5yr plan?

People love asking questions about future plans. Especially if you've just graduated. But no one asks me questions that I know the answers to. I'm still working out how I plan on saving the oceans and 'living in spitting distance of the sea' doesn't seem to satisfy 'where do you see yourself in 5 years?'.

Why hasn't anyone asked me what I want my life to SOUND like? (Like this: Animals by Baths and this: Bourgeois by Co.Fee). Or what I want my lifestyle to FEEL like? (here we go: Billabong x Oracle Fox). Why doesn't anyone want to know about the delicious monsters and banana leaves that are going to infest the gardens of my little paradise or find out about the extensive balcony that will house all the wetsuits, surfboards and dive gear? No one's asked about the wooden window shutters or the mix matched pottery that will make up the crockery.

It seems a pity, because my dreams have known the answers to those questions for many years :)






I do hope you get to dream about a fun future too my dear sea gypsies :)


an education

I like every letter in the word 'adventure'. Same goes for 'sunshine', 'magic', 'seaside' and 'retroflect'(what the Agulhas current does when it meets the Benguela at the tip of Africa). In these first few weeks of being in London, those words seem to have been replaced with letters that form words such as 'overwhelmed', 'lonely', 'unsettled', 'grey' and 'lost'. These are less pleasant.

I can't quite describe it, but after a particularly low week and spending a lot of time pondering and praying, I have some sea gypsy clarity. Here it is:

-Firstly. Magical, gumption filled adventures are sweeter and on another level of special when your surroundings are ordinary and underwhelming. Much like finding invincible internal sunshine in the depths of winter, you can find magic in naming the neighbourhood pigeons & squirrels/ in public toe tapping & air piano playing. I have found magic hiding in particularly lovely songs and in spreading my aeroplane wings while I go for a run. Adventure has been hiding in treasure hunting: for special clothing in charity shops and online, for signs of spring, for evidence of both big opulent and sneaky hidden art in this big city.

- Secondly, life's an education. All of it. Learning to be alone, learning to go to interviews, learning to be better at directions, learning to communicate with people from different cultures, learning details about Argentinian beef and double macchiatos, learning to talk to yourself during a colliewobble and learning to trust the Lord. Realizing that these are all learning experiences that will help form my character make me a more willing student.

- the combination of these above two things in my mind lead to growing up without becoming a grown up. A prospect that I can now say, is very exciting.

As such, I have new found enthusiasm for all the adventure and education that this year will bring. Here is some evidence of both adventure and magic from the last few weeks :)

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a very little world

In the year 2014, I, little Tal completed my honours degree. A task which resulted in most of my time being spent with my head buried in scientific papers - focused on butterflyfish, tea, the ocean and the people directly around me. It was all quite 'Cape Town, South Africa.'

In the last few days I have realised that 2015 is most certainly not going to be such a year. In fact it is going to be a year of 'All continents of planet earth'. HOW EXCITING IS THAT? All of us little biologists yearning and dreaming of adventure are finally out having them! From Tasmania to Thailand and Mauritius to Munich. And it makes you realise that this earth is so very little. We have progressed from communal 10:30 tea to cross continental conversations.

Last year most certainly had its life-changing adventures (I look forward to sharing them with you as I get the chance in the coming months!) but right now we are heading into very new territory. THESE adventures are going to largely be about becoming a slightly more grown up seagypsy - learning to be independent in one of the world's greatest cities. BUT ALSO: playing like a seagypsy! Island hopping in Greece and tracing the mediterranean coastline, painting pretty things and eating ALL THE ICE CREAM! These are the exciting adventures which await.

But for now, welcome back to my blog- thanks for reading :) And here are some this years first photos from a snowy London!Processed with VSCOcam with f2 presetProcessed with VSCOcam with f2 presetProcessed with VSCOcam with c1 presetProcessed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

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It is globally recognised and understood that the state of our ocean is dire and continuing to decline. Biological terms such as ‘overfishing’, ‘climate change’ and ‘ocean acidification’ are regularly applied to try and pinpoint the culprits of such crimes against our vulnerable seas.

There are many lines of evidence that support the notion that the state of our ocean is declining, the perceived increase in Jellyfish blooms from the 1990’s to early 2000’s is one of them. Jellyfish blooms occur when ocean currents congregate large numbers of individuals into swarms or blooms that consist of thousands of these gelatinous animals.


