A visit to the Blue Planet aquarium in Copenhagen

On our last day in Denmark, after a week-long family visit between Christmas 2015 and new year 2016, we went to Den Blå Planet, Denmark’s national aquarium. (Actually we were wrong about it being our last day in Denmark, but that’s another story involving Turkish Airlines, who seem to innovate in the field of disappointment.) The aquarium is situated in Kastrup, Copenhagen, quite close to the airport, and overlooks the narrow sound called the Øresund, which separates Denmark from Sweden.

The Blue Planet after the mist cleared
The Blue Planet after the mist cleared

We visited on 1 January, after (eventually) sleeping through the sounds of Copenhagen’s residents letting off five hundred metric tons of fireworks, starting at 5.00 pm the day before. We bought tickets online (a small saving in Danish krone that amounted to eleventy million ZAR) and arrived at opening time. The building is surrounded by a reflection pool, and is built in a spiral form inspired by the shape of a vortex. In the larger halls the high ceilings give a tremendous sense of space; at 10,000 square metres, the building is very large. The halls are generally wide and I imagine it could accommodate a very large number of people before feeling crowded.

Layout of The Blue Planet
Layout of The Blue Planet

The aquarium is divided into three sections. The first is focused on the life found in the lakes and ocean of Denmark and northern Europe. I particularly enjoyed this first part of the aquarium. The animals are adapted to the cold water, so some of them were very similar what we find around Cape Town, and the displays were creative and interesting. There was also the obligatory “anchor with fish” tank, which was (as always) mesmerising. One of the pictures in the gallery below is of Tony checking it out.

Two sea otters live at the aquarium, having been rescued as infants and raised by hand. The male and female otters were found in Alaska when they were four months old with a broken jaw and wounds after a boat strike, and as a 1.5 kg abandoned one day old respectively. As usual, seeing such an intelligent animal in captivity stirs up all sorts of conflicting feelings. That said, you are a stronger person than I am if you could have left these two baby otters to their natural fate (that is, death). The otters spend a lot of time (up to six hours per day) grooming, and in between keep very busy, requiring a lot of enrichment from their four keepers. It was magical to see them.

Also in the northern seas and lakes section is the puffin exhibit, mimicking the cliffs of the Faroe Islands, a Danish territory. Here, also, we found a touch pool (which the Danes call a sensing-aquarium), and a terrifying ambulatory mascot.

The second section of the building is devoted to tropical lakes and rivers, with incredible freshwater exhibits. We saw piranhas, terrapins, frogs, little black rays the size of pancakes, with white polka-dots, and electric eels. The rainforest exhibit is kept at a temperature and humidity level that are impressive in the Scandinavian winter, and I can imagine that this part of the aquarium is popular with expats from warmer climates!

The third part of the aquarium is for the rest of the ocean, and although it’s a big ask to cover (or summarise) so much in the remaining space, it does a fabulous job. The Ocean tank holds four million litres of water, and is home to rays and hammerhead sharks, and other warm water fish. Amongst many other things, there are seahorses, leafy seadragons and coral reef fish to see.

Feeding time in the Ocean tank
Feeding time in the Ocean tank

We watched feeding time for a while, which was quite funny – the aquarists row out onto the water in a small inflatable boat, and administer the snacks from on board. Standing in the tunnel, we could see the boat from below, with the oars working frantically against what I imagine was a bit of surface current.

One of the things that Den Blå Planet does really well is to integrate multimedia, virtual reality and interactive technology into the aquarium experience. This reduces the number of animals required to be on display, and – for the most part – probably takes care of itself, requiring no cleaning and feeding. My favourite such exhibit was the bouncy plankton wall in the ocean section of the aquarium. The photo below is pretty terrible because the display moves all the time, but I put a video on instagram which shows how the plankton clear a space for you when you walk along the wall.

Plankton multimedia display
Plankton multimedia display

We finished off our visit with a flæskesteg sandwich at ØST, the restaurant at the back of the aquarium. It was still a bit misty, but the large windows looking out over the sound let in a lot of light. There is a play area outside, and despite the midwinter temperatures, children in snow suits were making the most of it.

