Documentary highlights sea forest conservation

A behind the scenes look at the making of the nature documentary My Octopus Teacher. Picture: Faine Loubser

The great underwater forest hugging much of our country’s coastline is the setting of the first South African nature documentary to flight as a Netflix original.

The doccie, My Octopus Teacher, which premiered on the streaming service on Monday, is the first feature documentary produced by the Sea Change Project, a Cape Town based NGO that has been connecting people to nature through storytelling for a decade.

The Sea Change Project is an ocean conservation non-profit that includes a team of scientists, storytellers and media professionals.

The documentary showcases the delicate ecosystem that lies beneath the waves in The Great African Sea

South Africa’s kelp forest stretches 13 000 km from De Hoop on the East Coast past the beaches of Milnerton, Big Bay and up to Namibia. It faces a host of environmental threats including poaching, pollution and overfishing.

My Octopus Teacher takes viewers on a journey into the kelp forest, as it follows Simon’s Town resident Craig Foster, who, suffering from burnout, begins a daily diving regimen in the freezing kelp forests at the tip of Africa in order to re-energize himself.

Mr Foster, an award-winning film-maker and co-founder of the Sea Change Project, dedicated the past nine years to diving every day in the Atlantic Ocean without a wetsuit, documenting the process of how the human body adapts to cold and studying the kelp forest ecosystem.

What he discovers below the water’s surface is an alien motivation in the form of an unusually curious octopus.

This record of an animal’s entire life – something seldom achieved in the wild, let alone underwater – was shot over a full year and explores the habits and personality of the sea creature.

The film’s director, Kalk Bay resident Pippa Ehrlich, is a South African natural history film-maker and ocean storyteller, specialising in the field of marine science and conservation. She is also a member of the Sea Change Project.

Ms Ehrlich said she hoped the film would inspire tourists to visit the sea forest as jobs that did not rely on the extraction of natural resources needed to be created.

“This is very exciting for me as a film-maker but also as a conservationist. We hope that the
film will inspire local and international interest in the Great
African Sea Forest and that people all over the world who have access to kelp forests will be encouraged to engage with them in a meaningful way – even if it’s just taking their kids snorkelling or rock-pooling.”

Carina Frankal, from Oranjezicht, heads up the Sea
Change Trust and says they want to make the kelp forest a global icon, one that is recognised as an international treasure.

“So far, there has been almost no advocacy for the protection of the Great African Sea Forest, and our role as The Sea
Change Project is to tell stories that foster an emotional connection between people and the sea forest.

“Through ongoing fund-raising and growing our partners and alliances, our team is able to continue campaigning for the conservation of our marine environments. We hope the documentary will contribute to the global campaign to protect 30% of our oceans by

For more information about the Sea Change Project or how you can get involved, click here.