South Africa: Paddle out for Sharks in KZN

Press Release

By Cormac McCreesh and Amanda Barratt,
Photo Credit: Allen Walker.

At first light on the 6th of May 2012, over 100 people gathered on dive boats, jet skis and surfboards at the shark nets off Scottburgh. In the surfer’s tradition of a “paddle out” the gathered community honoured animals that have died in shark nets in KwaZulu-Natal South Africa since the 1950’s, most recent of which were 5 tiger and 1 white shark.

The KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board is mandated to protect this, and other beaches, from shark attack and they choose to use nets to create a barrier between sharks and bathers. However, these nets catch not only sharks, but also whales and other large marine animals such as dolphins, turtles, rays and mantas. The Scottburgh nets fall within the Aliwal Shoal Marine Protected Area.

These nets have long been the focus of marine conservationists and the local dive operators, who argue that the nets are indiscriminate in the marine life netted and have an irreversible impact on shark numbers. Sharks are animals that have been demonstrated to be necessary for maintaining healthy oceans.

Emotions were at a high, with many present signifying their disagreement to the presence of nets in their choice of apparel. In addition to honouring the animals that have died those gathered at the paddle out stood together to express their hope for a new beginning – towards a future where shark nets are no longer needed, where a better way to protect bathers has been found and where sharks are protected too.

This was the first time that the diving and marine conservation community stood together to demonstrate their concern about the nets and their resolve to find a solution to the problem. Flowers were cast onto the water and several individuals took the opportunity to express their personal feelings and hopes.

The dive operators then set off with their clients to enjoy the splendour of the Aliwal Shoal Marine Protected Area, but the paddle out closed on a gloomy note when a ray, with visible lesions, from struggling to free itself from the nets, was found dead.

However, the participants of the ceremony are firm that the presence of so many concerned individuals speaks volumes and has drawn attention to the nets, and that the positive energy played out at the ceremony would be garnered to engage the KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board.

The event was made possible by the following dive operators: African Watersports, Agulhas House and Diving, Aliwal Shoal Adventures, Aqua Rush, Blue Vision, Blue Wilderness, Diving in Africa, Oceanworx, The Shoal, Umkomaas Lodge Dive Charter.

Fast Facts (source KZN Sharks Board website, )

  • 1/3 of sharks caught in the nets are caught on the beach side of the nets i.e. these sharks are caught inside the nets.
  • Nets are laid in two parallel rows approximately 400 metres offshore and in depths of 10 to 14 metres
  • The nets are open to the sea and do not enclose a beach area. Sharks can swim over, under or around the ends of the nets.
  • Nets function by reducing shark numbers in the vicinity of protected beaches.
  • Nets have a limited physical barrier effect.
  • Nets are serviced Monday through Friday. They are not serviced over weekends, which are high-bather utilisation times. It follows that animals caught in the nets after servicing of the nets on a Friday will remain in the nets until Monday. This means the caught animal will die and possibly even serve as an attraction to sharks in the area.



1 Comment

  1. This is a very tricky subject.
    I think scientifically nets show no use to protect the bathers,
    Statistically the number of attacks are lower in some beaches. But there is no proof that the nets are doing it.
    Politicians and old minded officials are likely to do something even if it does not work to show the people that they are doing something for them.
    At the end they need votes or assignments. They need something in the eyes of the public. They just can not go out there and say, we can not do anything.
    Swim at your own risk. They need to tell, “We did it for you, it is safe, and you can swim”. That is understandable. They need a justification.
    The real deal is, still to keep the nets there even if they know that it is not working. 1/3 of the sharks are caught inside the nets.
    So we actually trap 1/3 of the sharks in the area which we tell people that it is safe to use. Between the land and the nets where people swim.
    We do not use the nets in the weekends when people are at the beach the most and the beaches are crowded.
    Some may come up and say but the attacks are down statistically. Well, if you kill over a certain size animal life with the nets over decades, there are less animals there for sure.
    Not only sharks but all kinds of animals. Basically all they talk about is the number of sharks gets tangled each year. Around 500-600 sharks of many different species including white sharks which are on their protected species lists. How many dolphins ? How many rays ? Grouppers ? Snappers ? Turtles ? Mantas ?, you name it. Above a certain size these nets will catch even humans. So it is a killing machine we lay everyday… That kills anything… Only 500 sharks.. The rest, unknown number of other sea life.
    There is a contradiction. We want and need to protect human life at the cost of what? How many animals worth a human life?
    Sometimes we act like humans are not a part of a system but the system is build for us. So we can destroy, kill, endanger, wipe out anything for the sake of human life. (mostly for money in the name of the sake of humanity)
    If we agree that we are a part of the nature, than it is ok to be injured or killed by wildlife. If we think we are here to destroy it and the only means of nature is to serve us at all cost, then we can kill all nature and its inhabitants.
    That is cultural argument we are facing now, all over the world. The shark you protect is somebody else’s dream catch. Fisherman’s income money. Customer’s soup on the table. Restaurant owner’s investment. One hell of a shark. It means so much to many types of people. We can expand the list to over 20 different type of businesses that will think differently then you as a shark protector.
    They will even argue that this is Darwin’s cycle. The stronger will be the sole survivor. So this is how world existed so far for millions of years.
    But things are changing. There was no one at the net site to fight for the life of wildlife and sharks a decade ago. Yesterday, there were hundreds of people. A lot of boats… The people who were at risk more than the bathers were there to protest personally. We are here in this web site, sharing opinions, ideas. Things are changing… I am very happy to see and live the change. Witnessing the change. A slow but growing process. This is a social phenomena. The people who can free their minds will keep joining in…
    I truly admire everyone at the net site yesterday from my heart. I personally am proud of all of you. Brave hearts…

Leave a Reply