The restaurant at the aquarium, ØST
The restaurant at the aquarium, ØST

I did not get the same strong conservation message from my visit to The Blue Planet that I think the Two Oceans Aquarium in Cape Town works so hard to propagate. This could be because of different cultural approaches to living a “green” lifestyle; in Scandinavia the government does a lot of the work for you, providing renewable energy, prioritising  pedestrian and bicycle traffic, and making it ridiculously easy to recycle, for example. In South Africa it is more of a conscious personal choice and effort to reduce one’s environmental footprint, and there is there is thus perhaps more of a requirement for direct conservation messaging.

Anyway, if you’re in Copenhagen, visit! Next time we’re in Denmark, we’ll check out the little Øresund Aquarium at Helsingor, which is entirely focused on local fauna.

A new ocean MOOC starting on Monday!

Online learning with SDI
Online learning

This one snuck up on me. Starting on Monday 25 April (yes, this Monday), a massive open online course (MOOC – remember those?) about science-based solutions to challenges facing the world’s oceans becomes available to the curious. It’s a collaboration between Kiel University in Germany, its GEOMAR Hemholtz Centre for Ocean Research and “cluster of excellence” (I don’t know!) The Future Ocean, and the International Ocean Institute.

The course syllabus is comprehensive and spans 10 weeks of online study. You will cover topics from oceanography, marine biology, and geology. The aspects of the course related to humans include ocean governance, human-ocean interactions, changes happening along our coastline, and – most importantly – solutions from marine spatial planning to ecosystem management.

It looks very comprehensive and unmissable if you’re a marine freak. Go to oceanmooc.org to learn more and sign up. For your own privacy, protection and future access (and this applies to every website that offers you the option, not just this one) don’t sign in with your facebook, linkedin or other credentials. Make a new account using your email address, and create a new password.

Get to it.

How to help marine wildlife in distress

 

It’s not uncommon to come across marine wildlife – seabirds, seals, turtles – apparently in distress. This is not always the case, so before you mount a complex and dangerous rescue mission, or try to provide help where none is needed, it may be wise to get an expert on the telephone to help you determine whether it really is necessary. Fortunately there is a range of 24-hour wildlife hotlines to choose from, depending on what species you are dealing with.

Seals

Bull seal with plastic around his neck, in Hout Bay
Bull seal with plastic around his neck, in Hout Bay

Seals with plastic or fishing line around their necks should be reported to the Two Oceans Aquarium (if the seal was spotted around Cape Town harbour or the Waterfront), or, more generally to the SPCA Wildlife Unit on +27 (0) 21 700 4158/4159, or +27 (0) 83 326 1604 after hours and on weekends. Unfortunately the odds are your seal is probably not going to get the help it needs if it isn’t in the port of Cape Town or at the Waterfront; this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do your darndest to advocate on its behalf.

You can help to deal with this problem at its source by retrieving any loops of plastic that you see floating in the water when you’re on a boat. Hout Bay harbour is a particular cesspit of plastic pollution, and with a nearby seal colony it’s a recipe for disaster. Cutting through any closed loops on plastic items (such as beer can holders) that you recycle or dispose of yourself also ensures that should the plastic end up in the wild, it won’t entangle an animal.

Seals found lying on the beach are usually not in trouble. Juvenile seals may rest for long periods – a couple of days at a time – on shore, and the most important thing to do is not to disturb them. They don’t need to be kept wet, they don’t need to be fed, and they can inflict a nasty bite. Encourage other members of the public to give the animal a wide berth, particularly if they have dogs. Lead by example. If the animal appears visibly unwell (fitting, for example) or is bleeding, then call the SPCA Wildlife Unit for a chat about what course of action is best.

Seabirds

Seabirds are most often found entangled in fishing line or plastic, pierced by fishing hooks, or, in the event of an oil spill, with oiled feathers. It is important to get help if possible, particularly for oiled birds.

