Environment

Trade in shark products

Shark teeth? Cool! Just think how good would they look around your neck, or maybe clipped onto a BCD? Great white shark teeth? Even cooler – the big one, and what harm can it really do to buy a tooth or two? The shark's already dead after all. Anyway, don't they shed teeth all their life? Maybe someone just picked it up off the bottom of the ocean. By Grant Smith Sharklife

Sharks need more protection

Sharks need more protection within the iSimangaliso Wetland Park.

The iSimangaliso Wetland Park was listed as South Africa’s first World Heritage Site in December 1999 in recognition of its superlative natural beauty and unique global values. Sections of the coastline are declared Marine Protected Areas under the Marine Living Resources Act, however, the entire coastline (extending three nautical miles) is declared as being part of the World Heritage Site and was proclaimed as such under the World Heritage Convention Act.

Southern right whales – what we don’t know

Whooooshhhhhh. The sound was explosive even though my head was below water and tightly encased in a 7mm hoody. Startled, I surfaced and looked around to see the remnants of the twin sprays from the blow of a young Southern right whale (Eubalaena australis). By Richard Lomax

I was snorkelling the kelp beds of De Kelders, in Walker Bay near Gansbaai, with two friends looking for Seven-gill sharks. Snorkelling and scuba diving is best in the Cape winters – the water is warmer, the visibility better and between storms the weather and sea are perfect!

Plastic in our seas

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Plastic in the ocean could be breaking down faster than we initially thought! It’s estimated that as much as 10% of the all the plastic produced every year ends up in our oceans. The United Nations estimates that for every square kilometre of ocean there are 46 000 pieces of plastic, killing over a million sea birds and tens of thousands of mammals and turtles every year. By Eric van Gils

A ray of hope for manta rays in Brazil

Dr Andrea Marshall, also known as Queen of the Mantas from the BBC’s 2009 documentary film, has attached a satellite tag to a giant 4m manta ray off the coast of South America. This ambassador for Brazilian Manta ray conservation is the first manta ray in the Southern Atlantic Ocean to be satellite tagged and another first for Marshall, who originally discovered and tagged this second species of manta ray, Manta birostris, in 2009 in Mozambique.

The mysteries of the Manta

It took six years of hard graft, toil and some tears, mainly with limited logistical and financial support and little understanding of, and sympathy for, the cause. Yet from the outset, Californian Andrea Marshall, now Dr. Marshall and recognised aa the world’s leading Manta ray researcher, knew she had made a ground-breaking discovery about one of the oceans’ emblematic species – that there was not one specie of Manta ray, but two clearly different species. By Christopher Bartlett.

Time to take responsibility

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Time to take responsibility

In the ongoing quest to live a greener and more sustainable life, its no use bothering about the other people around you – it all starts much closer to home.

A couple of days ago, I overheard a group of people talking about endangered fish species and what can be ordered at restaurants. Nobody was too sure about Sole and Red roman, but they all knew that Bluefin tuna is off limits due to all the bad publicity. Someone stressed the fact that it's up to us, the consumer, to tell the restaurants that we do not want endangered species on our plates. Yes, that's a good start, I thought. But the thought got invaded with another person stating that it doesn't matter if we tell the restaurants that we will not eat the endangered fish species because the person at the next table doesn’t mind and will enjoy their meal – endangered or not...

Unfortunately that is probably true for most of the green issues. “They don't do it so why must we?” or “if I don't take that the next person will come along and take it any way.” But that got me thinking – it's not about them, it's not about what the next person will do, it's about ourselves. If we start taking responsibility for our own actions, knowing that we are not eating the wrong crayfish or we are recycling, we are slowly but surely taking care of our own footprint. We, the consumer, do have a big say in what one will find on the menus and the shelves. As soon as we start to look at our own actions and see the effect we as individuals have, the picture changes.

Let's take tuna for example. Tuna falls in the family of Scombridae and there are over 48 different tuna species. Of these, the Bluefin tuna are not the only endangered species due to overfishing. The Indian Ocean yellowfin tuna, according to a report by the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF), is also currently being overfished and will continue to be harvested from our oceans until it is labelled as endangered. But while the studies are being done, fishing continues...

These are not the only tuna species being commercially fished. Some of the other species include the Albacore, Bigeye tuna and Blackfin tuna. Greenpeace International added these species to its seafood red list. This is a list of fish that is commonly sold in supermarkets worldwide and may have a high risk of being sourced form unsustainable fisheries – usually associated with by-catch. Something else of great concern. It doesn't matter what method of fishing is used, there is a by-catch of sharks, dolphins, turtles, other non-target fish and sea birds. Even labels on canned tuna saying “dolphin friendly”, can't guarantee that there was no by-catch of the abovementioned fish species. And that is only in the tuna trade. What about another delicacy on our plates, for example prawns? According to the South African Sustainable Seafood Initiative (SASSI), prawn harvesting using trawling methods is one of the fishing sectors with the highest discarded by-catch, estimated at 70%. That means that only 30% of what the trawler nets bring to the surface is used. Trawling involves towing a large net across the seabed or water to catch the fish that live there. This is the most widely used commercial fishing method and also, by far the most destructive. In South Africa, it's not just prawns, but hake and sole that are also harvested in this manner.

But what has all this got to do with us? The guilty parties are the big guys and we cannot do anything about them, right? It is them who are overfishing our waters. Wrong! It is all about economics – supply and demand. As long as there is a demand, for example for tuna, there will be people supplying just that. Even if it means using unsustainable practices – as long as there is money in it for them. That is why we need to take the demand away, or at least decrease it. And that starts with the individual consumer – not the group next to you or 'them', it's the 'I'. Instead of always ordering 1kg of King prawns, start of by ordering it every third time, and then maybe just half a kg. Find out what species are not endangered and stick to those, even though you prefer the species in the red block with the critically endangered sign behind it's name because its taste is just pure heaven. Unfortunately the days of getting everything we want is over. It's time to start looking at our own footprint in a critical way. If we don't we might not have to care about our own footprint in the near future.

 

Thabiso Duda

Oil spills and their effect on the ocean

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From 1970 to 2009, approximately 5,65 million tons of oil has been spilt in marine waters. Oil spilled can be a variety of materials, for example crude oil and refined petroleum products such as diesel fuel or gasoline (statistics only include shipping spills that happened accidently). These figures do not include oil spills of less than 7 000 tonnes, which means that the actual amount of oil spilt up until December 2009 is far more than 5,65 million tons. By Hermien Roelvert

jonathan r. cilley u.s. coast guard marine photobankLuckily, the number of oil spills has declined at a steady pace from 1970 until now. Although this is good news, it's still taking its toll on the marine environment if you think of the strain the ocean has to endure because of other forms of pollution (such as sewage and toxic waste) and over fishing or climate change...