Sea Change: Primal Joy and the Art of Underwater Tracking

There’s an incredible new South African book on the block and it is a book for lovers: book lovers, ocean lovers, lovers of photography, of inspiration, for lovers of the exquisite kelp forests of the Cape, and for anyone who can say or may even just suspect that they are in love with nature in all its wild and mysterious glory. More than a stunning visual feast, this is a work of art, a coffee-table tome that you will also want to devour as a novel. The book is called Sea Change: Primal Joy and the Art of Underwater Tracking (Quivertree, 2018) and it is not only a loving homage to our underwater forests and the countless creatures that call these forests home, but also a challenge to the reader to explore boundaries both physical and mental, and to reconnect with that which has been lost or forgotten.

“There is a wild seaforest growing beneath the wind and waves at the southern tip of Africa. Here, millions of creatures live in a borderless realm still ungoverned by man and it is strange and beautiful beyond the telling.”

Written by Craig Foster and Ross Frylinck, and edited by Philippa Ehrlich, Sea Change documents the rediscovery of the magnificent kelp forests of their childhood, showcasing Craig’s photographic work over the past decade as well as his scientific discoveries that caught the world's attention, and follows several journeys of personal transformation facilitated by complete and total immersion in the cold but welcoming waters at the southern tip of Africa.

Sea Change: Primal Joy and the Art of Underwater Tracking is published by Quivertree Publications, ISBN 978-1-928429-12-8, Available at all leading bookstores or online from Takealot or Loot.

Sea Change the book is just one of several outputs under the umbrella of the Sea-Change Project, which is a much larger community of scientists, storytellers, journalists and filmmakers who are dedicated to exploring the ocean. The Sea-Change Project also involves a feature documentary, a series of exhibitions, field courses and an outreach campaign.

We highly recommend this book as a gift, to yourself or others. Deep, engaging and thought-provoking, it will provide hours and hours of joy and fascination. Click here to get yours.

“This project is also about our ancient connection with nature, and what it means to be a human being on this planet at a time when we’re getting further and further away from nature. But this is something that’s very integral to what it means to be human. We have also had relationships with animals, we evolved as part of nature, and you’ve got to reconnect.” – Philippa Ehrlich

Craig Foster

Craig Foster is a co-founder of Sea-Change Trust and one of the world’s leading natural history filmmakers. He has dedicated himself to learning the secrets of the Golden Forest – the inshore kelp habitat at the southwest tip of Africa, his underwater home. Through this regular intensive immersion, he has uncovered a plethora of new animal behaviours and eight new species of shrimp, one of which has been named after him: Heteromysis Fosteri.

Craig founded the Sea-Change Project to share his love of nature with others – and we had the privilege of asking him a few questions.

Hear Craig's story and insights at the Two Oceans Aquarium Kelp Night on 31 January 2019.

3 words to describe the kelp forests of the Cape

Enchanted underwater wonderland

3 things that the kelp forests taught you

1. Underwater tracking

2. Cold adaption

3. That there is a deep ecological intelligence in nature which I call "forest mind"

When you’re in the ocean, it makes you feel…

Very present, energised, and heightens sensitivity to the subtle signs left by animals.

What animal behaviour that you witnessed will stay with you the longest, and why?

Probably the octopus picking up over 80 shells and stones to make a temporary armoured shell to protect against shark attack. It took so long to work out all the intricacies of this behaviour. Spending over a year on this nature mystery and finally solving it makes me never forget it, as well as the exotic nature of the behaviour.

Not everyone has easy access to the Cape coastline, nor the necessary skills or determination to take part in “intensive immersion” in cold, wild water such as the kind that you talk about in Sea Change. In what ways can regular, landlocked people pursue the same transformative experiences through nature in their daily lives?

Deep relationship with any wild creatures will enhance life experience and bring joy. Most people have birds and insects in their backyards. To know their names, their life cycles, their behaviours, puts you back in touch with the world around you. We are the first group of people since the beginning of time to disconnect from the natural world. We can name hundreds of corporate brands and what they do, yet we cannot name ten creatures in our backyard, let alone understand their lives. Psychologically that's very disturbing for the wild human that lives inside all of us.

How does one go about describing a new species, especially something as small as a shrimp? What first made you suspect you had a new species on your hands?

In order to find and have species described you first have to be able to recognise all the known animals. Then it's much easier to see something that stands out as new. I've actually found many new species, but having them described is another matter. It is a long and arduous process that often takes years. That's when I turn to Professor Charles Griffiths who is a professional taxonomist. He does all the hard science descriptions to make the name official, often consulting with other specialist around the world.

