Thursday, 25 February 2016

'Disability is not contagious'

Uel Maree
Uel Maree
It had started off as any other regular day at a youth outreach camp beside the Berg River, a river which Uel Maree who was 27 at the time had dived into many times before during that summer of 2011.

Uel dived head first with hands out in front of him into the flowing river, hitting his head in the process. He was instantly paralysed and was floating face down in the water for 45 seconds until another leader came to his rescue. He describes an experience of a feeling of peace wash over him. Once he was taken out of the water and laid across the ground, the only physical sensation he felt was that of the African sun hitting his face. He was then airlifted to Milnerton hospital for treatment, where he spent up to 100 days adjusting to his new condition.

Classified as an incomplete C5 tetraplegic, Uel is cared for by his parents in their home set in the picturesque village of Hout Bay. Originally from Durban, now 31 years old, Uel was an avid outdoorsman who loved days at the beach and exploring the surrounding mountains after moving to Cape Town four years before his accident. Naturally one of his biggest concerns was losing his sense of freedom and energetic lifestyle due to the unfortunate accident.

Happy go lucky by nature, once Uel was given the life-changing news that he was paralysed from his shoulders down, he refused to accept the news as his fate, instead focusing his energy on staying positive and working hard to regain any movement possible. He is now able to move his arms though not his hands and fingers quite yet.

Uel Maree
Uel in hospital shortly after the accident.
His family, consisting of three sisters and his parents, were left devastated yet remained hopeful that Uel would make a complete recovery someday. The accident served as a test to true friendship, with his friendships remaining intact and unchanged. As a devoted Christian he describes his relationship with God as having grown stronger since the accident and that his faith has never faltered.

Uel expressed that the hardest part about leaving the hospital and coming back home was the realisation that no medical professionals would be around in case of an emergency. He described that it felt peculiar to be back in his parents’ home after having lived without them for seven years.

Over time he has come to understand the new condition of his body, knowing what specific sensations and headaches indicate. He has since become used to spending lengthy periods of time at home, watching movies, series and documentaries with the occasional get together with friends. His dad adapted a microphone stand to have a tablet attached to for which he uses a specially designed finger glove to type messages and claims he is just as fast as anyone else.

Uel Maree
Smiley Uel, with his wheelchair.
When asked what he felt was important for people to understand about those with disabilities, he stated that, ‘’disability is not contagious.’’ He strongly believes that able-bodied people should be educated on how to interact with those with disabilities and that children should be taught from a young age about how to deal with people affected by disabilities.

Uel, an ex KTV presenter, has given numerous talks to teenagers and church goers, and attended fundraisers to talk about his personal struggle with disability in the hope of instilling knowledge and awareness. He aims to raise awareness about disability in rural areas and wants to get medical aid regulations with regards to disability changed as well as the import duty on wheelchairs lessened.

He jokingly replied, ‘’don’t dive into muddy water,’’ when asked what advice he would give to other people about the situation. Uel urges others that find themselves suddenly paralysed to, ‘’take it slow and realise that they might be in it for the long haul, don’t focus on the can’t rather focus on what can be done.’’

Ambitious and keen to get involved within the disability sector, Uel recently got involved with Accomable, a site dedicated to listing accessible properties, for which he scouts out accessible accommodation around the globe. A gofundme page has been set up in Uels’ name with the goal of raising funds for an accessible vehicle. Being 6.2 ft, it is a struggle and potential risk to load Uel into a standard car.

‘’But whatever may come,’’ Uel is adamant he is ready for it. And as he so wisely says; ‘’Through my accident I have realised that today is all we’ve really got. We aren’t promised tomorrow so let’s make today count.’’

We can all learn a thing or two through the adversities, daily struggles and determination to live life to the fullest from those dealing with disabilities. 

False Bay wildlife - Common dolphins

Common dolphin. 
These intelligent mammals are mystic, marine animals that are playful and lively by nature. Two subspecies of the common dolphin are sighted in the waters of False Bay; the short beaked and long beaked common dolphin with the long beaked the more commonly seen of the two. Dolphins have slender yet firm bodies with a long rostrum (beak) and a blow hole situated on top of their heads to breathe.

