THE recent capture of 20 sharks in the nets of the KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board proved to be a catalyst for marine life conservationists and activists to say enough is enough.
Over a hundred committed and passionate men, women and children participated in a “paddle-out” to remember marine creatures that were killed in the nets. They chanted “down with the nets” and “save our sharks”.
Boats, jetskis and surfers hovered near the nets on Scottburgh beach to register their protest against the unnecessary and cruel loss of shark and other marine life. A paddle-out is a traditional Hawiian tribute for members of the surfing community who die.
Cormac McCreesh, who organised the event said: “It is the first time in South Africa that people have come together independently to highlight the seriousness of this issue.”
Local divers, surfers and the business community came together for the ceremony. A few divers from Johannesburg and Cape Town also showed their support.
McCreesh said: “I’ve been a diver for almost 30 years and I am beginning to see more and more how important it is to protect our oceans. Ocean sustainability has a direct impact on our lives. It impacts on our climate. We need a healthy ocean.”
Scottburgh is a few kilometres away from the Aliwal Shoal in Umkomaas, which is one of the top 10 dive sites in the world.
“The Aliwal shoal is a hotspot for biodiversity with every kind of marine life.
“It can re-seed other marine areas that have been depleted. A lot of the marine life is getting trapped in the shark nets and this is threatening that biodiversity. We will be meeting the sharks board and municipality to see how we can address this situation,” McCreesh added.
Protesters echoed the sentiment that the shark is a misunderstood and misrepresented creature, despite a fatal attack near Kogel Bay in the Cape in April. David Lilienfeld (20), who was a Springbok bodyboarder, died after his right leg was torn off by what is thought to have been a great white shark.
McCreesh said that with more people taking to the water, for bathing, surfing or body-boarding, encounters between sharks and humans would increase. “We are invading their space. Sharks can’t understand that we want them to play by our rules. We lose our humanity when we think that animal life is not precious. They are living their natural lives in their habitat the way they are meant to be.”
Academic Amanda Barrett said: “More people get killed while using a toaster than from a shark attack. You have a one in 84 chance of being killed in a car accident as compared to one in 3,4 million of being killed by a shark.
“We have a higher risk of dying from our everyday activities than by a shark. Only seven people die around the world each year from a shark attack. That should tell you how misunderstood these creatures are.”
Shark expert Mark Addison said: “Almost 50% of the sharks caught in the net are caught on the beach side, which is where the bathers are swimming.
“We haven’t had a shark attack in Scottburgh in many, many years. The shark nets are not protecting bathers. They are only killing sharks and other marine life.”
Addison said that during the annual sardine run the stretch was infested with sharks.
“The shark nets are removed during the sardine run. The biggest number of sharks are present then and still there has been no attack.”
Mike Anderson-Reade of the sharks board insisted that the shark nets did a good job in protecting bathers.
“The shark nets are extremely efficient and that is why we have had no shark attacks in the area.
“We are employed by the municipality and mandated by the law of the province to protect bather safety on our beaches.
“We have to comply with what the municipality tells us to do. We cannot remove the nets on our own.”
Anderson-Reade said the nets were taken down during the sardine run and it the situation was closely monitored.
“The bull shark is the commonest dangerous shark in this area. Most of them move off to Mozambique during the winter.
“While there are a few of them around, the majority of the sharks are the copper sharks, which are not dangerous,” he said.