Paddle Out for Sharks 2013
Paddle Out for Sharks
10. June 2013
More than 130 conservationists, divers, surfers, scientists, anglers and paddlers celebrated World Oceans Day 2013 by ‘Paddling Out’ to the shark nets at Scottburgh Beach, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa to highlight the lack of management of sharks as a species and resource in South Africa and to collectively call for an improvement in shark management in South Africa. Members of the public who share their vision joined them on the beach. Sister events were held at Port St Johns and Shelly Beach, but a Paddle Out planned for Millers Point in Cape Town was thwarted by inclement weather.
The support for the Paddle Out was overwhelming and hugely gratifying to see, proving that more and more people are becoming aware of the need to conserve sharks in particular and our oceans in general.
Diver and co-organiser Karen Wadsworth stated that it was a privilege to be part of the paddle out. ‘We have had so much support from the community, and it has touched me to see how many people do care about the protection of sharks and have helped us in sharing our message.’
The group held a successful Paddle Out in 2012 designed to draw attention to the marine life that is caught in the shark nets each year. (The shark nets are gill nets that are installed at points along the KwaZulu-Natal coast, and operate to trap and then fish sharks). The organisers then engaged the Natal Sharks Board and Umdoni Municipality to collectively work on solutions to better manage the nets, with the intention of reducing the amount of marine life that is killed. An expected outcome is the imminent removal of the shark nets at Rocky Bay (Park Rynie). The group was motivated to hold another paddle out to highlight the plight of sharks, in response to shark fishing in South Africa and Mozambique and to take a stand against shark-hating discourses.
Co-organiser Amanda Barratt stated that paddle outs are an important spiritual element of surfer culture as they are traditionally held in memory of a surfer who has died. ‘Common sense understandings of sharks and a lack of respect for the natural world has put shark populations in danger, and the participants of the paddle out, having had different experiences and understandings of sharks must be proactive in attempting to challenge assumptions about these animals.’
Sharks have roamed our oceans for 400 million years, but have been decimated by up to 90% in some parts of the world. They are a clade of animals that has been demonstrated to be related to the health of our oceans, and the killing of sharks is often given little attention, as the public perceives sharks poorly. Millions of sharks are killed each year, to feed the demand for shark fin soup, with many fisheries practicing the finning of live sharks that are then thrown back into the ocean to drown. The demand for fins has also resulted in many small-scale fishermen feeding this demand, in order to make a living as industrial fishing has destroyed many of their local fisheries. Large sharks are also popular targets for sport fishermen who see the sharks as fair game. While many fishermen engage in safe and responsible practices, many predatory sharks are fished purely as trophies; in effect removing slow reproducing animals that are vital to the conservation of lower trophic levels.
Co-organiser Cormac McCreesh, asserted; ‘we have it within ourselves to rise above everything, to be human and humane. Our oceans and seas are the last remaining wildernesses. It’s never too late to start to look after what we have and the way we think of and treat sharks tells us something about how we treat our oceans.’
It is anticipated that the support for the paddle out will be used to further engage the public and beach users, and challenge assumptions about sharks, in order for authorities and lawmakers to be lobbied to consider improved management and protection of sharks in South Africa.
Surfer, free diver and shark conservationist Olivia Symcox said ‘we are really pleased that the Paddle Out for Sharks is going to become an annual event to raise awareness for the plight of sharks in our country. It was wonderful to see so many shark conservation groups, scientists, divers, surfers, surf ski paddlers, anglers and lifeguards coming together to show their support for sharks on World Ocean’s Day.’
The event was made possible by the following local dive operators: African Watersports, Agulhas House and Diving, Aliwal Shoal Adventures, Blue Vision, Diving in Africa, Oceanworx, The Shoal, Umkomaas Lodge Dive Charter, Allen Walker, Scubaxcursions, Aliwal Dive Centre and African Dive Adventures.
Shark conservation NGO’s Shark Life and Shark Angels sent representatives to the Paddle Out and their support was invaluable. Also represented was RSA SOS, the group lobbying for greater regulatory protection of inshore shark species such as tiger and zambezi (bull) sharks.
To follow progress on the Paddle Out and to be notified of further Paddle Out activities please join the Paddle Out for Sharks group on FaceBook https://www.facebook.com/groups/458404570917945/ or on Twitter @PaddleOut4Shark.