Large numbers of community members will gather at the Aliwal Soal in KZN to raise awareness for the better treatment of sharks. Photo: Ivan van Heerden

For too long sharks have been unfairly portrayed as aquatic villains, with unnecessary fearmongering and human greed leading to the decimation of several shark species to the point of near extinction. In an effort to turn the tide and save this 450-million-year-old underwater inhabitant, all ocean-user groups are encouraged to participate in the sixth annual Paddle Out For Sharks (POFS) event taking place on Saturday, 17 June at 8am.

In support of World Ocean Day’s ‘Our Oceans, Our Future’ celebrated on 8 June, ocean lovers – including surfers, divers, swimmers, anglers, spearfishermen, scuba divers, lifesavers, SUP paddlers, bodyboards, conservation groups and more – will take to the water, leaving all differences ashore, in the hopes of uniting to raise awareness about sharks and the importance of their natural habitat.

“All ocean lovers, conservation and ocean-user groups are invited to join the Paddle Out for Sharks event this Saturday at Scottburgh backline at 8am when we gather as a community to celebrate our local population of sharks on Aliwal Shoal,” commented Shannon Dean on behalf of Shark Angels South Africa. “We need to spread the word that live sharks are worth more than dead sharks as they contribute hugely to sustainable ecotourism. The Sharks of Aliwal Shoal are also instrumental in educating the public through positive outreach programmes and, more importantly, these marine animals are vital for a healthy and thriving ecosystem.”

Drawing on the surfing tradition of ‘paddling out’ in memory of a fallen surfer, POFS acknowledges the millions of sharks that are cruelly decimated every year for sport, as a delicacy or captured in nets across the coastline annually. Their role within the marine ecosystem and, by extension, significance on all terrestrial life, cannot be overlooked any longer.

“The Paddle Out for Sharks platform is excited that beach users and scuba divers will be coming together for the sixth consecutive year to celebrate sharks and marine life in a traditional paddle out,” said Amanda Barratt, Paddle Out for Sharks chairman. “We have, over the years, aligned our Paddle Out For Sharks events with World Oceans Day. While the 2017 event was scheduled to allow many more scuba divers to join us, the message will still be carried through – an ocean without sharks is a scary future for humans.

“We need to come together to challenge perceptions of sharks; we need to learn more about them and share understandings of the very significant ways that they keep our oceans healthy. We also need to take it upon ourselves to make it a healthy ocean for sharks to reside in. This means being more responsible about what we put into the ocean. Using less plastic and recycling plastic is one of the easiest ways every single one of us can make a difference to the health of our oceans.”

The preservation of the ocean and its inhabitants directly affects several residents in the area, for the recreational users as well as those in the tourism industry. Aliwal Shoal has been ranked one of the world’s top 10 dive sites with Protea Banks attracting thousands of international divers every year, all looking to partake in the renowned ‘big animal diving’. Initiatives such as the POFS further strengthen the proposal for the expansion of the Marine Protected Areas.

All ocean lovers will meet at Scottburgh backline on Saturday, 17 June by 8am sharp for the start at 8.15am. Any manner of device – crafts, boards or boats – is welcome. There will be a ceremonial circle at the backline with anyone welcome to speak in support of marine life followed by a moment of silence and scattering of flowers or palm leaves – which participants are encouraged to bring along – as a show of respect for all fallen marine life.