SANCCOB has a 24 hour rescue centre which can be reached on +27 (0)21 557 6155 or +27 (0) 78 638 3731 (after hours & weekends). Their website provides the following advice to would-be seabird rescuers:

What to do when you have found an injured/sick/oiled seabird:

  • If you are unable to handle the seabird, SANCCOB will send out a unit to collect the bird.
  • If you approach any seabird, please approach with care. Some seabirds such as Cape Gannets and African Penguins have sharp beaks.
  • Have with you a towel, or blanket and wear protection over your hands and eyes. Use a towel/blanket to throw over the bird to catch it, ensuring that the bird is able to breathe.
  • If you have a large box ensure that there are holes for air before you place the injured/sick marine bird.

More information can be found here.

Turtles

During the autumn and winter months, juvenile and sub-adult sea turtles sometimes strand on Western Cape beaches. These animals are often shocked by the cold and in poor shape – they do not typically occur in Cape waters but are washed down in eddies of the Agulhas current.

Do not put the turtle back in the sea or into water. It is probably weak, dehydrated and hypothermic, and is likely to drown. Keep it dry, and call the Two Oceans Aquarium for further instructions and assistance. The aquarium rehabilitates and releases the turtles in warmer water when they are healthy.

Here’s detailed information from the Two Oceans Aquarium on what to do if you find a stranded turtle. Do the right thing!

Whales and dolphins

The City of Cape Town would like ocean users to report whale carcasses before they end up on the beach. This is mostly for public safety and resource allocation purposes, but if we can do anything to keep a whale carcass out at sea (or on a secluded non-swimming beach), it serves a conservation purpose as well. There’s a phone number you can use to do this – read more here.

If you come across a current or imminent live whale or dolphin stranding, contact the NSRI on +27 (0) 21 449 3500 immediately. They will activate the relevant authorities. Try to bear in mind that these events often do not end well for the animals concerned, as they are often sick or disoriented and impossible to assist. Be a help, not a hindrance, and obey whatever instructions you are given by the NSRI, SanParks, or whoever comes to take charge.

A free-swimming but entangled whale should be immediately reported to the NSRI as well – they will activate the South African Whale Disentanglement Network. Do not attempt to assist the whale yourself – this could be fatal for you (not the whale) – rather make a note of the direction it is swimming, and its precise location, and whatever other helpful information you can provide. Whale entanglements seem to be increasing in frequency around False Bay in particular, as more experimental fisheries are approved. (If this worries you, you could write a letter to DAFF about it.)

Newsletter: 70,000 wheels

Hi divers

Weekend dive plans

Saturday: Shore dives at Long Beach

The weekend looks quite rosy for change, and both Saturday and Sunday should be great. False Bay would be best on Saturday but on Sunday there are going to be approximately 70,000 wheels all trying to pass one another on the peninsula from really early until late afternoon. This is going to severely hamper diving opportunities around the peninsula, so you’re either going to have to get creative, or crack out the popcorn and a lawn chair and enjoy the Cycle Tour spectacle.

I am doing shore dives with students on Saturday, most likely at Long Beach. Let me know if you want to join us.

Clouds at Scarborough
Clouds at Scarborough

Be a good ocean citizen

The Department of Environmental Affairs has proposed 22 new Marine Protected Areas for South Africa. It only takes an email to throw your support behind this excellent development. Read this for more information.

regards

Tony Lindeque
076 817 1099
www.learntodivetoday.co.za
www.learntodivetoday.co.za/blog/

Diving is addictive!

To subscribe to receive this newsletter by email, use the form on this page!

Say yes to 22 new Marine Protected Areas for South Africa

Twenty two new marine protected areas have been proposed for South Africa. The benefits of MPAs are well known, so this is excellent news for the future of our marine environment. The public is invited to comment on the proposal, and as a responsible ocean loving individual, sending an email to comment would be one of the ways you can save the ocean. Read on to find out the details.

