2014 Paddle Out for Sharks in South Africa
The Paddle Out for Sharks conservation platform, which is brought to life in an annual ‘paddle out’ to demonstrate the human connection with the ocean and its apex predators spread in 2014 when the concept was picked up across South Africa and paddle outs were organized for various locations in South Africa, and in four other countries. The Paddle Out for Sharks was conceptualized as a memorial event for sharks, which are a class of animals that is being decimated by overfishing and culling methods; activities that are not problematised (usually because of poor perceptions of sharks).
The concept of the paddle out harnesses a spiritual element of surfer culture that commemorates fallen surfers – community members including surfers, free divers, scuba divers, paddle skiers, fishermen, conservationists and scientists, paddle out in memory of sharks to bring attention to the global phenomenon of the plight of sharks. The annual event, which was first held in 2012 at Scottburgh Beach in Aliwal Shoal Marine Protected Area, South Africa to highlight the operation of the bather protection gill nets installed in KwaZulu-Natal, grew in 2014 to be held in 13 locations on World Oceans Day– participants took part in events, commencing in Queensland Australia, Cape Town, Gansbaai, Hermanus, Mossel Bay, Knysa, Port Elizabeth, Port Alfred, East London, Port St Johns, Shelley Beach, Aliwal Shoal, Durban, the Seychelles, Germany and Ponta de Ouro in Mozambique. Significant measures of success since the first event have been a contribution to shark nets being lifted at Rocky Bay, KwaZulu-Natal, and the participation of shark fishermen at the event.
We are still gathering reports from the various events but initial reports suggest that the gatherings consisted of a diverse set of participants, with one goal in mind – each paddle out focused on raising ‘on the ground’ awareness of the plight of sharks and changing perceptions of sharks. At Cape Town, concerns about potential inclement weather were thwarted when a beautiful winters day allowed the gathering to reflect on the need for reformation of shark and human interaction. Organiser Siobhan McCreesh reported that the participants voiced concerns about shark culling, and commented that the methods used are outdated, unneccessary and cruel.
There was a significant sentiment in 2014, for the responsibility we have as custodians of this planet, to initiate change, and that action needs to take place at a community level.
Organiser Amanda Barratt commented at the Aliwal Shoal Paddle Out, which drew 100 participants, “I am always moved by the growth in support for the annual event, this is an indication that we need to channel the different narratives of those who engage with sharks, and listen to what they have to say. It is imperative that while scientists are hard at work trying to affect legislation it is communities that need to take a stand. While we may not be engaged in scientific activity, we can make a political statement by standing together in communities, challenging common perceptions of sharks and informing others.”
It is agreed, that in moving forward, the annual event needs to measure its success by the number of newly converted participants each year.
The 2014 Aliwal Shoal Paddle Out was very special for two participants, who got engaged at the event!
We would like to thank all our organisers across South Africa and beyond, dive charters who transported participants, all participants, and Olivia Jones Communication for their contribution to the event.– Amanda Barratt – ( Photo: Mark van Coller )