The critical role of the KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board in enabling beach tourism

Executive summary

The KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board provides protection against shark attack at 37 beaches between Richards Bay and Port Edward. This is achieved by fishing for sharks directly off the beaches, using large-mesh gillnets or baited drumlines or both, thereby reducing the likelihood of a dangerous shark encountering humans. In KZN, the introduction of bather protection gear has reduced the incidence of unprovoked shark attack at protected beaches by 100%. This is in marked contrast to shark attacks in both the Eastern and Western Capes, which have continued to increase every decade. The annual contribution of tourism to the economy of KZN is approximately R10bn and employs 200,000 people. Although not all is attributable to coastal tourism, the majority of infrastructure in the province is associated with coastal resorts. Beach tourism is a major attraction, which is only made possible through the activities of the KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board bather protection programme in providing public confidence in the safety of KZN beaches against shark attack. The cost of the KZN Sharks Board operations is less than 1% of the revenue generated by tourism in the province making it an extremely cost-effective programme. South Africa and KZNs tourism industry have been decimated by the COVID19 pandemic. KwaZulu-Natal Tourism is compiling a Tourism Recovery Plan in a bid to limit the damage suffered by the industry due to the pandemic and lockdown. For this plan to succeed the KZN Sharks Board bather protection becomes even more critical. Without the KZN Sharks Board, the recovery of the tourism sector would be impossible resulting in economic catastrophe.

Origin and operations of the KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board

Shark nets were first deployed off Durban in 1952 to reduce the risk of shark attack by catching and removing potentially dangerous sharks. The objective of the nets is to catch those species of sharks, which are regarded as potentially dangerous. Of these, three species are believed to have been responsible for most attacks, the bull (Zambezi) shark (Carcharhinus leucas), the great white shark (Carcharodon carcharias) and the tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier).

The program off Durban was extended to many of the popular bathing beaches along the coast of KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) during the 1960s as a result of continued attacks in non-netted regions. These attacks caused the collapse of the KZN tourism industry and the inception of the Natal Anti-Shark Measures Board in 1964 (renamed the KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board in 2008). By 1992 a total of 44 beaches were protected with 44.6 km of nets between Richards Bay (28º48′S, 32º06′E) and Mzamba (31º05′S, 30º11′E). The majority of nets currently used in the programme are approximately 213.5 m long and 6.3 m deep

with a stretched mesh of 51 cm. All nets are set parallel to,

 and approximately 300–500 m from, the shore in a water depth of 10–14 m

 (Figure 1).