By Caryn Dolley and Sapa
A plan to ban scuba diving and snorkelling along most of the Cape coast is "ridiculous" and "will slowly but surely kill these recreational sports", outraged enthusiasts said on Tuesday.
The ban has been proposed by Environmental Affairs Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk in a further effort to protect the country's fast-diminishing perlemoen (abalone) stocks.
The envisaged prohibition, subject to a process of public comment, will take effect from February 1, Department of Environmental Affairs spokesperson Mava Scott said.
The suspension of commercial perlemoen fishing will come into effect on the same date.
The only area in which scuba diving and snorkelling will be allowed will be from Olifantsbos to Scarborough.
Jack van der Schyff, owner of Jack's Dive Chest, when told about the ban, said: "Now he's pushing his bans into our areas. Where do we go in the end? He is slowly but surely killing these recreational sports and the tourist diving industry.
"We'll probably end up sitting with our diving gear and nothing to do."
Co-owner of Dive Courses and Charters, Peter Labuschagne, said the proposed ban would be extremely damaging to the industry.
"We've done nothing but promote environmental awareness," he said. "We're one of the few industries that make our clients aware of the underwater environment. I can't see why the government is damaging our industry. It's a ridiculous ban."
He didn't see the point of banning diving in certain areas.
"The poaching problem is probably just going to get bigger. The demand for perlemoen will increase and poachers will find a way to go about their business," he said.
Skender Pedro of Table Bay Diving said a ban "would have a very bad effect on the diving industry" and Paul Hanekom of the Research Dive Unit at the University of Cape Town said he understood Van Schalkwyk banning scuba diving in poaching hotspots but the area around Dyer Island was popular for shark diving.
"This is going to cause a huge outcry. It's going to be a major issue in the shark-diving industry. (Van Schalkwyk) should either stop poachers or recreational divers, not both," he said.
Scott said all comments on the proposed ban would be considered before a decision was taken.
The areas in which diving may be prohibited include:
Bird Island Marine Protected Area; Quoin Point to Danger Point (from the west bank of the Ratel River along the coast to the eastern boundary of Gansbaai Harbour's main breakwater wall and extending two nautical miles seaward from the high-water mark); Dyer Island (extending one nautical mile from the high-water mark); Venus Pool to Olifantsbos (extending two nautical miles seaward from the high-water mark) and Robben Island (extending one nautical mile from the high-water mark).
The legislation will ban the use of certain equipment - including underwater breathing gear, masks, flippers and snorkels - within listed areas.
Scott said interested parties had until 4pm on January 15 to comment on the matter. Comments may be faxed to 021 402-3009 or emailed to Rpersad@deat.gov.za.