Jim Hallinan – a heritage specialist with the City of Cape Town – entranced his audience with his beautiful slides and talk on False Bay at the Fish Hoek Valley Residents and Ratepayers Association meeting at the end of August. In the introduction to his topic he commented that we are very spoilt with the wonders around us and often do not appreciate them as much as our visitors do.

Reflecting on what makes False Bay such a valuable asset, Jim remarked on the fact that the Robberg Peninsula near Plettenberg Bay is the only other peninsula of note on what is otherwise the fairly regular coastline of southern Africa. However, while Robberg is just four kilometers in length, the Cape Peninsula by comparison extends more than 60 kms into the sea.

Apart from being a singular landform the Cape Peninsula is a wonder in other aspects too. “South Africa is the only country which has within its boundaries one of the six floral kingdoms or regions of the world – the Cape Floral Region. 25% of the more than 8,500 plant species found in this region are indigenous to the Cape Peninsula making it a showcase for this flora.” Not only rich in flora, the Peninsula is also home to a great variety of fauna. “It is difficult to take a photo of a flower here without seeing an insect associated with it in some form of symbiosis,” said Jim.

At Cape Point the rich biodiversity of the Indian Ocean meets the upwelling nutrient rich, and therefore plankton rich, waters of the Atlantic Ocean making it one of the richest marine environments in the world. Jim showed slides of old photographs of masses of long-finned tuna caught off the public pier at Kalk Bay harbour and spoke of times when  80 000 yellowtail were caught in one day by the trek fishermen at Fish Hoek beach.

Trek fishermen on Fish Hoek beach. Photo: Viv, Scenic South

Trek fishermen on Fish Hoek beach. Photo: Viv, Scenic South

“We can resuscitate the bay- all the components are still in place,” he said. “In 2002 an article in the National Geographic referred to False Bay as being ‘the Serengeti of the sea’. Where else in the world can you almost touch penguins and see whales just meters away?”

He continued: “There has been a long association between man and the sea here on the peninsula as well. During the last glacial period (18 000 – 20 000 years ago) the sea level fell by as much as 130m, exposing the surrounding continental shelf or Agulhas Plain. The Cape Peninsula would have appeared as a ridge of mountains on this plain with Fish Hoek valley a natural highway through them. Hunter-gatherers would have found Peers Cave a very attractive place with wetlands on either side of it inhabited by such animals as spotted hyena, giant Cape buffalo (twice the size of our extant Cape buffalo), hippo, white rhino and lion.

Fish Hoek Valley as it is today. Photo taken from Chapman's Peak by Viv, Scenic South.

Fish Hoek Valley as it is today. Photo taken from Chapman’s Peak by Viv, Scenic South.

 

“The first humans, Homo erectus, are believed to have moved out of the tropics of Africa as early as two million years ago. They could well have moved into southern Africa not long after that. We do not have good archeological evidence of this – only their stone tool artifacts remain for the most part. Of particular importance is exciting evidence coming forward from along the coast of southern Africa of some of the earliest evidence in the world of not only anatomically modern people but also behavior and the systematic exploitation of marine food resources.

Excavations at Blombos Cave near Stilbaai have revealed shells used as jewelry and evidence that these people used ochre as decoration. The tools uncovered show signs of such a high level of sophistication that they can be called works of art. There is nothing to suggest that if it were possible to go back and excavate sites on the Cape Peninsula – such as Peers Cave – with the same attention to detail today, that similar evidence would not be uncovered here. By all indications Peers Cave was a most important archaeological site being the only one within a radius of 100 kilometres with Khoisan rock art. Its excavation in the 1920’s caused great excitement in international archeological circles. It is something we should be proud of.”

Jim concluded with a quotation from  Senegalese Environmentalist Abba Dioum:

“In the end, we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught.”

… and the question …

“Heritage tourism is the fastest growing sector in international tourism today. What are we doing to develop this on the Cape Peninsula and thus ensure the long term conservation of these resources?

Share your thoughts on what we could – and should – be doing to conserve and promote appreciation of our heritage sites.