Craig Foster and Ross Frylinck have spent 8 years together, exploring the underwater world of the kelp forest. The duo explains their adventures, from diving without wetsuits to close animal encounters and the importance of getting the kelp forest on the world map in their book, Sea Change.
Swimming without a wetsuit started off for Craig with violent shivering. After a year of adapting to the cold environment, he felt an overwhelming sense of calmness, noticing changes in his immune system and chemical brain changes, which he says altered the way he thought. Aches and pains that once prohibited him from activities like squash no longer limited him. Swimming without a wetsuit is the way Craig remembers diving from his childhood, which makes it easier to move and allows for connection without barriers.
Craig’s experience as a filmmaker was to remain objective and stay away from the animals. However, indigenous teacher from South America and Africa have always told him otherwise and have traditions of touching animals. Craig gravitated toward this train of thinking and away from his western thinking, which is when his relationship with the underwater world began to change: “the innocence and calm” set in.
This particular coastline is special as it is “literally the space where our species first woke up,” notes Craig. It is also the first place where recordings of life began, outside of the human mind. Africa is and was the perfect storm for humanity, with a good climate and an environment to evolve in. The first divers in the kelp forest are thought to be from 100,000 years ago. It was an incentive for food, is a good place to learn how to swim, and it is highly protected.
“Reducing your own signature and muscle tension in the water is when animals become curious about you,” Craig explains. In one instance he details an otter encounter, which started with the animal swimming around him, scared of his face at first, as it wasn’t sure if Craig would bite. Once the non-threatening approach was known to the otter, it came face-to-face, even touching his cheeks. It followed Craig as he left the water, almost enticing him to come back, which sparked thoughts in Craig’s mind of historical tales of hunting relationships between humans and otters. Animals’ lives are essentially a balance between curiosity and fear, and being underwater allows you to see this for yourself, and how it evolves over time.
Ross, on the other hand, enjoyed an encounter with the usually shy klipvis (rockfish). Normally hard to get close to, Ross had an affinity with these little fish, and one day one let him get close to it. It had specific markings and Ross reflects on the moment as a biblical one. Until that moment, Craig’s stories seemed of being conditioned differently through diving were far fetched.
Animals and Humans
Craig and Ross have experienced what it means to live a wild life on the coast; a liberating and scary reality of being one with nature, seeing the unification with animals, and looking at yourself with new perspective. Craig relates this to his San mentors, who showed him how to communicate with nature by building relationships with creatures, in traditions that are centuries old.
For Ross, False Bay was the scene for his encounter with a white shark. Surprised by the shark’s quiet approach, Craig altered him, prompting a quick swim back to the shore, leaving him unharmed. The duo continued to dive together despite this, and had another encounter with a predator – this time, it was a 4.5-meter sting ray.
The real danger, Craig explains, is from the surges and waves, as animal attacks are rare. His key, as someone who does not feel threatened by animals, is to remain calm. Craig looks to the little creatures to determine when it’s okay to enter the waters. They show the signs of swells to come with anticipation, and the few times he ignored these signs, he was almost killed.
Craig learnt about tracking from his masters in the central Kalahari. However, doing this underwater was no easy task. He took photographs and consulted with marine biologists, who gave him feedback on what he was finding. One of the ways Craig did this was through tiny trackers to tell these stories. Following slime trails lead him to animals, seeing where they were going, and what they were doing. Under the water, many animals are in hiding and it takes an eye for detail to discern the camouflages.
Craig has been taking his son into nature from a very early age, in the same way that his father taught him. Years of holding onto his dad’s back, Tom is now very comfortable in the water and even rode a cow shark in a moment that was very special. Ross’s son, on the other hand, has a different personality and is just getting to know the water. Being in nature, both Craig and Ross note that it forces yourself to face difficult things about yourself and that not all is easy going in nature.
When talking about Octopus longline fishing, Craig and Ross hope that improved methods are introduced for it. Other “super concerning” issues are the fact that divers witness the devastation caused by poachers. Craig notes one encounter where he tried to interfere, but this almost left him killed, which is why he now reports matters when he encounters them. The main goal of these two divers is to spark conversation. Creating the perception of this biodiversity as being iconic is what will ultimately lead to its protection. While these eco systems are highly resistant, they are not able to withstand the pressures of the pollution caused by overfishing and pollution. The kelp forest is precious and needs to be protected from threats as such, which is exactly what Craig and Ross aim to highlight with this book.
The book is bound with stories and incredible photos. For more information on the book or the Sea Change Project, visit www.seachangeproject.com.