Tidal Pools as Containers of Care

False Bay South Africa

This research forms part of a broader project to understand and co-create a pedagogy of care for our marine environment through sharing stories about brown and black experiences of the ocean and forms of care.

Tidal Pools as Containers of Care


This article explores tidal pools as safe spaces for humans, and it specifically focuses on the experiences of brown and black humans who were excluded from certain areas due to the South African Apartheid legacy and the Group Areas Act (GAA) of 1962. Most brown and black people have an unusual relationship with water and the ocean because of our South African history and the Group Areas Act that prevented access to certain places. This unusual relationship continues to filter into our lives today, despite democracy and the new South Africa. For humans that feel insecure about their swimming ability, tidal pools are a safe haven, additionally, they act as a nurturing ground for juvenile plants and animals. Tidal pools are therefore safe spaces for humans and more-than-humans.

In South Africa, privilege and structural economic benefit were determined largely by pigmentation (Bam and Muthien 2021).  In other words, privilege was the ability of white people to have the capital and access to experience places and spaces in ways that brown and black people could not. They have had access to the most pristine and safest beaches and the capital to purchase coastal property and equipment to enjoy the ocean in different ways. There is a lag effect and a sense of entitlement that comes with privilege, even though Apartheid laws no longer exist. This privilege is what makes caring political.

I inquire through place-based conversations with four individuals at four tidal pools - what other care practices exist that have been overlooked because of our South African Apartheid legacy which continues to live on today? Duncan Johnson is intra-viewed at Dalebrook pool, Joanne Peers at St James and Traci Kwaai at Kalk bay pool. Sarah Martin was intra-viewed in relation to her experience with Harmony Park tidal pool (due to heavy rain this was the only intra-view that didn’t take place at the tidal pool). The term intra-view as opposed to interview encompasses a generative exchange rather than extraction of information through an open-ended conversation and is linked to Karen Barad’s intra-action. Furthermore, facilitating the intra-view at the tidal pools or close to the ocean affects the way in which the conversation unfolds, and that certain kinds of materiality do not merely refer to passive entities but must be understood as matter that matters (Petersen 2014).

Launch Project


Tidal Pools as Containers of Care, False Bay South Africa

Aaniyah drifting in Dalebrook tidal pool (credit: Leonie Joubert 2022).

This research forms part of a broader project to understand and co-create a pedagogy of care for our marine environment through sharing stories about brown and black experiences of the ocean and forms of care. These four pools are amongst nine that have been built along the False Bay coastline, and I will be walking and swimming along the coastline and passing all of them as part of my research journey.

The co-creation of the hydro-rug plays a crucial role in unlocking and revealing stories about our relationship with the ocean. As we mend and share our stories they are woven into the hydro-rug, which becomes the physical object of our stories. Whilst in conversation we were stitching, mending and sewing a hydro-rug which is made from plastic litter that we collected from our South African beaches, thule and off-cut/waste material and thread. The hydro-rug becomes the embodied, material aesthetic of the stories that are shared and that formulate our understanding of caring for our marine environment. These methods of listening, sharing stories, stitching and mending foreground the need to know and do differently and otherwise (Tachine & Nicolazzo 2022), when we produce and understand relevant knowledge about the colonial past and its ongoing presence (Bam and Muthien 2021).

The process of mending the hydro rug whilst sharing stories about the oceans and about feelings of belonging to places that were previously demarcated for white people only provides a sense of healing. We were positioned next to the pool or with a view of the ocean. I would lay out a cloth demarcating a space for us to meet, with a flask of tea and all the materials we needed to create the hydro-rug: the sewing box, waste material and litter. They would choose which waste material, litter, and thread they wanted to use and we would be in conversation throughout the making process.

Sarah explained how the process was like going down memory lane. The tulle material colours she had chosen reminded her of the ocean and the stitching had a balming effect on her, much like the waves do. It reminded her of walking along the ocean and singing her hymns and prayers. Traci, Joanne and Duncan expressed how creating something of beauty from castaway bits felt like a healing process for themselves as well as the ocean.

Sarah’s hydro-rug adrift at Harmony Park tidal pool.

Tidal Pools and Humans

Harmony Park Tidal Pool Sarah at Harmony Park Tidal Pool

Harmony Park Tidal Pool
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Dalebrook Tidal Pool Duncan at Dalebrook Tidal Pool

Dalebrook Tidal Pool
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St James Tidal Pool Joanne at St James Tidal Pool

St James Tidal Pool
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Kalk Bay Tidal Pool Traci at Kalk Bay Tidal Pool

Kalk Bay Tidal Pool (circa 1992)
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Harmony Park Tidal Pool

Sarah’s relationship to Harmony Park tidal pool was troubled because of not having access to all beaches along the Strand peninsula prior to the Group Areas Act, and then subsequently only being allowed at Harmony park before the tidal pool was built. This stretch of Strand coastline is rocky and swimming there before the pool was built was dangerous. For this reason, Sarah’s older brothers discouraged and prevented her from going to Harmony Park. She first visited it 58 years later at the age of 69 with her daughter Aaniyah (author of this article) in September 2019 for a beach cleanup hosted by The Beach Co-op, a non-profit organisation. This experience was traumatic for her because she had not realised how much pain she had buried until arriving at Harmony Park, being physically unable to move her legs to climb out the car and walk onto the beach.

