Keeping you safe in the water

2010-07-20 00:00

TWENTY-NINE sharks were caught along the KwaZulu-Natal coastline during the World Cup, ensuring safe bathing for all, including our visitors. This is thanks to the KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board (KZNSB), which was established in 1962.

Previously, Durban beaches were a focal point for shark attacks, hence the need for protection from shark attacks.

According to Debbie Hargreaves, public relations-education manager for the Sharks Board, “the KZNSB is mandated to protect bathers from shark attack ... and to reduce the chances of a shark encounter”. The KZNSB uses shark nets, and more recently, drum lines to achieve this goal, with the last recorded shark attack being in 1999.

The KZNSB shark nets are 214 metres long and six metres deep. They are kept in place by two 35-kilogram anchors and are situated about 400 metres offshore in water depths of 10 to 14 metres.

A drumline is a baited hook which is suspended from an anchor (which was originally a drum). “Shark-attack rates have been drastically reduced due to these measures, with the least possible impact on marine species,” said Hargreaves. However, the nets do not cover the entire distance from the surface to the ocean bottom, allowing sharks to swim under the nets at night, so people are warned not to swim at night. The nets are serviced from Monday to Friday, weather permitting.

Air-filled floats are attached to the nets to alert the dolphins to their presence and whale alarms are used to steer whales away from the nets and prevent them from getting entangled. However, specialised whale-release teams are in place for those whales that still manage to get entangled.

The dusky shark is the most common shark species to be caught, with an estimated number of 117 caught each year according to the KZNSB. Sharks that are caught and are still alive are tagged and then released back into the ocean. Those that do not survive are dissected and used for research. Some stranger finds in dissected sharks have included animal bones, cans, plastic and gum boots.

The nets are removed for the annual sardine run in June and July. Shark nets have been removed from the south coast and Brighton Beach starting from July 12, and nets in other areas have been thinned out throughout the week. Michael Anderson-Reade, head of operations at the KZNSB, advised that bathers should consult with lifeguards during this time.

New shark safety gear is always being investigated to find alternatives that could possibly be more cost-effective and practical in the rough surf zones with an annual budget of R30 million per year. KZNSB has been experimenting with electrical shark repellents for years, which are used mainly by commercial divers.

Hargreaves urges the community to care for the environment, land or sea, because these resources need to be sustainable for the youngsters of tomorrow. The KNZSB also has a public education programme which is in place to educate beach users on the marine environment.

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