Don’t mess Algoa Bay up, dive tourists caution against fish farm
Foreign dive tourists enjoying an excursion in Algoa Bay this week have spoken out against the proposed fish farm which, they warn, will ruin a unique, internationally-renowned dive venue.
Kitted in state-of-the-art gear and carrying underwater cameras worth hundreds of thousands of rands, the divers from Singapore, Thailand, the Ukraine and Switzerland spoke to Weekend Post early on Wednesday before setting off for the Bell Buoy reef 2km off Pollok Beach with Pro Dive, Port Elizabeth’s biggest dive operator.
Their views were aired as the first round of the new effort by the department of agriculture, forestry and fisheries to establish an aquaculture development zone in Algoa Bay came to a close with concerned parties required to assimilate and comment on the 629-page project report by April 30.
The department says the fish farm could create up to 1,060 jobs and uplift the local economy but critics have questioned the value of this figure without comparison against jobs that would be lost in the tourism sector, and why this promised cost-benefit analysis has not been done.
Further concerns have been raised about the load of faeces and uneaten food that would wash up on beaches, the often difficult conditions in the bay, and the dangerous great white sharks that would be attracted into a watersport zone.
Tiffany Ng, 35, from Singapore, said she had come to SA to enjoy the famous sardine run and the best points to access this phenomenon – which sees giant bait balls of sardines being preyed on by marine predators – were via Port Elizabeth or Port St Johns.“Port Elizabeth is the better of these two options because the reefs here are beautiful and there are nice beaches for a surf when you’re not diving.”Scuba diving in Algoa Bay was different from diving in Asia, she said.“In Asia there is over-fishing, a lot of bleaching of the reefs – where they are starving because climate change has forced them to expel the algae they live on – and a lot of trash.“Here the sea is healthier, there is more diversity and a lot more marine animals.”Ng said the supporters of the Algoa Bay fish farm project who believed it would help conserve wild fish stocks should consider the situation in Canada where it was now recognised that sea lice from fish farms were escaping and infecting juvenile wild salmon.Nihal Friedal, 37, also from Singapore, said their experience of fish farms in Asian waters was not good.“They make the surrounding water dirty, the pollution chokes everything and the local ecosystem dies.”Saruta Luangjama, 36, from Thailand, said she had come to Port Elizabeth to participate in Ironman in April and was back to enjoy the sardine run and diving with harmless raggedtooth sharks at Bell Buoy.Luangjama, who helped coordinate the visit by the 30strong Asian group, said “ecotravelling” was a growing activity among people from the East with a yearning to interact with the natural environment.“The fish farm will not be good. My concerns include the antibiotics they treat the cage fish with, because they can escape into the open sea. They also impact on the healthiness of farmed fish which will be sold to people to eat.“I am also worried about your endangered penguins if the reefs are polluted and the fish they eat move away.”Maria Liashenko, 30, from the Ukraine, said: “The fish farm will . . . have a negative effect on the environment.”Martina Rechsteiner, 25, from Switzerland, said: “It would ruin diving here if this fish farm went ahead.”Pro Dive boss Louis van Aardt said his company hosted between 500 and 700 foreign divers a year, and the benefits were widespread. “The spending and job creation are huge.”Eastern Cape Ancestral Sea Harvesters CEO Chris Jordaan said he would like to see local job-creation as the centrepiece of the fish farm project if it was approved.“Local people can be employed to manufacture the cages and the fish feed.”He was not convinced the farm would cause problems. “With the I&J pilot fin fish farm that was run 10 years ago north of the harbour, we never saw an issue with dangerous sharks being attracted to swimming zones, or damage to reefs.”