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The NSRI’s conservation efforts are much like the ocean herself – there’s a lot going on that you might not see!

The ocean and all of the sea creatures it houses are constantly being threatened by man-made evils like pollution and climate change.

“I myself have been in the ocean since a very young age, and I have been a diver since the age of nine,” says CEO of the NSRI, Dr Cleeve Robertson. “I remember swimming in rock pools as a child and unconsciously making observations. When I went to university and had to do a Zoology project, I did it in that intertidal zone. People don’t realise how substantially that environment has changed. That’s often one of the biggest obstructions to conservation. If it’s underground or underwater and not visible, then the same energy isn’t applied to conserving it.”

All creatures, great and small

The nature of the NSRI’s work means that the ocean is like an extension of their base of operations, so it’s only natural that the volunteers feel very connected to protecting it. They are keenly aware of changes to shorelines and often encounter stranded animals on beaches.

“We’re actively involved with whale disentanglement operations and have a long history of working with the South African Whale Disentanglement Network (SAWDN). Those operations are very significant and very dangerous. There are cutting sets all along the coast and crews respond at the touch of a button,” Cleeve says. “It often turns into a search for a buoy, because the whales swim on, so some of the operations take hours because obviously, you have to find the whale before you can free it.”

In addition to whales, many other finned and featured creatures get assistance from the NSRI. This includes penguins, dolphins, and the tiniest of victims, turtle hatchlings.

“We’re coming to the end of turtle season, so a lot of hatchlings wash up on the beach. We collect the hatchlings and arrange transport for them to the Two Oceans Aquarium. I was there the other day and I think they’ve currently got about 100 turtles on the roof in little tanks. When they’ve all been rehabilitated, they will be taken about 70km away from Cape Point where the water is warm and released. Every now and then we come across an adult turtle on a beach that is hurt or sick with pneumonia, which we’ll also take back to the aquarium,” Cleeve says.

A voice for change

The other part of the NSRI’s work is advocacy in relation to the ocean. Cleeve is passionate about protecting our waters from sewage pollution. “We’ve been quite active in Cape Town in voicing our opinions on marine pollution from sewage outfalls, particularly along the Atlantic coast,” Cleeve says. “There are four or five outfalls, and there is evidence that they are actually changing the ecosystem because of chemical pollution from things like antibiotics, antiinflammatories and hormones.”

At the moment, there’s an ongoing investigation by the City of Cape Town into sewage outfalls. Hopefully, this will result in proposals being put forward and a solution being found.

“That is partly as a result of our activism. That kind of marine advocacy is a part of our work, as the health of the ocean is an ongoing issue. Climate change is allied to that. We experience the direct impacts of climate change because of the extreme weather conditions it creates. The flooding in KwaZulu-Natal was an example of this.”

It’s not easy being green

The NSRI is also trying to ‘green’ their operations as much as possible. They have implemented solar panelling where possible and all of the stations have water tanks. In addition to this, there’s also been a move towards more fuel-efficient crafts. Many of the boats using 2-stroke motors have been changed to those using 4-stroke motors, which are much cleaner and burn less fuel.

“Obviously as you improve technology, your footprint decreases. We’re also looking at hydrogen and electrical technology to replace the diesel vessels. Hydrogen is obviously a much cleaner solution. When you plan new technology, you have to think ahead about the consequences of what you do,” Cleeve says.

IMAGE CREDIT: Dr Cleeve Robertson

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