Oceans dispute: science dives in

July 13, 2001

South African scientists have stepped into a squabble over where the Indian and Atlantic oceans meet. They have declared that two Cape villages that are fighting for money from tourists visiting the "two oceans" point are both wrong - the oceans do not really meet anywhere, writes Karen MacGregor.

Some scientists have come down on the side of Cape Agulhas, a remote fishing village southeast of Cape Town on the southernmost tip of Africa. University of Stellenbosch geographer Larry Zietsman said: "Everybody knows that the two oceans meet at Cape Agulhas." Textbooks agree.

Cape Agulhas is angry that Cape Point, a spectacular spot closer to Cape Town, has for decades wrongly marketed itself as the oceans' meeting point. The villagers say this is "completely fallacious" and deprives Cape Agulhas of tourist earnings. The village has taken up the matter with the public prosecutor, tourism minister and tourism board.

Some 500,000 visitors trek to Cape Point each year, many of them believing that they can see a line where the oceans join. They generate an annual income of some Rs30 million (£3 million) that Cape Agulhas says it needs because the village is poor and not attracting tourists.

The International Hydrographic Organisation states that Cape Agulhas is where the warm Agulhas current, which pours down South Africa's east coast, encounters the cold Benguela current that sweeps up the west coast from the Antarctic.

But the issue is not that cut and dried. It is at Cape Point that east-coast fauna and flora end and west-coast varieties begin.

University of Cape Town oceanographers argue that where the Atlantic and Indian oceans meet varies. Anthony Richardson, oceanographic researcher at the university, said: "It depends on shifts in the currents and other factors at any point in time."


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