Bay shark attack prevention project to get fresh funding

A STALLED research project that could cut the chances of shark attacks off Port Elizabeth’s beaches could soon be on again.

The Algoa Bay great white shark research project came to a halt a few weeks ago, with researchers saying they were owed R300 000 for work spanning seven months.

But more money from the Nelson Mandela Bay municipality could result in its relaunch.

Before the research stalled, the data showed there had been a significant increase in white shark activity in the Bay between 2011 and the end of last year.

Earlier this month, pro surfer Mick Fanning escaped a great white shark encounter at the World Surf League’s Jeffreys Bay Open. Only days before, two shark attacks were reported along the Garden Route.

Only days before‚ two shark attacks were reported along the Garden Route

The project, spearheaded by Bayworld Centre for Research and Education marine biologist and shark expert Dr Matt Dicken, was the first of its kind in the Eastern Cape.

Dicken said that lack of payment had put a strain on the project.

“This is a specialist field and we are among the few that can actually conduct it. We are out of pocket and have been in contact with the metro regarding the lack of payment,” he said.

“All invoices have been submitted several times over the past months and we have informed them that they are crippling what has the potential to be a world-class project.”

Dicken said he was in discussion with the metro regarding the lack of payment and hoped that it would soon be finalised.

“Shark researchers and policymakers worldwide agree that this type of research is the key to mitigating the chance of shark attacks,” he said.

Municipal spokesman Mthubanzi Mniki said the municipality hoped the project would resume soon following the approval of another three-year contract.

“There is a council resolution that the project should continue,” Mniki said.

“However, at the time the resolution was taken, there were insufficient funds to cover the project as the resolution was subject to funds being available.

“So the project was put on hold.

“However, funds have now been set aside and the project is expected to resume in this new financial year once all the supply chain management requirements have been met.”

Mniki failed to say when the outstanding funds would be paid or give an expected date as to when the project would resume.

The project, commissioned by the municipality in 2011, enables marine biologists and experts to analyse data on sharks.

The data can be used for a variety of purposes, including the implementation of measures to prevent shark attacks, identifying hot-spot areas, and ensuring bathing beaches are safe.

To date, researchers have established that the waters around Bird Island are home to a large number of white sharks, mainly due to the adjacent outcrop, called Black Rock, being home to about 2 000 Cape fur seals.

Another fact that has emerged is that white sharks in the Bay are between 2.5m to 3m compared with the 5m adults found in the Western Cape.

Since 2011, a total of 72 white sharks have been tagged with acoustic trackers to monitor their locations in the Bay and also compile a photo library.

Mniki said the project was important due to the increasing number of watersport events in the Bay.

“The safety of participants in such events – and of the normal swimmers – needs to be safeguarded,” he said.

“It is prudent that the municipality be proactive to protect the public who use the sea for bathing and other recreational activities.”

WHAT the municipality’s beaches, resorts and events management hope to get from the Algoa Bay great white shark research project are:

  • Establishing a population estimate of white sharks within Algoa Bay;
  • Monitoring trends along popular bathing beaches through acoustic tagging and identifying “hot-spot” areas;
  • Establishing a white shark management, recreational safety and tourism plan;
  • Determining whether Algoa Bay is an important nursery or pupping habitat;
  • Better understanding the white shark’s role in the ecosystem and monitoring contemporary changes in distribution; and
  • Obtaining data important to long-term shark management and conservation
 – Gareth Wilson

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