Biggest underwater protest set for June

2016-05-26 06:00
          PHOTO:         supplied Looking forward to take part in the Silence of the Sharks campaign (from left) shark scientist Jessica Escobar, Nikki Tilley (representing Ugu South Coast Tourism, Port Shepstone), ‘Shark Angel’ Olivia Symcox (Scottburgh) and ‘Shark Angel’ Michelle Moodley (Durban).

PHOTO: supplied Looking forward to take part in the Silence of the Sharks campaign (from left) shark scientist Jessica Escobar, Nikki Tilley (representing Ugu South Coast Tourism, Port Shepstone), ‘Shark Angel’ Olivia Symcox (Scottburgh) and ‘Shark Angel’ Michelle Moodley (Durban).

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THE fifth annual Paddle Out for Sharks conservation platform, connecting humans with the oceans, will be held in conjunction with the international Silence of the Sharks underwater protest this year.

Two events are set to take place on the South Coast - one at Scottburgh (Aliwal­ Shoal) and Shelly Beach (Protea Banks) on Saturday, 4 June.

Endorsed by Ugu South Coast Tourism, the Silence of the Sharks and Paddle Out for Sharks initiatives will also celebrate World Oceans Day on 8 June, centred around the theme of ‘healthy oceans, healthy planet’.

“The ocean serves a number of vital purposes, regulating temperature, providing life-giving oxygen and a home to an incredible array of wildlife,” explained Justin Mackrory, CEO Ugu South Coast Tourism.

“To ensure the health of all future generations, we need to ensure that our oceans are protected.”

Mackrory said residents on the South Coast are made aware, on a daily basis, of the beauty of the ocean and the need for its preservation.

“We have some of the best big animal diving in the world,” he explained.

“Aliwal Shoal has been named one of the world’s top 10 dive sites and Protea Banks attracts thousands of international divers every year. These initiatives coincide with the proposed expansion of the Marine Protected Areas at these two dive sites on the KZN South Coast and play an important part in keeping awareness about our oceans alive and encouraging people to become proactive in the protection of sharks and marine life.”

Paddle Out for Sharks, which was first held at Aliwal Shoal in 2011, is supported by the surfing community, conservationists, anglers, divers, paddle skiers, scientists and all environmentally-concerned individuals.

Following the surfing tradition of ‘paddling out’ in memory of a fallen surfer, the event echoes that spiritual element, highlighting the plight of sharks.

“The Paddle Out for Sharks is proud to co-operate on our fifth annual paddle out in 2016, with Silence of the Sharks at the south coast venues. As a grassroots movement that aims to raise awareness of the plight of sharks, we see a synergy with Silence of the Sharks, who are also trying to provide a ‘voice for sharks’,” said Amanda Barratt, Paddle Out for Sharks organiser.

The same sentiment flows through the Silence of the Sharks protest, which started with a Red Sea dive in December 2015 where about 100 divers went to a depth of 20 metres for half an hour in protest of the mass disappearance of sharks.

The dive will be emulated at various locations across the globe, with South Africa’s single event taking place on the KwaZulu-Natal South Coast, set to be the biggest underwater demonstration ever held in South Africa. The initiative will end on 23 October 2016 with a dive in Cyprus.

According to David Pilosof, underwater photographer and diver who is leading the Silence of the Sharks initiative since 1972, the number of blacktip reef sharks has dwindled by 93 percent worldwide, the number of tiger sharks has decreased by 97% and bull sharks by 99%. Every year, 70 million sharks or more are hunted globally, particularly in the Far East, although the European Union and United States have not made shark fishing illegal.

Sharks have roamed the oceans for 400 million years and are understood to be linked to the health of all our oceans. Despite this, the decimation of sharks for shark fin soup, with some sharks finned while alive and then thrown back into the ocean to drown, continues. Many sport fishermen also target large sharks, effectively removing slow reproducing animals, vital to all conservation, merely for trophies.

Internationally renowned marine videographer, Mark Addison, who comes from the South Coast and will be participating in the event, said: “The greatest threat to sharks on our coast is ourselves, in all of our destructive incantations. It is truly sad. I am of the opinion that the opportunity for debate and timeous intervention has truly passed but the time for action is always now and within each and every one of us.”

Addison’s daughter, Ella, an experienced scuba diver, will also be participating in the event along with a number of like-minded school friends.

The Silence of the Sharks protest forms part of South Coast Tourism’s sardine season campaign, which includes a number of family-focused events. The annual Sardine Run along the KwaZulu-Natal coastline, dubbed “the greatest shoal on Earth” is one of the most significant natural migration phenomena globally.

The day’s events will start at 8am with the Paddle Out for Sharks participants gathering at back line off Scottburgh Beach where flowers will be laid. Thereafter, the Silence of the Sharks participants will be invited to jump off the boats and form a group in the water holding banners. Following a countdown, the divers will descend one to two metres with the banners. Scuba divers will then descend with the banners to a 10 metre depth.

For ocean lovers and shark advocates wanting to get involved in this impactful campaign but not wanting to get wet, there will be land-based activities at both Scottburgh and Shelly Beach-St Mike’s (Protea Banks). The Harley Owners Group (Hogs) Durban Chapter will also be joining in the demonstration by riding from Durban to Scottburgh, gathering at the tidal pool on Scottburgh Main Beach which will provide the perfect viewing point to watch proceedings. Shark Scientist Jessica Escobar will be giving a talk to the crowds that gather, explaining the event and the plight of sharks. Everyone is welcome to attend and encouraged to bring deckchairs, binoculars and flowers.

- Supplied.

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