Proposed new MPAs for South Africa (existing ones in navy blue)
Proposed new MPAs for South Africa (existing ones in navy blue)

Included in the proposed new Marine Protected Areas are South Africa’s first offshore MPAs. The press release from the Department of Environmental Affairs states that:

Many of these new MPAs aim to protect offshore ecosystems and species, ranging from deep areas along the Namibian border to a more than tenfold expansion of iSimangaliso Wetland Park in the KwaZulu-Natal Province. They include charismatic features, such as, fossilised yellow wood forest at a depth of 120m off Port Nolloth, a deep cold-water coral reef standing 30m high off the seabed near Port Elizabeth and a world famous diving destination where seven shark species aggregate, at Protea Banks in KwaZulu-Natal. These MPAs also include undersea mountains, canyons, sandy plains, deep and shallow muds and diverse gravel habitats with unique fauna.

What good will these MPAs do? According to the press release:

The new MPAs will secure protection of marine habitats like reefs, mangroves and coastal wetlands which are required to help protect coastal communities from the results of storm surges, rising sea-levels and extreme weather. Offshore, these MPAs will protect vulnerable habitats and secure spawning grounds for various marine species, therefore helping to sustain fisheries and ensure long-term benefits important to food and job security.

The new MPAs will increase the protected portion of South Africa’s territorial waters from less than 0.5%, to 5%. The government has undertaken to get this figure to 10% by 2019.

What does this mean for you?

Scuba diving

If you’re a scuba diver, you probably know that diving in a Marine Protected Area – particularly in a no-take zone – is an extra special experience because of the abundant fish and other marine life. The prospect of richer, more diverse dive sites to explore is an exciting one, but there are more benefits to this proposal than just enhanced eco-tourism opportunities.

Scuba diving businesses will have to acquire permits from the Department of Environmental Affairs (for about R500 per year) to operate in the Marine Protected Areas. (This has been in force for some time, and ethical dive operators in Cape Town who take clients diving in any of the existing MPAs should be in possession of a permit already.) There are also the permits issued to individual scuba divers (for about R100 per year, obtainable at the post office) to dive in an MPA – you will see this mentioned in Tony’s newsletter now and then, as a reminder.

Environmental protection

Some of the new MPAs are in offshore regions that would otherwise be at risk from destructive trawl fishing and other exploitative activities such as mineral, oil and gas extraction from the seabed.

Many of these MPAs will, like the Tsitsikamma MPA, serve as nurseries for fish stocks. Recreational and commercial fisheries will benefit from allowing the fish to spawn unmolested in protected areas along the coast. Holding ourselves back from fishing everywhere, at every opportunity, shows long-term thinking, and will have short-term benefits as well as for future generations.

Undesirable activities

Not all of the MPAs will be closed to fishing – those of you familiar with the network of protected areas around the Cape Peninsula will be familiar with this idea. For example, a number of pelagic game- and baitfish species may be caught within the Controlled Pelagic Zones of the Amathole, iSimangaliso, Protea and Aliwal Shoal Marine Protected Areas. Commercial fishing permits may also be issued for use in the MPAs.

Existing discharges of effluent are permitted to continue – specifically into the Aliwal Shoal MPA.  This means that SAPPI may continue to pump wood-pulp effluent onto the dive sites there.

What to do?

If you would like to show your support for the proposal – and who doesn’t love a well-chosen MPA? – send an email to MPARegs@environment.gov.za. You have until 2 May 2016 to do so, and you can include any other relevant comments about the MPA proposal in your missive.

You can download the full document detailing the proposed new MPAs complete with maps, management regulations and co-ordinates (a 336 page pdf) here.

Tony and I are looking forward to passing over some of the new MPAs on the Agulhas Bank (maybe numbers 11 and 12 on the map above) next year – without getting wet. You can come too! (But you may have to impersonate a twitcher.)

Who to thank?

This project has been spearheaded by a team at SANBI (the South African National Biodiversity Institute) led by Dr Kerry Sink. Dr Sink has been awarded a prestigious Pew Fellowship in Marine Conservation for 2016, and her fellowship work encompasses a range of projects aimed at strengthening and expanding South Africa’s network of Marine Protected Areas.

We are extraordinarily fortunate to have a scientist and conservationist of Dr Sink’s calibre as a champion for MPAs in South Africa. So you can thank her!

