Believe it or not, polarised sunglasses, binoculars and a siren can help to keep you safe from sharks. This was discovered 10 years ago following a spate of shark bites in the waters off Cape Town, South Africa. Local surf shop owners Greg Bertish and Fiona Chudleigh from Muizenberg together with businessman Clive Wakeford and fishermen from Fish Hoek decided that the mountains above the city’s beaches provide ideal vantage points from which to spot sharks.
Dedicated spotters were tasked with looking for sharks using polarised sunglasses to cut out the glare on the water and binoculars to scan the ocean below. If the spotter saw a shark, they would alert surfers and swimmers to its presence by means of a flag and a siren. Getting people out of the water as a shark swims past reduces the chance of a potentially dangerous situation.
Now Cape Town’s primary strategy to increase the safety of humans in the presence of sharks, the Shark Spotters programme operates at eight of the city’s popular beaches and employs 26 spotters, all of whom have been trained in first aid and are able to respond to emergencies. In 2011 a spotter who applied immediate medical care to a shark bite victim saved the man’s life. But there is more to this grassroots project than just protecting people; conserving sharks and their environment is high on the agenda too. Shark Spotters incorporates cutting-edge research on white sharks into its safety and awareness campaigns and actively advocates non-lethal solutions to mitigate shark incidents. With the City of Cape Town, it has recently conducted trials of an environmentally friendly shark exclusion barrier at Fish Hoek beach.
A registered non-profit organisation, Shark Spotters is funded primarily by the City of Cape Town and the Save Our Seas Foundation (SOSF), with additional support from the local community and business owners who benefit from its activities. SOSF backing has enabled the programme not only to expand its service to the community by monitoring more beaches, but also to conduct the research necessary to better understand the presence and behaviour of the white shark, a threatened apex predator, in the coastal waters around Cape Town.
The Shark Spotters programme in Cape Town, South Africa, improves beach safety through both shark warnings and emergency assistance in the event of a shark incident. The programme contributes to research on shark ecology and behaviour, raises public awareness about shark-related issues, and provides employment opportunities and skills development for spotters.