are dramatically altered, and after the virus our world will not be the same.


– Loss of physical closeness – we are unable to touch our loved ones, or guide and comfort those who are ill through their transition towards death.

– Loss of financial security – the current economic system is unstable and unsustainable. The financial losses experienced by all are frightening and potentially devastating.

– Loss of our illusion of separateness from the natural world – we realise now how vulnerable and ecologically interdependent we are.

– Loss of freedom and control – it is our need to regain some control that catapults some into hoarding food and toilet paper, reflecting a state of oral and anal regression.

– Loss of our ability to distinguish between reality and fiction – our current circumstances can feel like a sci-fi movie.


But loss and death are necessary for rebirth. Jonathan Edwards and Julia Hartsell[1] describe how the chrysalis stage of the caterpillar is preceded by overconsumption. To become a butterfly, the caterpillar must first retreat into its cocoon and completely disintegrate to its very essence, a process that can take up to 21 days – the length of the initial lockdown period in many countries.

Unable to resist this transition, the caterpillar has to surrender to the shift in being. Then, having lost everything, the butterfly starts to put itself together again from its liquid essence. Interestingly, studies show that while a butterfly may not remember being a caterpillar, it can remember experiences it learned as a caterpillar.


Could the virus represent a wake-up call for us, to reflect on our own overconsumption of the planet’s resources and the literal consumption of animals in the wet markets where the virus emerged? Is it a signal that it is time for transformation? Death has to occur for transition and rebirth to happen, not just for the caterpillar, but also for humanity. Sarah Edwards and Linda Buzzell[2] call this ‘the waking up syndrome’ that consists of denial, semi-consciousness, realisation, a point of no return, despair, guilt, hopelessness, and powerlessness, and then finally acceptance, empowerment and action. 


In his book ‘Ecological Intelligence’,[3] Dr Ian McCallum says: ‘The decoding of the human genome tells us that we are indeed related to the animals, the insects, and the plants, and that, like it or not, Earth is where we belong.’  Hopefully this crisis will be a reminder to us where our home is. As George Engel says: The process of mourning should be compared to the process of healing.





Butterflies are white and blue
In this field we wander through.
Suffer me to take your hand.
Death comes in a day or two.

All the things we ever knew
Will be ashes in that hour,
Mark the transient butterfly,
How he hangs upon the flower.

Suffer me to take your hand.
Suffer me to cherish you
Till the dawn is in the sky.
Whether I be false or true,
Death comes in a day or two Till the dawn is in the sky.
Whether I be false or true,
Death comes in a day or two [4]



Andrea SASAC pic




Andrea Marais is a PhD candidate in ecopsychology, climate change and systems thinking. She is also part of the International Ecopsychology Society (IES) and has a great deal of passion for understanding the relationship that individuals have with nature and animals. 

Haunting music of COVID-19 has scientific applications

You can read more about this on the World Economic Forum website by clicking here.

Toilet paper and the Global Village

Rob Anderson reflects on recent events

A few weeks ago, the world was amused by clips of women fighting over toilet paper in an Australian supermarket, as the coronavirus outbreak in China disrupted the supplies on which Australia depends.  A week later the shelves in our local (Cape Town) supermarkets were being emptied of toilet paper by saffers, despite South Africa producing more than enough for our needs (in fact we export the stuff). 


This seems to illustrate two pitfalls of globalism. The first is dependence on a distant country for an (arguably) essential product. The second is the rapid global spread of information: often very useful, but also able to cause panic and irrational behaviour. 


The argument for national self-sufficiency has always been around. Disturbances like wars have always led to permanent changes in the production and transport of materials. For example, WWII blocked rubber supplies to the US and Europe from Malaya and other eastern countries, leading to efforts to obtain South American rubber.


The environmental argument for self-sufficiency is based largely on the carbon costs of transport. While transport costs within a country may be low (estimated at 6% in the US), bringing products from distant parts of the world is carbon-craziness. An estimated 95% of fruit and 50% of vegetables in the UK come from abroad. South Africa is blessed with different climatic zones, so we import less, but do we really need every kind of fruit to be available all year round? The same goes for other foods, like fish: much of the yellowtail in our supermarkets comes from the East, while we export most of ours. Our calamari is exported, and what we buy here is mostly from the Falklands.


After the unprecedented disruption caused by the coronavirus, even economists and businessmen are beginning to question the wisdom of this global interdependence. Sure, no country can be entirely self-sufficient, especially when it comes to raw materials, but we should all look to the basics: food, water and energy. So perhaps some changes will emerge from this catastrophe. And perhaps Australia can turn gum trees into toilet paper.


When it comes to information, the world is now incredibly connected. A hundred years ago news of an epidemic in China might have taken months to reach Europe. Now information moves almost instantaneously. Unfortunately, misinformation and downright lies move just as fast, a fact that many politicians exploit.  But what seems to have changed during this pandemic is that we now recognise the need for information that is trustworthy – and based on scientific facts. Ignorant politicians who made confident assertions at the outset of the pandemic are now looking, at the very least, sheepish. Trump, whose understanding of science is at best tenuous, misunderstood and downplayed the coronavirus threat to the USA only a month ago. At the same time, the leader of the Italian Democratic Party was exhorting his countrymen to carry on as normal and posting clips of himself in a restaurant with friends – now he has the virus. I can only repeat the marvellous South African phrase – sê maar niks en vloek saggies!  


Meanwhile, everyone wants to know how best to protect themselves and their families, and people are turning to proper scientific studies for information. We know science can make mistakes, but it is constantly questioning itself, and in the end provides knowledge. Our only hope lies in applying wisdom to knowledge.  My hope is that this crisis will boost public confidence in science, and make us a little wiser and more compassionate. More than that, many of us hope for a new sense of community based on the timeless quality of human kindness.