The increase in jellyfish can indicate poor ocean health because of the specific optimal conditions that jellies require in order to thrive. Warmer ocean temperatures enhance jellyfish production, their feeding and their growth. The overfishing of their predators also means that more jellies survive. Increased water input and nutrients from land (eutrophication) leads to increased supply of plankton into the sea = lots of Jellyfish food!

The question is: have jellyfish blooms really been increasing? The evidence that supports this comes from only a few regions of the world (Benguela current, Sea of Japan and Bering Sea). Other research points toward the possibility that these blooms are part of the natural jellyfish lifecycle. This means that fluctuations/ oscillations in the life history of jellyfish results in periods of high abundance.


This paper by Condon et al. (2012) looked into the occurrences of jelly blooms between 1790 and 2011, investigating 37 datasets of such events. Condon et al. identified two main patterns in jellyfish populations. The first was a weak but significant overall increase in bloom events since the 1970’s.

Secondly, they found that jellyfish experienced recurring oscillations. What was originally perceived as a rise in jellyfish numbers may therefore have actually been part of a natural cycle. This is supported by some examples from around the world. The Bering Sea experienced a rise in jelly blooms in the 1990’s that was accounted to climate change, but the numbers have decreased substantially since then. The same was true for the Black Sea, Sea of Japan and some seas in Denmark.


It is being realised that the jelly blooms are being affected by both global changes and decadal oscillations, but that these are happening on different scales. On a regional scale, influences from humans (such as eutrophication) are causing these jelly populations to increase. At the same time, broad scale oscillations are constantly taking place. This results in compounded blooms that can be terribly harmful when peaks in oscillations and peaks in locally influenced blooms occur at the same time.

Condon et al. concluded that there was no significant increase in jellyfish abundance over the observed over the study time. However, there weren’t enough locations that had jellyfish bloom data over a long time series to contribute to this study. Oscillation events also occur over long periods (~20 years), so a extensive and detailed sample set would be necessary to analyse the changes of these oscillations. This study therefore didn’t have a sufficient basis to reject the claim that jellyfish populations have NOT increased significantly globally.


Regardless of what the ultimate cause of jellyfish booms might be, they do exist. Regarding the increase in jelly numbers that took place in the 1990’s and 2000’s, it is most likely that the rise of a long term oscillation met a local population increase to cause booms. Being aware of these fluctuations and realising the damage they can have both locally and on a large scale should secure our attention. Further research should be undertaken, human impacts should be minimised and mitigation measures should be in place for fishermen, industry and tourism in case detrimental outbreaks occur.

A positive element of this study was the realistic nature with which it was undertaken. Whilst the research was solid, there were recognised gaps in the study such as the lack of long term data and location sites. These weaknesses were taken into account when the possible causes were discussed, as per good scientific practise.

This blog was based on the paper by Condon H., et al. (2012). Recurrent jellyfish blooms are a consequence of global oscillations. PNAS. Vol 110 pp.1000-1005.






could be.

it could be many things. the reason for my current state of bliss. it could be the summer pj's that I am wearing for the first time since last summer. it could be the clean, crisp, gloriously smelling sheets that are rubbing up my smooth legs. it could be the smell of suncream that has been stuck to my face all day. or the fact that spending a week studying soil isn't half as bad as one might expect. it could be the still warm air that smells a bit like cooling charcoal and leftover braai meat. or the fact that I got to hug my sister twice in three days (she doesn't live close by). it could be the stiff, aching muscles that I have from good solid exercise. or the wonderful new music my best mates keep sending me. or maybe the fresh orange flavoured rooibos tea i just made. it could be the signs of spring that are becoming more frequent. or new ventures that are being undertaken with friends.

it could be many things. yes indeed it could. x





On the Fence about Fencing

It seems counter intuitive don’t you think? Putting a fence around wildlife, containing and restraining what is by definition not tameable. Yet fences are normal, accepted. Reserves, conservation areas and national parks are defined by this man made boundary and can only operate because of them.