Sarah shared her anger and bitterness for being forcibly removed from her home, which was replaced by a taxi rank. She mourned the loss of the place and all the memories that she has of her childhood with her mother - which have been physically erased. Similarly, Joanne explains her swimming experience at Infanta – a place that only white people could enjoy and how the feelings of not belonging to that community still exist today, even though brown people are allowed there now. She refers to these feelings as the ‘backwash’ of what still remains from a time long ago, a time we need to remember to help us heal.

Despite the trauma experienced, Sarah continues to act responsibly by cleaning up the beach while she walks along the coastline out of reciprocity, and the strong need to give back to our mother ocean for what she provides to us.

Dalebrook Tidal Pool

Duncan uses his music as a language and wants to make it accessible to everyone, not only those who can afford to listen to him perform. His scenery sessions are performances in public spaces for citizens to enjoy and engage in the role that music plays in making us feel good and that we belong.

Duncan performing a scenery session at Dalebrook tidal pool.

All intra-viewees bar Sarah had a positive relationship with the tidal pool as a container of care. Joanne, Traci and Duncan felt safer in the pool not only from a physical perspective but also from an emotional and spiritual perspective. They expressed similar feelings about being held by the walls of the pool from the wilder ocean and simultaneously being held by the sense of community that they have created by visiting their respective pools regularly. Duncan developed this sense of familiarity through his ‘scenery session’ performances by playing his saxophone at the pool. He was initially afraid that people would find his performance loud and obstructive but was surprised and heartened to receive praise and thanks for playing with affirmations of wanting him to play there again. This sense of community is what brings him back to the pool.

St James Tidal Pool

Joanne’s relationship to water is linked to the colour of her skin. Her skin colour determined where she was allowed to swim and she would play in the shallow water, and not necessarily swim because of her exposure and access to water and swimming. The pool walls became a body of care for her, creating a safer space within which she could swim. More than the physical container of a pool, the sense of belonging is also felt through seeing other people that remind her that she belongs because of the colour of their skin and the language that is spoken, which she identifies with and understands.

She mentioned the safe space that was created for us to share stories by laying down a cloth and displaying the hydro-rug materials that we used whilst in conversation. Joanne explains: “Going in and out, tying together knots, threading through a needle eye – feels like it allows the freedom to tell stories. And to know that what I am doing here will become part of or become something different.” (June 2022).

St James tidal pool image taken by Joanne at the intra-view.

Joanne uses an example of her relationship to water and initial fear of it, and how remembering this fear is important when she engages and encourages other users to join her in the water. She asks, “What are the instruments that we need to be part of a care practice?”(June 2022). Some of these instruments are linked to privilege, which is always political. Acknowledging the politics ensures that we do not create a recipe for care, and this in turn helps us realise that it is never a simple task. Privilege enables care through having access and capital to be able to enjoy and become familiar with experiences, for example swimming and snorkeling in cold water with wetsuits, masks, snorkels, weight belts, fins and underwater cameras. In the same way these instruments can constrain care because we forget that not everyone has the means or capital to purchase instruments, which translates into care because of the experiences that obtaining the instruments brings.

Kalk Bay Tidal Pool

Traci lived in Kalk Bay as a child, it is home to her and her ancestors for 200 years. Although she feels at home at the tidal pool, there are also moments of anxiety and feeling unwelcome because of the memories that linger from the Group Areas Act and places being demarcated for white people only. More recently, Traci has been involved with protests against the owner of the Brass Bell restaurant. He has encroached and developed his restaurant business into the public space of the tidal pool, and this has substantially diminished the public space accessible to pool users.

Traci explains how care can be fierce.

Traci explains that community and care work together, and caring is not something you can do alone, it is a collective effort - one that requires community. We need the ocean to survive and therefore it makes sense for us to build and create communities that care. However, Duncan explains that the ocean does not necessarily need us. As humans, we emphasise our needs and place ourselves above everything else. He feels that the ocean has no regard for us and will continue to survive without us.

Both Joanne and Traci identified remembering as an act of care. Joanne reiterates that this is not simply remembering an event or occasion, rather it is an ongoing concept. Traci explains remembering goes against the notion of erasure, it is in fact the opposite of erasure. "We remember because they want us to forget” Traci Kwaai (June 2022).

