Lisa Beasley’s fascination with the ocean started as a child. Her mother described her as a water baby, never being able to get enough of the water. By age 10 she had decided that she wanted to learn how to dive. Her mother was not a big fan of water, and Lisa was accompanied by the diving instructor on her first official dive. It was love at first sight, the fascinating hidden world of the ocean captured her heart.
Lisa’s fascination with the ocean, and her journey back to it, is captured in a documentary by three UCT Honours students’ as part of the final project for their film production studies. Trygve Heide (director), Michael Carter (editor), and Leila Kidson (producer) created a beautiful film following Lisa’s life meandering from water baby to ocean camp fighter.
After her first introduction to diving at a young age, Lisa used her passion for the ocean to travel after school, teaching diving for a few years. Upon returning home, her focus shifted away from diving for a while, becoming intrigued with her brother’s new hobby – skydiving. Skydiving soon turned into the more adrenaline-filled version of BASE jumping. Compared to the cold, grey, and kelpy waters of Cape Town, BASE jumping was much more thrilling than diving.
She knew the dangerous stats of the sport, 1 in a 1000 jumps will be fatal. But Lisa enjoyed the thrill of it too much, confessing that she believed the same as many other jumpers, “It won’t happen to me”. Soon she headed to Milner, a popular BASE jumping site in the Hex River Valley. Edgar Gaiao, a famous South African BASE jumper calls it “the Holy Grail of BASE jumps in South Africa”.
Lisa was swiftly moving towards the dangerous side of the stats, and thankfully she only had a near-death experience. During her jump at Milner she miscalculated the when to open her parachute, and the next moment she was violently flung into the side of the cliff.
“I think you feel immortal and you feel like it’s never going to happen to me. And if I’m clever enough I can outsmart it. But I think there was also an element with me particularly that was quite self-destructive. I think at the time I had convinced myself that I didn’t care if I lived or died. But I think in hindsight, I don’t think that is true” – Lisa Beasley
Redefining Her Recreational Life
The harrowing experience ended with her landing on a very badly broken ankle. She also sustained injuries to her skull and collar bone. Her recovery process was tedious. At one point the doctors considered amputating her foot. Luckily she recovered with all her limps intact, and about two and a half to three years after the accident she was able to walk again without assistance.
After the accident and recovery period, Lisa went in search of a soul-nourishing activity that could occupy her again. She tried hiking, surfing and dancing. But with the limited movement in her ankle, it was a painful challenge. Eventually she return to the ocean to soothe her soul.
Image by Lisa M Beasley
She relocated to the False Bay side of the city and started using the St. James tidal pool as a training spot to become accustomed to the icy waters of Cape Town. Soon her love for the ocean was reawakened and she spent hours on end exploring the pool with her snorkelling gear.
Swimming and diving offered her a sense of freedom, without her injured body’s restrictions. The weightless effect of the water was the perfect way for her to get back into shape again. Plus, it reminded Lisa of her youthful fascination with the underwater world.
“For the first time I could do a sport that was so close to who I was, and so suited for me. And it didn’t hurt and it wasn’t difficult and I didn’t feel those restrictions from my injuries.” – Lisa Beasley
Feeling at Home in the Water
Reconnecting with the ocean gave Lisa a similar feeling she experienced during BASE jumping – feeling truly alive in the moment. Soon she felt almost immune to the cold waters and starting exploring the ocean more with free diving, without a suit.
What was a mere form of exercise turned into a bigger life passion when she discovered a little nudibranch in the St. James tidal pool. These odd sea creatures took Lisa back to the days of her fascination with diving. She managed to capture the cute little creature with her underwater camera, and so began an unexpected entwining of paths.
“From very young I fell completely in love with Nudibranchs. They were my favourite things, they’re just so sweet. Some of them have funny little facial expressions and some of them are ferocious predators, but they’re a centimetre big.” – Lisa Beasley
What Is a Nudibranch
A nudibranch or sea slug is part of the opistobranchs. They are soft-bodied, marine gastropod molluscs. These little creatures are colourful with interesting shapes. Some of their nicknames include “”dancer”, “dragon”, “clown”, and “marigold”. It is estimated there are between 3 000 to 4 000 different species of nudibranchs. And new ones continue to be discovered. The name is derived from the Latin nudus (naked) plus Ancient Greek bránkhia (gills).
