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Great white sharks are disappearing from Western Cape coast

Kogelberg fishers are deploying underwater cameras to film great white sharks. AP

Kogelberg fishers are deploying underwater cameras to film great white sharks. AP

Published Jul 18, 2020

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Cape Town  - NEW research has found that great white sharks continue to disappear along parts of the Western Cape coast. The larger seven-gill shark will be key to promoting marine conservation in the Kogelberg area and beyond as it moves into the great white’s old haunts.

“Should fishing pressure or habitat degradation intensify, these “umbrella” sharks could be used to promote Marine Protected Areas (MPA) for the conservation of a variety of the endemic species that make South African oceans unique,” explained lead author Geoffrey Osgood in a new research paper.

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Two scientific papers were published with the help of the local fishing community of Kogelberg who contributed towards a landmark study on the unique catsharks in South African waters.

Researchers that published these scientific papers were Geoffrey Osgood, Meaghen McCord and Julia Baum.

The stretch of coastline where the study was done - in Betty’s Bay, Pringle Bay, Kleinmond and Hermanus - is a hot spot of marine biodiversity and is home to more than 60 species of sharks and rays.

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“Researchers found that South Africa’s unique catsharks, such as pyjama and puffadder sharks and the larger seven-gill shark have a strong liking to habitats used by many marine species, making them perfect to focus conservation efforts,” said Osgood.

Larger sharks such as copper or gully sharks were largely missing from the footage they gathered for research, possibly due to historical fisheries targeting these species.

Smaller endemic shark species such as pyjama and puffadder sharks were thriving in kelp and reef habitats.

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“The spread of the broadnose seven-gill shark into former white shark hot spots foreshadows a future for this larger, charismatic species as a flagship in the lucrative shark-related tourism industry of the country,” added Osgood.

Fishers had helped deploy baited remote underwater video systems (Bruvs), since 2017.

These systems are non-destructive techniques used globally to study marine predators, both inside and outside the Betty’s Bay MPA.

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Bruvs footage showed insight to which habitats need protecting in such MPAs, discovering that a few sharks and rays prefer seemingly barren sandy and muddy sites over complex reefs.

The Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries said small-scale fishers contribute to species exported for international markets such as East Coast Rock Lobster and West Coast Rock Lobster which are destined for exports.

“Small-scale fishers mainly fish to meet food and basic livelihood needs. They further provide entrepreneurial and job opportunities to community members in the value chain such as cleaning of fish, supply to local fish shops and local restaurants,” said the department’s spokesperson Zolile Nqayi.

He said the declared fishers in Northern Cape, Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal were organised into small-scale fishing co-operatives.

“For Western Cape, the department is in the process of registering small-scale fishing co-operatives that will be allocated fishing rights,” he said.

Weekend Argus

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