Diving ban: WWF has its say

Cape Town - Conservation organisation WWF has reacted with mixed feelings to the ban on recreational diving, proposed by Environment Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk as part of the fight to save abalone from extinction.

The WWF said it recognised that the status of abalone stocks in South Africa and the social effects of rampant poaching warrants urgent action and that a total ban on diving in prescribed areas could be a very effective way to simplify compliance and enforcement in these areas.

However, the organisation warned that such drastic measures could alienate one of marine conservation's most avid supporters, scuba divers and snorkellers.

The WWF also stressed the need for the development and implementation of a comprehensive, integrated compliance plan that tackles the poaching problem, from divers entering the water through to export across our borders.

It should involve a wide range of government institutions. In the absence of such an overall plan, measures like those proposed in recent months - closure of the legal fishery and now a ban on diving - will continue to be seen as simply punishing legal operations whilst illegal activity continues unabated, the organisation said.

"Just yesterday I was at the Betty's Bay Marine Protected Area and noticed a suspicious rubber duck on the outer reefs. I called the 24-hour anti-poaching line for the area, but there was no response. Under these conditions of negligible enforcement response, one must conclude that a ban on diving would be fruitless - poaching would continue unabated and at the cost of alienating one's support base, said Dr Deon Nel, Manager of the WWF Sanlam Living Waters Partnership.

A middle way

"Over and above the development of an inter-departmental compliance plan, the government simply needs to commit more resources and capacity to the fight against poaching and its effects on coastal communities. It's time we all recognised that this is well beyond merely an environmental issue, but one with dire socio-economic impacts on already impoverished coastal communities."

WWF conceded that if the government committed adequate resources to ensure effective compliance, a ban on diving in more remote areas, such as Dyer Island and Bird Island, could have significant benefits of simplifying enforcement and prosecution procedures.

However, in highly utilised areas, such as the Cape Peninsula, WWF believed a more inclusive process needed to be followed.

"Perhaps a middle way would be to permit diving only during daylight hours on weekends, when most recreation diving takes place. Such an arrangement would still assist in compliance, whilst also allowing scuba divers to appreciate the beauty of this area.

"However, these arrangements will need to be discussed directly with the diving fraternity. WWF encourages DEAT and the diving enthusiasts to engage constructively around this matter, and remains committed to assisting in this process in any way we can," Nel concluded.

  • Want to report poachers? Call 0800-116-110.
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