05 July 2005

Shark lovers slam plans for 'coastal shields'

The Natal Sharks Board plans to start development of an electronic beach barrier as an alternative to shark nets, and a prototype would be ready for use in about 12 months. The aim would be the removal of the nets as soon as possible.

However, the proposal by the board to use electronic shields instead of nets has drawn criticism from leading marine conservationist Andy Cobb. Cobb is the South African ambassador for the Sharkproject, an international initiative researching shark behaviour.

He warned that sharks could be endangered by the use of such a device and said its implementation was "completely unacceptable and is the height of harassment".

"South Africa does not have a shark attack problem."

"It's always an adjacent human activity that leads to a shark attack," said Cobb.

The electronic barrier was developed in South Africa when a group of scientists at the Natal Sharks Board began experimentation in the 1990s. The shield has been introduced for use as a personal device, mostly used by recreational and professional divers, but is said to be also suitable for swimmers, surfers, fishermen and snorkellers.

The Natal Sharks Board is said to lead the barrier deterrent project in conjunction with Australian company SeaChange Technology.

The device has been successfully used by divers, who attach it to their ankles. The shield sends out electrical impulses which cause sharks to experience muscular spasms, sending them away from the area.

According to a media release, the deterrent effect of the shark shield has been tested extensively against great white sharks in the wild.

SeaChange said the barriers would be based on technology used to protect triathletes in Sydney Harbour during the Sydney 2000 Olympics.

Cobb protested against the proposal to replace shark nets with the shields, saying that "any long-term exposure to such a device could kill the sharks".

He commended the ban on the device at the Aliwal Shoal, a protected marine area which runs between Umkomaas and Park Rynie.

The board is in the process of developing a specific shark shield that will be mounted on surfboards and kayaks.

Ebrahim Dhai, the chairperson of SRT (Shark Repellent Technology) Holdings, a subsidiary of the Natal Sharks Board, said the board planned to start development of the electronic beach barriers as an alternative to nets soon, and a prototype would be ready for use in about 12 months.

Dhai said the removal of the nets would prevent whales, dolphins, turtles and sharks being caught in them.

Source: www.iol.co.za


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