What excites you about the unknown, about how much is still to be discovered?

What most people don't realise is that science knows only a small fraction about what's happening in nature, especially in the Great African Seaforest. In Sea-Change we've got so many nature mysteries being worked on, all our minds trying to solve them. As we slowly solve one, 10 more pop up. It's just fantastic waking up everyday with so much excitement, because each mystery solved brings us closer to the wild, to this extraordinary natural world which is our original home and life giver.

Philippa "Pippa" Ehrlich

Pippa Ehrlich spent much of her childhood in Johannesburg, dreaming of nature. Some of her earliest memories are of wading into the sea at Boulders Beach in Simonstown where she learned to swim. As an adult, Pippa set out to explore nature and our relationship with it as humans. Her role as conservation journalist for Save Our Seas Foundation brought her back to the shores of False Bay where she met Ross and Craig and experienced her first taste of Sea-Change magic. Her growing love for the Golden Forest draws her into these cool waters on an almost daily basis where she goes in search of stories that deepen her connection to this incredible wilderness and its weird and wonderful inhabitants. Pippa shared some of her thoughts about the ocean forests with us.

Describe the kelp forests of the Cape?

Unique, abundant, awe-inspiring, constantly transforming depending on the conditions

3 things that the kelp forests taught you

1. To stay curious and become aware of details I would never have noticed before.

2. That no matter what kind of mood you are in, the ocean will make you feel good.

3. I used to have a constant urge to travel to wild and remote places, but some of the most powerful experiences of my life have happened in the last couple of years, in a small piece of underwater forest on the doorstep of a major city.

When you’re in the ocean, it makes you feel…

Like anything can happen at any moment and you have to be completely present so that you don’t miss anything.

What animal behaviour that you witnessed will stay with you the longest, and why?

I have had two unforgettable experiences with otters. The first time I watched three young ones climbing out of the water onto a rocky ledge. Each of them had a different kind of prey. I watched them for ages. They seemed to be having the best morning of their lives, sharing food and rolling around in the sun. I crept up to them to get some shots but when I got to close they got a fright and hid in a cave. I moved off again and they gingerly emerged and headed back into the sea. I felt so lucky to have seen them, but also sad that I had put a damper on what seemed like a very happy moment for them.

A couple of months later I was swimming about 100m from the shore, when these two big things criss-crossed in front of me. It took a while before I realised that they were otters. I think they must feel more confident in the water. One of the animals was quite shy, but the other kept swimming around me, paddling up to me on the surface and then zooming down to the sand to feel under rocks for prey. I spent about 15 minutes with them.

In what ways can regular, landlocked people pursue the same transformative experiences through nature?

I think we are lucky to have the ocean because it is such an extreme environment, which means that it breaks down our internal barriers really fast - but there is nature everywhere. I had a praying mantis living in my house for a while and became almost as excited about her as I was about the kelp forest. I also think it’s important to remember that people are part of nature - especially physically. Getting into your body through practices like dance or yoga can also be very powerful in reminding us that we are very connected to everything around us.

WIN a copy of Sea Change worth R850 

We are giving away two copies of Sea Change, worth R850 each. This competition is now closed. The winners are:

  • Lisa Wakelin
  • Cathy Beveridge


Competition terms and conditions

  1. All content sent to the Two Oceans Aquarium as entry into the competition may be used on the Aquarium’s website and associated digital platforms.
  2. Entries close at 24h00 on Monday 17 Decemer 2018.
  3. Winners will be notified on Tuesday 18 December 2018.
  4. To be entered into the lucky draw, the question must be answered correctly.
  5. Two individual winners will be chosen by lucky draw.
  6. Each winner will receive one complimentary copy of Sea Change.
  7. Representatives of the Two Oceans Aquarium will pick the winner from eligible entries.
  8. Prizes are non-transferable.
  9. Prizes must be collected at the Two Oceans Aquarium within three months of the date of issue.
  10. The judges’ decision is final and no correspondence will be entered into.
  11. The winners may be required to participate in a photo-taking session during the issuing of the prize.
  12. Pictures may be posted online.
  13. Entry into the competition and acceptance of any prize shall constitute consent on the winner's part to allow the use of the winner's name, image, voice and/or likeness by the Two Oceans Aquarium for editorial, advertising, promotional, marketing and/or other purposes without further compensation except where prohibited by law.
  14. This competition is not open to Two Oceans Aquarium or volunteers and their families.
  15. Anyone who has won a competition or promotion through the Two Oceans Aquarium in the last six months is not eligible to win.
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