Bookshelf: Rescue Warriors

Rescue Warriors: The US Coastguard, America’s Forgotten Heroes – David Helvarg

Rescue Warriors
Rescue Warriors

Much of this book reads like one of the Reader’s Digest “drama in real life” stories that I used to devour from the magazines that my granny brought us when she came to visit. (She’d also bring a packet of Sparkles or Cadbury Eclairs.)

Journalist, activist and former war correspondent David Helvarg (who also wrote Saved by the Sea and 50 Ways to Save the Ocean) spent two years embedded with various branches of the US Coastguard in order to experience their work.

I had naively thought that the US Coastguard, despite being funded by the government, and despite their website having a .mil for military domain name, was just a slightly larger, more financially flush version of South Africa’s National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI).

I was wrong. The mandate of the US Coastguard is to enforce maritime law (this is its primary difference from the NSRI) as well as to perform search and rescue operations. Viewers of the Deadliest Catch series will be familiar with the rescue work of the Coastguard in extremely challenging conditions. As a result of its law-enforcement mission, the Coastguard uses weapons and provides a lot more military-style training than you’d expect from a pure rescue operation. The Coastguard falls under the department of homeland security and operates cutters (with guns), icebreakers, small boats, helicopters, and other aircraft.

Helvarg’s conservationist tendencies shine through in several parts of Rescue Warriors, and he does not shy away from confronting the aspects of the Coastguard that he finds problematic. His contention is that the Coastguard receives far less publicity than it deserves. This book goes some way towards bringing attention to the individuals who have saved tens of thousands of people during Hurricane Katrina, via water evacuation during the September 11 attacks, and in countless other less well-known emergency situations.

This is a gripping read which I thoroughly enjoyed. I was amazed by the amount of funding and equipment that the Coastguard has at its disposal compared to the NSRI, even though the organisation is actually badly underfunded, especially when considered relative to the rest of the United States war machine. I was also impressed by the egalitarian approach that draws many women to join the Coastguard and enables them to rise in its ranks. The Coastguard made all its jobs available to women in 1977, something which other branches of the military have not yet done.

You can get a copy of the book here (South Africa), here or here.

Newsletter: Different strokes

Hi divers

Weekend dive plans

Friday: Launching at 9.00 am from Simon’s Town jetty

Saturday: 6.00 am double tank dives from Simon’s Town jetty

Dive conditions

Same again is not a phrase we can use for December this year. Last December was appalling by comparison and although we are only 10 days into the month, we have already done twice the number of dives we did in the whole of December last year.

Conditions this past weekend were great and they have been the same all week. The westerly wind today has made things even better and tomorrow and Saturday should be pretty good… In False Bay. The Atlantic looks a little dark and the water temperature is 16 degrees Celcius, which doesn’t herald good viz that side.

Leaving for dive two on Sunday
Leaving for dive two on Sunday

Dive plans

We are launching tomorrow and Saturday, but I think Sunday will be a little too windy for diving. The forecast is for it to blow hard from midday on Saturday, so we will launch for a double tanker at 6.00 am on Saturday from Simon’s Town jetty.

Freebies

Remember our free try dives in the pool until Christmas eve. We have had some bookings and the pool is warm! It’s a great opportunity to introduce your friends and family to scuba diving. Get in touch if you want to bring someone over – booking is essential.

Action required

Please have your MPA permits up to date – you can get one for R94.00 at the post office. Take along your ID document.

On the subject of Marine Protected Areas, please read this and send in your comments about the imminent opening of the Tsitsikamma MPA to fishing. Allowing fishing in a marine protected area is a bit of a contradiction in terms, so I encourage you to read about the proposal and let your voice be heard on the subject.

regards

Tony Lindeque
076 817 1099
www.learntodivetoday.co.za
www.learntodivetoday.co.za/blog/

Diving is addictive!

To subscribe to receive this newsletter by email, use the form on this page!

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.

Enforcement

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?

Motives

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 MPARegs@environment.gov.za, 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.

