First Field Trip to Port St. Johns, Transkei

Last week, SAIAB Principal Scientist, Paul Cowley, and I ventured into the Transkei (“the Wild Coast”) for three days with two objectives: 1) turn over acoustic receivers stationed in three different estuaries that are monitoring the movement of various tagged fish, and 2) catch some kingfish for DNA samples.

Turns out, a lot can happen unexpectedly in the Transkei.

On day one we were delayed by 2 hours due to rioting by a community outside of East London that lacks electricity. There were trees and boulders blocking the two-lane highway, and all we could do was sit and wait it out- luckily from a distance. Driving into the Transkei isn’t for the faint-hearted. There are cows, goats, dogs, sheep, pigs, and people crossing the highway at all points in time and no shoulders on the road, in addition to a total disregard for no-crossing zones by other cars. We witnessed an oncoming 18-wheeler truck smash into the side of another and take out the mirror while passing illegally. Luckily we avoided the collision.

Port St. Johns is a small town nestled between two cliffs on the coast of the Indian Ocean and at the mouth of the Umzimvubu River (umzimvubu means hippo in isiXhosa!). Along the banks of the river, the locals sell intricately carved trucks made out of thick, hardened mud. A bag of 4 giant avocados sold for R10 (75 cents) and we made sure to stock up.

The Umzimvubu River

The Umzimvubu River

We successfully replaced the acoustic receivers in the Umzimvubu and were also able to take in a bit of the scenery while chatting with some local dive operators about a Great White Shark attack that occurred in May.

We stayed in little huts on the banks of the Umzimvubu River.

We stayed in little huts on the banks of the Umzimvubu River.

Day two was spent on the Ntafufu river ~45 minutes north of Port St. Johns. We changed over another receiver and spent the rest of the day sampling fish. We didn’t have the best luck fishing, but the river was absolutely stunning, and we didn’t see a single other person. Just as it was getting too dark to cast, Paul managed to catch a juvenile blacktip trevally (Caranx heberi) the sister species to the Giant trevally. The lodge owner is graciously continuing to sample Carangids for me.

Blacktip Trevally. Photo by Gordon Date.

Blacktip Trevally. Photo by Gordon Date.

Our return trip was mostly uneventful (per Transkei standards) with not too many cows or goats blocking the road and beautiful views of the sunrise, until we reached the town of Mthatha where our vehicle suddenly broke down in the middle of a busy intersection. Luckily after a bit of commotion, we managed to get a tow out of there and then spent 3 hours at the mechanic while the alternator and wiring were being repaired. Needless to say, neither of us feel the need to spend another 4 hours in Mthatha anytime soon.

Sunrise in the Transkei.

Sunrise in the Transkei.

Our broken vehicle in Mthatha.

Uh oh. We had some vehicle issues in Mthatha.

At the end of the day, the trip was a success and it was great to see this remote part of South Africa, get my feet wet, and cast a line!

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