Already there are many examples of individuals and communities reaching out to each other in our country and all over the world. So please keep yourselves safe, and support our local organisations that are getting food to those who are really suffering!


Book review

Biological Invasions in South Africa 2020

Editors: Brian W van Wilgen; John Measey; David M Richardson; John R Wilson; Tsungai A Zengeya

By Dr Donovan Kirkwood

If you have even a passing interest in the history, impact and control of invasive plant and animal species in South Africa, this book has something for you. You can download it for free in either PDF or ePub formats from Springer publishing at


In a world of information snippets and two-second attention spans, an academic book this size may seem challenging, but fortunately its nearly 1,000 pages are arranged into clear subjects and sections that can mostly be read as stand-alone components, so you can get value by just dipping in without reading it cover to cover. For those with more commitment and time, especially during the Covid-19 lockdown, this book offers plenty of insights into the issues around plants and animals that have become invasive after being introduced into South Africa and our sub-Antarctic islands.


The editors and contributors are leaders in their field with considerable experience in advising on plant and animal control programmes and policy. As scientists their writing isn’t exactly light and fluffy, but because they work in a practical field, it’s as approachable as academic writing gets.

The book tackles the immense negative impact of invasive plants in terms of water, fire risk to ecosystems and humans, as well as the devastation to biodiversity. It also contrasts the need for strategic prioritisation against the hopelessly inadequate budget available. I’ve been involved in this field for 20 years, and my only minor criticism is that despite calling for better quality control and processes, it doesn’t sufficiently stress the importance of how invasive plant clearing is best done. I would have liked more on the difference between the clearing outcomes and spending efficiency of a well-trained and managed team with audited outcomes versus a sloppy, poorly monitored one. Part of the problem is the lack of data on this, but even an expert opinion could help to improve implementation. Nonetheless, no other book offers such a comprehensive understanding of the issues around invasive plants and animals, and, wonderfully, it’s free.


As it is not intended as a practical guide, those looking for a simple how-to should try Jeremy Croudace’s excellent ‘The Alien Clearing Handbook for the Western Cape’ which is sometimes available at Kirstenbosch bookshop. Another alternative that briefly reviews invasive impacts and focuses on simple strategies and methods is the 2009 publication ‘An Introduction to Managing Invasive Alien Species for the City Of Cape Town’, which can be downloaded using the link below:

CREDIT: Dr. Donovan Kirkwood, Curator at Stellenbosch University Botanical Garden

Book review

She Down There

Author: Lynton Francois Burger

By Alison Faraday

She Down There is local author Lynton Burger’s first novel – but this author is no rookie. As a marine biologist, master diver and award-winning underwater photographer, Burger understands the ocean deeply, and his writing is imbued with his love of the marine world. Burger’s writing immerses us in this love through his main characters – Claire Lutrísque, a marine biologist with native Canadian ancestry from the Haida tribe, and Klaas Afrikaner, born and raised in the Karoo but drawn to a life in the ocean.

The novel moves from the cold waters of Vancouver, through the reed-filled waters of a Karoo farm dam during apartheid, to the warm Benguela current off the Mozambique coast. Weaving through these watery settings is the ancient and mystical presence of ‘She Down There’ – part mermaid, part goddess, part silent witness to the destruction of ocean life. Through their soul connections to ocean beings, Claire and Klaas are both able to feel her presence in their underwater explorations. Orcas, sea cows, dugongs, dolphins and turtles are portrayed as beings with a depth of wisdom that eludes landlubbers. The reader experiences the ocean from this empathetic perspective – and we feel the terrible destruction being inflicted on these innocent victims by poachers and tourists alike.


At its heart this is a love story – with ‘Ocean’ as the main character with whom we are encouraged to fall in love. If you have never known how it feels to be at home underwater, this book will give you a sense of that. Through Claire and Klaas’s eyes we experience the beauty, the peace and the mystery of ‘Ocean’. You might even want to take diving lessons after reading this book!


I loved this book, I felt this book and I was moved by it. Definitely worth reading.

Much like us

A poem by Cecil Whiteman

So it was the virus

But only for us

Outside the World went on its quotidian way

Birds sang, fish swam and flowers bloomed

Dolphins visited newly quiet Venice

The Earth spun, circled the Sun, night followed day

When tides turn the seaweed sway with the waves life goes on unconcerned

With Stock Markets, economies, Nationalities, Ethnicities, Religion and silly rivalries

Whether Man U, Liverpool, L A Lakers lost or won

Has Formula One Begun

What is Beyonce wearing or not wearing today, is she going to stay with JayZee?

If we think at all, we have a problem with reality

With who or what we are, where we fit

Warring with an organism that unlike cattle, birds and whales

Cannot be caught, shot, tamed and abused

Going viral in a nasty way

An organism similar to us in many ways

As much of Earth as us

Noordhoek Wetland Cleanup

Earlier this year the community came together to clean up the Noordhoek Wetland. Take a look at this short slideshow to see what they uncovered.

DISCLAIMER: Views expressed in our newsletter articles are those of the contributors and where applicable, those of the authors of the original source material.

Our next newsletter will be out in July and we welcome contributions from all our members and residents of the Noordhoek valley. So please get in touch if you have any interesting, informative or entertaining content you would like to share with our members.



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NEAG is a voluntary organisation run by a handful of passionate and committed residents of the Noordhoek valley, with the aim of preserving the natural heritage of our beautiful valley and promoting the holistic interaction between humans and the natural environment to ensure the benefit of all – its residents and visitors (both human and more-than-human) and its environment.


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