Request for comment on the proposed opening of the Tsitsikamma MPA to fishing

The South African ministry of the environment has proposed to open the country’s oldest Marine Protected Area, the Tsitsikamma marine reserve, to recreational angling by certain community members. The official press release by the Minister of the Environment can be found here.

Near the Storms River mouth in the Tsitsikamma MPA
Near the Storms River mouth in the Tsitsikamma MPA

A bit of background

There is wide acceptance in the scientific community that marine protected areas are a vital tool to arrest the damage caused to the world’s oceans by the over-exploitation of marine resources, which has been occurring for the last thousand years, with accelerating intensity in modern times. You can read about Colin Attwood’s assessment of South Africa’s MPAs, and about why MPAs work, here.

In the Marine and Coastal Component (pdf) of the 2011 National Biodiversity Assessment, Kerry Sink and co-authors found that 47% of South Africa’s marine habitats are threatened (about 30% by area), most of which are coastal environments. They also found that fishing has the greatest negative impact on marine biodiversity. Most of South Africa’s marine resources are over-exploited. The report states:

South Africa’s Marine Protected Area (MPA) network plays a key role in protecting marine and coastal habitats and sustaining fisheries. Coastal protected areas can support rural livelihoods and local economic development through providing jobs and opportunities for ecotourism and conservation-related industries. Protected areas attract foreign and domestic tourists, provide ecosystem services, and safeguard the environment for future generations. Fully protected MPAs help sustain fisheries by protecting breeding resources and by seeding adjacent areas with eggs, larvae or young and adults.

The first of the priority actions recommended in the marine component of the National Biodiversity Assessment is to “expand and strengthen” the network of MPAs around our coast.

South Africa has a network of 23 Marine Protected Areas, covering just under 22% of our 3,113 kilometre coastline (you can find a list of them along with details of their size and other information on page 147 of the National Biodiversity Assessment 2011: Marine & Coastal Component (pdf)). Less than half of the linear extent of coast covered by MPAs falls into no-take zones, where fishing is not allowed at all. The rest of the MPAs permit certain types of commercial and recreational fishing.

The Tsitsikamma Marine Protected Area

The Tsitsikamma MPA is South Africa’s oldest Marine Protected Area, gazetted in 1964. It covers 264.4 square kilometres of Eastern Cape coastline (about 80 kilometres of coast, three nautical miles offshore), stretching from Nature’s Valley to the mouth of the Groot River. No fishing of any kind is currently permitted in the MPA. It is managed by SANParks, who acknowledge its importance in South Africa’s MPA network.

Map of the Tsitsikamma MPA, with proposed fishing areas
Map of the Tsitsikamma MPA, with proposed fishing areas

The Tsitsikamma MPA was not originally a no-take zone; since 1975 fishing in the MPA has been gradually reduced, and it was finally closed entirely to fishing in 2000 during a time of crisis with respect to South Africa’s plummeting fish stocks. It gets over 200,000 visitors per year, employs many people from local communities, and is responsible for significant tourism revenue both directly from the reserve, and from activities in the surrounding area. You can find more detail about this particular MPA on pages 34-40 of the WWF’s 2014 technical report on the State of Management of South Africa’s Marine Protected Areas (pdf).

Scuba diving in the reserve is not permitted except in designated areas close to the Storms River Mouth, with designated operators.

The proposal

Certain areas in the Tsitsikamma MPA are to be opened to recreational anglers who reside in the Tsitsikamma community, and are in posession of a South African ID document. The anglers cite “cultural, historical and subsistence reasons” for wanting to fish in the MPA, and have been campaigning to do so for years.

Definition of Tsitsikamma community
Definition of Tsitsikamma community

These anglers will be permitted to fish and gather bait (with a permit) during daylight hours, from the shore, for at most four days out of every calendar month, and are subject to reduced bag limits. Three per person per day for fish with a recreational limit of less than 10 may be caught. For fish with no recreational bag limit or a limit of more than 10 per day, only 10 may be caught per angler per day. No sharks and rays may be caught.

Things to think about

An attempt was made to open the Tsitsikamma MPA to recreational fishing in 2007. This met with vigorous opposition from the scientific community and environmentalists, and was vetoed by then-minister of the Environment, Marthinus van Schalkwyk. In a statement on the matter (well worth reading and possibly a good starting point when you are crafting a response to these proposals), van Schalkwyk said that

The reasons for originally closing the MPA in 2000 and the prevailing underlying circumstances have not changed. It is important to note that this decision will not have an impact on food security in the area as the issue dealt with is a matter of recreational fishing.

He also commented that

Opening this MPA to recreational fishing will set a dangerous precedent in a conservation area that is closed to all, for the benefit of all. Allowing a few people access for recreational purposes would negate the benefits that accrue to all South Africans. A decision to open this MPA would effectively have signalled a broader shift in policy on the part of government and the beginning of a new approach that is neither sustainable nor in line with our stated objectives.

He further acknowledged that it would be extremely difficult for effective monitoring and compliance measures to be enforced.

Another (unsuccessful) attempt to open the reserve to anglers was made in 2010.

If the MPA is now to be opened to fishing, the question that must be answered is what has changed since 2007? Are any of the reasons cited by van Schalkwyk for keeping the Tsitsikamma MPA closed, no longer valid?

