Eco-Friendly Cape Town Tidal Pools Shine in Drone Photos
Feb 01, 2023
Cape Town’s tidal pools received a much needed refresher after the city switched to eco-friendly cleaning methods. The result, seen in photos by Amazing Aerial drone photographer Jay Caboz, is a rejuvenated ecosystem and community.
Early morning swimmers at Dalebrook tidal pool. Cape Town’s tidal pools attract a passionate community of swimmers who brave the cold water. © Amazing Aerial Agency / Jay Caboz
By Rebecca Duras
Look at the gorgeous photos of Cape Town’s emerald tidal pools, and you might find it hard to believe that they are within city limits instead of on some far-off beach paradise. Cape Town boasts 24 tidal pools that are a space for the community to swim, relax, and get close to nature. Amazing Aerial drone photographer Jay Caboz set out on a project to visit and photograph all of them.
In the process, he captured the change in the pools over the past few years since the city switched to eco-friendly cleaning methods. The vibrant ecosystems and communities that sprung up around the pools since 2020 show that protecting nature even within busy cities is possible with the right investment.
The Path to a Citywide Policy Change
Cape Town’s tidal pools have been a refuge for swimmers and divers for over a century. The British colonial government started the project of building the pools in the late 19th and early 20th century to provide Capetonians with a safe space to swim. The pools are protected from the dangers of the open ocean such as riptides, currents, and even sharks. During apartheid, the pools were often the only way for non-white people banned from segregated beaches to experience the ocean.
Over the years, the tidal pools became a home not just for people, but for other species as well—coastal dwellers such as fish, anemone, and even octopi. However, the pools were not always a safe refuge for these animals. Cape Town free diver Lisa Beasley noticed that the amount of wildlife in the tidal pools fluctuated dramatically during the month. After investigating, she learned that the ecosystem would be decimated every time the city cleaned the pools with harsh chemicals.
Beasley’s organization Cape Town Tidal Pools began a campaign in 2016 to convince the city government to use eco-friendly cleaning methods by cleaning four pools themselves using these tools. The campaign was successful and the government agreed to make the switch to chalk paint and pumps instead of harmful chemicals by the end of 2020.
The campaign was supported by evidence that the tidal pools, despite being manmade, are now a vital part of the ecosystem. A 2020 study during COVID-19 lockdowns when there was minimal human interference in the pool found that Cape Town’s tidal pools are home to 48 different species of marine wildlife.
Capturing All the Pools, From Above and the Ground
For Jay Caboz, reporting on Beasley’s journey to save the pools began a journey of his own. Fascinated by the pools after his move from landlocked Johannesburg, he embarked on a project of trying to photograph all 24 Cape Town tidal pools from the air.
Jay’s move to Cape Town happened to coincide with his first drone purchase. As he was testing out his drone, he flew it above the Maiden’s Cove tidal pool. “When I first saw that image of what the tidal pool looked from above, I saw that it looked amazing [thanks to] that shift in perspective from ground level to top down,” Jay explains.
The first image sparked a curiosity about what the other pools looked like from the air. “I realized that they’re all differently shaped, architecturally they merge with the landscape,” Jay explains. “You don’t notice it from the ground, then when you’re 15 meters above it’s completely different.” The use of drone photography allowed him to capture the pools in motion, both the motion of the waves and the motion of the people that use them. After all, Cape Town’s tidal pools are nothing without the communities that keep them alive and fight for them to be healthy.
Jay’s mission of capturing all the tidal pools from the changed perspective of the air also helped him change some perspectives on the ground. Many of Cape Town’s tidal pools are located in areas perceived as unsafe, such as the township of Khayelitsha. “As a journalist, I’m always challenging what society tells you to do, and that was one of the big things motivating me, exploring [my] city to get to know it from the ground up,” Jay says. “If someone tells you Khayelitsha is dangerous, is it really dangerous? Some of those pools were mind-blowingly beautiful, absolutely stunning from above.”
The reputation of certain neighborhoods and tidal pools as unsafe has to do with the legacy of apartheid, when poor and racialized people were forced to live in townships such as Khayelitsha. Through his work, posting tidal pools such as Khayelitsha’s Monwabisi on social media, and bringing his friends with him on his adventures, Jay is working to overcome ideas left over from apartheid. The only thing he’s ever encountered in his work in neighborhoods such as Khayelitsha is curiosity that a white, middle-class man will come to a tidal pool in a predominantly Black area just to swim. “As South Africans, we’ve got to get over the idea that areas are bad or good,” he explains.
A New Vibrant Community Thanks to the Eco-Friendly Cleaning Methods
In the past two years since the city switched to eco-friendly cleaning methods, Jay and other tidal pool swimmers have noticed a difference. The biodiversity in the pools has grown noticeably, so much so that swimmers now have to wear water shoes to avoid stepping on sea urchins.
The growth in life around the pools is not just confined to marine animals. Humans are also taking a bigger interest in the pools. Jay and other tidal pool regulars have noticed more and more people from all walks of life coming to the tidal pools to swim, run, or just relax by the ocean.
The growth of marine life in the pools has also increased awareness about the environment and marine life. Locals organize their own litter pickups and data capturing excursions, staffed by volunteers. Organizations such as the I Am Water Foundation lead under-resourced students from local townships on excursions to the pools so they can learn about the ocean and learn to swim and snorkel. “I’ve seen personally the way the kids react, they say ‘I never knew there was something underneath here we always assumed it was just water,’” Jay says. Many Capetonians simply did not know they had such a reserve of marine life in their backyard, and the preservation of the tidal pools increases awareness about the richness of ocean life.
Capetonians have always been proud of their city and the beautiful nature surrounding it, but now they have renewed pride in their tidal pools. According to Jay, the pools are increasing in local pride. People are proud to say they are regular swimmers and argue about why their tidal pool is best. The fact that the eco-friendly cleaning program not only survived but thrived even throughout challenges brought on by COVID-19 and the South African economy shows how important the tidal pools are to people.
The tidal pools of Cape Town offer lessons that go beyond the borders of South Africa. The environment is important to people when they are given a chance to care about it. Once people know about the importance of their ecosystem, they will protect it. In a world full of challenging climate stories, the story of Cape Town swimmers and shore animals basking in the pools together is a welcome change.
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