Mixed views over plan for PE shark cage diving
A lively mix of criticism and praise hallmarked a hot debate over shark cage diving at a packed auditorium at Port Elizabeth’s Bayworld Museum complex last night.
The Bay’s first tour operator to be awarded the rights to cage diving in Algoa Bay faced both his detractors and his fans.
Marine environmentalist and longtime tour operator Lloyd Edwards, of Raggy Charters, announced earlier this month that he had been awarded the rights – along with another as yet unidentified Bay-based operator – to conduct tours to Algoa Bay’s Bird Island for cage diving.
This is the first time the controversial tourist activity has been mooted for Port Elizabeth’s shores.
Opponents of shark cage diving assert that the practice attracts more sharks to the area, and are particularly against chumming, which is often used to attract sharks to a dive site.
Proponents, however, refute this and point to the benefits, such as tourism revenue and job creation.
We will only be diving one out of every three days and we have yet to decide whether we will be using chumming.Lloyd Edwards
But while Edwards has secured the rights to run the operation, he revealed last night that he has yet to secure the actual permit.
Last night’s event – which kicked off with an informative presentation on the Bay’s ragged tooth shark population by leading shark expert Dr Malcolm Smale – saw Edwards laying out his plans and attempting to allay fears around the activity, before opening the floor to both some grilling and some praise.
“This is just the beginning of the process. We will be sitting down with people such as those from SANParks [which runs the marine protected area in which the diving is to take place] to iron out all the issues,” he said.
Edwards said the operation would be conducted about 65km from the city’s swimming beaches and therefore presented no danger to swimmers and other water users.
He also said juvenile great white sharks would form the bulk of the sharks to be observed and that tours would be limited to small groups.
“We will only be diving one out of every three days and we have yet to decide whether we will be using chumming.
“This will now present the opportunity to actually see the Big Seven – which is beyond the Big Five and obviously includes whales and the great white shark.
“We think this will bring big advantages to the Bay and a new iconic attraction for tourists, among other benefits such as research and education,” he said.
Smale said he believed it would have little impact on residents due to the distance from the beaches.
“If it is controlled and handled and managed appropriately, there should be very little impact from this.”
Others in the audience were adamant that the diving activity would ultimately be a safety risk.
Another marine environmentalist and tour operator, Rainer Schimpf, said: “I don’t have a problem with this, but I really think that it should not be taking place in Port Elizabeth (Algoa Bay).”