It’s hard to imagine how Great White Sharks fit in with responsible tourism practices, but that’s exactly what a South African tour operating company has accomplished over the past 24 years, writes Des Langkilde.
South Africa is acknowledged as being a destination with an abundance of white sharks (Carcharodon carcharias) off its coastline, and both domestic and international tourists flock to areas such as Mossel Bay, Gansbaai and False Bay to experience them as an adrenalin filled “Bucket List” encounter.
The Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism (DEAT) is tasked with the management of the cage diving industry in South Africa. As such, operational procedures and the industries compliance all fall under DEAT’s mandate. The Marine Living Resources Act (MLRA), was ratified in 1998 (Act No. 18, 1998), seven years after vessels in South Africa began to attract white sharks for tourism and viewing purposes, while national legislation protecting all shark species was passed in 1991. The MLRA had to assess several considerations, including the development of international tourism, socio-economic considerations, and the optimal sustainable utilisation of South Africa’s marine resources. As such, it was decided that the existing industry fulfilled the MLRA’s mandate with regards to the non-consumptive exploitation of the protected white shark.
The most crucial of these operational stipulations (in regard to links between cage diving and shark attacks at nearby bathing beaches) were concerned with limiting cage dive activities to seal islands where natural chumming occurs, and forbidding of any intentional feeding of sharks. Within these and other regulatory confines, DEAT is satisfied they have fulfilled their role in applying the MLR’s act in a responsible, informed and cautious manner with regard to the industries management.
Critics of the industry, however, point out that in addition to ‘optimal utilisation’ the MLRA also stipulates the need to apply a precautionary approach in respect of the management and development of marine living resources. To minimize ecological and behavioural impacts ‘Permit Conditions’ and a ‘Code of Conduct’ have been established.
The regulatory reliance of ‘voluntarily buy in’ by operators has recently been enhanced through the Department of Tourism tasking the Southern Africa Tourism Sevices Association (SATSA) to manage compliance in the adventure tourism sector.
Ultimately compliance will benefit the industry, the white sharks conservation status, and most importantly satisfy tourism demand for shark cage diving experiences in a responsible manner.
As a SATSA member, White Shark Projects (WSP) is a prime example of how sharks fit in with responsible tourism practices. WSP was founded in 1990 as a research and conservation enterprise, and are the financial partner to the South African Shark Conservancy, who research not only white sharks but also other shark species. Fully committed to responsible tourism practices, WSP not only supports the preservation and protection of sharks but also to the growth and upliftment of local communities and the environment in which they operate.
Staff are recruited locally and ongoing training ensures that they remain up skilled and motivated. Employment means they are able to play a positive role in the economy, are able to provide for their families and have a 25% ownership of the company through the WSP Employees Trust.
WSP also conduct tourism and environmental education programmes in Gansbaai schools, which fosters pride and a personal sense of responsibility towards the environment. A flagship White Shark Projects Recycle Swop Shop has been running successfully for over 6 years. On average 85 children visit the swop shop a week and interact with staff and volunteers thus bridging the gap between cultures and communities. A soup kitchen is also held on Swop Shop Days.
For more information visit www.whitesharkprojects.co.za
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