Environmental and economic impact

WWF-funded report estimated in 2006 that the fish stocks built up in the Tsitsikamma MPA could be fished down in approximately 33 days (page 7). The benefit to opening the MPA would thus accrue very quickly to the local fishermen, after which the MPA would have fish stocks of similar quality and size to those outside the reserve and everyone would be worse off.

The largest fish, which spawn exponentially more (example – section 5.4) than their smaller counterparts, would be taken first. The MPA plays a vital role in re-seeding areas along its boundaries with new fish.


In the State of Management of South Africa’s Marine Protected Areas (pdf), Chadwick, Duncan and Tunley (2014) report that:

Enforcement continues to be a major challenge in most MPAs. The primary hindrances to enforcement activities include inadequate staffing, the lack of suitable regulations and poor morale. Morale would be boosted and enforcement efficiency improved if the judiciary became more aware of MPA issues and if all necessary enforcement actions were supported at the highest governmental levels without discrimination between law breakers. A lack of clear objectives for each MPA and a similar lack of understanding of the role and importance of MPAs at higher political levels poses a continual risk of existing MPAs being opened or de-proclaimed.

Can we expect SANParks to properly police the MPA when it is opened to fishing? What is the record of SANParks when it comes to policing of the other MPAs for which they are responsible? How, for example, will they determine whether an individual has already fished for his designated four days in the month? Will there be boots on the ground and boats in the water? There is already an illegal fishing problem in the reserve.

In announcing the proposal, Environment Minister Edna Molelwa states that “A detailed monitoring plan which includes fixed underwater cameras and process will be implemented. Furthermore SANParks has developed an operational plan which includes additional manpower for monitoring of access and regulations of permits.” (As an aside, do you think she’s talking about BRUVs?!)

Where is the funding for the “additional manpower” going to come from? If SANParks can whip it out of a hat at such short notice, why have they failed to provide proper support and enforcement to the other MPAs that they are responsible for?


Is the community goodwill that will be generated by opening the MPA to fishing sufficient that this proposal can be explained by the proximity of the 2016 elections? (I don’t know.)

If the proposed fishing is “subsistence” fishing as Minister Molelwa’s statement suggests, and stringent bag limits apply, is four days of fishing per month even a meaningful concession to subsistence fishermen?

Balancing human rights and conservation

For the other side of this debate, I ask you to consider how you would feel if you were accustomed to engaging in an enjoyable activity – one that perhaps even made you a bit of money now and then, and fed your family – close to home, but then were prevented from doing so. This is the experience of the angling community around the Tsitsikamma reserve, who were allowed to fish there until the closure of the MPA to fishing in 2000. Many, or even all, of the fishermen who have been campaigning to fish in the Tsitsikamma MPA are from groups of people who have historically had very limited access to South Africa’s resources, who lack the resources to travel long distances to other fishing spots.

Thursday’s post about balancing customary rights to fish with environmental imperatives is required reading for this section of the debate. What might a compromise look like, if you accept the view that the local fishermen have a case for being allowed to fish in the area?

Unfortunately you don’t get to be a thinking adult in South Africa without engaging with some hard questions with shameful historical origins. So get to it.

How to submit your comments

Send an email to, or use the postal address provided on page 4 of the relevant Government Gazette (pdf). Send your comments before 1 February 2016. Rationality and respect are never out of place when you’re trying to be heard.

You are welcome to copy and paste from this blog post when you put together your comments, although I haven’t made it as easy to do so as I did with the seal snorkeling issue because I don’t think it’s necessarily quite as clear cut. May I respectfully ask that if you talk to the press on the subject, or communicate about it in any public forum, that you use your own words.

Fact finding about the KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board

The KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board (KZNSB) is frequently discussed, and often vilified, among ocean-loving South Africans. Rumour abounds; whole websites, devoted entirely to inaccurate speculation, exist. When the Sharks Board tested a shark repellent cable in the waters of Cape Town, starting in late 2014, I was frustrated by my lack of knowledge about how the KZNSB is structured, who funds it, and who mandates it to do what it does. Understanding these aspects of the Sharks Board’s operations could surely assist with moving towards a future where, if the Sharks Board still exists, it uses primarily non-lethal shark mitigation measures. (Unfortunately, no scalable measures suitable for the KZN coastline exist yet.)

Many people are concerned by declining shark populations, but many people are also concerned about their safety when they go for a surf or a swim. These groups overlap, but not wholly. The ideal shark mitigation measure combines bather safety with shark conservation. Examples exist, but they are rare. Cape Town’s Shark Spotters do an excellent job of striking a balance between safety and conservation, but what many commentators – who advocate deploying shark spotters at sharky beaches the world over – do not admit (or realise) is that Shark Spotters works because in Cape Town we have elevated ground close to the ocean, and great white sharks that spend a lot of time swimming on the surface when they are inshore. Take away one of those two crucial elements, and an already tricky job becomes exponentially more challenging.

What the KZNSB does

The KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board protects bathers in KZN with what are essentially fishing measures: 23.7 kilometres of gill nets and 79 drum lines are installed along 38 beaches in the province. These nets and drum lines catch sharks and other marine creatures. The nets are checked by Sharks Board employees, and live sharks (and other animals) are released. Sharks that don’t survive are used for a variety of research – the Southern African Shark and Ray Symposium in September featured at least six presentations based on samples and data obtained from the Sharks Board.

