In South Africa, our coastlines are dominated by kelp forests. These spaces live and breathe as entire ecosystems, providing a rich habitat for a plethora of marine life in which they may feed and shelter from the wild storms of the Cape.
Kelp forests play a vital role in contributing to the wellness of the ocean through the process of photosynthesis, and assist in purifying surrounding waters by the removal of waste produced by its inhabitants.
These underwater forests are unique in their biodiversity, and when we take a look into the complexity and fluidity of their functioning, it can serve as a powerful guide for how we can approach business and sustainable leadership. Each facet of this interconnected space contributes to the balance of the whole system and is thus of equal importance, and this is a fundamental principle of sustainable leadership.
It was a sunny morning around 8:00 am. Chryss and I slowly glided into the 10 degree cold Atlantic Ocean. I prepared myself for two years for this first cold water dive in the Kelp without wetsuit. The preparation consisted in showering every morning cold after warm and of course, until lockdown, 2-3 times per week freediving training in the pool.
I was surprised how easy I got in. No doubt, no hesitation. I wanted to immerse myself in the cold. It was as if I was coming home - finally. The other divers were still putting on their thick wetsuits and watched us with interest: a beautiful blond tall woman in her twenties and an older lady, me, both in bikinis, who just put on their fins and got in.
During the first minute, my breath rate increased due to the adaptation of my body system to the unfamiliar temperature. I relaxed and surrendered to the ocean. Then I saw a brown fish sitting on the white sand just below me. I forgot the cold, took a deep breath and dived down to observe him closer. We looked at each other for a while. Both calm and relaxed. A fish and a 55 year old woman, two living species, breathing the same air in a different way, who happen to be at the same time at the same place. An unexpected encounter with eye contact that warmed my heart.
I felt joy and connection. The experience was not comparable to any other experience before. I felt free and deeply connected. What a big difference to dive without a wetsuit! The perception of cold transformed into a neutral feeling of temperature in my body. Chryss, who is a trained cold water freediver checked me closely: "Are you ok.", she asked. "Yes perfect", I said.
After around 10-15 minutes I felt a slight pressure on my chest. It was enough. We slowly swam back to the rocks. Until today, the feeling of surrender and immersion with the ocean remains in my body memory. I can't wait to be back.
Photocredit: Chryssea Michaela Johnson