Allan Batchelor

Kearsney College – Gillingham House 1961-1966

In loving Memory of Allen Batchelor – 20 April 1949 – 04 September 2012

Allan was born in Dundee 11 months after me and so we grew up sharing many of the same interests. When we were about 5 years old we moved to Tongaat where our dad was appointed as the company doctor.

Allan’s interest in the sea and nature began at a very early age. Our Grandfather was the Port Health Officer for Durban and our dad grew up near the harbour and South Beach. He loved boats, swimming and surfing and these soon rubbed off onto us.

It was not long before our dad bought a small clinker rowing boat with a 2,5 hp British Seagull from the boson’s locker. On calm days he would take us out to Salisbury Island past the moored Whale Catchers and Catalina Flying Boats. I remember seeing flamingos and hermit crabs for the first time there between the mangroves. We also caught our first grunter off the sand banks in the harbour. Most of our holidays were spent either visiting the Zululand Game reserves or in the Drakensberg Mountains. We visited Mkhuze, Umfolozi, Hluhluwe, Ndumu, and St Lucia. One particular visit to Charters Creek was particularly significant in both of our lives. We joined Paul Dutton, the lake Warden, on a trip on his Hamilton Jetboat up to the north of the St Lucia estuary to drop off rations at the pickets around the lake. We went right up to Selley’s Lakes in the north where there was a colony of White Pelicans breeding, then to the Mkuze River with its massive crocodiles and around False Bay with the ammonite fossils.

We were very fortunate to have had access to a cottage at a farm called the Bend on the Mooi River near Kamberg in the Drakensberg foothills. This was our base for many trout fishing trips to Giants Castle, Highmoor and Loteni and hikes up the escarpment to look at the shelters with their rock paintings.

Before going to university in Durban where he studied Biological Sciences, Allan spent a year in the Navy Gymnasium. It was here at varsity that he made friends with some canoeists and paddled down many of the Natal Rivers with them.

Although he took up underwater hockey and represented Natal in the SA championships, spearfishing was his favourite sport. When the sea was clean he would often slip out of class and go in search of fish. Often he would call me and we would head off south looking for the sardine shoals in the winter.

After getting his B.Sc, Allan spent two years at Empangeni working at a fruit processing plant with a friend Christian Eckhoff. Christian was a legendary spear fisherman being one of the pioneers in the early 60s. Allan was in his element and most weekends were spent at Leven Point north of Cape Vidal diving on the many coral reefs there. We also had many trips up to Mozambiue to Ponta De Oura, Milibangala and to Jangamo. The trips to Mili were along the beach at low tide as there were no roads then. Jangamo was also very different in those days with no tourists and coconut plantations.
While at Empangeni he was selected to be a member of the Zululand Spearfishing team in the SA championships. Then a well-known author, Llyal Watson, asked him to be their biologist/ tour guide on the Linblad Explorer a modified ice breaker which had been refurbished as a tourist liner. He visited remote areas of Indonesia, the Great Barrier Reef, New Zealand‘s sub Antarctic islands, Antarctica twice, South Georgia, the Falkland Islands, Chile and Colombia and Greenland. He also sailed up the Amazon to Iquitos taking tourists into the tributaries in inflatable boats.

He had some amazing experiences during this time seeing some of the biggest breeding colonies of penguins on the planet, visited islands with breeding albatrosses and saw many species of whales including Blue Whales. His training in the Navy stood him in good stead taking tourists to see the wildlife.
Allan had obtained his scientific scuba diving certificate while at varsity and led many dives from the Linblad. He dived in all the oceans including the Antarctic and the arctic. One of his most memorable dives was a close encounter with Walruses which were feeding on a ledge near Baffin Island. He told me how they had approached to a few metres from him to investigate.

After the Linblad Allan came back to SA to get married and to further his studies. He did a B.Sc Hons at UCT and then went to go to work on gannets and cape fur Seals at Bird Island off Port Elizabeth. As he was studying their prey he had to collect specimens shooting them with a shotgun from a ski boat. He later developed a way of capturing gannets returning to the island and getting them to regurgitate their prey so he did not have to kill them. Some gannets were also painted with picric acid which turned them yellow. This helped studying how far the birds were hunting prey from the island and their general dispersal. Conventional ringing would not have helped. Allan was always innovative.

Allan met Lynne van Niekerk in Port Elizabeth shortly before he finished his thesis. They married and shortly after moved to Pretoria where he joined the Department of Development Aid to advise on the conservation and management of land under the Departments control. He was always committed to using natural resources optimally. While with Development Aid he initiated a number of fish projects on the Makatini flats. Lynne was always a great support to Allan and went on many of his trips to the Wolkberg and Makatini Flats. The pans along the Pongola River floodplain were one of their favourite places. Tragically Lynne passed away in May 2005.

Allan was appointed by the CSIR to research waste water systems. This work led him to designing and installing artificial wetlands for waste water management. He presented his research findings at a conference in China and was fascinated by the simplicity of the Chinese aquaculture facilities.

He left the CSIR to start his own waste water business. He designed a waste water package plant and together with a friend, Ian Fraser, further refined then constructed a waste water plant. This is now being marketed commercially.

Allan had a number of narrow escapes. Once he had speared a large kingfish at Aliwal Shoal off Scottburgh. Shortly after taking a picture of him holding the fish somebody trod on a loaded speargun sending the spear off just missing his back. Another time when on an inflatable from the Linblad Explorer, a shear pin broke on an outboard motor during a gale in the Antarctic. This resulted in the propeller not turning. He was being swept along towards a cliff with massive waves. He had to lean over the transom, remove the propeller and replace the shear pin.

Another time he went with a friend Carl Vernon, from the East London museum to the Collywobbles vulture breeding cliffs in the Transkei. He was leaning over trying to look into a martial eagle nest when he tipped over the edge. Thankfully his fall was broken by a tree growing out of the cliff. He hurt his back badly but managed, with help, to climb back up and get back to the vehicle.

On another occasion while spearfishing alone off Bird Island he had an uneasy feeling he was being watched intently. He turned his head to see a large eye of a Great White Shark swimming next to his side. He had some Galjoen tied to his weight belt! He told me how miraculously at that moment a wave picked him up and washed him over some rocks to safety.

Allan was highly respected as a wetland specialist. He published over 200 scientific reports as a consultant and over 50 scientific papers. Together with Gary Marnewick they developed a team of competent enthusiastic wetland scientists. He had a deep understanding of the functioning of aquatic systems and was not afraid of being controversial when debating solutions to development challenges.

Unfortunately in 2010 Allan had a heart attack while paddling down the Crocodile River. This left permanent heart damage but one would not have thought so as he continued his life in his own positive, jovial way always ready to try something new.

Allan had a passion for aircraft and air shows. To our absolute amazement, last year he Caire did their first skydive and enjoyed it!!

Among his other interests, Allan had a passion for birds and birding especially given that he had worked on Bird Island studying Gannets as part of his M.Sc.

We would request that those who would like to make a donation to make it to SANCCOB for the rehabilitation of sea birds.

Allan is survived by his children, Niven, Claire and Aaron and they would like to thank you for supporting a cause that their father cared deeply about.

Garth Batchelor – Gillingham 1965