Goukamma Nature Reserve: In Dire Straights

Goukamma Nature Reserve on the East Coast of South Africa is one of the countries most valuable Marine Protected Areas. Sadly, the reserve has been making headlines lately after a bulk rice carrier, the Kianai Satu, has run aground releasing, according to moderate estimates, at least 70 tons of oil into the sea. This is less than a 3rd of the total oil onboard the ship, and with a massive coastal swell predicted in the next few days and the ship still heavily stranded, the prospects are far from positive. The Goukamma Marine Protected area covers 18 km of pristine coastline and extends 1.8 km out the sea. The offshore reefs that this MPAprotects act as vital spawning grounds for several well-fished endemic species of temperate reef fish. The Goukamma and Swartvlei estuaries are also important refugia for fish at certain stages in their life cycle.

A team of marine scientists went up to Goukamma Nature Reserve early on Saturday morning before the beaches had been affected by the oil spill. Baseline data was collected from sandy beach and rocky shore habitats both inside and outside the reserve. The survey sites can be resampled at a later stage and compared to the baseline data to see what effect the spill has had on these ecological communities.

Tom Whitehead, one of the scientists involved in the study made the following comment on a wildlife photography and film blog he runs:

The oil spill has dire consequences for local marine life and who knows how long the sandy beach, intertidal and offshore reef ecology will take before it is restored to its previous health. There have already been birds found completely covered in oil as far as Tsitsikamma and Herold’s Bay.

This is a compilation of footage that I filmed on Sunday 11th of August, and since then the situation has becomeMUCH worse. The oil also threatens our valuable estuaries, which are integral to providing refugia for juvenile fish and are also home to the world’s only populations of the Knysna seahorse. Unfortunately, oil has already breached the Goukamma estuary and with the swell expected over the next few days, it is possible that the ship will break up further, spilling more oil into the sea. Let’s hope that the organisations working around the clock to sort out this problem will be able to reduce the extent of the spill and that the insurance company will cough up to pay all the bills necessary for the clean up operation.”

Watch the video of the spill footage, as compiled by Whitehead below:

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