On sight early in the morning at Fish Hoek beach are the Shark Spotters net crew, guided by Field Manager Valentino (Tino) Simmerie, pushing a trailer with the deployment boat into the ocean. The team is synchronized, working together to lift the boat off the trailer and into the water. Moments later, certified skippers Lochaan Koeries and Marwaan Isaaks, and two crew men are on full throttle cutting through the waves and heading off to the other end of Fish Hoek beach. Along the beach the rest of the team unwind the 400 meters shark exclusion net and pull it into the water beyond the breakers where they hand it to the team on the boat. The net is pulled by the boat on 1000 revs, with no steering, to the connection point on Jaggers Walk, where the team tugs the wet and heavy rope and anchors the net in place.
This might read like it is laborious work, and it is. The dedicated net crew repeats these steps in reverse in the evenings and return the next day, if the conditions are safe, to start the process again. A decade has passed now with this environmentally friendly exclusion net being the first shark barrier that has minimal impact on marine biodiversity.
THE IDEA AND THE TRIAL PERIOD
The shark exclusion net has been supported by the City of Cape Town who has been an integral stakeholder in the processes that led up to the net being approved at Fish Hoek beach. The exclusion net was conceived after two fatal and one serious non-fatal shark incident at Fish Hoek beach between 2004 and 2012. Despite the spotting programme working effectively in the area, it was felt that additional safety measures needed to be introduced, particularly at the Western end of the beach, where a deep channel and thick kelp bed made detecting a white shark’s movement more challenging. The morphology was ideal for a barrier that limited shark movement nearshore and made it easier to track shark movements parallel to the net. In March 2013, trials to test the efficacy of the exclusion net as a shark safety measure commenced and took place over a 14-month period with 130 deployments. The trials ended in May 2014, and were so successful that operations have continued ever since.
MONITORING FOR LOW IMPACT
The exclusion net has been a key feature of the spring and summer seasons at Fish Hoek beach, with over 1000 deployments to date. The public are alerted about the net on the Shark Spotters’ social media platforms, Facebook, and X, as well as through the Shark Spotters app which is under development. Further, Fish Hoek beach visitors can know the status of the net by a yellow flag flying below the shark spotters’ flag, an indication that the net has been successfully deployed.
Daily deployment and retrieval of the exclusion net ensure that if there are any animal entanglements, they are attended to immediately, and removing the net at night ensures that it poses no threat to marine life when spotters are not on duty to monitor it. Furthermore, the net is designed to be adaptable to changing weather conditions unlike traditional exclusion barriers, which saves a considerable amount of money on repairs from storm damage. Read more about lethal shark nets, traditional barrier nets and the unique net in Fish Hoek here.
THE NET CREW
The net crew is made up of 10 previously unemployed youth from Ocean View, an under-resourced community in Cape Town. To perform the tasks required to deploy the net, it takes being in good physical health and having strong determination.
“You need to be passionate about what you do,” says Field Manager, Tino Simmerie, “but you also need to be passionate about people and have deep respect for your teammates… We work closely with the Fish Hoek community. We are always there when the lifeguards or law enforcement need assistance. If there are any local activities taking place, we are there to lend a helping hand. We pride ourselves in working collaboratively with everyone and understand everyone we are working with so that we can produce the best work.”
The net crew will deploy the net in the calmest of conditions with ease and must make an executive decision about deploying the net in poor conditions. Depending on the swell, the wind and other environmental conditions, the crew prioritizes their safety first before conducting the work. As such they closely monitor the weather, and physically assess the conditions at the beach.
The Shark Spotters hope to continue serving False Bay’s coastal communities, while ensuring that sharks and people coexist.
None of the work done is possible without the unwavering support from funders and partners, such as the City of Cape Town, Save Our Seas Foundation, Yamaha Marine, De Beers and Bulk SMS. Their support enables Shark Spotters to celebrate a decade of successful deployments, and beach goers who are safer, despite the drop in white shark sightings and increase in bronze whaler sightings.
MEET THE FACES BEHIND FISH HOEKS EXCLUSION NET: