Repeat photography as a tool for detecting and monitoring historical changes in South African coastal habitats

25 March 2015

Repeat photography was used to illustrate long-term changes occurring in coastal habitats in the Western Cape, South Africa. Historic images were sourced from books and theses, the public and subject specialists, and repeat photographs were then taken from the same perspectives. Visible changes could be categorised into four types: (1) changes in species’ ranges; (2) biological invasions; (3) sea level changes; and (4) direct engineering impacts. In terms of range changes, the images depict a progressive easterly spread of the cold-water kelp Ecklonia maxima and parallel easterly contraction of the warmer-water mussel Perna perna, both evidence for declining water temperatures along the South-West Coast. Since c. 1980 most shores have also become conspicuously invaded by the alien Mediterranean mussel Mytilus galloprovincialis, while those on the West Coast have also been visibly invaded by the more-recently introduced Pacific barnacle Balanus glandula. No changes in vertical zonation due to changing sea levels could be detected, despite suitable images being available. Construction along the shore has radically altered the appearance of the shoreline in urban areas. Repeat photography thus proved a useful tool for both detecting and dramatically illustrating historic changes over the past century. These changes have altered substantially both the appearance and ecological attributes of many rocky shores in this region.