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Shark Info 4 / 01   (12-15-2001)

Author

  Intro:

Tragedy

Shark Info

  Main article:

Hammerhead tragedy on Fuerteventura

Volker Berbig

  Article 1:

Ban on feeding sharks in Florida

Dr. E. K. Ritter

  Article 2:

Controlled shark diving in South Africa

Andrew C. Cobb

  Article 3:

Frequently asked Questions

Shark Info

  Fact Sheet:

Smooth Hammerhead Shark

Dr. E. K. Ritter


Controlled shark diving in South Africa

By Andy Cobb

The change of government in South Africa also resulted in various amendments to the country's constitution.
Weisser Hai

Cage diving with white sharks (Carcharodon carcharias) is one of South Africa's tourist attractions.

© Klaus Jost / Shark Foundation

The discussion of a new law was given preference in public hearings and later submitted to various interested bodies for comment before going to Parliament. For the first time, this procedure also led to marine aspects being legally anchored in tourism laws. Environmental tourism plays an important role in South Africa. Especially cage diving with white sharks (Carcharodon carcharias) which predominates in the region of Gansbaai (approx. 120 kilometers southeast of Cape Town) and diving with sand tiger sharks (Carcharias taurus) in the region of Durban represent important centers of this branch of tourism. One very significant legal regulation for these diving activities stipulates that the animals may in no way be impaired or even injured. The government office responsible for such a law is the Marine Coastal Management (MCM). This office also allocates and controls licenses and is responsible for ensuring that licensees observe the respective guidelines (Code of Conduct) prescribing how wild animals are to be treated.

Aliwal Shoal – Umkomaas

When it comes to establishing guidelines, the Aliwal Shoal diving grounds in Umkomaas off the coast of Kwa Zulu in Natal represents a problematic region (also see Shark Info 1/2000).
Sandtigerhai

A sand tiger shark (Carcharias taurus) in the Aliwal Shoal reef.

© Hai-Stiftung

Several years ago this region enjoyed worldwide fame thanks to its high density of sand tiger sharks (Carcharias taurus), one of the few species of large sharks which interrupt their migrations to remain in certain locations for longer periods of time. Due to the increasing pressure put on their populations by divers, coupled with their periodical tendency to stay in one area, more and more disturbances have been registered in their natural behavior. Encroachment of their natural habitat was the direct consequence, made even worse by the fact that diving businesses began to lure tiger sharks (Galeocerdo Cuvier) into the same region with food. Both tiger sharks and sand tiger sharks thus turned into an important tourist attraction in which the financial aspect began to play a major role. And this commercialization is precisely why it is imperative to only allow a restricted and controlled form of diving in this region. Two aspects became vital: first it was important to prevent the sand tiger sharks from being disturbed too strongly in their natural behavior, and second, accidents wth tiger sharks had to be avoided at all costs.

Establishing a "Code of Conduct"

These increasing conflicts led to an open discussion between the different interest groups and MCM's management on August 18, 2001. All interest groups were allowed to speak their mind and either support or oppose shark feeding in Aliwal Shoal waters. The MCM decided that these activities had to be regulated and in a first phase they worked out different regulations which then had to be tested. One initial requirement called for all involved diving tour businesses to log their excursions so as to determine how many divers actually visited the Aliwal Shoal region. In addition, a fee was introduced which differentiated between commercial suppliers and leisure time sportsmen. Since - from a diving point of view - this region was considered a more demanding area, any form of diving instructions was prohibited in order to prevent the sand tiger sharks from being even more strongly affected by unauthorized divers. One major aspect was the restriction placed on luring tiger sharks with bait closer than a radius of one kilometer around the actual Aliwal Shoal.

Lessons in shark biology for representatives of scuba diving businesses

An additional step to help eliminate disturbances to sand tiger shark populations is to educate representatives of diving companies in biology. Those who want to continue making diving excursions to sharks would have to attend courses in shark biology, on the one hand to enable them to provide diving tourists with the necessary information, and on the other to be better informed themselves. Those who conduct diving excursions must be capable of recognizing possible changes in a shark's behavior and responding accordingly. Such training is based on the Tourism Hospitality Sports Education Training Act (THETA), the umbrella organization for the education of tour leaders in South Africa. The first meeting between THETA and the already completely trained shark divers, took place at the end of September 2001 in Cape Town and was sanctioned by local diving associations. The meeting's objective was to establish training guidelines to be fulfilled by divers in order for them to receive authorization as official THETA Shark Tour Guides.

Result

The new government of South Africa succeeded in giving sharks the official status of marine "tourism species", a status already enjoyed by whales and seals which makes it possible to legally control tourism activities with these animals. From now on, disturbing these animals in their habitat must be reduced to a minimum and quick action is guaranteed should further protective measures become necessary. Under the new law, Aliwal Shoal becomes an officially recognized nature reserve as of 2002.

* Andrew C. R. Cobb iis a prominent shark protector in South Africa.

May be published only by indicating the source: Shark Info / Andy Cobb



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