South Africa’s ‘shark spotters’ help secure country’s position as leader in big fish’s conservation

Mail & Guardian Africa
27 January 2015

THE Australian government recently announced that it will be launching trials on a $100,000 shark-detecting sonar technology. The technology is expected to be able to detect the large fish and then text the information back to lifesavers on the ground to take early action.

While this cutting-edge innovation could bring the country a step closer to keeping Australia’s beaches safe, South Africa has already proved itself to be one of the major players when it comes to keeping its swimmers, but also it’s sharks, safe.

Although the incidence of shark attacks is still very low, there has been a gradual long-term increase in their incidence in Cape Town and the Western Cape during the past 50 years. One of the preventative initiatives launched in South Africa to deal with this is a shark spotting initiative – the first of it’s kind in the world.

Adopted by the City of Cape Town in 2004, the programme has placed shark spotters at nine of Cape Town’s popular beaches. The spotters spend their time scanning the coastal waters for sharks from an elevated platform during daylight hours, seven days a week. This spotter is in radio contact with another spotter on the beach and if a shark is seen the beach spotter sounds a siren and raises a specific colour coded flag.

When the siren sounds, the water users are requested to leave the water and only return when the appropriate all clear signal is given – these strict protocols effectively warn water users, reducing the risk of a shark bite.

It has proved to be an effective warning system, with hundreds of shark sightings recorded, but it is also a particularly unique concept because of its shark conservation element. According to the Shark Spotters, shark bites that result in human injury or death “potentially threaten protective measures through the reluctance of the public to support white shark conservation, the possible implementation of culling programmes and illegal hunting.”

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