While it is legal (read carefully – I am not condoning the practice) for the Sharks Board to remove sharks from the ocean, it is no longer considered ethical for scientists who wish to study sharks to use lethal sampling methods – to go out and shoot a shark so that they can study its stomach contents, for example. This practice would also be illegal for sharks that are protected, such as great whites in South Africa (the Sharks Board is permitted to catch them, however). There is much about shark biology that can be learned from a dead shark – for example an understanding of its reproductive systems, its position in the food web, its diet, samples to determine genetic inter-relatedness of populations, and age and growth data can all be gleaned from a necropsy. Perversely, much of the scientific output obtained from these avenues of research is useful for shark conservation and management planning. This is why, when a shark washes up dead or is accidentally caught in the Western Cape, scientists are keen to learn as much as possible from a dissection.

The website of the KZNSB describes a number of measures that the Sharks Board has taken to reduce its catches of species other than sharks. In particular, entanglement of cetaceans such as dolphins and baby whales is (apart from the environmental impact and sheer wastefulness) a highly emotive issue and a public relations nightmare for the Sharks Board and they actively seek to mitigate this kind of by-catch. In 2014, only about 40% of “non-target species” caught in the nets were released alive (no whales were killed).

How does the KSNZB, an organisation whose activities have a potentially significant impact on shark populations, fit in with broader initiatives to take better care of South Africa’s sharks?

Shark Biodiversity Management Plan

Puffadder shyshark at Long Beach
Puffadder shyshark at Long Beach

In March of this year, South Africa’s Shark Biodiversity Management Plan was published by the Department of Environmental Affairs. It is a remarkable document and represents the culmination (and the beginning) of a great deal of work by a great many people. It deserves (and will hopefully get) a more detailed examination than this, but I have isolated the sections that pertain to the KZNSB because they shed light on how the KZNSB is characterised by the government, and on the pressures it is under.

In the South African Shark Biodiversity Management Plan on pages 13-14, the KZNSB is listed as an organisation that “actively support[s] the management and conservation of sharks”.

On page 29 the KZNSB is listed as a responsible party under part of the Biodiversity Management Action Plan, with things to do in order to effect conservation of sharks in South African waters. The KZNSB is to “research and implement methods mitigating by-catch (e.g. drum lines)”, high priority, to start within a year of March 2015 and to be completed within five years; and to “investigate alternatives to shark fishing systems”, with the same priority and timeline. We know that the KZNSB has been actively testing alternatives to nets and drum lines – their shark repellent cable test in Cape Town’s waters is a case in point.

Page 25 states that the KZNSB is “cognisant of the need to minimise the environmental impact on biodiversity, while striving to improve/evaluate methods that have a lower environmental cost.”

The piece of legislation (more on this later) that establishes the Sharks Board mandates the sharks board to consider alternative mitigation methods, to reduce environmental impact, and “enhance the survival of caught sharks and other marine animals.” The particular section of the act defining the Sharks Board’s mandate is quoted in the KZNSB 2014 Annual Report (pdf). The report also suggests (on page 23) that pressure from environmental groups is providing an additional impetus to the development of other bather protection strategies.

All this underscores the fact that the Sharks Board is expected to find alternative (non-lethal) shark mitigation methods, and is legally mandated to attempt to do so.

National Plan of Action for Sharks

The South African National Plan of Action for Sharks (NPOA) sets goals for the implementation of measures towards ecologically and economically sustainable shark fisheries, and aims to improve conservation and management of sharks found in South African waters. The KZNSB is mentioned on page 13 of the NPOA document, as a “directed shark fishery”, with a reminder that

In terms of the provincial KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board Act, 2008 (Act 5 of 2008), the KZNSB is required to endeavour to introduce schemes that will reduce negative impact on all biodiversity. In addressing biodiversity issues the KZNSB has already reduced the number of nets, introduced drum lines, and has removed shark fishing gear during the annual winter sardine run.

The Sharks Board is thus recognised in its capacity as a shark fishery in the NPOA document and mandated to conduct itself as described above (a broad requirement), as well as a potentially important player in the conservation of South Africa’s sharks in the Shark Biodiversity Management Plan.


On page 23 of the KZNSB 2014 Annual Report (pdf), it is noted that one of the “challenges” facing the Sharks Board is that “other organisations are also developing environmentally-sensitive shark repellent technologies which may compete with that being developed by KZNSB.” I don’t know how exactly to read this, but it seems that the Sharks Board is concerned that if another entity were to develop a shark mitigation technology that doesn’t kill sharks, this would be a bad thing for the KZNSB. I can only infer that this refers either to potential lost profits from licencing a KZNSB-developed product, or to costs that the KZNSB would potentially incur should they be forced to implement an environmentally friendly shark mitigation technolgy developed by someone else.

Either way, it establishes a strong financial motive – at least at top management level – behind efforts to develop non-lethal shark repellent strategies. While this impurity of motive may not warm your environmentalist’s heart, a quick scan of the KZNSB annual reports should convince you that it is more analogous to a corporation than to an environmental organisation or charity and it should be expected to operate as such. Individual motivations of staff and researchers within the Sharks Board may well be related to shark conservation, but the organisation as a whole must remain financially viable.

A news report in November 2014, to which I have not been able to find a follow up, quoted the KZNSB CEO as suggesting that the Sharks Board be able to sell shark meat, fins, and other curios manufactured from shark products (such as teeth) in order to raise funds. The difficulty with this suggestion – which is expressly forbidden in the 2008 KwaZulu Natal Sharks Board Act – is that it could create an incentive not to release live sharks caught in the nets, or for the Sharks Board to deliberately harvest sharks in order to turn a profit.

