Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Shipwrecks of Skeleton Coast, Namibia

The Skeleton Coast is the northern part of the Atlantic Ocean coast of Namibia and south of Angola from the Kunene River south to the Swakop River, although the name is sometimes used to describe the entire Namib Desert coast. The coast is normally associated with famous shipwrecks, and stories abound of sailors walking for hundreds of kilometers through this barren Namibian landscape in search of food and water. The name came from the bones that lined the beaches from whaling operations and seal hunts, but more than a few of the skeletons were human.

Ever since European navigators first discovered it, ships have wrecked on it's off-shore rocks, or run aground in the blinding fog. While small boats could land, the strong surf made it impossible to launch, hence the stories of sailors walking through the murderous terrain. The coast is littered with scores of shipwrecks, some are barely recognizable, other are still in remarkably good condition. Perhaps these tragedies were meant to happen, as the wrecks provide excellent environments for Cape fur seals, living side by side with seabird colonies, offering unequaled maritime photographic opportunities.

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Some wrecks of note are the Dunedin Star (a crouching skeleton was found buried nearby) Islander, Suiderkus, Sir Charles Elliot and Kaio Maru. The Seal and Luanda can be seen near Toscanini and the Atlantic Pride lies near Torra Bay.

On the coast the upwelling of the cold Benguela current gives rise to dense ocean fogs (called “cassimbo” by the Angolans) for much of the year. This fog and the constant, heavy surf on the beaches account for the many shipwrecks that occurred here. In the days of human-powered boats it was possible to get ashore through the surf but impossible to launch from the shore. The only way out was by going through a marsh hundreds of miles long and only accessible through a hot and inhospitable desert. The Bushmen of the Namibian interior called the region "The Land God Made in Anger", while Portuguese sailors once referred to it as "The Gates of Hell".

Despite its arid and deadly appearance, the Skeleton Coast has a greater variety of species than many other parks in Southern Africa. Large mammals include Namibia's famous desert-adapted elephant, black rhino, lion, cheetah, giraffe, gemsbok, zebra, springbok and spotted and brown hyena, are found in the dry river beds which flow from the interior of Namibia, through the Namib Desert to the Skeleton Coast. The unique ecosystem has given life to the most unusual plants. The strange ‘Elephant’s Foot’ plant anchors itself in rock crevices while desert succulents like lithops, look exactly like pebbles until a tiny yellow flower emerges.

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Thick morning fog on the beach. The fog is responsible for many shipwrecks. Photo credit

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Source: Namibian.org, Wikipedia

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