This is because fences are useful. They keep two dangerous and uneasy neighbours apart: humans `and wild animals. Wildlife can cause damage, especially when humans and animals want to occupy the same zip code. They can introduce disease, eat and destroy livestock and crops and threaten human life. In the same way humans can cause damage. We degrade wild land, kill wildlife for food, for trade, and to defend and protect our land and on occasion, even our lives. Fences then, would seem mutually beneficial.

But there are more specific ecological reasons for erecting fences. Endangered animals that need to be preserved are often fenced as a last attempt at conservation and as protection from poachers. Fences also separate endangered species from predators and protect native species from invasive ones. Preventing collisions on the road and disease transmissions between species, as well as securing animals as a commodity (for wildlife hunting) are also important reasons to fence. The costs and ecological consequences associated with fencing are however great and very necessary to discuss.


Fencing by definition is creating a boundary, it is fragmenting a habitat and preventing movement and connectivity across a landscape. Animals are also trapped within a confined space, which alters interactions. Predator numbers are often lower in enclosed spaces, which can increase prey numbers and profoundly alter the food web. This in turn can lead to the local extinction of individual species. The environment and land itself also changes. The grazing it needs to support is much higher because animal movement across large areas has been shut down. This leads to changes in the vegetation and a decrease in wild herbivores that are dependent on the vegetation for food.

This is intensified with climate change because as habitats are changing and shifting, animals can’t shift and adjust with them. The fence itself poses a threat to wildlife. Poachers often modify the wire to create snares and predators can even change their predation techniques by chasing their prey into fences and trapping them. In turn, park rangers and managers, see the predators as threats/pests and remove them from the enclosed space.

Compounding the costs, are the practical challenges that exist when constructing fences. Design, location and maintenance, to mention some. Once the challenges are overcome, one might also find that these boundaries fail to deliver the benefits that are expected. They don’t always act as an efficient barrier to determined poachers and sometimes also fail to prevent large animals from breaking through them. In southern India for example, 49% of fences fail to prevent elephants from passing through them.


We understand that the function of fences is necessary, but are there alternative approaches that might not have such extensive impacts? Turns out there are. Human/Wildlife conflict can be managed through alternate methods of herding, grazing, crop guarding and wildlife sensitive land use planning. One might also prevent disease spread through vaccinations. Using virtual fences, such as scent marks to constrain African wild dogs is effective but expensive and labour intensive.

Fences are an ‘easy fix’. Once constructed, one often feels like the problem has been solved. This article reviewed does a good job at discussing why this is often not the case, why fences often create more problems than they solve. The intricate balance of ecosystems is compromised by the erection of fences and this article concludes by stating that they should be a last resort in the conservation effort.

Fences are however not always the last resort and in some situations can be the better solution. An example close to home exists. Baboons on the Cape Peninsula of South Africa are in conflict with humans, as these animals have adapted to utilizing food, waste and shelter that is provided by people. In turn they are aggressive, destructive and dangerous. In this particular situation, the pros of fencing have outweighed the cons as an effective management tool.

Fencing is a traditional and accepted method of management and conservation. But with altering climate causing habitats to change, it is important that we start to think of other more suitable options for conservation. We need to ensure that we don’t try and contain or save one species at the detriment of an entire landscape.

This review is based on: Woodroffe,R. et al. 2014. To Fence or not to Fence. Science 344 (46) deer-and-fence  

Born free

voting day thoughts:

It's funny how we associate freedom with leaving home. Especially since South African's can only refer to our beloved country  as 'home' BECAUSE of our freedom.

OUR freedom. Everyone. All who were born in South Africa. 20 years. It still gives me goosebumps, hopefully it always will.

Election day seems peaceful, reverend, contemplative, filled with gratitude. Even the weather-the calm sea, lack of wind and the magnificent tumbling clouds seem mindful of the fact that on this day, 2 decades ago and every 4 years since, we make history. The magnitude does not escapes me.

I share South Africa with a generation of democratic babies, who haven't experienced segregation and apart-ness in the legally enforced way our parents generation did. I am part of a generation who has the privelage of living on the legacies built by Madiba, Biko, Luthuli and others.

The cost of Zuma's compound, the silly things Malema says, the people Helen Zille kisses-today they are shadowed by the fact that WE are free, WE are home and WE got to vote.

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