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Images of Southern Africa - Cape Agulhas

Where two oceans meet: Cape Agulhas

Agreeing on where two oceans meet may seem a minor point, but much can rest on such decisions. The residents of Cape Point (to the west of Cape Agulhas) sell t-shirts and mugs with slogans such as ‘Where two oceans meet’ to thousands of tourists each year but they are selling a lie!

More than 50 years ago the International Hydrographic Organisation decided that the 20° east line of longitude should divide the Atlantic and Indian oceans. This line passes through Cape Agulhas. At this point (or nearby) the warm waters of the Agulhas current (20°C) meet the colder waters of the Benguela current (11°C). A further geographical lie concerns the location of the southernmost point of Africa: it is not Cape Point; it is Cape Agulhas.

The word ‘agulhas’ means ‘needles’ in Portuguese. It reflects the fact that, 500 years ago when Portuguese explorers rounded the Cape, their compass needles showed no magnetic variation. Today the variation between true and magnetic north is about 24 degrees.

Ideas for further exploration:

  • Find the 20° line of longitude in an atlas. How many countries does it pass through between the two Poles?
  • The Portuguese were not the first explorers to sail past Cape Agulhas. Who were the first and what were they looking for?
  • Who was the Portuguese explorer who rounded the Cape in 1497 and where was he going?
  • Are there any other places in the world where two oceans meet?

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