Shark attacks ripping Port St Johns apart

2011-05-10 22:55

Port St Johns - Four people have been killed by sharks at the same beach in Port St Johns in the Eastern Cape in the part three years, but the community is divided over whether the municipality should install nets at the popular swimming beach in town.

Dries van der Merwe, the chair of the town's ratepayers association, says holidaymakers are being scared off by the shark attacks and that the municipality has to do something to protect the town's tourist industry, which is its main income generator.

"It's a concern for us," says Van der Merwe.

"Tourists won't come on holiday here if they think that our beaches are unsafe. The municipality has to do something to show that it is trying to ensure the safety of bathers at the main swimming beach.

"But we are divided about this. Some ratepayers are for nets. Others are against them."

The attacks have all taken place at Second Beach, the town's most popular swimming beach in the holiday season.

In the last attack in January, Zama Ndamase, 16, a provincial surfer for Border, was surfing with his brother and other members of the local surf club when he was attacked by what was thought to be a Zambezi shark.

Gerald Mtakati, who used a jet ski to bring Zama's body back to the beach, has retrieved the bodies of all the victims in the past three years. Three of the victims were his lifeguard colleagues.

Lifeguards too scared

"The lifeguards are too scared to swim in the water," he says.

"If someone is in trouble, we rather use a boat or jet ski for the rescue."

Patrick Muchangwe, who works at a backpackers lodge above Second Beach, was working here during the last attack.

"It was terrible," he says. "The municipality has to put in nets.

"The people who get into the water in the holiday time are from rural areas like Lusikisiki and Flagstaff. They don't know about sharks and the ocean.

"They are the ones we have to protect. If we don't, holiday makers will stop coming to Port St Johns. The main reason people come is to swim in the sea."

A local surfer named "Toto" who lives in a village above Second Beach, says he will not get into the water again.

"I'm not surfing," he says. "No ways. I will be eaten. The municipality must do something to reduce the danger."

Zola Hewu, the municipal manager for the Port St Johns municipality, says shark nets are an expensive option for the cash strapped town.

No scientific study

"The people who were attacked were deep in the ocean," he says.

"They were surfers and lifesavers. They were beyond where the shark nets would be.

"Those swimming off the shore are normally in shallow water and they have never been attacked."

There is no scientific study that would show that the beaches would be safer with nets, Hefu says.

"We had a suggestion to have shark nets, but the Umzimvubu River makes it muddy brown and that makes it impossible to spot sharks.

"There are also environmental concerns. It's not simply a matter of putting in nets."

The municipality, he says, is working with the Natal Sharks Board on a study to determine what action to take.

Kathryn Costello, a lodge owner in town, believes the problem comes from the effluent that is flowing into the river.

"The problem is the filth. That brings the fish, which attracts the sharks," she says.

Nets won't work

"One way to reduce the danger of shark attacks is to stop the effluent from being pumped into the river."

Rod Hastier, a Port St Johns resident who worked with the Natal Sharks Board for 16 years, says installing nets was not an option for the municipality.

"Shark nets won't work," he says.

"There are far too many sharks in Port St Johns. There always have been. It's tough, but its a fact of life. Installing nets we will wipe out the sharks and the equipment. It will also kill dolphins, whales and turtles.

"There's no way you can have the safe bathing in Port St Johns that you have in Natal."

Hastier says the solution is to research the behaviour of the Zambezi sharks that have been responsible for the attacks.

"There is a research project on Zambezis underway at the Breede River in the Western Cape.

"Port St Johns needs something similar. We need to understand why the Zambezis disappear in winter for instance. That will help us predict their behaviour a lot better."

Hastier says the municipality is not doing much in creating awareness about the dangers of sharks, but he doesn't blame them.

"The problem is that are also ignorant about shark behaviour. They don't know what to do because they don't have the information.

"The best thing for people to do is not swim deep. Stay out of the water. There are lots of sharks here, so if you live by the sword, you die by the sword."

  • edvermaak - 2011-05-11 00:05

    Shame - leave the sharks alone. They also need a beach free of nets.

  • Sean - 2011-05-11 04:47

    I don't think the nets will help and besides by swimming in the ocean you are playing in the sharks domain. Also being a Zambesi sharks as the primary suspect the river water that carries edible nutrients down to the mouth will have an effect.

  • OS - 2011-05-11 06:13

    What a relief to read such sensible comments so far. Sharks are actually the ones in danger with an estimated 73 million sharks being killed worldwide each year. If you are under any illusion about what the nets do to marine life (dolphins, turtles, whales, whale sharks, rays etc) please follow the work of organisations such as Remove The Nets, Shark Angels and others. I would be interested to find out who issued the story above to SAPA in the first place?! Shark nets cost around R52 Million per year to "run" - don't you think this money could be better spent in SA rather than on killing all sorts of marine life? Follow the golden rules as an ocean-user: don't swim in dirty water, do not swim near river mouths and try to avoid dusk and dawn. Other than that, one should focus on real concerns e.g. the carnage on our roads. How many people die en route to swimming at the beach when visiting Port St Johns?

      Gungets Tuft - 2011-05-11 07:56

      @Os - the Natal Sharks Board have stats on how much marine life is killed in the nets and it is trivial in the big picture. The money gained from tourism also makes that R52 million trivial. It is all very well to target the nets but where do we stop the "balance" of human and natural use of resources. Do we ban farming, wind turbines, all water storage dams - the list goes on. Unfortunately humans have screwed the environment up. If the huge demand for food was not there then the sharks natural prey would be plentiful and they would not be patrolling river mouths for human refuse. Stop all fishing within 200km of our coastlines and see the change in shark behaviour. I agree completely that research should be done to make sure the nets would be effective. The Wild Coast is one of my favourite places on earth and I would hate to see it netted. I surf and paddle there completely aware of the risks. Do I swim - not so much. And hells teeth, the drive down to PSJ is dangerous, just shopping in PSJ is now a life threatening experience!!

  • OS - 2011-05-11 06:22

    PS shark nets are not a barrier, they do not "keep sharks out" of an area Also must add that Kathryn Costello's effluent concerns should be investigated and Rod Hastier for president!

  • vandita.diwakar - 2011-05-11 06:31

    Please, no shark nets, they are dangerous for the sharks, they will get stuck in it and die a painful death. Sharks need protection, please. Don't use nets!

  • ebdg3000 - 2011-05-11 06:55

    Winklespruit had the highest rate of shark attacks up to 1962. Then shark nets were installed. Hasn't been another attack since. That goes for all the protected beaches in Natal - not one attack in netted areas. the shark nets have been in for more than 50 years and the shark population is still prolific - just look at this article. Makes you think, doesn't it?

  • graham.christensen1 - 2011-05-11 07:08

    First step is some decent research into the matter. My guess is that stopping effluent, dirty runoff etc from flowing into the river will reduce the edible matter for fish - the reason the sharks are there. Having said that, if shark nets will work... put them in. Controversial bit: If it kills a whole bunch of sharks and the odd dolphin/turtle that can't be rescued in time then so be it. To save human lives, boost the economy of a small Transkei town and reduce poverty in the area shark nets MIGHT be the answer. These things are always a tradeoff.

  • Carl - 2011-05-11 07:59

    FOUR deaths in THREE years! its a massacre! good grief, how many have died on the roads within 50km of port st johns? Wake up, there are sharks in the sea, swim in a pool if you a sissie

  • pages:
  • 1