Common dolphins are mainly shades of grey and white in colour. The back is grey in colour, stretching from their head to fluke plunging to form a V on each side below the dorsal fin. On either side is an hour glass pattern coloured light grey or yellow in front and dirty grey in back. The dorsal fin is light grey, located near the middle of their back and is triangular, curved shape. The belly is white while their flippers are long, thin and grey in colour.


Common dolphins live in salt water around the world, preferring a warmer temperature and so avoid the icy Arctic and Antarctic oceans. The long beaked common dolphin resides in shallow and warm coastal water while the short beaked common dolphin prefers offshore waters, deeper out at sea.


Common dolphins are active, nocturnal feeders who gather in pods to hunt for squids and small schooling fish such as anchovies, sardines and pilchards.

These dolphins have between 50 to 60 pairs of teeth on both their upper and lower jaw that help to hold their prey. They do not chew their feed, preferring to swallow and so catch prey that is small enough to swallow whole. Common dolphins eat up to about 5% of their body weight on a daily basis.


Pods of dolphins can range in numbers between 100 to 500 and have been seen in the thousands. Dolphins are known to be intelligent and social animals, that thrive on interaction and bonding with one another. They live within a complex hierarchy and tend to create subgroups based on factors such as age and gender.  

Dolphins communicate and hunt using vocalisations and echolocation. Their vocalisation includes making sounds such as whistling, whining and clicking, with languages even differing between pods. Echolocation is a process whereby dolphins send out sounds waves through the water, with the sound hitting an object, bouncing off and echoing back to the dolphin. Dolphins can identify what an object is, such as the shape, size and texture, by the sound of the echo sent back.

Common dolphins are the fastest of all dolphins reaching speeds of up to 40km/h or more. Dolphins are active marine animals; often seen breaching out of the water, somersaulting, bow riding or playing and teasing one another. Bow riding are when dolphins surf in the waves created by boats and ships, with the dolphins propelled forward by the wave.

Dolphin in the womb. 

Female dolphins are called cows and males are called bulls while young dolphins are referred to as calves. Common dolphins become sexually maturity between the ages of 3 to 4 years old or when reaching 1.8 to 2.1 metres in length; whichever comes first. 

Males tend to become aggressive towards other males with regards to potential mating partners, often making sounds to warn each other off and may even collide their bodies against each other. Using their flukes (tails) as a weapon is common to show off their strength. Females choose to mate with the strongest and most dominant of the males. Dolphins, like humans, are known to take part in copulating activities other than for reproduction.

Females give birth to one calf, measuring between 76 to 86 cm, after carrying for 10 to 11 months. The dolphin calf is born tail first instead of head first, and is the only mammal on earth to be born in such a way. During birthing, other dolphins in the pod play a key part, keeping a close circle around the calf and mother for their protection. The dolphins soothe both mother and calf during the birthing process and assist the calf to the surface of the water for its very first breath. Juvenile dolphins stay by the mothers’ side for up to 3 years.

Did you know?

Major threats that common dolphins are faced with include metal and plastic pollutions in oceans and being caught by accident in industrial trawler nets intended to catch fish. 

Common dolphin.

Thursday, 18 February 2016

False Bay wildlife - Great white sharks

Great white shark. 
Great white sharks, as featured in the 70s blockbuster movie Jaws, are not monstrous man eating sharks but instead great predators of the sea that hunt marine life. Known for their great size and as the largest predatory fish on Earth, males reach an average of up to 5.2 m (17 ft) in length while females generally grow larger in size. Great white sharks have been recorded to reach a remarkable length of 6.4 m (21 ft).

Being cartilaginous fish, sharks are made up of cartilage and have a streamlined body designed to cruise easily through water with little effort. Their snouts are large and conical in shape with a strong jaw lined with rows of teeth making a total of up to 300 triangular, serrated and razor sharp teeth. Great whites have an outstanding sense of smell and organs that can sense electromagnetic fields generated by animals and humans alike. These sharks, along with mako and whale sharks, will die from lack of oxygen obtained through their gills if they stopped swimming.

Their colouration helps with camouflage in the sea, with slate-grey upper bodies and white underbellies (hence the name great white sharks). Due to the white underside and grey dorsal area that break up the outline of the shark, it can be difficult to spot the shark from the side, below and above.

These ferocious predators of the sea have no natural predators other than the killer whale and are legally protected in South Africa. Great whites live on average up to 70 years or more, making them the longest living of all cartilaginous fish.

