Cape Town – The proposal to extend the False Bay white shark cage diving (WSCD) operating area from Seal Island and ultimately bring it closer to the shore of Strandfontein has sent chills down the spines of residents, especially after the shark attack in Plettenberg Bay in which a Cape Town woman died.
Regular beach users and Strandfontein residents expressed extreme dissatisfaction at a public engagement on Wednesday night with the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE) about the safety of this proposal and its effect on communities along the immediate coastline.
Apex Shark Expeditions director Karyn Cooper said: “Shark cage diving has long been held as a scapegoat for shark attacks. The truth is there are no shark cage diving operations anywhere near to Plett and the bulk of shark attacks have taken place far away from where cage diving occurs.
“Numerous scientific studies have been done on this and all have shown no correlation between shark cage diving and shark attacks.”
The department is considering this proposal in hope of helping the tourism sector in the False Bay area that has been severely hit since great white sharks started disappearing in 2017 from Seal Island and the observed increased presence of other shark species near Strandfontein Beach.
The proposal allows WSCD operators to attract other shark species, such as bronze whaler sharks, still present in the new extended area using chum and other methods.
Shark diving companies in False Bay were hugely supportive but it was clear at the public meeting that the proposal was not welcomed by the residents, surfers, fishers and other users of the Strandfontein coastline.
A key concern was that some had seen vessels and operators already undertaking WSCD in the proposed area. Tour guide and resident Nathan Samuel started a petition to protest the chumming of water in the False Bay area.
“This area has been utilised for decades by bathers and surfers of the less privileged communities, including Strandfontein, Mitchells Plain and Khayelitsha. Unlike the residents of Fish Hoek, Muizenberg and Noordhoek, there are no lifeguards, let alone shark spotters on these beaches.
“We cannot allow this type of risk at the expense of these ocean users,” Samuel said.
Local surfer, business owner and resident Keanon Michaels said: “We are going to look like an entrée floating on surfboards. I am nobody’s lunch and I am telling you now, we are not standing for this.”
Strandfontein Ratepayers Association chairperson Mario Oonstendurp questioned what benefit this proposal would bring to the local community, because based on the information so far, it would only limit the community’s current activities along the coastline as the proposed area overlapped with the area used by surfers, anglers and numerous others.
“We are not going to attract sharks closer to shore, they are already inshore. We will in fact be attracting them away from shore where they already are to where we are. We are asking to work with bronze whaler and seven gill sharks which have never been implicated in a shark attack in our waters,” Cooper said.
Jamie Nye, a lifelong surfer and tourism business owner in Muizenberg, said: “About 10 years ago, there was a research boat that shot a lot of footage and chummed the hell out of False Bay, and what happened? A young man surfing at Koel Bay, Davey Lilienfeld, was taken out by a great white while he was surfing.”
Cooper said: “We are not going to attract sharks closer to shore, they are already inshore. We will in fact be attracting them away from shore where they already are to where we are. We are asking to work with bronze whaler and seven gill sharks which have never been implicated in a shark attack in our waters.”
DEFF spokesperson Albi Modise said: “It should be noted that there are no permitted shark cage diving operations in Plettenberg Bay. WSCD has been taking place in South Africa since the 1990s and no shark attack which could be attributed to shark cage diving operations have been recorded.
“Researchers, scientists and Shark Spotters report that sharks occur more frequently inshore of the False Bay during spring and summer seasons. This finding has assisted Government in enhancing and increasing mitigation measures to reduce the risk of human-shark conflict during this period in the bay.
“Evidence of this is seen at the implementation of the Shark Spotter programme during the festive season, which details may be obtained from the City of Cape Town as the custodian of the programme.”
Cooper said said unless the 1k extension was granted, they would lose an entire sector and all its jobs, most of shark diving operators have already retrenched over 75% of their staff.
She said the area they proposed was West of the pavilion where they would till be more than 1.5km offshore and not near recreation users, however surfers and anglers at the public engagement believed otherwise.