By Andy Cobb
The change of government in South Africa also resulted in various amendments to the country's
The discussion of a new law was given preference in public hearings and later submitted to
various interested bodies for comment before going to Parliament. For the first time, this
procedure also led to marine aspects being legally anchored in tourism laws. Environmental
tourism plays an important role in South Africa. Especially cage diving with white sharks
(Carcharodon carcharias) which predominates in the region of Gansbaai (approx. 120 kilometers
southeast of Cape Town) and diving with sand tiger sharks (Carcharias taurus) in the region of
Durban represent important centers of this branch of tourism. One very significant legal
regulation for these diving activities stipulates that the animals may in no way be impaired
or even injured. The government office responsible for such a law is the Marine Coastal
Management (MCM). This office also allocates and controls licenses and is responsible for
ensuring that licensees observe the respective guidelines (Code of Conduct) prescribing how
wild animals are to be treated.
Cage diving with white sharks
(Carcharodon carcharias) is one of South Africa's tourist
© Klaus Jost / Shark Foundation
When it comes to establishing guidelines, the Aliwal Shoal diving grounds in Umkomaas off the
coast of Kwa Zulu in Natal represents a problematic region (also see Shark
Several years ago this region enjoyed worldwide fame thanks to its high density of sand tiger
sharks (Carcharias taurus), one of the few species of large sharks which interrupt their
migrations to remain in certain locations for longer periods of time. Due to the increasing
pressure put on their populations by divers, coupled with their periodical tendency to stay in
one area, more and more disturbances have been registered in their natural behavior.
Encroachment of their natural habitat was the direct consequence, made even worse by the fact
that diving businesses began to lure tiger sharks (Galeocerdo Cuvier) into the same region
with food. Both tiger sharks and sand tiger sharks thus turned into an important tourist
attraction in which the financial aspect began to play a major role. And this
commercialization is precisely why it is imperative to only allow a restricted and controlled
form of diving in this region. Two aspects became vital: first it was important to prevent
the sand tiger sharks from being disturbed too strongly in their natural behavior, and second,
accidents wth tiger sharks had to be avoided at all costs.
A sand tiger shark (Carcharias taurus)
in the Aliwal Shoal reef.
These increasing conflicts led to an open discussion between the different interest groups and
MCM's management on August 18, 2001. All interest groups were allowed to speak their mind and
either support or oppose shark feeding in Aliwal Shoal waters. The MCM decided that these
activities had to be regulated and in a first phase they worked out different regulations
which then had to be tested. One initial requirement called for all involved diving tour
businesses to log their excursions so as to determine how many divers actually visited the
Aliwal Shoal region. In addition, a fee was introduced which differentiated between commercial
suppliers and leisure time sportsmen. Since - from a diving point of view - this region was
considered a more demanding area, any form of diving instructions was prohibited in order to
prevent the sand tiger sharks from being even more strongly affected by unauthorized divers.
One major aspect was the restriction placed on luring tiger sharks with bait closer than a
radius of one kilometer around the actual Aliwal Shoal.
An additional step to help eliminate disturbances to sand tiger shark populations is to
educate representatives of diving companies in biology. Those who want to continue making
diving excursions to sharks would have to attend courses in shark biology, on the one hand to
enable them to provide diving tourists with the necessary information, and on the other to be
better informed themselves. Those who conduct diving excursions must be capable of recognizing
possible changes in a shark's behavior and responding accordingly. Such training is based on
the Tourism Hospitality Sports Education Training Act (THETA), the umbrella organization for
the education of tour leaders in South Africa. The first meeting between THETA and the already
completely trained shark divers, took place at the end of September 2001 in Cape Town and was
sanctioned by local diving associations. The meeting's objective was to establish training
guidelines to be fulfilled by divers in order for them to receive authorization as official
THETA Shark Tour Guides.
The new government of South Africa succeeded in giving sharks the official status of marine
"tourism species", a status already enjoyed by whales and seals which makes it possible to
legally control tourism activities with these animals. From now on, disturbing these animals
in their habitat must be reduced to a minimum and quick action is guaranteed should further
protective measures become necessary.
Under the new law, Aliwal Shoal becomes an officially recognized nature reserve as of 2002.
* Andrew C. R. Cobb iis a prominent shark protector
in South Africa.
May be published only by indicating the source: Shark Info / Andy Cobb