A giant forest lying along the southern coast of South Africa would have probably remained out of sight if it was not for the Netflix film ‘My Octopus Teacher’, which among other things, won this year’s BAFTA Award for the Best Documentary.
Based on a story woven out of film maker Craig Foster’s friendship with a little octopus who lived in the secret kelp forest off the coast of Cape Town, the film has managed to weave in various threads, ranging from bonding between a human being and a wee animal to the damage to the environment from warming oceans. If you are keen to know more about the making of the film, read this.
The film has also been able to draw public attention to the kelp forests around the world. In fact, activists of the Sea Change Project (co-founded by Foster) have renamed the kelp forest where the film was shot as The Great African Sea Forest to bring it at par with global attractions such as the Great Barrier Reef.
Although they look like plants, kelps are large brown algae which can be found in cool, nutrient-rich, and relatively shallow waters close to the shore. They can be found in large groups and form a key part of the underwater ecosystem. Kelp forests are largely found in temperate and polar waters but now they have been discovered in tropical waters too. According to researchers, some of the kelp species can grow up to 150 feet. In ideal conditions, these algae can grow and spread fast. It is a three dimensional forest, according to Foster, ‘much more extreme than our maddest science fiction’.The underwater ecosystem built by the kelp forests help the environment in many ways, including providing food and shelter to a large number of fish, invertebrates and marine mammals. While smaller animals shelter among the branches from storms, others use it as a nursery for their hatchlings. It is also not extraordinary to find sharks and other predators swimming among the large corridors of kelp forests in search of food, say veteran divers. The sprawling kelp forest also acts as a carbon sink. As the algae grow in nutrient rich waters, a decrease in their numbers can be a likely indication of the health of the water environment. Already the kelp forests are facing threats from urbanisation, pollution and warming of the oceans. Scientists are working hard to rebuild the giant kelp forests which once dominated the coast of Tasmania in Australia but have now almost disappeared.
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So while a chance to visit the Great African Sea Forest may not happen soon, you can still enjoy a slice of the amazing world through the Netflix documentary.