Plans to build a fish farm along a popular stretch of coast prompted concerns that it could entice sharks, endangering tourists and Ironman triathletes.
Authorities in Port Elizabeth say the vast fishery 2.5 kilometres off the popular Hobie Beach will create much-needed jobs.
But assorted beachfront hoteliers, marine biologists and local councillors say the project would also attract Great Whites and other sharks found in the icy waters.
Ironman South Africa director Paul Woolfe said that if the project goes ahead they would be forced to move the event to another city.
“One of many risks is that our athletes might be eaten by sharks, because the fish farm will lure bigger sharks to the bay that are not normally there,” Woolfe said.
“The area the project is envisaged for is where the athletes train during the night” for the swimming part of the triathlon, he said.
“We cannot risk them.”
He said Ironman SA had already been contacted by the cities of Cape Town and Durban about hosting the race.
He claimed Port Elizabeth could stand to lose around R90 million in revenue if the race moved.
Port Elizabeth is slated to host the annual Ironman African championship – a 3.8-kilometre swim followed by a 180-kilometre bike ride and a marathon run – until 2016.
The agriculture, forestry and fisheries department has already granted authorisation for the fish farm to go ahead, while a petition has been launched to stop it.
Dean Biddulphs, a municipal councillor, said the farm was important for jobs but should be built on land.
“If it’s land-based, it’s even more economical and cost-effective,” he said, adding that there was land available nearby.