It feels like every time we go onto any social media platform there is always some form of reminder that our oceans are warming up, being polluted with an array of horrific substances or that our marine life is dwindling.
It feels too easy to watch something then move onto the next post and before long it’s time to get back to our daily grind.
The Paddle Out For Sharks was started in 2012 to stop just that – the lack of action! Divers, anglers and surfers came together to raise awareness of the damage bather protection gill nets do to shark populations along the south African coast line, to engage with authorities around reducing the impact of these nets and to work with the local community in finding solutions to the use of gill nets locally. The first event focussed on tiger sharks and other marine life that had been caught in the bather protection gill nets at Scottburgh. The response was overwhelming; with footage featuring on the SABC news and local wildlife show 50/50.
In 2013, another Paddle Out for Sharks was held to protest damaging shark fishing practices being conducted at Protea Banks – a shark diving hotspot in South Africa.
The underlying philosophy of the Paddle Out for Sharks is that local communities should take responsibility for practices taking place at their back door, so to speak
Since 2012, The Paddle Out for Sharks has drawn much support in highlighting the plight of Sharks. This support comes from all over southern Africa and internationally too. Paddle Out events have been held in Australia, Mozambique, Germany, Reunion to name a few. .
The Paddle Out for Sharks has always had a grass-roots ethos. In keeping with this, the organisers of previous Paddle Out for Sharks events are calling on communities to organise their own Paddle Out for Sharks that is relevant and focussed on their community.
“It’s time to highlight the fact that the health and wellbeing of our oceans and sharks affects everyone – not just those who live at the ocean or those who fish, surf or dive. The challenge is that everyone do something that will highlight and improve the plight of our Oceans and Sharks, no matter how small the effort. No matter where you are based, it’s to take back control! Stop relying on proposed laws, hopes or empty promises that things are going to improve – it’s time to knuckle down and become an activist. Organise a local clean up, post something on social media, get your neighbours involved, your school, your church or your local community – do ANYTHING but do something!!!!”
Here’s the organisers’ challenge to you.
“Send us your pictures and your videos with the #takebackcontrol featured in them and let’s take a stand this 4th of June 2016! #takebackcontrol”
The fifth annual Paddle Out for Sharks conservation platform, connecting humans with the oceans, will this year be held in conjunction with the international Silence of the Sharks underwater protest being held at Scottburgh (Aliwal Shoal) and Shelly Beach (Protea Banks) on the KwaZulu-Natal South Coast on Saturday, 4 June.
Endorsed by UGU South Coast Tourism, the Silence of the Sharks and Paddle Out for Sharks initiatives will also celebrate World Oceans Day on 8 June, centred around the theme of ‘healthy oceans, healthy planet’.
“The ocean serves a number of vital purposes, regulating temperature, providing life-giving oxygen and a home to an incredible array of wildlife,” explained Justin Mackrory, CEO: South Coast Tourism. “To ensure the health of all future generations, we need to ensure that our oceans are protected.”
Mackrory said residents on the South Coast are made aware, on a daily basis, of the beauty of the ocean and the need for its preservation.
“We have some of the best big animal diving in the world,” he explained. “Aliwal Shoal has been named one of the world’s top 10 dive sites and Protea Banks attracts thousands of international divers every year. These initiatives coincide with the proposed expansion of the Marine Protected Areas at these two dive sites on the KZN south coast and play an important part in keeping awareness about our oceans alive and encouraging people to become proactive in the protection of sharks and marine life.”
Paddle Out for Sharks, which was first held at Aliwal Shoal in 2011, is supported by the surfing community, conservationists, anglers, divers, paddle skiers, scientists and environmentally-concerned individuals. Following the surfing tradition of ‘paddling out’ in memory of a fallen surfer, the event echoes that spiritual element, highlighting the plight of sharks.
“The Paddle Out for Sharks is proud to cooperate on our fifth annual paddle out in 2016, with Silence of the Sharks at the south coast venues. As a grassroots movement that aims to raise awareness of the plight of sharks, we see a synergy with Silence of the Sharks, who are also trying to provide a ‘voice for sharks’,” commented Amanda Barratt, Paddle Out for Sharks Organiser.
The same sentiment flows through the Silence of the Sharks protest which started with a Red Sea dive in December 2015 where about 100 divers went to a depth of 20 metres for half an hour in protest of the mass disappearance of sharks. The dive will be emulated at various locations across the globe, with South Africa’s single event taking place on the KwaZulu-Natal South Coast, set to be the biggest underwater demonstration ever held in South Africa. The initiative will end on 23 October 2016 with a dive in Cyprus.
According to David Pilosof, underwater photographer and diver who has been leading the Silence of the Sharks initiative since 1972, the number of blacktip reef sharks has dwindled by 93 percent worldwide, the number of tiger sharks has decreased by 97% and bull sharks by 99%. Every year, 70 million sharks or more are hunted globally, particularly in the Far East, although the European Union and United States have not made shark fishing illegal.
Sharks have roamed the oceans for 400 million years and are understood to be linked to the health of all our oceans. Despite this, the decimation of sharks for shark fin soup, with some sharks finned while alive and then thrown back into the ocean to drown, continues. Many sport fishermen also target large sharks, effectively removing slow reproducing animals, vital to all conservation, merely for trophies.
