Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Shark debate is on following attack on lifeguard

The city’s fledgling shark-spotting programme is under fire after an attack on 24-year-old lifesaver Achmat Hassiem, with a veteran surfing administrator calling for the selective culling of Great Whites.It has been revealed that the shark-spotting programme does not extend to Sunrise Beach, where Sunday’s attack took place.The attack on Hassiem, who lost a foot in the incident, occurred in an area where spotters can see sharks only in ideal conditions.

'Environmental zealots'The attack has started a debate on how best to protect bathers.Former South African surfing events administrator Paul Botha says selective culling is the solution to the shark problems, while others have slammed his suggestion.

Botha, who has surfed in False Bay for 40 years, has advocated selective culling and called for the protection of “humans first and sharks secondly”. “The environmental zealots have caused a major problem in False Bay where they have allowed the fish stock to be fished out of the sea. “That has created an imbalance, because there is no food for the overpopulation of sharks. The Great Whites are supposed to feed on fish and now they want to feed on humans,” said Botha. He said only the Great Whites needed culling.

'Magnificent animal'“If sharks are very smart, as environmental zealots argue, they will go away if we start culling them,” he said.However, Greg Oelofse of the City’s environment department, who is a representative with the Shark Working Group, said the council would continue the shark-spotting programme, and planned to expand it.Neither shark nets nor electronic devices would be effective in Cape waters, he said.

However, the surfing community is becoming increasingly agitated and debate is raging.Surfer and diver John Bromley of Kommetjie accused authorities of issuing “platitudes” about understanding sharks.“My 14-year-old son was in the water not a kilometre from where the attack took place yesterday and of course I am concerned for his safety,” he said.“He has been in the water surfing during at least five Great White encounters in the last three years, at Long Beach, Jeffreys Bay, Witsands and Muizenberg.

This is unacceptable. In over 40 years of surfing I never saw one while in the water.”He said the government’s primary responsibility was the protection of citizens and the authorities were failing in this area. Bromley said selective culling should not be about revenge, but about removing danger from popular beaches.“The Great White is a magnificent animal and to protect it is justified,” he said.“But until such time as proper alternative safety measures can be developed, selective culling should be considered,” he said.

Bromley, who earlier wrote his views on the surfing website www.wavescape.co.za, said monitoring attempts had so far been inadequate.“Until there is adequate monitoring with warning systems or electronic barriers or shark nets, limited culling of sharks near popular swimming and surfing beaches, which are not their primary habitat, is the only rational answer,” he said.Oelofse said today that the kind of measures taken by the Natal Sharks Board would not prove efficient in Cape waters, due to conditions off the Peninsula’s beaches.

“Due to sea conditions, nets won’t work. The electronic shark shield devices developed by the Natal Sharks Board only work when they are used by individual swimmers. “They have not been developed for use on buoys, as they only have an effective range of about two metres, depending on water quality. “The Natal Sharks Board has advised us that they will not work when placed on buoys.”The shark-spotting programme, which employed monitors on vantage points such as the mountain above Muizenberg and Fish Hoek, had been identified as one of the most effective warning methods, Oelofse said.

However, he conceded the spotting programme was effective only where spotters could be deployed on high vantage points.“We had to decide which beaches were strategically important. The numbers of bathers and watersport enthusiasts and the available high vantage points would have to be considered. “At many beaches, there just aren’t high vantage points, such as along the West Coast.“Muizenberg’s Corner was closed for only about 40 minutes after the attack as a precautionary measure,” Oelofse said.

“The spotters worked according to their protocols and did not close the Corner straight away, because there was no shark near the Corner,” he said.Spotter Patrick Davids, who monitors the water from the beach, said he was happy with the response of bathers once the decision had been made to close the beach. “People listened very well, and came out quickly,” he said.Oelofse said the group wanted to employ more spotters. “Bathers have to realise they increase their risk of being attacked the further they go out or away from areas covered by spotters.”


Post a Comment

<< Home