Update (1 December 2015)

It appears that the fishermen are exerting pressure on SANParks to open fishing in the MPA by 15 December. Some sources (facebook) report that this is a done deal; other news sources (Times Live, The Herald) seem to indicate that this aspect is still under negotiation. The facebook report seems credible, particularly given the stroppy tone evinced in the comments by the original poster, when asked for more information.

In any case, giving in to pressure from the community would put the nail in the coffin of any theory other than expediency, ignoring scientific advice, and political pressure as a motive for the opening of the MPA.

Can someone explain to me (or the Environmental Affairs minister) how it is possible to both benefit society (by allowing fishing) AND to ensure the fish are protected for future generations (this would entail keeping the MPA closed)? Do fisheries scientists know that new knowledge has apparently revealed that allowing fishing protects fish? Has someone told them? This quote is from the Times Live article, emphasis mine:

Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa said the move would benefit society and ensure such benefits were protected for future generations.

“The trade-offs between benefits and the protection of the resources that provide benefits are complex and subject to continuous change as human needs evolve and new knowledge accumulates,” she said.

“The government must be prepared to continuously reassess these trade-offs in consultation with its various partners.”

You know what to do. Send a jolly email: MPARegs@environment.gov.za. Send your comments before 1 February 2016. If you don’t send a formal response, but only bleat about it on facebook and other forums, you won’t be heard by the people making the decisions. Be a good citizen!

Balancing conservation imperatives and traditional fishing rights

How can we strike a balance between scientifically-driven conservation priorities and taking care of people, South Africans, many of whom have historically not been cared for at all?

Giant roman at Photographer's Reef
Giant roman at Photographer’s Reef

Loretta Feris, in a paper called A Customary Right to Fish When Fish Are Sparse: Managing Conflicting Claims between Customary Rights and Environmental Rights (pdf), grapples with the issue of “what happens when an indigenous community attempts to exercise its customary right to fish and the nearest access to marine resources is located in a marine protected area.” This issue is not peculiar to South Africa, but has arisen in many countries that were colonised.

South African legislation has not yet addressed the conflict between customary rights to marine resources by the communities who depend(ed) on them, and environmental law that designates certain areas as reserves and forbids fishing.

The South African Bill of Rights sets out the criteria for justifiable restrictions on the rights it enshrines. Feris writes,

In essence, it lays down a proportionality requirement, in terms of which it must be shown that the law in question (the Marine Living Resources Act) serves a constitutionally acceptable purpose and that there is sufficient proportionality between the infringement and the purpose that the law is designed to achieve.

In other words, if your rights are infringed by legislation, the purpose of that legislation must be consistent with the Constitution of South Africa, and the infringement of your rights must be proportional to the benefits accruing by having such a law on the books. According to Feris, the National Environmental Management: Protected Areas Act No. 57 of 2003 (pdf), which provides for the establishment of Marine Protected Areas, places

a very clear constitutional duty on the government to ensure that natural resources such as marine resources are managed in a manner which acknowledges the economic interests in fisheries, but at the same time ensures that ecosystems and species are protected to ensure long-term viability.

Feris describes arguments for fisheries management approaches that make use of indigenous communities as custodians, assessors of the fishing stock, and managers and enforcers. The aim of such an approach would be to confer both a right (to harvest) and a duty (to protect) upon the local communities that have traditionally had access to a marine resource. Ensuring that employees at national parks and protected areas are drawn directly from the surrounding communities is one way to enact this type of philosophy.

Can I suggest Feris’s article as some Sunday afternoon reading? This is not a problem that is going to disappear in South Africa any time soon, and as a trying-to-be-compassionate human and conservation-minded ocean person it’s good to familiarise oneself with the grey areas that challenge one’s convictions.

Sustainable Seas Trust is endeavouring to strike the balance that Feris writes about in her article, and – should you be at a loss as to how to proceed – you could consider supporting them.

The current form of the KZN Sharks Board

This is the third post in a (long, sorry) series about the KwaZulu Natal Sharks Board. You can read the first post – in which I explain why I’m interested in the Sharks Board and what we know about it – here, and the follow up, describing its history and formal establishment, here.

The KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board Act (No. 5 of 2008) repealed previous legislation pertaining to the Sharks Board. Its aim:

To provide for the establishment of the KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board; to determine the objectives, powers, duties and functions of the KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board; to determine the manner in which the KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board is to be managed, governed, staffed and financed; and to provide for matters incidental thereto.

The act applies to “the control of shark safety devices in the sea, sea shore and sea-bed of the Province.” It repeals the 1964 Natal Provincial Ordinance that established the Sharks Board and which I wrote about in the previous post in this series. It is broadly similar to the 1964 Provincial Ordinance in many respects, so I will primarily highlight the differences between the two pieces of legislation (as far as my amateur legal eagle brain can discern them). Want to read the entire 2008 act for yourself? Download it here.

Curious cowshark
Curious cowshark

Powers, duties and functions of the board (Section 5)

This section is divided into things the Board “must” do (5.1) and what it “may” do (5.2). In many respects, including the section number, it is very similar to the 1964 Provincial Ordinance.

Must

The primary difference between what the Board is mandated to do by the 2008 act, but not by the 1964 Provincial Ordinance, is to

(b) endeavour to introduce schemes [bather protection gear] that

  1. will reduce negative impact on all biodiversity; and
  2. will enhance the survival of caught sharks and other marine animals;

(c) undertake research in order to –

  1. consider and determine the feasibility of applying new or known methods of protection against shark attacks; and
  2. determine any environmental impact arising from the implementation of any schemes or any methods of protection against shark attacks

There is nothing in the 1964 Provincial Ordinance suggesting any concern for the environmental impact of the Sharks Board’s activities. In this respect, the 2008 act is an improvement and perhaps reflective of increased environmental awareness that, some have contended, can be traced back to the “save the whales” campaigns of the 1980s.

The Board is to consider research and recommendations related to bather protection, and to take “reasonable steps” to raise awareness among bathers of the methods used to protect them, and of safety precautions that the bathers must adhere to. The Board is to make itself available to municipalities which are obliged to perform functions in connection with the ocean and the shore, inland waters, and emergency and lifesaving services. The Board may also assist municipalities with scientific research and studies.

A very important part of the act, which again differs from the 1964 Provincial Ordinance, states that the Sharks Board must,

in exercising its powers and performing its duties in terms of this Act –

  1. promote biodiversity and ecological integrity by striving to avoid, mitigate and reduce any negative environmental impact;
  2. do anything in its power to promote the sustainability of marine life;
  3. endeavour to use all dead sharks and other marine animals caught by the schemes implemented in terms of this Act, for scientific research

The Board is to, “where possible, release all live marine animals, including sharks, caught or affected by” the gear, and to keep accurate records of these animals.

May

The Board may liaise with any relevant institution regarding environmental matters, tourism and economic development in KZN. The Board may consult with any organ of state, organisation, institution, body or committee about any matter related to bather protection.

There are sections permitting the Board to enter into agreements, purchase/lease/hire equipment and property, dispose of worn out or useless equipment (with certain caveats). The Board may also acquire and dispose of interests in companies, partnerships and the like, subject to MEC approval, as well as enter into joint ventures. It may also register patents and trademarks, and buy and sell these at will. This may be important in the future, if the Sharks Board develops a non-lethal (or less lethal) novel method of shark mitigation.

The Board is permitted to “raise funds by any lawful means” including via acceptance of donations, bequests and sponsorships. Funds may also be in the form of “revenue derived from tourism levies and the use of permits”, and similar sources. The Board is permitted to charge fees for provision of services, as well as for “entrance into an exhibition or display of shark control resources by the Board”. This it does do.

Powers of the Sharks Board (Section 6)

This section enables the Board to develop and maintain bather protection equipment “as it deems necessary and practicable” for the safety of bathers. As in the 1964 Provincial Ordinance, the Board is empowered to go over the head of a municipality with which it cannot reach an agreement regarding the nature of the equipment to be used, or the basis on which the municipality is to remunerate the Board.

