South Africa’s maritime history is arguably one of the most interesting. From tales of the Flying Dutchman haunting the coastal waters to numerous shipwrecks settled neatly on the ocean floor, we have a collection of stories to share and interesting places to explore.
One of those interesting places is Dyer Island, famed for its Great Whites and Cape Fur Seals.
Dyer Island was first named “Ilha da Fera”, or Island of Wild Creatures, by the 15th century Portuguese sailors who travelled a route that would take them past the island. In later years it was formally named Dyer Island after Samson Dyer, a Polynesian seaman who was the first to be stationed on the island back in 1806. The island is home to a colony of Cape Fur Seals, and at the time when Samson Dyer lived there, the colony was mostly living at Geyser Rock, just across from Dyer Island. Samson would harvest the seals and he also collected guano (bird droppings) which was sold as fertiliser. To this day, if you explore Dyer Island, you can see boiling pots and fireplaces left from the time he lived there.
Believe it or not, but by the mid-19th century, the island was being regularly scrapped off bird droppings, a practice that only stopped in 1983. The droppings were primarily from African penguins who live on the island. The Penguins would use the droppings as a burrow when nesting, and as the droppings were removed, they had no choice but to nest on the open ground. This left them vulnerable to predators, including humans. Towards the late 19th century, penguin eggs were considered a delicacy and many liked to indulge in the treat. Up to 26 400 penguin eggs were collected in 1902 alone. The result of people’s taste for these eggs led to a dramatic decline in the African penguin population.
Also spotted on the island, at one time, were the eastern white pelican. But when man moved onto the island, their nests were destroyed and the eggs were eaten along with the birds.
But the island did, in a way, fight back.
All along the coast lie the ruins of ships caught in fierce storms and unable to navigate away from the treacherous coastline. Many steel and wood wreckages can be seen around the island, most of which were caught on the nearby reefs. And on the island itself, you’ll come across a number of graves, marking the final resting places of those who fell at sea and will now forever have a home on Dyer Island.
Today, Dyer Island is a 20 hector sanctuary, protected after it was proclaimed a nature reserve. It is situated just 8.5 km away from Gansbaai, which is one of the best places to go shark cage diving in South Africa. The island is a part if the chain of seabird islands, each popular and protected because of the seabirds nesting there.
The island is officially recognised as an Important Bird Area and has populations of Bank Cormorant, Roseate Tern and African Penguins.
On the adjacent island, about 60 000 Cape Fur Seals can be seen basking in the sun. And wherever there is a big population of seals, you can be sure that there is an equally big population of Great White Sharks lurking nearby. The channel between the two islands has been given the name Shark Alley and it is one of the easiest places to see these gorgeous creatures. The area also happens to be breeding ground for the Southern Right Whale, an endangered species. While exploring the waters here, you will also come across various species of dolphins, as well as other whale species.
South Africa remains one of the best places to dive in the world. Our underwater wilderness is as diverse as it is unbelievably exciting. Book your tour to Gansbaai or Dyer Island and see for yourself!