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Fresh Perspectives

Moonlight Meander

 

The full moon affects not only the tides, but the creatures living in the ocean as well. On new moon and full moon it’s possible to take part in a nightly beach walk by Sedgefield at the Svartvlei beach. A woman from Sedgefield offers her vast knowledge to the people who join the walk and explains about the creatures that live in and near the water, answering all questions before they’re asked.

I often found strange things from the sea on the beach and wondered what they were. During the introduction before the walk starts Judy Dixon, the guide, took out a vast range of shells, dry algae, shark eggs and other things that are found by the ocean, explaining what they were. Many things she said were quite surprising, and I received so much new information that halfway through I started regretting that I wasn’t taking notes. Among oyster shells and other things that are commonly found on the beach some very interesting objects were passed around, like the egg case of the paper nautilus, bits of coral, the eggs of all different kinds of sharks (yes, eggs. Sharks lay eggs. Like chicken. Maybe not exactly like chicken, but the thought is quite funny) or clam shells with strange perfectly round holes.

I have a lot of different shells with that perfect little hole in them back in Belgium, I used to wander along the beaches in Italy and collect them to make jewellery out of them. I had never asked myself how those very convenient little holes came to be, I thought they were formed through slow abrasion on the ocean floor. The real story is far more interesting: molluscs and snails are capable of drilling holes into shells in order to be able to eat the animal that lives inside.There is an interesting and surprising story like that behind many things and creatures found on the beach – at one point we stood for a good 45 minutes in front of a large rock, speaking about the little snails, the crabs and spiders that live on it, as well as the rock itself, how the little nooks were formed and how the tides affect the creatures that live on the rock. And it was truly interesting. Really. It may not sound like that much of a plan, let’s stand there for almost an hour and speak about a rock, but that woman really kept my attention focussed the whole time – and that says a lot. She finds ways to make it sound interesting and to make the people relate to what she says, so they don’t get bored. I don’t want to spoil the experience for those who do go and join the walk, but did you know that to avoid getting cooked by the heat those little snails make threads, jump off the rock and then drag themselves back up by eating the thread? They go bungee-jumping, as Judy put it.

Apart from learning so many things, it was also just a very lovely nightly walk. After the introduction we set out on the beach and the sun was just starting to set. Even though the sky was overcast, the atmosphere was really nice. We walked calmly, with no rush, and stopped whenever there was something interesting. Instead of a lecture it was more like a loose conversation, which I think played an important role in keeping my attention focused. The walk is a great opportunity to learn about the ground you walk on at the beach – literally: there are countless creatures hidden under the sand or the water that we are usually not aware of, and the low tide brings them to the light (of the full moon) to observe. Taking a long walk with a local and have them explain expansively about everything around me is something that I wish to do in every place that I visit, but it is not very often that there is a wonderful occasion such as these nightly beach walks to do that.

As darkness slowly fell over us people started switching on torches and lanterns, setting a wonderful dreamy mood. Because of the clouds covering the moon we walked in complete darkness for a while, which was quite wonderful – I got very distracted by all the good photo opportunities, so if you have a good camera make sure to bring it along (possibly with a tripod). We stopped by a large whale bone to talk and then went on to some great rock pools, where we found all sorts of colourful starfish, anemone, crabs, little fish, purple sea urchins, shrimp and plenty of active little creatures whizzing about in the crystal clear water. As we were making our way back the clouds parted and a surprisingly bright moon shone on us, tinting everything in strange light.

At one point Judy made a side-remark about the ocean – “oh look, you can see that glow in the ocean. People used to say it’s phosphorescent, but it is now proven that this is bioluminescence, literally meaning living light, made by plankton in the water…” I froze on the spot and stared at the waves until I saw it. Where the waves were breaking, a green glow spread in the foaming water. I stood there wide-eyed and with the most wonderful feeling spreading through me, for since I had first heard of bioluminescence and glowing water it seemed like something from an amazing dream to me. I had always wanted to see it, and there it was. If it weren’t for all the people around me I would have dropped my camera and bag right there and run into the water, clothes and shoes and all. Seeing the ocean glow at night is one of the wonderful things I will never forget.

I’m very glad I went on this experience, and I’d happily do it again. I was surprised to see that all the people who joined the walk were far older than me. It’s kind of sad that young people don’t seem interested in these kinds of activities, and lose their fascination for nature. The next Moonlight Meander is scheduled for 15 and 16 February 2014 – I am marking those dates on my calendar – so don’t miss the chance and head out to the beach at sunset.