Composition, Functioning and CEO of the Board (Sections 7-21)

These sections beef up the content of the 1964 Provincial Ordinance but don’t really contain anything particularly interesting. They describe the members of the board, and what qualifications and experience they must collectively embody (someone on the Board must know about marine conservation, someone must be from the tourism sector, someone from a conservation NGO, and so on). The frequency of meetings and procedures for the board’s functioning appear in these sections, too.

Funding of the Sharks Board and Financial Matters (Sections 22-25)

This section is interesting, particularly in light of the information in this link to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation website. Until at least 1999, and probably a few years after that, the Sharks Board was supplementing its funding through the sale of curios manufactured from shark products. I see this is as a classic example of moral hazard, although I may be stretching the definition a little! (The usual example given of a moral hazard would be if an insurance company let you take out fire insurance on your neighbour’s house. This might create an incentive, if you didn’t have strong moral fibre, for you to burn down his property and collect an insurance payout. Here, substitute “sell shark products” for “take out fire insurance”, and “catch more sharks” for “burn down his property” to see what position this places the Sharks Board in.)

According to the 2008 act, the Sharks Board obtains funding from the Provincial Legislature, donations, income (for example from tours of its facility and curio sales), interest on investments by the Board, and fees received for provision of shark control services. It is explicitly stated that souvenirs and curios sold by the Board may “not contain any dead sharks or other marine animals, or part thereof, caught by the schemes implemented in terms of this Act.”

This ensures that the Sharks Board is not given an incentive (see how I avoided using the word “incentivised”?) to catch and kill marine life and removes a potential conflict of interest, between preserving marine life and making money from selling dead marine life. That is why this proposal met with such an outcry.

Dissolving the Sharks Board

Sections 26-34 cover general provisions. Section 29 states that “the Board may only be dissolved in terms of an Act of the Provincial Legislature.” Section 35 repeals the Natal Sharks Board Ordinance (No. 10 of 1964). Section 36 provides continuity between the Board established under that Ordinance, and by this Act. Section 37 states the short name of this act, which is the KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board Act, 2008.

In conclusion

Thank you for following along with this exercise in understanding the Sharks Board, its structure, and its obligations. One of the most important things that I have learned from diving (ahem) into the legislation and annual reports of the KwaZulu Natal Sharks Board is that it is a legally constituted body, and for its function to change appreciably, or for it to cease operation (which would probably compromise bather safety in KwaZulu Natal), it would have to be legally dissolved. This fact should inform the approach that we take as concerned ocean people when it comes to directing energy towards protests, engagement with interested and affected parties, and other actions to reduce the shark fishing activity that the Sharks Board currently engages in.

My own half-formed view is that it may be productive to try to find ways to support the Sharks Board in its efforts to develop non-lethal shark repellents. An example of how you could be helpful in this regard would be writing to the City of Cape Town and DAFF in support of using Fish Hoek beach as the location for any future trials of the Sharks Board’s electrical shark repellent cable. Fish Hoek beach is far sharkier than Glencairn, and would provide conclusive results regarding the effectiveness of the cable far quicker than Glencairn has (the Glencairn test was largely inconclusive because no white sharks came by). It was excluded as a trial location because DAFF was concerned that the catches of the beach seine (trek) fishermen who operate in the area would be affected by the cable.

Another idea for how you can make a difference would be to engage directly, in a mature manner, with municipalities along the KZN coast to encourage them to reduce their dependence on Sharks Board gear. An example of such an engagement by Sharklife, which was reasoned, practical, data-driven and ultimately a success (and for which many will claim credit) can be found here. These things take time, effort and persistence, and results are incremental rather than spectacularly immediate.

If you have any other ideas as to how a citizen activist – thinking like David Helvarg – could have an impact here, I’d love to hear them.

(A different question, which each person must answer for themselves, is whether this is the area in which one can have the most impact, as a local activist – is it the best use of your energy and ability to make a difference for the ocean? You should read Saved By the Sea, or at least look up the Blue Frontier Campaign, which is explained a bit better on its wikipedia page than on its website, if this seems like a stupid thing to ask.)