Beach Tourism Research
The critical role of the KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board in enabling beach tourism
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: Graphical images of a typical net and drumline configuration utilised by the KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board.
An initiative to reduce the total amount of nets was commenced in 1999, as part of ongoing efforts to minimise the catch of harmless animals. In 2019, there were less than 15 km of nets (66 % reduction) at 37 beaches (Figure 2). The majority of nets have been replaced with drumlines, which are anchored adjacent to the nets and consist of a single Mustad 4480DT 14/0 J hook suspended 4 m beneath a large float (Dudley et al. 1998; Cliff and Dudley 2011). The hooks are baited with either southern rover Emmelichthys nitidus or jacopever species (Scorpaenidae), both a bycatch in the demersal trawl fishery. There are currently 165 drumlines deployed along the coast.
Figure 2: Beaches with bather protection gear on the coast of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. White stars indicate installations that were permanently removed during the period 1978–2019. Inset shows the locality of the netted region in relation to southern Africa.
Success of the KwaZulu-Natal sharks Board in preventing shark attacks
Although shark attacks are relatively infrequent, they attract a high level of media response due to the emotional response of the public. Given that South Africa is well known for its warm climate, beach culture, the popularity of water related activities and has 2,500 km of coastline it is perhaps not surprising that is has a relatively high rate of shark attack.
Records of shark attacks in South Africa have been recorded from as early as the mid 1800’s. However, it was only after the establishment of the International Shark attack file (ISAF) in 1958, that shark attacks were investigated in detail. The KZN Sharks Board was appointed the official curator of the South African shark attack file in 1974.
Shark attacks can be categorised as either unprovoked, or provoked. An unprovoked attack is defined in the ISAF as incidents where an attack on a live human occurs in the shark’s natural habitat with no human provocation of the shark e.g. swimming or surfing. Provoked attacks occur when a human initiates interaction with a shark in some way. These include instances when divers are bitten after harassing or trying to touch sharks, attacks on spearfishers, attacks on people attempting to feed sharks, bites occurring while unhooking or removing a shark from a fishing net, and so forth. These provoked attacks have been excluded from analysis contained in this report.
Globally the number of shark attacks is increasing, a trend which is attributed to a greater number of people entering the water. A similar trend is evident is South Africa, which has experienced 394 recorded unprovoked attacks, the majority of which have occurred since the 1940’s. Of these 90 have been fatal.
During the first half of the 20th century, in South Africa, the majority of shark attacks were recorded off the coast of KwaZulu-Natal. Indeed, it was the high number of attacks and the collapse of the local tourism industry, which resulted in the deployment of nets to capture sharks. Since the deployment of the first nets off Durban, and expansion of the KZN Sharks Board operations the number of attacks has continually decreased along the KZN coastline. This is in marked contrast, to both the Eastern and Western Capes where attacks have continued to increase (Figure 3). These contrasting trends clearly highlight the effectiveness of the KZN Sharks Board bather protection program in providing protection from shark attack. Without the KZN Sharks Board programme it is highly likely that the shark population would slowly increase, eventually resulting in a fatal shark attack and economic catastrophe.
Figure 3: Unprovoked shark attack trends per decade, for each South African coastal province from 1940 to 2019.
The declining shark attack trend in KZN is for the entire province, not just for the beaches protected by the KZN bather protection program. This suggests the program has had a cumulative effect, providing a safer environment for water users beyond just protected beaches. When we examine shark attacks at only protected beaches their effects are even more pronounced with only 27 attacks, none of which have been fatal, in 67 years since their inception. (Figure 4). In the last 20 years there have been only two incidents, none of which has resulted in any injury. These incidents involved a surfer and a body boarder who simply got bumped by sharks.
Figure 4: Unprovoked shark attack trends per decade, at only beaches with KwaZulu-Natal bather protection gear from 1940 to 2019.
Economic benefit of the KwaZulu-Natal bather protection programme
Shark attacks negatively impact on local business and tourism. This was dramatically evident when nine attacks in a 4-month period along the KZN coastline between December 1957 and April 1958 resulted in the near collapse of the regions tourism industry. Similarly, the recent spate of shark attacks in the last two decades in the Western and Eastern Capes, especially at Port Johns have seen the numbers of bathers, surfers and other water users dramatically decline. These attacks have also seen a negative effect on the number of members at local lifesaving clubs. The economic impacts of shark attacks have been seen in countries around the world. Between 1992 and 2004 some 45 shark attacks, 13 of them fatal occurred off the beaches of Recife, Brazil, a location popular for surfing and bathing. These attacks were estimated to reduce tourism to the state of Pernambuco by between 3 and 10 per cent, amounting to losses of approximately USD20m. In Australia, the hotel comparison site trivago.com identified a decline in searches of up to 30 per cent for places impacted by shark sightings, beach closures and attacks. Similarly, shark attacks in La Reunion have been catastrophic for their tourism industry resulting in the closure of local beach cafes, surf schools, restaurants and hotels.
It is estimated by the World Travel and Tourism Council that SA’s tourism industry provided jobs for more than 700 000 people in 2018 year and contributed in the region of R139 billion Rands (2.8% of GDP). In KwaZulu-Natal, tourism is one of the most important economic sectors employing approximately 200,000 people and contributing almost R10 billion Rands to GDP. 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. As such, the income generated through tourism more than compensates for the financial cost (approximately R109 million Rands) of the KZN Sharks Board program, of which 30% is covered by municipal meshing fees. Indeed, the cost of the 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 an economic catastrophe and the loss of over 200,000 jobs.
Additional benefits of the KwaZulu-Natal bather protection programme
The KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board offers a multi-faceted service in addition to the basic maintenance of shark nets. These include, in addition to its economic benefits through the prevention of shark attack:
- Achievement of economic growth, human resource development and employment creation.
- Highly trained Operations and Research staff, which enable the collection of an invaluable dataset to monitor species populations trends.
- Minimal impact to the marine environment through continued efforts to reduce the length of nets deployed and the catch of harmless animals.
- Publication of valuable scientific papers for research
- Maintenance of the South African Shark Attack File, which is a component of the International Shark Attack File. The KZNSB also advises countries with shark attack problems.
- Staff sit on various provincial and national committees, which address matters ranging from coastal zone policy development to the management of commercial shark fisheries.
- As one of the few institutions conducting marine biological research in KZN, the KZNSB is frequently asked to advise on issues related to the marine environment.
- Provision of a public “edutainment” facility, consisting of a modem audio-visual presentation in a large auditorium, a shark dissection accompanied by live commentary, static displays and even a curio shop offering high quality-products.
- An extensive educational outreach and community development program throughout not only KZN, but South Africa.
- Film companies regularly include the KZNSB in documentaries referring to sharks and/or to KZN tourism and members of the organization are interviewed by journalists and writers on a regular basis. The KZNSB uses these opportunities to convey its philosophy of providing safe bathing in an environmentally sustainable manner and to convey a respect of, and appreciation for, sharks, rather than fear and hatred.
- The development of an electrical shark repellent device known as the Shark Repellent Cable (SRC), using generous funding from the Department of Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs. The SRC has the potential to provide a global non-lethal alternative to nets and drumlines in protecting water users from shark attack.