In summary

What I hope I have provided is an overview of some facts about the Sharks Board that can be obtained from publicly available sources, all of which I have linked to in the text. I will do two follow up posts in which I will look at the origins of the Sharks Board and the legislation (from 1964 and 2008) that gives it its mandate and legal structure. Do ways exist in which concerned, rational, ocean loving citizens can work to create a future in which the South African coastline is free of nets and drum lines? What kind of things should we support in order to make the whole of South Africa – and not just Cape Town – a world leader in shark mitigation techniques?

At the very least an understanding of the entity that is the Sharks Board may assist in determining whether a particular form of activism or protest about its activities is likely to have any effect. And if a form of protest is not going to be ineffective, regardless of the passion and enthusiasm behind it, those energies could be better spent on one of the many other threats to the marine environment.


Newsletter: Surf’s up (again)

Hi divers

Weekend dives

No diving, but surfing! (See below)

We had great conditions last weekend – Atlantis was magnificent – and the good visibility has remained all week. Peet took a stunning video on last weekend’s dive at Atlantis that you can watch here. The weekend heralds the first big winter swell and the predictions earlier in the week were for 7 metre swells with a 16 second period. The forecast swell is now down to 6 metres. Either way, it is WAY too much for pleasant diving.

Surfers looking like ants on the face of Dungeons
Surfers looking like ants on the face of Dungeons

On Saturday morning there will be a gathering at the harbour in Hout Bay to sign and hand over a petition to oppose the proposed restrictions on seal snorkeling and diving. It would be a great help if you came by to Hout Bay harbour at 11.00 am. We will be there from around 9.00 am as there are most likely going to be some of Cape Town’s finest big wave surfers heading out to Dungeons and/or Sunset Reef and we will go out and watch from the boat.

If you’d like to book a spot on the boat to check out the surfing, if it materialises either on Saturday or Sunday, let me know and I will keep you in the loop about plans and times.


Tony Lindeque
076 817 1099

Diving is addictive!

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Urgent call to action on the future of seal diving and snorkeling in South Africa

Seal at the slipway
Seal at the slipway

Proposed changes to the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act (no. 10 of 2004) will limit scuba divers’ and snorkelers access to Cape fur seal colonies. The proposal was brought to our attention by Georgina Jones (for which we thank her!). Unfortunately the timeline for comments is extremely limited: we must submit written responses to the proposal by 30 April, which is this coming Thursday.

Proposed legislative changes with respect to Cape fur seals

The primary change that will affect us as scuba divers and snorkelers is that we will no longer be allowed within 30 metres of a Cape fur seal colony. This will mean that we cannot approach the colonies at Duiker Island in Hout Bay and at Partridge Point in False Bay. Furthermore, it may mean that we cannot even drive the boat through the gap between Duiker Island and the mainland. Boat routing around the Partridge Point colony will also be affected. Fortunately we don’t do any recreational diving around Seal Island in False Bay, so we don’t need to worry about that!

The Government Gazette outlining the changes is long (288 pages) and you can download it in its entirety here, but I have snipped out the relevant sections. The first is the definition of “harrassment” from page 88, which in point (f) relates to all seal species and states that one may not “approach a colony closer than 30 metres”.

Definition of harrassment
Definition of harrassment (click to enlarge)

The second relevant section is on pages 260-261 as they specifically apply to Cape fur seals. Note that the second last bullet point (on the second page, page 261) prohibits “harassment” of seals, which is defined above.

Cape fur seals regulations
Cape fur seals regulations (click to enlarge)
Cape fur seals regulations continued
Cape fur seals regulations continued (click to enlarge)

Why we object to the proposed legislation

Cape fur seals (Arctocephalus pusillus pusillus) are not endangered. In Namibia they are hunted, but in South Africa hunting of seals was stopped years ago. They are classified as “Least Concern” on the IUCN Redlist, which states that

Due to their large population sizes, the global Cape Fur Seal (Afro-Australian Fur Seal) population appears to be healthy, and the subspecies should both therefore be classified as Least Concern (LC).

The best place to encounter Cape fur seals is in proximity to a breeding colony (such as Duiker Island in Hout Bay) or haul out spot (such as Partridge Point in False Bay). The largest breeding colony is Seal Island in False Bay, and recreational diving and snorkeling is off limits there owing to the white shark population that feeds there, primarily in winter. Restricting access to 30 metre wide areas around these colonies will not improve the lot of the seal populations in any way.

Fishermen frequently have an adversarial relationship with seals (Shaughnessy & Kirkwood). Allowing scuba divers and snorkelers to approach seal colonies in the water enables them to observe any abuses that may be perpetrated on the seals by water users who do not appreciate the seals’ presence. It also provides a means for monitoring and reporting the impact of plastic pollution on the animals, which may be significant. Loops of plastic from bait boxes, shopping bags and from six packs of canned drinks pose a risk to these curious mammals, who get their heads or flippers stuck inside the plastic loops. This causes slow and painful damage to the animals as they grow.

There is no indication that activity by snorkelers and scuba divers causes the seals any distress or leads to harmful behaviour modification that could impact individual seals’ chances of survival (Kirkwood et al 2003). Seals are curious and friendly, and frequently and willingly approach people in the water in order to interact.

