07 July 2005

Marine police are fighting a losing battle

Perlemoen poaching is rocketing in the Gansbaai areas, where 12 law enforcement "Marines" are working 18-hour days in the battle to save one of the country's most lucrative marine resources.

The Marines have had their tyres slashed, paint thrown on their cars, and death threats hurled at them.

Residents say up to 30 or 40 divers at a time walk past surprised holiday-makers and start taking out perlemoen 50m from the shore. They stay in the sea after dark, when they bring out the perlemoen and hand it over to carriers.

A Pearly Beach resident, who did not want to be named, said he had watched 58 divers taking out perlemoen on Wednesday last week, 42 on Friday, 13 on Saturday, 26 on Sunday and 55 on Monday.

"They came out with the bags so heavy with perlemoen that it takes two divers to lift them up onto the carriers. It's bloody chaotic here. It's escalated 100 fold. Divers walk blatantly into the water in daylight," he said.

Tian Loedolff, who runs the 12-man Marine team in Gansbaai, said on Tuesday: "If anyone's got the impression that we are winning the fight, they're dreaming."

He and his Marines, members of a joint law enforcement project with Marine and Coastal Management and the Overstrand Municipality, have 40km of coast to control 24 hours a day seven days a week.

He is supposed to have 24 Marines in Gansbaai, one of the last places where there are still good supplies of perlemoen.

"There is a feeling of complete lawlessness in Gansbaai. Poachers have driven us off the road and we can do nothing. We're one vehicle against four or five.

We can't even park our cars near people's houses. They tell us to move because they're scared of the poachers. I've heard promises about helicopters and all sorts of things, but we don't even have night-sights.

"Every one of my guys is working six to eight hours overtime every day for no extra pay. We're doing more than our jobs, but we're not winning," Loedolff said. He said they desperately needed a pencil duck - a fast inflatable that could drive among the kelp beds where the poachers operated, but there was no money for one.

"I feel like writing to Bill Gates and asking him to sponsor one," Loedolff said.

Craig Spencer, head of Overstrand Municipality's Nature Conservation, confirmed that poaching has escalated, but said the Marines were still doing a better anti-poaching job than any other law enforcement body previously.

In Gansbaai, during May and June, the 12 Marines had confiscated over 21 000 poached perlemoen in 68 separate incidents. They had also made 31 arrests, confiscated 11 vehicles and prevented over 800 divers from entering the water.

"I know the guys are working way overtime and it's killing them. These statistics mean they've dealt with at least one major poaching case every day on a skeleton staff," Spencer said.

He said he hoped to advertise for new recruits next week.

Source: www.iol.co.za


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