Shark nets stretching over hundreds of metres, lining the surf and anchored a couple of metres below the water’s surface, are commonly used to keep sharks away from beaches and bathers. But these shark nets have two major flaws: they are not entirely effective in keeping sharks at bay, rather only reducing the number of sharks in beach areas, and secondly, there is a major untold story of how shark nets are killing and tragically drowning large numbers of sharks while bathers happily enjoy the surf. Enter the biology department of the Stellenbosch University. Scientists are now testing an eco-friendly shark net along the waters of Cape Town and the early news in is that it is a brilliant alternative!
While the concept of attempting to physically separate humans and sharks is a solution to the problem of shark attacks, the sad reality is that shark nets are killing hundreds and hundreds of sharks, as well as other non-target marine species. The Stellenbosch University reports that shark nets have a significant impact on the world’s shark populations and estimates are that our global shark population decreased by 90% over the past two decades. This is a major setback for the species – the Great White Shark population numbers are getting dangerously low.
The grossly unsustainable practice of shark nets, although still widely used, led to the development of the Sharksafe. By careful marine environment observations, scientists realised that the Great White Shark does not swim into dense kelp areas. Something about the kelp is deterring the great whites. The Zambezi sharks in turn kept clear from electromagnetic fields. These seemingly simple discoveries are in fact telling plenty: sharks are avoiding certain circumstances in their natural environment. Through mimicking such circumstances, effective, sustainable and ecological acceptable barriers can be created. And this is exactly what the Sharksafe design is hoping to achieve.
The Sharksafe consists of a pipe network with magnets creating a magnetic field between the permanently upright and pipes. Placed in the water, it resembles floating kelp. Anchoring the pipe network to the seabed keeps it in place. The “kelp” is of little disturbance to other marine species, allowing free movement of larger species such as dolphin. Interestingly, even bait prompting did not convince the sharks to swim through the man-made kelp network.
With testing underway, the City of Cape Town will soon be approached for formal approval once the final pilot runs are concluded. With the marine environment in desperate need of better protection, whilst allowing for optimal human enjoyment, the Sharksafe may very well be the solution that we have been waiting for!
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