Known for being one of the best land-based whale watching destinations on the planet, De Hoop Marine Protected Area is situated just three hours away from Cape Town. From the sand dunes at Koppie Alleen, magnificent and expansive views of this 48 km rugged yet extremely special coastline may be had and more importantly, this point overlooks the bay where the whales prefer to congregate. The whales arrive from their southern feeding grounds during May and June each year and numbers peak around September and October. They choose the sheltered bays to calve and then mate again, with the bulls fighting hard to gain access to the receptive cows. Annual aerial censuses of the protected area have recorded numbers in excess of 350 whales at one time. Whales may be viewed breeching, tail slapping, swimming fast with definite purpose or just lying lazily on the surface, rocking with the swells as their calves swam next to them.
De Hoop is also home to huge schools of shoaling fish, turtles, rays of various species, mola mola, bottlenose dolphins, rare humpback dolphins and on occasion Bryde’s and humpback whales. In the early months of each year, large schools of hammerhead shark pups migrate through together with the mega-pods of common dolphin and accompanying flocks of Cape gannets. In the summer months when yellowtail, kob, elf, garrick and rays of various species are common, large concentrations of great white sharks can also be viewed from the tops of the white dunes just to the west of Koppie Alleen.
The intertidal rocky platforms that spread from the shoreline like huge tables are home to a veritable array of invertebrate species from the thick beds of mussels interspersed with barnacles and reef worms through to starfish, nudibranchs, periwinkles, limpets and delicate flatworms. The deeper rock pools showcase a kaleidoscope of color where large orange anemones are accompanied by smaller plum and red colored species and purple, reddish and orange urchins bristle their spines.
With all this bounty on the rocks, African black oystercatchers are plentiful and time spent watching these birds reveals just how in tune with their environment they actually are. They fed on the edge of the tidal platforms where waves smash over their target food source, the mussels. The oystercatchers constantly kept a beady eye on the waves and time their movements perfectly, knowing which wave-breaks they can stand into and which waves are just going to be too big and force them to fly briefly above them, before they settle down again to feed.
A snorkel in one of the well-sheltered bays near Koppie Alleen, that is protected from the crashing waves but is still deep enough to allow the larger fish good feeding grounds reveals harmless spotted gulley-sharks, numerous Galjoen, that are seldom viewed away from marine protected areas and nursery shoals of fish. Under the rocky overhangs, yellow-bellied rock cods drift lazily and the blacktail’s and zebra’s are huge in comparison to other areas outside of MPAs. It is easy to notch up over twenty species of fish in just half an hour of snorkelling, never minding the countless invertebrates and seaweeds.
It is only when seeing such abundance in the waters of De Hoop MPA that you really begin to see the incredible value that no-take marine protected areas provide. We really must do our utmost to ensure that these assets continue to be protected.
For more information please do visit Marine Protected Areas South Africa and also please help spread the news in support of our MPAs.