SHARK SPOTTERS - sustainable coexistence of sharks and people in our oceans

Shark Spotters
Published: 02 September 2021
Last edited: 02 September 2021
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Summary

Shark Spotters (est.2004) is a pioneering shark-safety program that has attracted local and international attention because of the novel way it seeks to reduce conflicts between people and sharks in Cape Town. Shark Spotters finds a balance between recreational water-user safety and white shark conservation through pro-actively reducing negative shark-human interactions, by using spotters and an exclusion barrier.

We also conduct applied research on shark ecology and behaviour, raise awareness about shark conservation issues, conduct proactive and reactive coastal conservation interventions and provide employment opportunities and skills development for previously disadvantaged individuals.

Shark Spotters is a unique, socially and environmentally responsible initiative that protects beach tourism, the local economy and the environment from the negative repercussions of shark bite incidents as well as actively conserving and rehabilitating our marine environment from human-induced impacts.

Classifications

Region
East and South Africa
Scale of implementation
Local
Ecosystem
Beach
Marine and coastal ecosystems
Rocky reef / Rocky shore
Theme
Ecosystem services
Health and human wellbeing
Indigenous people
Marine litter
Outreach & communications
Pollution
Science and research
Species management
Sustainable livelihoods
Tourism
Traditional knowledge
Other theme
human wildlife conflict
Urban and Disaster Risk Management
Resilience and disaster risk management
Challenges
Loss of Biodiversity
Conflicting uses / cumulative impacts
Ecosystem loss
Pollution (incl. eutrophication and litter)
Unemployment / poverty
Sustainable development goals
SDG 3 – Good health and well-being
SDG 8 – Decent work and economic growth
SDG 11 – Sustainable cities and communities
SDG 14 – Life below water
SDG 17 – Partnerships for the goals
Aichi targets
Target 1: Awareness of biodiversity increased
Target 6: Sustainable management of aquatic living resources
Target 8: Pollution reduced
Target 11: Protected and conserved areas
Target 19: Sharing information and knowledge
Sendai Framework
Target 2: Reduce the number of affected people globally by 2030
Target 3: Reduce direct disaster economic loss in relation to GDP by 2030
Target 7: Increase the availability of and access to multi-hazard early warning systems and disaster risk information and assessments to the people by 2030
Business engagement approach
Direct engagement with associations

Location

False Bay, Western Cape, South Africa

Challenges

Tourism and local businesses suffer as people no longer wish to partake in recreational water activities and so visitor numbers to beaches drop. To mitigate these effects, governments respond to shark bites with knee-jerk reactions, implementing extreme measures including lethal control of sharks. These measures are not sustainable and can have serious detrimental environmental effects, especially those which impact threatened or vulnerable species, such as great white sharks.

Shark Spotters sustainable, non-lethal shark safety strategies effectively reduce the risk of shark bite without resorting to lethal control. Thus protecting and strengthening communities, local economies and tourism, reducing risk of injury and death of water users, as well as conserving sharks, important apex predators, and other marine megafauna that would be impacted should we use lethal control.

Beneficiaries

Beneficiaries include the 40 staff employed by the program, the millions of recreational waterusers (and associated beach-based businesses) protected by our safety services, and the local communities targeted by our “responsible ocean use” education programme.

How do the building blocks interact?

We believe that to achieve sustainable conservation, humans and the environment need to be considered together. 

Our primary mandate is beach safety, but this is not a stand-alone solution to reducing human-shark conflict. Applied research is necessary to understand the role these top predators play in our ecosystems and how their distribution is influenced by environmental & biological factors, in order to devise effective public safety policy.

Education & awareness is important as it increases peoples understanding of sharks so that they are motivated to conserve them by realising the important role they play in ecosystem function and resilience. Teaching people ways in which they can avoid shark encounters improves water user safety and reduces the likelihood of communities suffering from the negative impacts of shark bites.

Lastly, mitigating human impacts on our coastline directly benefits the conservation of sharks and other marine animals as it is improves ocean health and reverses some of the damage done to our fragile marine ecosystem already.

Thus Shark Spotters takes a holistic approach to reducing shark-human conflict, combining all four building blocks to increase its impact.

Impacts

Shark Spotters has sucessfully reduced the spatial overlap between people and sharks in Cape Town since 2004, recording over 3,000 shark sightings and significantly improving bather safety. This success was corroborated by a 2017 study that showed its effectiveness in mitigating shark risk.

By providing an effective and sustainable alternative to lethal shark control we have therefore conserved threatened marine megafauna within the Table Mountain National Park MPA.

Shark Spotters is internationally recognised as a pioneer and leader in non-lethal shark mitigation and continues to provide consulting and advisory services to stakeholders in shark conflict areas around the world (e.g. Australia, Reunion, United States). Many of our recommendations have been implemented in these areas.

Through our longstanding education activities, we have changed peoples perceptions of sharks, from fear to understanding, and were instrumental in the global shift from traditional lethal control towards more sustainable shark safety solutions.

The programme’s philosophy of a holistic non-lethal approach to finding a balance between people and sharks should be emulated in other high shark risk areas. This is especially important in a post-covid world where the disconnect between people and nature and the negative consequences of environmental destruction has never been more apparent.

Story

Wayne Conradie

Monwabisi Sikweyiya was the very first shark spotter employed by the programme back in 2004. After a spate of shark bites in the area, the community came together to look for solutions to protect beachfront businesses and communities from the negative impacts of shark attacks. Monwa was placed at a lookout on the mountain with polarised sunglasses and binoculars and tasked with determining if shark spotting was possible and to determine how effective it would be. Under Monwa's watchful eye, a dramatic change in the way people perceived sharks unfolded in Cape Town. With the information gained from many shark sightings, and the experience learnt from spending hundreds of hours on the mountain, Monwa was able to turn people's fears of sharks into understanding, and by providing an effective early-warning safety service, the community embraced this sustainable solution rather than pushing for lethal control of sharks, which was previously the case.

Monwa has spotted hundreds of sharks in his time, significantly improving beach safety in our area. In addition, the skills that he has learnt, most specifically in first aid and major trauma response, have been put to good use, both saving the life of a shark-bite victim in 2011, as well as many instances of non-shark related injuries such as heart attacks and surfboard injuries on the beach.

Monwa has grown with the programme and is now the Field Manager, responsible for ensuring water user safety on all our operating beaches. He has also been to Australia to represent Shark Spotters and provide sustainable shark safety advice there, and has become a true ambassador of our oceans, making a tangible impact on beach safety and marine conservation on a daily basis.

This is a shining example of how investing in local community members has immeasurable benefits for shark conservation, the local economy and individual success and empowerment. It also demonstrates the value in creating sustainable employment opportunities in the blue economy, where both people and the oceans benefit, which is particularly important in a post-pandemic environment, where we need to build back our economies in a more sustainable and less environmentally destructive manner.

Contributed by

Sarah Waries Shark Spotters