02 December 2005

South Africa: Shark-spotters thrown lifeline by city council

Two years ago Patrick Davids spent his days spotting empty parking bays for visitors to Muizenberg beach in return for tips. Today he has the task of spotting sharks swimming too close to the shore and, thanks to R400 000 from the city council, will also be responsible for training 15 new shark spotters to be deployed at False Bay beaches over the next 10 months.

Councillor Carol Beerwinkel, mayoral committee (maycom) member for planning and environment, congratulated the two shark spotting programmes, run by volunteers in Muizenberg and Fish Hoek, for their contribution to beach safety.

"We (the council) want to support the programmes already in place and initiate similar projects at Monwabisi, Sunrise Beach, Mnandi, Strandfontein and Macassar," he said.

Beerwinkel said the R400 000 donation, funded by the planning department and the city's urban renewal strategy, would be shared between the two spotting projects, with Fish Hoek and Muizenberg getting R70 000 and R80 000 respectively.

The five beaches earmarked for new initiatives would get R50 000 each. A further R40 000 would pay the salaries of the novice shark spotters while R10 000 would be used to buy new equipment for each of the beaches. Each beach will also get R2 000 for training, which includes first aid training by the NSRI. There will also be information boards about great whites at 48 coastal sites.

The council is also working with the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism (DEAT) on a scientific study of great white sharks.

The four-metre Great White tagged on November 19 near Muizenberg is already giving scientists vital information.

Despite a faulty acoustic tag, researchers tracked the movements of the shark - named Charlize (Theron) after the actress - in False Bay for five days last week. In comparison to Mossel Bay sharks tagged in June, whose home range was small, Charlize did not demonstrate a long-term affinity for any site but traversed the 5km area between Muizenberg and Sunrise beach, and further afield to Strandfontein.

"Charlize displayed a patrolling pattern from Bailey's Cottage to east of Strandfontein over four days, swimming at an average speed of 1.98km/h," the research team wrote in its report.

Charlize typically swam between 200 and 2 000 metres from the shore in water between two and 16 metres deep. Her straight-line swimming speed ranged from 1.0 to 5.2km/h.

Apparent slower speeds on the 20th and 22nd occurred when she repeatedly circled a small area between Sunrise Beach and Sandvlei where researchers observed other sharks, indicating social behaviour.

Deon Nel of the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) Sanlam Marine Programme said both projects would reduce the risk of contact between humans and sharks in the ocean.

He praised shark spotters Greg Bertish and his group of volunteers, saying: "This project is an example of ordinary people seeing a problem and deciding to do something about it."

Source: www.iol.co.za


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