Internationally renowned marine videographer, Mark Addison, who hails from the South Coast and will be participating in the event, said: “The greatest threat to sharks on our coast is ourselves, in all of our destructive incantations. It is truly sad. I am of the opinion that the opportunity for debate and timeous intervention has truly passed but the time for action is always now and within each and every one of us.”
Addison’s daughter, Ella, herself an experienced scuba diver, will also be participating in the event along with a number of like-minded school friends.
The Silence of the Sharks protest forms part of South Coast Tourism’s Sardine Season campaign which includes a number of family-focused events. The annual Sardine Run along the KwaZulu-Natal coastline, dubbed ‘the greatest shoal on earth’ is one of the most significant natural migration phenomena globally.
The day’s events will start at 8am with the Paddle Out for Sharks participants gathering at back line off Scottburgh Beach where flowers will be laid. Thereafter, the Silence of the Sharks participants will be invited to jump off the boats and form a group in the water holding banners. Following a countdown, the divers will descend one to two metres with the banners. Scuba divers will then descend with the banners to a 10 meters depth.
For all ocean lovers and shark advocates wanting to get involved in this impactful campaign but not wanting to get wet, there will be land-based activities at both Scottburgh and Shelly Beach/St Mike’s (Protea Banks). The Harley Owners Group (HOGS) Durban Chapter will also be joining in the demonstration by riding from Durban to Scottburgh, gathering at the tidal pool on Scottburgh Main Beach which will provide the perfect viewing point to watch proceedings. Shark Scientist Jessica Escobar will be giving a talk to the crowds that gather, explaining the event and the plight of sharks. Everyone is welcome to attend and encouraged to bring deck chairs, binoculars and flowers.
On the back of a successful Paddle Out for Sharks held in 2012, more than 130 shark conservationists, divers, anglers, and paddlers marked World Oceans Day 2013 by ‘paddling out’ to the shark nets at Scottburgh Beach, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa to highlight the plight of sharks in Southern Africa and demonstrate our collective concern for the way sharks are treated and perceived. We were joined on the beach by members of the public who share our vision.
Text by Amanda Barratt
ThePaddle Out for Sharks is founded on a crucial spiritual element of surfer culture – paddle outs are traditionally held in memory of a surfer who has died. Part of why I was drawn to the concept of the event was because paddle outs are a demonstration of the seamless connection between beach user and the sea, a philosophy that I believe is essential to flipping dominant assumptions about sharks, and hopefully problematizing our relationship with the sea’s natural predators. I believe that common sense understandings of sharks and a lack of respect for the natural world has put shark populations in danger, and that beach users, especially the participants of the paddle out, having had different experiences and understandings of sharks, must be mobilized to be proactive in attempting to challenge assumptions about these animals.
Sharks have roamed our oceans for 400 million years, but have been decimated by up to 90% in some parts of the world. They are a clade of animals that has been demonstrated to be related to the health of our oceans, and the killing of sharks is often given little attention, as the public so poorly perceives them. Millions of sharks fall victim to the long net of industrialised fishing, as they are killed for their fins, to feed the demand for shark fin soup, with many fisheries practising the undoubtedly inhumane practice of finning of live sharks that are then thrown back into the ocean to drown. The demand for fins has also resulted in many small-scale and artisanal fishermen feeding the market, in order to make a living as industrial fishing has destroyed many of their local fisheries.
Large sharks are also popular targets for sport fishermen who see sharks as fair game. While many fishermen engage in safe and responsible practices, many predatory sharks are fished purely as trophies, in effect removing slow reproducing animals that are vital to the conservation of lower trophic levels.
Another problematic practice is the implementation of gill nets that are installed with the purpose of protecting beach users. Their operation misunderstood, the nets, which run the length of popular beaches in KwaZulu-Natal as one example, systematically reduce shark numbers in the netted areas, while impacting on the marine life in the netted areas and beyond.
The above examples of the fundamental human relationship with sharks reflects the mark we leave on our planet and our oceans, and it is the Paddle Out’s philosophy, that our behaviour should be challenged.
Editor of African Diver Magazine, Cormac McCreesh, summed it up perfectly, when he stated,
‘we have it within ourselves to rise above everything, to be human and humane. Our oceans and seas are the last remaining wildernesses. It’s never too late to start to look after what we have and the way we think of, and treat, sharks tells us something about how we treat our oceans.’
Paddle Out For Sharks is reaching far, and looks to gain support for its philosophy, from like-minded people, and the public. The momentum that Paddle out envisages riding on, is an energy where we take back our custodial duties of our planet, and engage and interact with the public, challenging assumptions and demonstrating our collective passion for sharks and our marine environment.
Paddle Out for Sharksfocus is to challenge malignant discourses about sharks, encourage discussion that enables sustainable fishing, and we are firm that pressure for legislative changes need to come from the public, who must be proactive about the conservation of our planet.
Thus Paddle Out For Sharks is working to afford more value to the life of a shark, than a dead shark, by engaging the public and beach users, to educate them about the many different values of sharks, which we see as economic, cultural and effective, in the hope that we may challenge assumptions about sharks, and ultimately lobby authorities and law makers for the preservation of sharks in South Africa.