They are found in both shallow and deep waters. But their favourite home is the shallows. A few nudibranchs are poisonous, but quite a lot of them only pretend to be poisonous, with their vibrant colours. Their food sources include the stinging cells of hydrozoids and the toxins from sponges. Nudibranchs also harvest algae from ocean plants or coral. They store the energy in their bodies via photosynthesis. Nudibranchs crawl around on the seafloor, with a few species floating closer to the surface.
“It feels like I’m peeping into a world that doesn’t really mind whether I’m there or not, it just carries on. It’s really beautiful, like you get this secret window into something, that’s not contrived or that’s not playing along, or playing a game, or putting on a show. It just is what it is.” – Lisa Beasley
Turning the Nudibranchs into Instagram Stars
Lisa started sharing her nudibranch photos on Instagram. Soon a community started forming around the quirky sea slugs at the St. James tidal pool. But then the newly formed community came under threat.
Lisa found out that tidal pools are cleaned roundabout every six months. That was roughly the timeframe from the first time Lisa started using the pool for her diving training, spotting the first nudibranch, and thereafter the nudibranch population grew in the pool.
Cleaning the pool entailed draining it of all the water and thereafter scraping the sides of the pool clean. Either copper sulphate or chlorine was usually used during the cleaning process. Thereafter the ocean tide comes back in and clears out whatever was left in the pools, pushing it back into the ocean. Lisa knew that this process would mean that the habit of the nudibranchs would be destroyed, and also most likely the nudibranchs as well. They were mostly spotted on the side walls.
“I felt devastated that all these little animals were going to get killed. That there was going to be thousands and thousands of animals that were going to die. Especially animals that I had been interacting with. I didn’t know how to stop it. So I felt powerless, I felt like there was nothing that I could do.” – Lisa Beasley
An Ocean Fighter is Born
The next moment she received a phone call informing her that the next tidal pool clean had been scheduled. Lisa jumped into action, hunting down the person in charge of the clean. After numerous phone calls she finally managed to speak to Helen Jordaan at the City of Cape Town. Luckily Helen listened to her pleas and the clean was put on hold.
The contractor in charge of the clean was willing to listen to Lisa’s concern for the ocean life in the tidal pool. They decided to find an alternative solution, to clean the sides of the pool to make it safe for people to walk around the edges and not slip.
They agreed to not use any chemicals, and to also not drain the pool and hurt any of the life inside the pool. It was agreed that the best solution is to use high pressure water. The actual water from the pool is used through a high pressure hose to blast the algae off the tops of the walls.
“The city has allowed us to use Dale Brook and St. James as flagship pools to really test these new protocols. So we’re hoping that by perfecting a protocol on this site that we can then roll that out around the whole peninsula.” – Lisa Beasley
Everything in Balance
Thanks to the efforts of Lisa and a few other passionate volunteers, the tidal pools now remain little rich worlds of their own, for the community to enjoy. With the change of cleaning protocols, the life inside the pools can flourish once again.
Lisa believes that by educating the community about the fascinating ocean life found in the tidal pools, people will start respecting the space more and help to take care of it. She is humbled by people’s response to her pleas to change the general interaction with the tidal pools.
“When you go into the ocean it’s so simple, there is nothing else. There’s just you and this incredible rich environment that we’ve done a lot of damage to, but it’s still thriving and it’s still really raw and natural. It’s the craziest, wildest, most amazing space and it is ten minutes from my doorstep.” – Lisa Beasley
Follow @tidalfilm for more information about the complete documentary capturing Lisa’s story.
“Trying to identify everyone’s place in this cycle, there’s something really comforting for me, to work out those kinds of puzzles. I suppose in a way it gives me a sense of belonging as well. Like everything is exactly where it’s supposed to be, including me.” – Lisa Beasley