Shark spotters

The Shark Spotting Programme was founded in 2004 due to the increase in number of great white shark sightings along the shores of Cape Town and thus the fear of beach goers, predominantly in False Bay. Shark spotters are employed and plotted along the coast, seven days a week during daylight hours, in high platforms to scan seashore waters for sharks, and once sighted the alarm is raised.

Shark spotters flag meanings

·         No flag = no spotter on duty
·         White Flag (with a solid black shark) = shark has been spotted, sires have been sounded, or after serious shark incident at the beach.
·         Red Flag (with solid white shark) = high shark alarm, 1 hour after shark seen, high risk of shark activity.
·         Black Flag (with shark outline) = poor spotting conditions, no shark seen.
·         Green Flag (with shark outline) = spotting conditions good, no shark seen.

Shark spotting flags. 


Great whites establish their cruising waters in all major oceans that fall in the temperature range from 12 through to 24 °C (54 to 75 °F). They swim along coastal countries such as the United States, Japan, Chile, Australia and South Africa and are found in the Mediterranean seas.

One of the highest numbers of great white shark populations are found swimming between Dyer Island and Geyser Rock off the coast of the Gansbaai coastline, dubbed Shark Alley. Seal Island is situated in the middle of False Bay, some 30km out to sea from Cape Town, and is home to about 64 000 seals, three species of cormorants among other sea birds and even some penguins. Between February and May great white sharks make a return to Seal Island to hunt seals, often drawn to the northern tip where sick or wounded seals are found.

Great white breaching. 

In South Africa, great whites follow a dominance hierarchy that is determined by the size, sex and rights of the resident: females are dominate over males, while larger sharks dominate smaller sharks and residents of the area dominate newcomers.

During hunting, these sharks tend to resolve conflicts with other sharks using rituals and displays instead of taking on one another in combat. Great white sharks are one of the few sharks known to engage in spy-hopping, which entails the lifting of their heads above the surface of water to gaze as other objects such as potential prey. These magnificent sharks propel themselves out of the water into the air by travelling up to speeds of 40km/h under water, which is known as breaching.

According to scientists, great white sharks behave differently in False Bay at Seal Island than anywhere else along the South African coastline.


Great white sharks are carnivorous predators of the sea who prey on and eat fish, seals, sea lions, sea turtles, sea otters and sea birds. Ambush hunters by nature, they take on their prey by means of surprise attacking from below.  When the shark bites, it shakes its head side-to-side, helping the sharp teeth cut off large chunks of flesh.
The jaws of a great white shark.


Not much knowledge is known about the reproduction and mating of the colossal great whites. Male great white sharks are believed to reach sexual maturity between 9 and 12 years of age while females are ready for mating between 13 to 16 years old.

Great whites are ovoviviparous, meaning eggs develop and hatch in the uterus and then continue to grow for between 14 to 18 months until birth. The youngsters are then delivered during spring and summer.

Did you know

Great white sharks are responsible for the highest number of reported and identified unprovoked yet fatal shark attacks on human. 

Thursday, 11 February 2016

False Bay wildlife - African penguins

African penguins or black-footed penguins, standing at about 60 cm tall, are medium in size and the only penguin species found on the African continent. They are also referred to as ‘jackass penguins’ due to their donkey-like bray sound, although several related species of penguins in South America make the same sound.

These aquatic birds are flightless and have stream lined bodies and stiffened wings, that aid in swimming and diving. They have a thick, black band that has a close resemblance to an upside down horse shoe and a pattern of unique, black spots on their chest. Their feet are black and their faces are fitted with a black mask, with distinctive pink patches of skin above both eyes. The pink glands help to cope with shifting temperatures; as the temperature rises, the African penguins body sends more blood to the glands which in turn cools the air surrounding the glands and which turns to a darker shade of pink.

Those that roam the sea after penguins as a meal, are sharks and the Cape fur seals. On land penguins have to be on the look-out for mongoose, domestic cats, caracals and big birds who steal their eggs and snatch up their chicks. If not caught by a predator African penguins can live up to 15 years in the wild.

Colony of penguins.
Penguin colony at Boulders Beach. 

The African penguin is only found on the south-western coast of Africa and on various inshore islands along Namibia and South Africa. These quirky and amusing African penguins can be found living in a part along the rocky and bushy coastline within False Bay.

