Descrizione - Save Our Seas Foundation Chief Photographer Thomas P. Peschak talks about the issues surrounding his recent article published in Africa Geographic magazine on the shark nets off the Kwazulu-Natal coast.
Large numbers of sharks are a non-negotiable prerequisite for healthy seas. Sharks play an important stabilizing role in the ocean and South Africa is fortunate to harbor two of the worlds top shark hotspots. The western Capes icy seas, home to the great white shark and the subtropical waters off KwaZulu Natal (KZN) where tiger and zambezi sharks crown the top of the food chain. The western Cape and KZN differ not only in their respective shark faunas, but also in the type of relationships that people have chosen to have with sharks.
KZN is one of only a handful of places in the world where shark nets are still used. Many people wrongly believe that these nets are a continuous barrier that prevent sharks from approaching beaches. In reality they are gill nets designed to entangle, suffocate and kill sharks. In fact 40% of sharks are caught on the beach side of the nets on their way back out to sea. The rational is that reducing the number of sharks will also reduce the likelihood of shark bites. The first nets were installed in 1951 and were so effective that by 1989 45 kilomters were in place at 64 beaches, today managed by the parastal KZN Sharks Board.
Between 1978 and 2008 the nets caught 33684 large sharks and the present day haul is 600 sharks every year. Key targets are so-called dangerous sharks (great white, tiger and zambezi), but the majority caught are species that have never seriously injured a human. The nets also ensnare on average 230 rays, 58 turtles, 50 dolphins and 5 whales every year. We live in an time of great technological innovation, the era of space travel and nano-technology, surely we have the capability to develop non-lethal electric or chemical means to replace the archaic nets and allow sharks and ocean users to peacefull coexist?
Despite the environmental toll I believe that the greatest impact the nets have is on the human psychy. Their presence instills in generation after generation of beachgoers the belief that only a ocean free of sharks is safe to swim in. This of course is completely untrue and the true risk of shark bite is miniscule.
Fishing fleets kill 100 million sharks every year and many species have declined by 90 percent. Sharks are in trouble and need our help. Who though is going to have the desire and passion to conserve an animal that they falsely believe, in large part due to the presence of the shark nets, is going to eat them when they venture into the sea for a swim?
The unfortunate reality in KZN is that a large part of the public is still too fearfull to swim off beaches not protected by shark nets. I therefore belive it to be premature to lobby for the removal of all shark nets, especially those from popular bathing locations. However there are many nets at less utilized beaches that could be removed asap.
Sharks bites are not a uniquely KZN phenomenon and the Cape has had its share of incidences. There have been calls for shark nets in the wake of bites, but the public has repeatedly rejected them. The people of the Cape would rather have shark spotters than nets and in turn enjoy healthy oceans with sharks rather than decaying ones without.
A end to all shark killing in the name of bather protection in KZN will only come in the wake of a concerted effort to create a more shark tolerant society. I therefore wish to end with a call for action to all aspiring marine conservationists everywhere. Educate the people of KZN and the holiday visitors about sharks, bring the negative impacts of the nets to light and share how to safely co-exist with sharks. The more converts you find, the sooner KZN can stop killing sharks to protect bathers and join the rest of South Africa as a