08 February 2006

South Africa: Overstrand anti-poaching unit may be disbanded

The days are numbered for the highly successful Marines anti-poaching unit in the Overstrand - but no one is saying what will take its place.

The unit may be taken over by the Marine and Coastal Management (MCM), or handed over to an agency, or disbanded and replaced by something else.

Sources have said a study showed that if MCM took over the Marines it would cost them three times as much to run it. Currently MCM pays just under R8 million a year to Overstrand Municipality to run the project on their behalf.

The project was supposed to have continued until 2008. Sources say it will now end on March 31.

MCM has not paid the last R1.8m instalment to the municipality for the Marines project.

This comes as two senior officials, who were instrumental in setting up the Marines, have resigned.

Marcel Kroese, who ran MCM's law enforcement section, leaves at the end of the month to take up a marine law enforcement post covering 15 Pacific island states.

Craig Spencer, who heads Overstrand Municipality's nature conservation department, leaves at the end of the month.

They take with them over 20 years of conservation law enforcement experience and an intimate knowledge of local environmental crime prevention.

Kroese did not want to comment yesterday.

Spencer said earlier that, while he was confident that all the municipal conservation projects would continue to operate well, he was "concerned" about the Marines because their future was uncertain.

Mike Tannett of Seawatch, a residents' body which helps the authorities with anti-poaching in the Overstrand, said yesterday he found it "shocking news" to hear that the Marines may be disbanded.

"With the Marines we've had the best anti-poaching success rate between Rooi Els and Kleinmond.

"Operation Neptune left at the end of 2004. We've kept statistics which show that last year, with the Marines, we've had a 30% increase in the anti-poaching success rate," Tannett said.

"The people in the Marines are conservation-minded people who make it happen. They are good leaders. It's the quality of people that counts, their attitude to the job," Tannett commented.

Overstrand's mayor, Willie Smit, said he knew "nothing whatsoever" about the Marines project ending.

Jan Koekemoer, Overstrand's municipal manager, said yesterday that he had had a meeting last month with Abeeda Mugjenker, MCM's head of law enforcement.

At that meeting, the Marines' future was discussed, Koekemoer said.

"We're waiting for a response from MCM. We need to give staff notice if they are no longer going to be municipal employees."

Mugjenker was not available for comment.

Environmental affairs and tourism spokesman J P Louw said yesterday he could not comment on the Marines specifically, but the department was trying to "firm up our law enforcement strategy".

It had not yet resolved how this would be done.

Source: www.capetimes.co.za


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