Situated on the edge of Simons Town is Boulders Beach, which is home to over 2 500 endangered African penguins. They can be seen waddling up and down the beaches wearing their 'tuxedos', and entering the water to catch some food or take a dip.


Although African penguins are somewhat clumsy on land they are graceful and skilful swimmers in water, capable of reaching speeds up to 24 kilometres (15 miles) per hour. Unlike most aquatic birds, African penguins use their wings rather than feet to swim, which have been altered to form highly capable flippers. They make use of their webbed feet when swimming on the surface of water and their heavy bones enable them to dive.

African penguins are social birds that live in large and noisy families referred to as colonies. During the day they swim out to sea in search of food but by nightfall arrive back to their colonies and huddle together.

Penguin couple.
Two adult penguins.
These penguins are considered one of the calmest species of penguins in the world. Viewing areas are located in Boulders Bay allowing people to get close to them in their natural environment without fear of an attack.


African penguins swim out to the open sea, where they dive to depths of 30 metres to catch fish and squid and travel between 30 to 70 km during a trip. However, when penguins have their young to feed, the distance they travel from the breeding colony is limited. They also eat small fish found swimming near the surface of the water.  


African penguins form monogamous pairs for life within breeding colonies, that raise a clutch of two eggs each year together, while the female remains fertile for up to 10 years. There is no set breeding season but nesting usually peaks from March to May across breeding sites such as Boulders Bay. The two eggs are laid in burrows in guano (penguin faeces) or in sand under boulders and amongst bushes. Incubation of the eggs takes about 40 days during which the eggs are protected and incubated by both parents. Once the chicks are born, at least one parent guards them until they reach 30 days of ages, after which the chicks join a play school with other chicks while parents head out to sea in search of food.

Penguin adult with chicks.
Adult penguin with two young penguins. 
Chicks leave the nest between the ages of 60 to 130 days depending on factors such as the environment and availability of food. The young penguin then swims out to sea alone and returns to their native colony after 12 to 22 months to develop their adult feathers.

Did you know?

They are able to hold their breath on average for about 2.5 minutes during a dive.

They are a protected species but are sometimes harmed in oil spills off the coast of Africa.

Monday, 8 February 2016

The exciting world of adapted sports for wheelchair users

Sports played by people with a variety of disabilities, including physical and intellectual impairments or disabilities, are commonly referred to as adapted sports. Many of the sports have been modified based on an already existence sport to enable people with disabilities to get involved with sports. However not all adapted sports are based on an able bodied sport, with several having been created solely for those with disabilities in mind of which there is no equivalent sport for abled bodied people.

There are many benefits to playing sport for those with disabilities, such as a feeling of independence, reduced dependency on pain and depression medication, and fewer secondary medical conditions. Playing sport is wonderful for the mind, body and soul.

A wide range of sports can be played by wheelchair users; either solo or as part of a team; on land or in water; and competitively or just for fun. Some involve speed while some involve precision but all involve skill and practise. Sports included in the wonderful world of adapted sports, but not limited to are; mono skiing, wheelchair golf, wheelchair sailing, horseback riding amongst many more enjoyable sports.


The very first para archery competition was held in the year 1948 and was one of the original Paralympic sports back in 1960. Anyone with a physical impairment may take up para archery, which may entail shooting at targets with the use of assistive devices if required. Para archery competitions fall under specific categories for the archers depending on which of the 3 different classifications they fall under.


A hand-cycle offers one of a kind ride for those enabled adrenaline junkies! It is powered rather by the use of arms than a pair of legs and the brakes are found on the handholds. It was developed in the 1980’s to create different means of human-powered transport; ever since it has been rising in popularity. Having been developed in a variety of styles it works well for many different forms of physical disabilities. It was first included in the 2004 Paralympics and has been popular to watch in the games since.

Paraplegic swimming

Paraplegic swimming is a fully inclusive sport available for people with a variety of physical, sensory or intellectual disabilities. Not only is swimming a great means to keep fit but is also greatly therapeutic for those with disabilities. One may not have a great sense of freedom and mobility when in their wheelchair but once they experience movement of their body in the water a sense of freedom washes over them.

