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SAEON pays tribute to Peter Timm

By Sue J. van Rensburg and Tommy Bornman, SAEON 


Camera in hand, photographing flamingos on the wing ... "This is one of the reasons I like working with you crazy scientists, you get to see beautiful places like this that people wouldn't get to see otherwise".

These were Peter's words as the boat drifted gently towards the Mkuzu Mouth on Lake St Lucia, only days before the tragic accident that was to claim his life.

Peter had been contracted by SAEON to assist with water quality sampling on the lake. Unlike many other science expeditions with which he assisted research groups, no diving was required for this mission, just an experienced skipper who could be trusted to keep our team safe and, importantly, someone with extensive experience and tolerance for the often quirky requests and activities of "crazy flower-picking scientists". These I am sure he relished as it gave him ample ammunition for his brilliant sense of humour.


Keeping a watchful eye on the ROV console for a glimpse of the elusive coelacanth. From left: Jean Harris (Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife), Peter Timm, Sean Bailey (SAEON) and Ryan Palmer (SAIAB)

Ingenious solutions

For a researcher, one of the joys of having Peter involved in a project was that he was always ready to come up with a plan. After helping us late into the night to filter samples on a previous assignment, Peter was determined to come up with a design to help us with the process. True to his word, a few months later a beautifully welded and painted press for filtering "stubborn samples" was delivered to us. No charge.

"It's just something I made up that will make your lives easier," he stated matter-of-factly. This type of generosity and ingenuity was a large part of the essence of Peter.

Peter and his company, Triton Dive Charters, earned themselves a reputation within the research community as the go to place if you are in need of a boat, skipper, accommodation,dive gear, advice on sampling design and methods, or all of the above. Peter has always been eager to learn from the scientists, but in reality he probably taught scientists a lot more than they were able to teach him.


Staff members from SAEON's Grassland Forest Wetland Node were privileged to spend time with Peter on two sampling trips to Lake St Lucia (Picture: Nasiphi Peter and Sinethemba Ntshangase)

Enriching scientific research

Peter's involvement with research has enriched the scientific community significantly. Not only has the team at Triton Dive Charters enabled research, but Peter has personally become an active contributor to science.

Peter was the first person to see a live coelacanth - an ancient fish long thought to have gone extinct with the dinosaurs - in its natural habitat. He has been an essential part of the African Coelacanth Ecosystem Programme's research activities. At the 75th celebrations of the discovery of the coelacanth in Port Elizabeth in 2013, he was honoured with a Citizen Science Award.

Our thoughts are with Eve, his family and friends. We would like to celebrate Peter's life and achievements. His deeds serve as an inspiration to divers, scientists, conservationists and explorers alike. May all those who have been inspired by Peter keep the flame alive by passing on his gift of inspiration and "can do" attitude.

With an experienced team in place, all sharing Peter's passion for the environment, Triton Dive Charters will continue to support conservation and research efforts into the future.

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