Saturday, August 19, 2006

Can technology make beaches sharks free?

Researchers believe a method to make swimming beaches permanently free of sharks is within reach - but a lack of funding means they cannot create the devices to do so.Technology has already been developed whereby swimmers can attach small pods to their bodies. These devices send out electronic pulses that deter sharks, but are harmless to humans or other sea life.

But while the technology can safeguard individual swimmers, money is needed to develop larger, more powerful pods that can be placed on the ocean floor behind the waves. Such pods placed at regular intervals would then form a powerful electronic curtain preventing sharks from reaching people on the other side of the devices.

'... tourism is our lifeblood and I believe we should find a solution'Geremy Cliff of the Natal Sharks Board said local researchers developed the groundbreaking technology that allow swimmers to strap on pods that emits a pulse or current that deters sharks. "But we do not have the money to take the technology to the next step where large pods would for example be placed to form a barrier at beaches to prevent sharks getting to swimmers.

"The Australians have streamlined the pod and have also developed a device that you can hang off the back of your yacht while at anchor, This device then sends out a pulse that ensures a protected area for a 10m radius around such a yacht where you can swim. "I believe it should be possible to further improve and enhance this technology to form a permanent barrier that will deter sharks from entering a specific area."Following Sunday's shark attack at Sunrise Beach in which lifeguard Achmat Hassiem lost his right foot, there have been urgent calls from surfers and swimmers alike that authorities urgently put measures in place to protect swimmers.

Natal Sharks board experts told the city that shark nets do not offer a viable safety measure at Cape Town beaches. Veteran surfer and founding member of the Association of Surfing Professionals of Africa Paul Botha believes much more can and should be done. He said the numbers of great white sharks had shown a frightening "tenfold" increase in number since the 1990s."Something needs to be done urgently.

It is only matter of time before someone who has lost a family member or has been injured in an attack institutes a claim for millions of rands against the city for negligence. Botha said since great white sharks were declared a protected species in 1993, the numbers had rocketed. He said while there was technology available to ensure the safety of swimmers and surfers at beaches, authorities were dragging their feet."Already the shark attacks have had a huge impact on tourism. I run a surfing backpackers' lodge and surfers from Australia, America and Europe have lost all interest coming to surf here."

Gregg Oelofse, City of Cape Town's environmental police and research co-ordinator, said people used the ocean at their own risk and he did not believe they would be able to institute claims against the city. He said nowhere in the world was swimming 100% safe.Robin de Kock, manager of South African Surfing agreed that something drastic needed to be done to save the surfing and tourism industry."These attacks are bad for the country and authorities now need to take action. Bigger pods that send out currents that deter sharks, should be placed behind the break line.

"Money should be made available towards development of such technology," said De Kock.He said while shark spotters were doing a good job, they could not spot all the sharks. Alison Kock of the City's Shark Working Group said the reality was that the ocean was a wild place and home to the Great White shark. She said more people died crossing the road than in shark attacks. "It would make sense to protect certain areas if we have the technology to do so. People would then know which area were safe while signs at other areas would point out the dangers."She said sharks were naturally inquisitive and incidents where people have been eaten were rare.

Marriette du Toit of Cape Town Tourism said if technology existed to make bathing area safer it should be pursued with vigour."Ironically every time we have a shark attack, we are inundated with calls from people wanting to see Great White sharks. "However, tourism is our lifeblood and I believe we should find a solution where people's safety concerns are addressed while at the same time such measures do not impact negatively on sharks."Oelofse said for the moment technology had not yet not advanced to such a level that an electronic barrier could be placed behind the waves at beaches.

He said shark spotters were doing a wonderful job. He said current technology had not developed to the extent that it offers an alternative. "If it does, it is something we will definitely look at."


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