A holiday spent at the coast is always special. And, most importantly, it creates memories in children that last a lifetime. Special little holiday treats – like coffee made with condensed milk – and exploring rock pools and walking the beaches make memories that remain with the young ones.
Not many of us are accomplished marine biologists, and there is a bewildering array of organisms in any one rock pool or beach along the KZN coast. So how do we tell our kids what we are looking at? The answer lies in books. As never before, there is a wide variety of books about the marine life on our coast. The best of these in our opinion is George and Margo Branch’s book “The Living Shores of Southern Africa”
Sadly it is out of print now, but George and Margo are in the process of bringing out a revised and updated edition. If, however, you are able to lay your hands on a second hand copy – snap it up. It is the most wonderful, practical guide to our shores. The text is written in layman’s terms and is easily understood. There are chapters that explain phenomena such as rip-currents, tides and the effect of the moon; chapters on rocky shores, sandy beaches, the east coast, the south coast and the west coast – along with notes about their typical life-forms.
And with a book like that, don’t be afraid to take it along on your expeditions onto the rocks. So what if it gets a bit wet! Arm yourself with a few pamphlets or downloaded pages on marine life and the law too – it’s never too early to start teaching the young ones what they can and can’t do. Apart from “Living Shores” there are smaller (and larger) books on the typical fish and other marine creatures of the KZN coast.
Keep in mind that our fish are typical Indo-Pacific species, so much of what is found in the waters around (for instance) the Seychelles, will be found around our shores too. If your interest lies in shells, there are several excellent publications on this. Seaweeds and corals are other interesting forms.
If you are a scuba diver then it is almost essential to swot up the things you see on your dives. It’s very much like bird watching – it becomes far more fascinating if you actually know what you are looking at! Instead of it simply being a pretty fish it becomes a Harlequin Triggerfish, or a Gold-bar wrasse. And the massive eel that stared at you with jaws gaping ceases to be something from a nightmare and becomes a moray eel. The massive fish that stared lugubriously at you becomes a friendly potato- or brindle bass.
Even a walk along the beach can become a fascinating experience. Read up about the snails one sees surfing along the wave-line. Why do they do this? What function do they perform? Or identify the creature that makes the thousands of V-marks in the water as the last of a waves slides back into the sea. What are the thousands of crabs that seem to come from nowhere called? What makes the thousands of small burrows in the beach sand? How do mussels – so common on the rocks – filter the sea? From a few well-chosen books one can learn and teach an enormous amount – and do coastal conservation an outstandingly good turn at the same time.