2 August 2011
Every year I go to the Association of Surfing Professional’s Billabong Pro held at Supertubes in Jeffrey’s Bay in the Eastern Cape and every year I worry about the hand painted “Beware if the Snakes” sign on the path over the dunes that leads to the famous surfing spot.
So why do I worry? Well I suppose it is because I wish there were more beware of the snake signs around as the last thing I want to have ruining my day is stepping on a snake. Quite frankly a sign wont stop you from stepping on a snake but might mean the difference between being alert and doing a sudden sideways jump on a path to avoid the an encounter. If you are very alert for snakes you often do that sideways sidestep dance to avoid snakelike seeming branches. But it is not that which really worries me.
Snakes don’t usually occur on coastal dunes unless the vegetation is really thick and I have not seen a snake on those dunes. It is very sandy and there is little cover, yes there might be a lost harmless snake and amongst the poisonous ones you might get a Boomslang or Puff Adder. The Boomslang is back-fanged and to be bitten you have to handle the snake and probably have to go as far as sticking your finger in its mouth. Well that is what I have always believed; a photographer did manage to get bitten by one when he stood on it. The Puff Adder is beautiful but ugly and lazy and presents the greatest chance of being bitten. They are too lazy to move when they hear you coming but do hiss (more of a puff really) as a warning giving you a chance to do the lifesaving sideways snake waltz. But like I said I have not seen snakes there. In fact there probably no dangerous snakes there.
The dunes behind the great surfing wave are very sensitive to human disturbance and covered with pioneer dune vegetation. One person going over the dune in a clumsy manner can probably undo months of hard work from someone trying to stabilise the loose sand. The dunes are slowly becoming vegetated and look better every year.
I am pretty sure the “Beware of Snakes” sign is just to keep people off the dunes but you can never be sure. Perhaps the dunes are crawling with snakes and the sign was put up to save people from the snakes and one should certainly not go there. In any case all is fair in love and dune stabilization.