A risky swim to raise awareness about the dwindling number of Great White Sharks
Share this article:
Cape Town - A Stellenbosch man swam to and from Dyer Island in Gansbaai to raise awareness of the diminishing numbers of great White Sharks.
Wildlife conservationist De Wet du Toit believes he is the first person to successfully swim the 7.7km swim, and the reason this has never been done before is because of the association the island has with great white sharks.
He said great white shark numbers have dwindled in recent years, and they are hoping that by completing the swim, it will assist in raising awareness of the decrease of the species in the country’s coastal waters.
He said they believe that now is the time to implement some changes to marine management policies, changes which would assist in the recovery of this magnificent keystone species.
“The great white not only plays a huge role in regulating the marine ecosystem, but it has, in addition, successfully fuelled our eco-tourism industry for many years. The white shark is as iconic to South Africa as the lion is,” said Du Toit.
He said this was a carefully planned attempt that took their safety and the status of the declining population of sharks into account.
He said more people died as a result of drowning than being killed by sharks.
Du Toit said sharks, like spiders and snakes, occupy an irrational fear segment of people’s imaginations which exaggerate the risk which sharks pose.
“I am not immune to this irrational way of thinking either. It is very humane. I had to experience the effects of this irrational segment of my imagination while preparing for this swim. This is exactly why I chose to do this swim. I knew that doing this swim would draw attention,” he said.
He said he prepared by swimming in rough seas and depriving himself of any heat, and exposed himself to the worst footage of shark encounters while getting ready.
“After completing it, I felt amazing, content and happy. I could've done a few more kilometres, but I felt relieved that my mission was completed. We're in this to protect the animals. It's what we live for and what we're prepared to die for, so knowing that everything went according to plan was huge for me and for us,” he said.
Du Toit said they want to use that attention to change people’s attitudes towards sharks. He said sharks all over the world are in deep trouble. Human pressures are driving them to extinction.
He said their most important outcome for the documentary which they are making is to apply pressure on the Kwazulu-Natal government to remove the archaic shark culling nets on the east coast of South Africa.
“The government uses illegal gill nets to kill thousands and thousands and thousands of protected sharks, dolphins, turtles and fish. Many of these are barely juveniles,” he said.
Marine Dynamics Shark and Whale Tours chief executive Wilfred Chivell said they have been studying for nearly two decades in the area.
“White sharks are a vulnerable species and all efforts should be made to protect them. South Africa was the first country to protect them but they do face many pressures,” said Chivell.