Wheelchair basketball.
Wheelchair basketball. 
Wheelchair basketball

Wheelchair basketball is played by athletes with disabilities in the Paralympic Games with the Wheelchair Basketball World Championship played two years after every Paralympic Game. Players take over a standard basketball court using their wheelchairs, while retaining most of the key rules and scoring of regular basketball, and using a 10-foot basketball hoop. Modifications to some rules are due to taking the use of wheelchairs into attention.

Wheelchair dance sport

Wheelchair dance sport is an elegant sport that was started in Sweden, back in 1968, with leisure and rehabilitation in mind, for wheelchair users. Wheelchair dancing is when at least one dancer is in a wheelchair and includes standard types of dancing such as waltz, tango, slow foxtrot, samba, jive and more. This sports comes with a variety of physical benefits, including helping to maintain physical balance, flexibility and coordination among others.  

Wheelchair rugby

Wheelchair rugby began in 1976 and was created by five Canadian wheelchair athletes, as a sport for quadriplegics in mind. It is mostly played between two teams of up to twelve players of mixed female and male players on both teams. The game is played on an indoor court based on the same measurements as a standard basketball court. Players use manual wheelchairs that have been custom-made and specifically designed for wheelchair rugby.

Wheelchair tennis.
Wheelchair tennis. 
Wheelchair tennis

Wheelchair tennis was created by Brad Parks in 1976 and is one of the official Paralympic sports. The sport was adapted for those with lower body disabilities and is played in specially designed wheelchairs. The size of the tennis court, balls and rackets are the same as typical tennis with two main differences; the use of wheelchairs and that the ball may bounce up to two times.

Wheelchair fencing

Wheelchair fencing is a version of fencing for people with a form of a disability that affects their lower body such as spinal injuries, lower leg amputations and cerebral palsy or athletes that require the general use of a wheelchair. The wheelchairs of fencers are fastened into medal frames on the floor and allow movement of the upper body only. The sport was first introduced in 1953 by Dr Ludwig Guttman and became a part of the Paralympic Games in 1960.

Thursday, 4 February 2016

False Bay wildlife - Background on False Bay

Cape Point, False Bay
Cape Point, Cape Town.
Located from the tip of Cape Point to Hangklip near Pringle Bay, in the extreme South-West of South Africa, is a picturesque bay of water abundant with marine and airborne wildlife. False Bays' coastline is made up of seaside communities lined with shops, restaurants and pubs, and beaches where swimming and surfing are popular. The bay offers pristine conditions for yachting and scuba diving lovers while the bay provides the perfect home for wildlife.

Bartolomeu Dias first came across the bay in 1488 and referred to it as "the gulf between the mountains". False Bay, at least some 300 years ago, was given its name after sailors mistook the natural bay for Table Bay when searching to restock supplies.

The bay is 30km at its widest and is just over 100km long with an average depth of 40m. The eastern and western shores of the bay are considered rocky with large cliffs that plummet into deep water while the northern shore is a long and sandy beach situated on the edge of the Cape Flats. The southern side of the bay is open to the ocean and drops to a depth of 80m at the mouth.

Muizenberg, False Bay
Northern shore of False Bay, Muizenberg, Cape Town. 
With a Mediterranean type climate, during the summer months from December through to March the climate is dry and warm while winter months from June to September bring rainfall and cool weather. During winter, gale force winds and storms can pummel through the bay while in the summer months the Cape is exposed to ferocious south easterly winds commonly known by locals as the Cape Doctor.

Nature reserves that can be visited in the Cape Peninsula, the land running along the western shore side of False Bay, include the Cape of Good Hope, Rondevlei and Silvermine. All 3 nature reserves offer a blend of indigenous flora and astounding fauna making for a peaceful yet fascinating setting.

A small island that goes by the name of Seal Island is found in the bay which is the central
breeding site and home for Cape fur seals and some sea birds. False Bay is considered the world leading site to witness the oceans fiercest predator, the Great white shark. Whales swarm the waters of False every year from June through to November to calve and nurse their new-borns or journey through the area. Penguins live at Boulders Beach while troops of Chacma baboons roam the mountainside of the Cape Peninsula and birds such as hawks and seagulls fly the skies and albatross are found far out at sea.

~ Nestled within the most southern west tip of Africa, is a magical place full of indigenous plants and wildlife that swim in the majestic False Bay water, walk along the Cape Peninsula and fly the sky looking over the Deep South. ~