Drifting Thoughts

I chose to use the word 'containers' for the tidal pools to disrupt the traditional view of a container as confined, restricted and controlled. The tidal pools are structures that allow water to flow over, into and through them. They are continuously changing and adapting to their surrounding conditions – the swell size, direction and period, the phases of the moon and tides, the surrounding geography and sedimentation, and the shape of the pool in relation to the surroundings – these are some of the factors that influence the pools as containers of unboundedness and abundance.

The intra-views with four individuals affirm that the bruising and wounding of bodies (whether human or more-than-human) and land are the visual and physical surfacing of violence and trauma, or manifestations of inflicted harm. While the immediate impact might be highly visible, the longer term effect of trauma is no less significant, even if at times less visible. Vollenhoven (2021) reiterates this through acknowledging the countless South Africans who have taken on the responsibility to re-member; and by so doing addressing the damage done by centuries of colonialism and Apartheid.

Ralf collecting litter whilst doing laps for Traci’s hydro-rug.

Alexis Pauline Gumb asks “What are the scales of intimacy and the actual practices that would teach us how to care for each other beyond obligation or imaginary duties?” (2020:56). Similarly I am asking what other care practices exist that have been overlooked because of our South African Apartheid legacy which continues to live on today. Patricia Hills Collins argues that ‘seeing from below’ can generate a post-colonial understanding of ‘being human’ (1990). In this way, seeing from below, allows brown and black bodies to offer understanding and insight that speak not only about and to – but beyond – their locations (Lewis and Badroon 2021). They argue that despite the assumption that essays and writing from socially marginalised standpoints can generate only knowledge that speaks to the experiences of these groups, on the contrary those positioned at the margins often see the world from a different perspective. Lewis and Baderoon (2021) go on to say that this knowledge not only counters racist and patriarchal world views, it envisions new ways of being human and is therefore relevant to all.

Despite being marginalised and restricted from accessing the ocean, these four brown bodies are healing their wounds and scars by choosing to remember by singing, swimming, performing live music, picking up litter, protesting for access to spaces that were previously demarcated for white people only and building communities. These are some of the acts of care that they are practising and that was shared as we co-created the hydro-rug and shared stories of our connection to the ocean despite the trauma experienced. Each interviewee has a deep connection to the ocean and both Traci and Duncan liken the ocean to a mother figure.

Tidal pools as containers of care (Image by Traci Viljoen 2022).

The approach and methods for this research includes stitching, mending, creating, imagining and storytelling. These methods enable us to comprehend entangled relationships between bodies and the built marine environment of tidal pools. These ‘otherwise’ ways of knowing and being in the world facilitates the co-creation and building of community especially amongst brown and black people who have been segregated through Apartheid’s compartmentalisation of ethnic, religious and mixed-race groups that has had a powerful impact on how groups continue to identfy themselves. “We are now busy journeying from the woundedness of recent centuries to wholeness” (Vollenhoven 2021: 29).

Hydro-rugs adrift at Harmony Park tidal pool.

Sarah’s response on WhatsApp to the video of the hydro-rugs adrift at Harmony Park.

Expanded Gallery


Intra-views: Sisi Sarah Martin, Joanne Peers, Traci Kwaai and Duncan Johnson
Tidal pools:
Kalk Bay tidal pool, Dalebrook tidal pool, St James tidal pool (once a fish kraal) and Harmony Park tidal pool for providing the space and place for memories and the connection to the ocean.
Aerial photographs:
Harmony Park, Dalebrook and St James tidal pools shot by Jay Caboz.
Cover image:
shot by Leonie Joubert.


  • Gumbs, A.P. 2020. Undrowned: Black feminist lessons from marine mammals. Edinburgh:AK Press.
  • Johnson, D. 2022. Intraview at Dalebrook pool, 24 June. Unpublished recording.
  • Kwaai, T. 2022. Intraview at Kalk Bay pool, 22 June. Unpublished recording.
  • Lewis, D. and Baderoon, G.(editors). 2021. Surfacing: On being black and feminist in South Africa. South Africa: Wits University Press. 
  • Martin, S. 2022. Intraview overlooking Boyes Drive, 23 June. Unpublished recording.
  • Muthien, B. and Bam, J. (editors). 2021. Rethinking Africa: Indigenous women re-interpret South Africa’s Pasts. South Africa: Jacana Media.
  • Petersen, K. S. 2014. Interviews as intraviews: A hand puppet approach to the studying processes of inclusion and exclusion among children in kindergarten. Reconceptualising Educational Research Methodology. 
  • Peers, J. 2022. Intraview at St James Tidal pool, 22 June. Unpublished recording.
  • Tachine, A. and Nicolazzo, Z. (2022).Weaving an Otherwise: In-Relations Methodological Practice. Stylus publishing.
  • Vollenhoven S. in Lewis, D. and Baderoon, G.(editors). 2021. Surfacing: On being black and feminist in South Africa. South Africa: Wits University Press.