If conducted sensitively, trips allowing visitors to experience Cape fur seals have great conservation value, not only encouraging awareness of seal conservation issues, but also of species that prey on and are preyed upon by seals, and of issues of plastic pollution in the marine environment.

The monetary value of Cape fur seals as a tourism resource is also significant and contributes to South Africa’s tourism sector. In addition to snorkeling and scuba diving trips, run by a number of operators, there are seal viewing boats (which sometimes pose a significant danger to snorkelers and divers in the water, but that’s another story…) operating out of Hout Bay, which bring thousands of visitors, mostly tourists, to see the colonies each year.

As both Duiker Island and Partridge Point are located close to shore, restricting boat movements around them may force watermen to use less safe routes up and down the coastline, and force them further out to sea than they would otherwise choose to venture in order to avoid the seals.

(It is in fact not clear to me whether Partridge Point, which is a resting or haul out spot rather than a breeding colony, will fall under the proposed legislation, but Duiker Island in Hout Bay certainly will, as will Seal Island in False Bay.)

How we think seals need to be protected

A more impactful (sorry, hate that word) way to protect seals from perceived harrassment would be to enforce a Code of Conduct for seal tourism operators. This would prohibit landing of people on a seal colony by tourist operators. The use of toys such as bits of rope to attract seals in the water should also be prohibited. Teaching seals to identify human manufactured materials as playthings will only lead to more entanglement of young animals in plastic waste. Strict boat speed limits should be enforced around seal colonies and haul out spots. Finally, no bait or chum should be permitted to be used by operators, even if it is kept on the boat and trickled over the side or held inside a glove and not given to the seals.

How to submit comments

If you enjoy snorkeling and diving with seals and want to be able to share that with friends and family in the future, or have a business that profits from seal trips, or if you like to win photography competitions with pictures of seals chomping at your dome port, this means you have a vested interest in the legislation that has been proposed.

The quickest way to comment is to send an email to with your comments or objections. Feel free to use any or all of the ones we have listed above. Please do this now!

Contact details to submit comments
Contact details to submit comments (click to enlarge)

Operators who do white shark trips and turtle nesting tours in Sodwana should also consult the proposed changes carefully, because they may impact their operations as well.

The illegal abalone trade in the Western Cape

The words “organised crime” don’t typically intrude into our privileged Capetonian lives (if you can afford to scuba dive recreationally, you’re privileged), but in reality there are networks operating on our doorstep, and many of our activities as scuba divers actually cause us to cross paths with these syndicates. Sometimes it is a very literal crossing of paths, and other times it’s simply sharing the same space as individuals who are advancing the interests of a criminal organisation.

Khalil Goga, a researcher who has been focused on organised crime since 2009, published a report on the Western Cape’s illegal abalone trade  for the Institute of Security Studies in August 2014. This paper can be seen as a companion to Jonny Steinberg’s 2005 ISS report on the illicit abalone trade in South Africa. While Steinberg’s paper deals with poaching’s socioeconomic and political origins and has a broad geographic focus within South Africa, Goga lays out the structure of poaching operations from harvesting the resource to its arrival in Asia, with special reference to the Hangberg community of Hout Bay.

Half sunken in Hout Bay harbour
Half sunken in Hout Bay harbour

The state of Hout Bay harbour – with corrupt or no access control, no checking of catches by Marine and Coastal Management or monitoring whether vessels are compliant with SAMSA regulations, and sunken ships at their berths – visually demonstrates how easy it is to base a poaching operation out of this location. The individuals who do the hard work of diving, driving, and carrying abalone over the mountain are drawn from the communities surrounding the harbour. Despite the involvement of these impoverished and sidelined communities, however,

The abalone trade has moved from largely being in the hands of a marginalised population to one that is ‘dominated by outside opportunists’. It has evolved from an informal activity by fishers into ‘a highly organised commercial fishery run by organised criminal syndicates’.

Read the complete ISS report here. It’s clear, easy to understand without glossing over the complexity of the issue, and absolutely fascinating. If you would rather read a shorter article on the abalone trade emanating from Hout Bay, you can try this M&G piece.

Testing a shark repellent cable at Glencairn

Signage at Glencairn explaining the test
Signage at Glencairn explaining the test

Perhaps you have noticed some new signage and a little wooden hut at Glencairn beach, where an exciting test – of an electronic cable to repel great white sharks – is underway. The cable is a massively scaled up version of the Shark Shield technology with which many surfers and lifesavers will be familiar. The Shark Shield has been subjected to scientific testing, and is effective in certain circumstances.

The risers on the cable are clearly visible at low tide
The risers on the cable are clearly visible at low tide

The cable is a collaboration between the KwaZulu Natal Sharks Board (who would like an alternative to the gill nets and drum lines currently used to harvest sharks and other marine life off South Africa’s north coast), and the Institute for Maritime Technology (IMT) in Simon’s Town, a division of ARMSCOR. Shark Spotters and the City of Cape Town are assisting with the testing phase, which started in November and will continue until the end of March 2015. A permit has been obtained from the Department of Environmental Affairs.

The cable is 100 metres long, and is situated at the northern end of Glencairn beach. Cape Town is an ideal location to test things like this, because Shark Spotters has ten years of shark spotting data that will give a baseline measure for “normal” white shark activity without the cable. When something new (the cable) is introduced into the environment, changes in behaviour relative to the baseline data can be ascribed to its presence. Fish Hoek was originally mooted as an ideal beach to run the test, but the trek net fishermen were concerned for their fishing opportunities and so the test was moved to Glencairn.

