Shark nets, also known as kill nets, have been installed off the Durban coastline since the 1950s to protect swimmers from shark attacks. Despite their name, shark nets are not meant to necessarily kill sharks, but rather aim to create a barrier between sharks and swimmers. However, there is a growing debate about the impact of shark nets on sharks and the wider marine ecosystem.
Shark nets are made of nylon and are typically 214 meters long and 6 meters deep. They are anchored to the sea floor and extend 500 meters offshore. The idea is that the net creates a barrier that prevents sharks from reaching popular swimming areas, reducing the risk of shark attacks. However, the effectiveness of shark nets is debatable, and many experts argue that they do not actually provide significant protection against shark attacks, as most often, the sharks caught in the nets are on the wrong side of the net, in other words, swimming out from the shore into deeper water.
One of the main criticisms of shark nets is their impact on marine life. The nets are indiscriminate and can catch and kill a range of marine animals, including sharks, dolphins, turtles, and rays. In fact, according to the KZN Sharks Board, the organization responsible for the shark nets, an average of 63 sharks and 168 other marine animals are caught in the nets each year.
The impact of shark nets on shark populations is particularly concerning. The nets catch a range of shark species, including the endangered hammerhead and Great White sharks, and there are concerns that this is contributing to the decline in shark populations in the area and the oceans in general. In addition, the nets also catch smaller sharks, which are often mistaken for juvenile sharks of a protected species. A recent review of the damage caused by these nets, is the report of 96 Great White Sharks having lost their lives to these shark nets in 2021! And as mentioned above, it is found that most of the sharks that perish in these nets are found trying to swim out of the area and not in, meaning these sharks gained entry, but were unable to leave!
There is also a risk that the use of shark nets may actually increase the risk of shark attacks. The nets create an artificial feeding ground by attracting fish, which in turn attracts sharks. This can create a false sense of security for swimmers, who may believe that the nets are providing adequate protection when, in fact, they may be attracting sharks to the area.
In addition to the impact on marine life, there are also concerns about the environmental impact of the nets themselves. The nylon nets are not biodegradable and can persist in the environment for hundreds of years. They also pose a risk to boats and other marine equipment. So much of our marine wildlife is found dead, or washed up on shore, with no external injuries only to find that they have ingested copious amounts of plastic, which does not digest and slowly chokes the life from these marine animals.
Despite the growing concerns about the impact of shark nets, there are few viable alternatives currently available. One option is the use of drone technology to spot sharks in the water and warn swimmers of their presence. Another option is the use of eco-friendly shark barriers, which use a system of anchored ropes to create a barrier that allows marine animals to pass through unharmed. There have also been suggestions and prototypes made of various eco-friendly devices, but to date, the KZN Sharks and Parks Board, have not taken an interest in any alternate solutions.
In conclusion, while shark nets may provide a false sense of security for swimmers, the impact they have on marine life is concerning and way outweighs the so-called benefits of having them. The nets catch and kill a range of marine animals, including endangered shark species, and there are concerns that they may actually increase the risk of shark attacks. While there are few viable alternatives currently available, it is important to continue to explore alternatives to shark nets that provide effective protection while minimizing the impact on the marine ecosystem.