Fancy a guess at what you’re looking at above?
That’s an extreme close-up of a pyjama catshark’s eye, featured in a book called Sea Change: Primal Joy and the art of underwater tracking.
Published by divers Craig Foster and Ross Frylinck, the book covers the “vast underwater kelp forest off the west coast of South Africa…documenting [their] close encounters with these wild animals”.
The duo has done pretty well to get their book featured on CNN, who focus on Foster’s experience diving the forests:
[The book] details how he touched a cat shark on its “nose” before it lay relaxed in his hands “tame as a puppy.” It describes how an enormous stingray wrapped its wings around him for a few frightening seconds, and how a Cape clawless otter reached out to touch his face.
But his most memorable encounter was with an octopus he befriended and accompanied on hunts.
Foster’s octopus even made a cameo on the BBC’s “Blue Planet II” documentary last year, where it demonstrated an impressive camouflage technique in which it grabs shells and stones to build a temporary armored shell around itself to ward off small predators.
This is just one of dozens of never-seen-before behavioral traits that Foster has witnessed on his dives. He has discovered seven new species, including a shrimp that was named after him: Heteromysis Fosteri.
Yeah, you think you’re cool, but do you have a species of shrimp named after you? Nah, didn’t think so.
Foster is determined to bring attention to the issues that threaten the survival of these underwater habitats:
He is more mindful of the multiple threats facing the kelp forest: plastic and chemical pollution, over fishing, poaching, ocean mining and climate change.
Through his work Foster hopes to raise awareness of what he calls the “great African sea forest” — which spans from Cape Town up the coast to Namibia.
This particular kelp forest extends for 1,000 kilometers and is just 100 meters wide. It is one of the most productive ecosystems in the world, providing food, shelter and the ideal habitat for various species including endangered sea snails called abalone, the Cape fur seal and a variety of shark species.
Some of the images are pretty stunning:
From the top, that’s a patchwork cuttlefish, a blue dragon (a species of nudibranch), and an argonaut, which are also known as paper nautiluses.
Thankfully, action is being taken to preserve the kelp forests, but there is still quite some way to go:
Last month, South Africa’s Department of Environmental Affairs approved the declaration of 20 marine protected areas, collectively covering 50,000 square kilometers. This means 5% of the country’s oceans are now protected, compared to 0.4% previously.
“We are now working to try get to 10%,” said Foster. “I think marine protected areas are absolutely critical, we should ideally be at 50%.”
He adds that it should be in everyone’s interest to “honor our pact with the wild.”
“Our African ancestors lived here for hundreds of thousands of years and left us with a completely intact ecosystem,” he said. “It’s our duty to do the same for our children.”
If you would like to find out more about the book, you can visit the Sea Change Project site.
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