The cable is off the end of Glencairn beach
The cable is off the end of Glencairn beach

The cable emits a low frequency electrical pulse that – it is hoped – will repel sharks. The electrical output of the cable poses no threat to swimmers or surfers, but for obvious reasons people are requested to keep clear of it for the duration of the experiment. The cable has electrodes on either side of it, supported by vertical risers that are marked by small orange buoys (so the cable runs down the middle of the rows of buoys in the pictures). At high tide the buoys are below the surface, but Tony took the boat past at low tide and photographed them sticking out of the water.

Shark Spotters will be monitoring the cable from the mountain above Glencairn, and a video feed will also be used to closely analyse the movements of any sharks that approach the cable. The risers on the cable (marked by the orange buoys in the photographs on this page) are semi-rigid, designed to minimise the risk of entanglement of any marine life. As it is the end of whale season in False Bay, there is not much risk of a whale visiting this location. Despite that, a boat and crew are on constant standby should an entanglement situation arise.

There is a full report on the testing phase, with an artist’s impression of the cable underwater, on the Sharks Board website, including a list of frequently asked questions (which should set your mind at ease). There’s also a great post at Round About South that includes pictures of the study area, and of the cable from the KZNSB document.

It’s important to note that this is an experiment, and no additional protection from white sharks is offered or guaranteed while the cable is in the water.

How you (you!) can make a difference for the environment

Here are some suggestions for things you can do at (or near) home that can have a positive impact on the environment.

Mounds of garbage
Mounds of garbage


The first suggestion is the most important!

Be a busybody

Keep tabs on what’s going on in your area. Are there new building projects or developments planned? Community newspapers are an excellent source of information. Attend meetings that give opportunities for public participation, register as an interested and affected party, make objections, write letters to the environmental consultants and your local council representatives. Also, tell your friends and buddies about opportunities to participate as concerned citizens.

Remember that a development doesn’t necessarily need to be in or on the ocean to affect the marine environment. For example, False Bay is where a large amount of the city’s effluent is pumped out. More people means more pressure on the ecosystem. Demand responsible solutions from municipalities and developers.

Keep tabs on proposed amendments to existing laws, and new laws and bylaws. Who is getting permission to do what? Are these decisions well thought out? Is it wise to allow whelk and octopus fisheries to operate in a bay that is visited by large numbers of whales and dolphins?

Hold the government (specifically DAFF and the Department of Environmental Affairs) to account. The environment belongs to all of us, and if it’s being mismanaged, it’s your heritage that’s being squandered.

An excellent example of the concrete results this kind of action by ordinary citizens can have is the recent flip-flop done by the authorities on the proposed diving ban in the Betty’s Bay MPA after many local divers, marshalled by Indigo Scuba and Underwater Africa, registered as interested and affected parties and submitted objections to the proposal.

Banning diving in the area would have essentially left it wide open for poaching. While the local law enforcement can’t and doesn’t do anything to stop illegal harvesting of perlemoen, eyes in the water in the form of recreational divers can at least keep tabs on what’s happening in the reserve.

You can follow the sequence of events by reading these four posts, in order: (1) proposed diving ban, (2) almost immediate initial results after responses from the diving community, (3) a revised proposal, and finally (4) a cautiously promising start to the consultation process (which is by no means finished).

Evangelise, but not like a crazy person

Wear your heart on your sleeve. Let your friends know that conservation issues and protecting the environment are important to you. Don’t be scary and wild-eyed, just be yourself. (If you’re naturally scary and wild-eyed, I can’t help you.)

When you get an opportunity to discuss an environmental issue with someone who doesn’t know or care as much as you do, stick to the facts. Point them to other sources where they can find information to back up what you’re saying, if they are interested. That way, if they want to relay your argument to someone else, they can do so. Raw outrage isn’t necessarily transmissible (and if you’re too hot under the collar, they may just think you’re a lunatic).

Don’t use jargon. Don’t use cliches (people are smarter than you think). Don’t assume that everyone knows as much as you do about your pet issue – check that you’re pitching your pitch appropriately. Don’t be boring. Show people how beautiful and wonderful and intricate the environment is.

Reef life at Roman Rock
Reef life at Roman Rock

Get your hands dirty

Participate in beach cleanups and underwater cleanups. If you see garbage on a dive (and nothing has taken it for a home), stuff it into your BCD for disposal on land. Get into the habit of picking up stuff that doesn’t belong. Keep an empty bag on the boat for collecting rubbish as you drive in and out of the harbour. Hout Bay is an excellent spot for this. Most harbours are actually filthy.

Consume less of everything

Reduce your carbon footprint. This encompasses all the obvious things: recycle, buy local, seasonal produce, eat less meat, and participate in more recreational activities that are carbon neutral. (Unfortunately diving isn’t technically one of those; even if you do a shore dive, you still need to get your cylinder filled using a compressor that consumes energy.)

Here’s a good carbon footprint calculator that’ll help you identify the areas of your lifestyle that are having the greatest negative impact on the environment. Mine is my commute to work, which produces a horrific amount of carbon dioxide each month. (If I ever needed a justification for running away to sea with Tony and the cats, this is it.)

If you eat seafood, make wise choices that are kind to the ocean. If you fish for fun, follow the regulations defining what and how much you’re allowed to catch.

Donate responsibly

If you have financial resources and want to make a donation to a conservation organisation, first do your research.

