Lesley-Rochat-naked-in-netI am writing this blog to give clarity to a misleading post on the Shark Angels website which claimed that the nets would be removed from the Aliwal Shoal, Park Rynie and Scottburgh. There are still many conflicting statements going around so for what it’s worth I herewith share what I have: Early the next morning after reading their post I contacted Sharks Board and spoke to Geremy Cliff, whom I have known for years. He confirmed the following:

  1. Natal Sharks Board have made a recommendation to the local municipality that the shark nets be removed from Park Rynie.
  2. They also made a suggestion to the local municipality that two nets at Scottburgh be replaced with drum lines, others to remain.

Geremy pointed out that point 1 was a recommendation and the municipality must still approve it, and had the option not to approve it. But Geremy said they had never had a situation before where their recommendations have been disputed. 2. That the drumline option was ONLY a SUGGESTION, different to the recommendation he pointed out, and therefore he was not certain whether they would go with this suggestion.

And 3. I asked him how long this process would take and he was not sure. I asked whether the nets at Park Rynie would be removed during the course of this year, and he said he would think so. To get more clarity on this process he gave me the contact details of a Councilor, which I have not been able to make contact with yet, but will keep trying and share whatever I get.

Let’s assume that they will remove the nets from Park Rynie, which given what Geremy told me seems likely, (but still depends on municipality), then of course I’m delighted by this news. But I’m also very disappointed to hear about the drumline option for Scottburgh, also should this be enforced. This is a more difficult area to Park Rynie due to the high bather and surfer frequency so I assume that removal of these nets would not be as easy. Drumlines are therefore not any solution as they are as bad as the shark nets, they too kill many innocent sharks, many large sexually mature sharks.

Before focusing on the negative, however, I’d like to focus on the positive, and based on my conversation with Geremy let’s for the purpose of this paragraph assume the Park Rynie nets will be removed. In this case, and also confirmed by Geremy, we can accept it is as a direct result of the ongoing pressure from conservationists, activists, groups and concerned individuals. This will mean that our efforts have in part succeeded. And when I say ours, unlike some who believe the kudos goes to a few select individuals, it must be said that there are many people who have over the years fought in different ways for the removal of the nets in the Aliwal Shoal area. These include but definitely not limited to, Shark Life (to my knowledge they were the first organization to take this issue up), Johann Boshoff (who as editor of the Divestyle used the magazine as a platform to raise awareness about the issue, challenging Sharks Board repeatedly), Walter Bernardis (who quietly and behind the scenes supported and fed Johann information and designed the naked in the nets awareness poster), Cormac McCreesh (who was responsible for putting together and successfully pulling off the Paddle out for Sharks event last year), Wolfgang Leander (who has through his well read blog assisted in raising international awareness about the issues), and film producers Gordon Hiles and Jacqui Logie (who produced TV inserts about the issues).

I can’t speak for the efforts of others as I do not have all the facts but I would like to share some of those of the AfriOceans and myself over the years, excluding the many television and radio shows I have been on discussing the issue, and which have contributed toward raising awareness. My main reason for sharing this apart from informing those not fully aware of our efforts is because after my post on Facebook related to this issue there was one or two individuals who had their digs – sadly the world would not be normal, however, without unpleasant individuals: Of course most recent was the eye catching anti-shark net poster campaign for which I wore my birthday suit, Catches Anything, Kills Everything, the brainchild of Walter Bernardis, photographed by Johan Boshoff, supported by Trevor Hutton. Only 2 weeks ago it got a second wind and featured on Times Live as well as on the Examiner, reaching millions more people.

But it was not only stripping naked and tying myself up in shark nets that helped drive the point home about the ‘walls of death’ that claim over 600 sharks a year, as well as many other innocent marine animals such as dolphins and turtles. There is also our ongoing Wanted! Dead or Alive? campaign. I herewith quote one of the 3 main objectives of this particular campaign taken from the AfriOceans website ‘An end to the KwaZulu Natal Sharks Board destroying our tiger shark population and other sharks in the marine protected area, the Aliwal Shoal.’

Another of our campaigns, which also created awareness about the senseless slaughter of the shark nets was the Deep Freedive for Sharks campaign. This high profile campaign, which reached millions of people worldwide, centered on Trevor Hutton, South Africa’s most accomplished freediver, successfully diving to 70 metres in June 2012 to help me raise awareness about the plight of South Africa’s sharks.

Removing the nets in the marine protected area will be a positive step in the right direction, and to all who have helped achieve this – even just the recommendation by Sharks Board – in the many different ways they used, I extend my gratitude, including to the Sharks Board who made the final decision to propose their removal at Park Rynie. It gives me renewed energy for another equally important objective that I’ve been fighting through AfriOceans for some time, the full protection of a number of shark species of high eco-tourist value. The shark diving eco-tourist industry brings in millions of Rands of revenue, and provides job opportunities to a country with a high unemployment rate. Yet of the over 200 different species of sharks along the coast, only the white shark, basking shark and whale shark is fully protected. All other sharks, including many of these eco-tourist species, may be caught and killed daily. See Wanted! Dead or Alive? 

As a campaigner, activist and conservationist it can sometimes feel like one’s efforts are falling on deaf ears. But we are making a difference, it just sometimes takes time. Change is stubborn and full of resistance but I believe passion, pressure and persistence wins in the end – but we shouldn’t count our chickens before they hatch entirely and therefore we need to keep fighting till those nets at Park Rynie are out for good, and then beyond…

Watch my space!