CONSERVATION: Conservation Link Essential in Shark Tourism
Recent Western Cape Business News
A bucket-list activity that has attracted visitors from across the globe is under threat: according to researchers from Stellenbosch University, the South African white shark population is reaching critical lows – if the situation stays the same, not only will cage diving become a thing of the past, SA’s great white sharks could vanish completely. This was announced at a press conference organised by the university.
According to a release from Stellenbosch entitled “South Africa’s great white sharks heading for extinction”, this local population has the lowest genetic diversity of all great white shark populations internationally and is limited to between 353 and 522 individuals. Of these, only 350 are breeders able to continue the lineage.
At a glance:
· Reasons for the decline: impact of shark nets and baiting; poaching (for the honour of owning a shark jaw); habitat encroachment and depletion of their food sources.
· Great whites are apex predators, which means, that their loss will be detrimental for the ecological stability of the marine environment – for example: Great Whites feed on Cape Fur seals. A decrease in shark numbers will lead to an increase in the seal population, which in turn will have an impact on fish populations (and fisheries.)
· Shark behaviour specialist Michael Rutzen stated that in the 90s, if he’s gone out to his usual spot close to Dyer Island, he would have between 20 and 48 sharks around his boat; if he went out today, he’d have three.
“While part of the thrill for visitors in seeing these apex predators up close is related to the wildly exaggerated legends, the knowledge shared during shark diving tours includes environmental awareness tips, and a broader perspective on responsible tourism, especially within our sensitive marine environment. It’s essential that tour operators subscribe to ethical practices aligned with conservation so that this incredible experience remains available to visitors, and, more importantly, so that all forms of the marine ecosystem are protected.
The great white shark is one of the oldest shark lineages with an evolutionary origin dating back about 14 million years – they won’t vanish overnight – but as tourism professionals we have a responsibility along with other stakeholders and citizens to act as custodians of our planet.
Bear in mind that shark diving tours as well as trips to seal island provide an extensive contribution to the tourism economy and that this segment of the industry supports families and communities across Cape Town, especially those who live and work close to the sea.” – Enver Duminy, CEO, Cape Town Tourism
Shark tourism professionals had this to say:
"If better measure won't be put in place to protect white sharks, it is likely that the cage diving industry could collapse in the near future" - Michael Rutzen (Shark Diving Unlimited)
“These latest findings certainly push home the fact that it is farce to call this animal protected when we have the world’s largest great white shark killing machine, The Natal Sharks board, killing between 11-60 Great whites annually, a staggering 10-15% of the population. Add to this South Africa also issues permits to legally long line sharks and so it is little wonder that the species is in such a dire state. Over the course of the past 20 years we have noticed a steady decline in False Bay”. - Chris Fallows- Apex Shark Expeditions
“The national estimate for great white sharks is under way using data from each respective aggregation site from False Bay to Port Elizabeth. This will help form a collective from scientists and will provide a more precise dataset and not just a regional snapshot. The great white shark is migratory animal and collaboration is key to understanding its population dynamics. Our team continues to monitor and collect data on a daily basis which will be used in collaboration with other scientists.” - Biologist Alison Towner of the Dyer Island Conservation Trust working in partnership with Marine Dynamics Tours
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