  • What will the money be spent on?
  • What is the track record of the organisation? What projects have they worked on already?
  • Do you agree with their aims, objectives and methods? (Would you be proud to have your name associated with their work?)
  • Will the money be spent on branding and advertising (some people mistake this for real action), or on observable projects that will have a direct impact on an environmental issue that’s important to you?

Remember that addressing an environmental problem may very well involve work with people. Sustainable Seas Trust (not an endorsement, just an example) addresses poverty and food security as a way to relieve pressure on the ocean’s scarce resources, thus caring for people and the sea at the same time. It’s great to take kids snorkeling, but after a while (and a lot of kids) I hope funders can demand a bit more originality and effort in that area.

Personally, I prefer to support organisations that follow scientific advice or include a research component in their activities, because I feel that conservation that isn’t based on scientific data is just marketing… But you may feel otherwise.

If your donation is a significant one, ask for feedback on how it was spent.

Don’t fool yourself

Finally, remember that writing tweets and sharing pictures on facebook doesn’t achieve anything concrete (ok here’s an exception), even though your rate of hashtagging may make you feel like your efforts are putting Greenpeace to shame. Sorry kids. Even Shonda Rhimes says so.

Want to target your tweeting for good? I suggest subscribing to Upwell’s Tide Report.

How do you make a difference for the environment? Would love to hear your suggestions.

Newsletter: The whales are coming

Hi divers

Weekend diving

Saturday: boat dives – 09.00 Atlantis / 11.30 Batsata Maze

Sunday: pool training with students

Dive conditions

So much bad weather for so long – too little diving and not enough sun. That’s my complaint for the week.

This weekend, Saturday is really the only option for diving. There is very little swell and not much wind, but it picks up in the afternoon. False Bay, however, has been hammered for the last few days by big swell, strong winds and lots of rain. The wind direction has been good for water clarity, but the swell stirs up everything and all the murky rain water ends up close to shore.

I drove the coast this morning to take a look. The Clan Stuart was a little murky from the swell, and Long Beach was clean, but from Ark Rock and down to Shark Alley the water was really dirty. A huge mudslide just north of Miller’s Point has also contributed to this. South of Millers towards the point the water looks clean and blue, so we will head off to Atlantis and Batsata Maze. If you are keen to dive, text me. We will meet at the Simon’s Town Jetty at 9.00 and 11.30.

The Clan Stuart this morning
The Clan Stuart this morning

There is a lot going on right now:

Whale entanglement

Yesterday I saw what I thought was a whale entangled in an octopus trap but lost sight of it after a while as the sea was extremely rough. Fortunately it was found again today and thanks to the the SA Whale Disentanglement Network it was freed. It has some serious cuts from the rope but they heal relatively quickly. There are octopus traps as well as whelk traps in False Bay between Glencairn and Kalk Bay, and in 2012 a 4.3 metre female white shark was caught in the ropes attached to the whelk traps and drowned.

We have been concerned about whale entanglement in these fisheries since they were announced; it appears our concerns were well founded. If you would like to ask some pertinent questions about the whelk and octopus fisheries, and raise an objection, I suggest you contact Dr C. J. Augustyn, Chief Directorate, Fisheries Research and Development at DAFF, by email at or by mail at 5th Floor, Foretrust Building, Cape Town, 8000.

Brain food

Orca and dolphin talk

Simon Elwen and Ryan Reisinger are giving a talk on the Marion Island Killer Whale Project (on facebook here) and the Namibian Dolphin Project and soon to be Sea Search Africa in False Bay in a single evening. The talk is on Monday 16 June (a public holiday), at Bertha’s in Simon’s Town, at (about) 7pm. There is a cover charge of R25. Please rsvp on facebook! All are welcome.

Shark conference

There is a major shark conference taking place in Durban, out of which a constant stream of incredibly interesting information comes all day long thanks to a number of scientists live-tweeting the talks as they happen. Follow the tweets here.

Shark talk

Victoria Vásquez, a shark scientist at the Ocean Research Foundation and the Pacific Shark Research Centre in the United States, is giving a talk on shark conservation at OMSAC in Pinelands next Thursday evening, 12 June, at 7pm. If you would like to attend, rsvp here. She has been attending the Sharks International Symposium in Durban this week, so it’s a great opportunity to hear about the very latest shark research.

Finally, if you want to know how our own Department of Environmental Affairs plans to manage our marine resources, check out the recently published white paper here.

See you all soon!


Tony Lindeque
076 817 1099

Diving is addictive!

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Get involved with the SeaKeys project

SeaKeys launch
SeaKeys launch

Last week we attended the launch of SeaKeys, a massive collaboration between a wide range of organisations (including DAFF, the Department of Environmental Affairs, and SURG, the Southern Underwater Research Group that has spawned such classics as A Field Guide to the Marine Animals of the Cape Peninsula, Nudibranchs of the Cape Peninsula and False Bay, and Coastal Fishes of the Cape Peninsula and False Bay). I digress. SeaKeys is designed to increase and collect together information about the marine biodiversity of South Africa. There’s a lot of information out there, but it isn’t centralised and the people who are making discoveries (such as South African dive operator Peter Timm at Triton Dive Lodge in Sodwana!) haven’t all been plugged into  the same network.

