Yesterday we went to Hout Bay harbour to hear what our representatives in the DA have to say about the amendments to existing legislation, called NEMBA (The National Environmental Management Biodiversity Act), which talks about the limitations of approaching seal colonies. This Act sets out various regulations regarding both the marine and other wildlife in South Africa.
When we arrived at the harbour we were greeted by the rest of the Cape Town dive community. All of us were curious to hear what the DA had to say, and whether we will be losing our right to dive with the Cape Fur seals.
In the 6 years that I’ve been diving with seals in cape town. On more than half of the dives I’ve done I’ve had an encounter with these amazing creatures. On each occasion the seal would be the one to approach me, and spend the entire duration of the dive swimming around me. So, when I heard from fellow dive operators that we may be losing our ability to share these experiences with our customers, it got me thinking about what may be the cause. All I could think was, why has someone come in and made such a ridiculous law? A law that may cause many businesses to close their doors and lay off their employees – businesses like my own.
After drifting around and catching up with all the people affected by this legislation, the DA representatives called us to gather for their announcement. The team consisted of our Constituency Head and our Constituency Chairperson that contacted Terri Stander who is a member of parliament.
From the outset, the DA representatives put emphasis on how important the industry around this species is, with Stander saying, “Industries such as the restaurants and curio shops we see here today are the backbone of this community – but also the livelihoods hundreds of families who live here.”
The major concern is the definition of “harassment” as contained in the proposed legislation – which prohibits human approach of any colony of birds or seals within 30 meters, and the specific listing of Cape Fur seals. While this may not seem like a large distance, its enforcement can have drastic effects on the both the diving industry itself, as well as other operators who need to navigate between seal colonies in order to get to their destination.
Stander continued by saying that “research on seals and seabirds shows that human disturbances do pose a threat to these species. Seals haul out to mate, give birth, look after their young and also just to have a rest. Seals are also attuned to each other, so if one seal will rush out then often times the others will do too. Disturbances of 20 to 70 meters of these colonies are generally associated with causing that”. This is something I’ve seen happen many times while I’m out at the seal colonies, and while watching the seals running and jumping in to the water does provide for some good entertainment, this is detrimental to the pups. Stander continues by telling us that “the reason this legislation was looked at is that flushing (the action of seals rushing out) actually tramples the pups and a lot of dead pups have washed up on to the shoreline of the mainland”. This flushing can be caused by approaching a colony too closely or by clapping hands to try and attract them in to the water, causing them to rush out.
With all this said, Stander still had some good news for us. The DA managed to secure the following commitments from the department of environmental affairs:
- That the definition of harassment only applies to land based colonies of seals and sea birds. Thus diving, snorkeling and viewing activities will not be affected.
- The current 30 meter restriction contained in boating permits will not be affected, they will however measure the distance between islands and the mainland to determine whether they need to relax the 30 meters down to 20 meters in exceptional circumstances.
- A permit requirement for viewing and recreational activities will be avoided.
And to top this all off, Stander also received a commitment that, if need be, they will create workshops to engage with us further in this regard.
In closing, I’d like to thank Terri Stander and the rest of our DA representatives for taking our concerns to heart, and while these species are our source of income, we have a huge passion for the Cape Fur seals and the rest of our beautiful environment. Stander closed off with saying that “we have the third most biodiverse country in the world and tourism is a major economic driver in this country as a result. So the responsibility to preserve this biodiversity for current and future generations rests on all of us, individually and electively”.
So all and all, today put a lot of us at ease. While life will carry on the same as before and we still have access to our furry friends, we will approach these colonies with much more care for our actions and the actions of those around us. Our access to these special places may be seen as a right, but I believe it’s a privilege that we must preserve through responsible practises.