South Africa St Lucia Tours & Attractions - Coelacanth
Coelacanth in the St Lucia Wetland Park
The African coelacanth Ecosystem Programme (ACEP) taking place in the marine section of the
St Lucia Wetlands Park Marine Coast has made history with the filming of the prehistoric fish by remotely operated vehicle (ROV).
The five coelacanths that were captured on film by the ROV
The latest expedition, is also the first to film a record number of 8 coelacanths during one dive. The success of these trials of the ROV has also opened up possibilities for new marine research in the St Lucia Wetlands Park Marine Coast, and make such research accessible to learners and the local communities.
The coelacanth, like the dinosaur, was thought be extinct more than 70 million years ago until a museum curator, Marjorie Courtney-Latimer, discovered a dead one on a fishing trawler in East London. It was only 62 years later these fish were discovered again, in the St Lucia Wetland Park Marine Coast. The African Coelacanth Ecosystem Programme was formed in response to the discovery of these fish.
The First 3 expeditions found 24 coelacanth in 3 canyons over a 45 km stretch of the St Lucia Wetland Park Marine Coast using the German submersible, Jago. In May 2005, a ROV, was used to penetrate a cave in Jesser Canyon where a small coelacanth was filmed on the first day. A further eight coelacanths were found on May 6 at depths between 104 and 112m.
According to marine scientist Dr Jean Harris, the coelacanths were undisturbed by the ROV. "They appeared relaxed and none of the individuals moved away," she said. "Some of the coelacanths have been previously sighted but preliminary results suggest that some are new animals that will increase the known numbers of these prehistoric fish in the St Lucia Wetlands Park Marine Coast."
During the trials the first footage of other deepwater habitats was also captured including deep ledges, rock outcrops and extensive dune fields.
Said the Wetland Park Authority’s CEO Andrew Zaloumis: "This world first, underlines the St Lucia Wetland Parks long commitment to natural science research on which more than 100 current projects in South Africa’s first World Heritage Site are mainly focused.”
The ROV is a Seaeye Falcon (100x76x58cm). It has a colour and a low light black and white camera and is rated to 300m. It has been able to enter smaller spaces than a submersible and has proved effective in habitat surveys, mapping, cave inspection, documentation of individual coelacanths (their spot patterns are unique) and in biodiversity surveys.
The ROV was deployed from the support vessel Subtech Surveyor 11 and the pilot, Mr Phillip Els, guided the vehicle from the surface, making use of video cameras to decide on the direction of travel. Mr Peter Timm, one of the discoverers of the Sodwana coelacanths assisted with navigation in the canyons.