Effective conservation of our natural resources depends on having adequately trained people with the passion and skills necessary to protect our fragile environment. At Shark Spotters, we focus on employing individuals from disadvantaged communities in our operating areas and providing skills development and training opportunities to create “Marine Conservation Ambassadors”. Through this training the team not only actively works to conserve our environment on a daily basis through our shark safety services, but they also share their knowledge about marine conservation with the public on a daily basis, fostering understanding and awareness of the importance of protecting our oceans through ongoing educational outreach.
Training happens on a continuous basis, both “on the job” while the spotters are working in the field, as well as on dedicated training days throughout the year. In December 2019 we hosted a fun and interactive training day for the team at our Info Centre on Muizenberg beach, with invited speakers sharing knowledge with the team on a range of topics including:
Given the changes in shark activity seen in False Bay over the last two years it is imperative that the spotters have a good understanding of the intricacies of predator-prey relationships and the impact of removing top predators from the marine ecosystem. Research Manager Tamlyn Engelbrecht took the team through the changing abundance and distribution of different shark species in the bay, the impact of the arrival of shark-eating orcas, other possible drivers behind the absence of white sharks and the possible long term changes we may see if the sharks do not return.
Spotters are often the first to observe emergency situations at sea, whether it be a water-user in distress or a whale carcass floating offshore, and therefore it is important that they are able to quickly and accurately direct response vessels to the incident scene on the water.
Mike Geddes, the Coastwatch Coordinator for National Sea Rescue Institute Station 10 – Simonstown, taught the spotters how to read a compass and give a bearing for rescue services. They also learnt how to identify different marine distress signals and activate and coordinate emergency responses.
Every year we run a refresher for the team on what to do in the unfortunate event of a shark bite on one of our beaches. This includes first aid response, activating emergency services, crowd and traffic control, dealing with media etc. This year we had a particular focus on the contents of our new “shark attack kits”, teaching the spotters how and when to use the contents for bites affecting different parts of the body.
The spotters are fortunate to see a number of different shark species from their lookout spots. Having not seen a white shark for over a year, we used drone footage collected here in Cape Town and in Australia to look for the distinguishing features, with particular emphasis on comparing white sharks and bronze whalers
Being a spotter is a challenging job, not only due to the pressure of performing “life-saving” services but also due to its lonely nature, as the spotters work alone on the mountain, only getting together as a team a couple of times a year. Ashley Heese from Waves for Change conducted a 1.5-hour workshop with the team focusing on promoting positive mental wellbeing, both in the work and home environment and the importance of taking time to ensure we are mentally and physically happy and healthy.
While the spotters’ main focus is always on predators in the ocean, we often forget that they spend the majority of their time in the mountain and that they frequently encounter terrestrial predators that also pose a potential threat to people.
Tracey Bodington from the Cape Point Reptile Rehabilitation Centre hosted an engaging and interactive session with the team on snake identification and awareness. The spotters were taught how to identify the venomous snakes we have in the area, what to do in case of a snake bite, and the importance of snakes to the terrestrial environment and why they should be conserved and not killed. There were many parallels with the fears associated with sharks and the spotters were able to overcome some of these fears by handling the non-venomous snakes brought along for the show.
Overall the spotters had a wonderful day of learning and skills development through practical and interactive activities. Combined with a Christmas lunch at Oven-Baked it was a great way to end off another successful year at Shark Spotters and prepare ourselves for the busy festive season ahead.
Many thanks to all the trainers for making themselves available and to Prudential South Africa for providing funding to cover the costs for the day.