On Friday, October 22, Dewet du Toit from Stellenbosch became the first person to successfully swim the 7.7km to-and-from Dyer Island, Gansbaai. If the name rings a bell, you’re not mistaken. Dyer Island is infamous. Locals have been whispering dark, cold tales of the spot for years. Cape Town’s very own urban legend.
The reason why this icy swim has never been done before is because, for over one-hundred-years, Dyer Island has been closely associated with great white sharks — the largest predatory fish on Earth that happen to love the Western Cape as much as we do.
But Dyer Island could soon be called ‘Dire Island’ with great white sharks disappearing off the coast of South Africa due to pressure from fishing industries, series ocean mismanagement by the government, and faulty scientific data.
Dewet is a man for the sharks: a largely misunderstood species that are facing greater threat to their survival than we are to attacks. And so, the swim to Dyer island was carefully planned, taking both the safety of Dewet and the declining population of shark residents into account.
A swim to action, so to speak. Dewet forms part of the The Last Shark team who are working together to film a documentary with the purpose of raising awareness on some of the following threats against the great white population.
Remove our archaic shark culling nets from the East Coast:
Last year, ten people out of a population of 8 000 000 000 people were killed by a variety of shark species. During the same period 240 000 people drowned.
“We should be 24 000 times more afraid of water than of sharks,” du Toit points out.
So, why aren’t we?
Sharks, like spiders and snakes, occupy an irrational fear segment of our imaginations. Our imaginations exaggerate the risk which sharks pose.
“I am not immune to this irrational way of thinking either. It is very human. I had to experience the effects of this irrational segment of my imagination while prepping for this swim. This is exactly why I chose to do this swim. I knew that doing this swim would draw attention. We want to use that attention to lobby for the change in attitude towards our sharks,” he adds.
Duwet and Last Shark team’s number one outcome for the documentary is to apply pressure on KwaZulu-Natal politicians to remove the archaic shark culling nets on the East Coast of South Africa.
“The government uses illegal gillnet to kill thousands and thousands and thousands of protected sharks, dolphins, turtles and fish — many of these barely juveniles. They do this so that people can come and play in the water. And I am all for people enjoying the ocean. But while we mostly play in there, sharks live there. They work there. And the ecosystem needs them more than us.”
A gillnet is a wall of netting that hangs in the water column, typically made of monofilament or multifilament nylon. Gillnet. Mesh sizes are designed to allow fish to get only their head through the netting but not their body. The fish’s gills then get caught in the mesh as the fish tries to back out of the net.
“There is a very good reason why gillnet are illegal to use,” says du Toit, a former anti-poaching crew member.
Gillnets do not work because they simply kill too many non-targeted animals for every one targeted animal they kill.
“My crew members pulled an illegal gillnet in Mexico with 66 dead sharks in it, with not a single targeted fish being present in that catch. That is how inefficient gillnet are at targeting a single species of animal. And yet, our KZN government still makes use of them to cull ‘protected’ sharks.”
However, Dewet points out that while the government has passed laws which prevents civilians from using these types of nets, they continue to use them in our oceans as ‘protection’ measures for bathers.
The Western Cape has led by example by using more efficient methods like shark spotters and exclusion nets. “Other technologies exist.”
The Last Shark will be showing gillnet alternatives in their upcoming documentary, as well as exposing how the nets being used in KZN are so detrimental to ocean life.
Help them change things for the better. The crew are in need of a genetic sampling study, investigating how much shark is being sold unwittingly to the public unbeknown to the public. They also need filming equipment like drone batteries.
Most importantly, The Last Shark is all about educating the public, raising awareness, and saving our great ocean life.
The Last Shark team are all long-term activists/volunteers and raise the majority of funding through all kinds of work, but donations enable them to be more focused.