This is a citizen science project in the best sense. Four web-based atlases, each focusing on a particular type of marine life, are being established, with contributions from researchers, students, and people like you and me – mostly recreational divers, who get to see firsthand what lives underwater. The four atlases are:

The primary platforms on which these observations will be collected are iSpot (we reported our Western leopard toads there when we moved to the South Peninsula in 2012), SAJellyWatch, and EchinoMap.

There is also a section of the database for historical photographs of fishing activities prior to 1970. This will assist in establishing a baseline from which changes (that we have wrought, mostly) in the abundance and distribution of fish species can be measured. This part of the project is called FisHistory, and even if you don’t have any old photos of your dad holding a two metre long tuna and wearing a mullet and satin hotpants, you can still take a look at the contributions from others.

Starting the conversation in the Whale Well
Starting the conversation in the Whale Well

As was pointed out several times during the evening, the aim of the initiative is to “start a conversation” between the widely disparate users of our oceans in order to get a better picture of what’s down there, how it is threatened, and how it is changing. It’s really exciting that recreational divers can assist with this project, and make ourselves useful.

I am excited to see that iSpot is already buzzing with activity from OMSAC members! iSpot is probably the best place for you to get going, submitting your underwater photos of marine life. You need to provide the location at which the photo was taken (which can be hidden if it’s your super secret reef with a super secret waypoint), and take a stab at identifying the creature – but you don’t have to know what it is. If you don’t know what your creature is, other users of the system will help with identification. If you’re not into photography but are interested in species identification, you can also contribute by identifying other users’ contributions. For more about how iSpot works, visit their help pages.

Are you keen to do more citizen science in Cape Town? Check out Spot the Sevengill Cowshark on facebook.

A tour of the SA Agulhas II

SA Agulhas II berthed in Cape Town
SA Agulhas II berthed in Cape Town

When the opportunity arises to go aboard a ship, we like to take it. Our most recent ship tour was of the Greenpeace Rainbow Warrior vessel. In celebration of World Oceans Day on 8 June, the Department of Environmental Affairs opened the SA Agulhas II polar research vessel to the public, and we popped down to the V&A Waterfront to see her.

The SA Agulhas II replaces the SA Agulhas, now in use as a training vessel by SAMSA. The SA Agulhas has been in service for many years, and was recently chartered by the organisers of The Coldest Journey to transport the personnel and machinery to Antarctica before the winter.

The SA Agulhas II was built in Finland at a cost of R1,3 billion, and is state of the art as far as safety features and redundancy is concerned. She has two completely separate main engines, and is capable of continuing underway if one engine room floods. The decks and outdoor staircases of the ship are heated to prevent ice build up, and her hull is capable of pushing through one metre thick ice at a speed of nearly 10 kilometres per hour. She will service Marion Island, Gough Island, and the SANAE IV base on the Antarctic continent.

Tony on the helicopter pad
Tony on the helicopter pad

The ship has room for two helicopters, with a large helipad and a hangar in which the choppers can be housed with their blades folded down. The hangar’s walls are heavily fire proofed, and look like a couch or quilt. The ship can carry 100 scientists and a crew of 45. The accommodation is lovely, with every cabin having natural light. I was ready to run away to become a polar explorer after seeing the cabins, but when we stepped out on deck into the freezing wind (remember, the ship was still at her berth in Cape Town) I changed my mind.

There are eight permanent laboratories on board, and six containerised ones which can be lifted on and off the ship depending on what experiments are to be performed. Members of the scientific personnel spoke to us about some of the work that is done on board, including sampling the carbon dioxide content of water at various depths and locations (the levels are affected by global warming), and collection of plankton in special devices that enable the scientists to measure the fecundity of a particular part of the ocean. Tony and I kind of hoped that the intern who told us that they give that information to fishing company I&J was joking or wrong, but sadly I suspect he wasn’t.

A CTD water sampler hanging over the moon pool
A CTD water sampler hanging over the moon pool

In the centre of the ship is a moon pool – just like a James Bond movie – through which instrumentation can be lowered into the ocean. It’s essentially a hole all the way through the hull, surrounded by the ship. The advantage of this is that it won’t ice over, and there is no chance of a heavy piece of machinery hung over the side of the ship causing problems of balance. There is a large door in the side of the ship through which instruments can be sent, a feature shared with the old SA Agulhas, but during long experiments it’s possible that the ship gets iced in and the instruments crushed. The device hanging over the moon pool in the photograph above is a CTD, or conductivity, temperature, depth water sampler. It measures those three variables at different depths by taking water into the cylindrical Niskin bottles that make up the array. These close at predefined depths, and the water thus obtained can be analysed on board.

The ship has thrusters and multi-directional propellors that enable her to move in almost any direction, rotate on the spot, and hold a position with incredible accuracy for hours on end, even in unfavourable sea condtions.

I was amazed by this ship, but also worried by her, half waiting for something to go wrong. We have a very sad habit in South Africa of completely dropping the ball environmentally (I’m thinking of the fisheries patrol boats gathering dust at the quay in Simon’s Town while the minister of agriculture, forestry and fisheries goes on fraudulent trips and accepts bribes), and squandering technology that could otherwise be used for great good. My hope is that the recognition from other nations that this is a special, one of a kind ship with capabilities unmatched by many other vessels will apply a form of peer pressure to keep the powers that be from wasting the SA Agulhas II’s capabilities. The scientists and crew who we spoke to on board are passionate, dedicated people. I hope they will be well served by those who set the maintenance budgets, scheduling and priorities of this special ship.