In August 2019, the South African oil giant Sasol and the Italian behemoth Eni were granted environmental authorisation to drill for hydrocarbons in the middle of seven ‘marine protected areas’. The ensuing uproar delivered no fewer than 47 appeals, which were all knocked back by the national government. But in mid-June 2021, papers were filed in the North Gauteng High Court that represent the strongest challenge yet. The question remains: will the madness stop?
To hear it from divers that are familiar with the seasons and rhythms of the Protea Banks, there are waters off the KZN coast that are like nowhere else on earth. They will tell you of huge schools of hammerheads that glide overhead in summer; hundreds of ragged-tooths that flash past in winter; elusive tiger sharks that can be spotted from January to June; perennial bull sharks and oceanic blacktips; aggregations of giant guitar sharks that are endemic to this 1,200 square kilometres of sea.
You may also hear stories of eagle rays, round ribbontail rays and sometimes even mantas. From the game fishermen, you may be regaled with tales of the ones that got away; from kingfish, sailfish and marlin to barracuda, dorado and wahoo.
The marine biologists will speak in great detail about the reefs and submarine canyons, where there are species of corals and comb jellies that are still unknown to science. And the locals, if you ask them, might tell you about the humpback whales, which breach and fluke and spy-hop on their way to the south pole.
Still, the best stories are reserved for the months of May and June, when tens of millions of sardines run north up the east coast, after spawning on the Agulhas Bank where the two oceans meet.