23 June 2009
South Africa is well known among tourists in search of the “Big Five” wild animals: the buffalo, elephant, leopard, lion and rhino. Two more could soon be added to the marketers’ “Big” list, however – and you won’t find them on land.
Briefing journalists in Cape Town ahead of her budget vote speech in Parliament last week, Water and Environmental Affairs Minister Buyelwa Sonjica said that South Africa offered tourists some of the best whale watching in the world, as well as shark cage diving in places like Gansbaai in the Western Cape.
Sonjica said South Africa’s waters were populated with significant numbers of marine mammals, including whales, as well large ocean predators such as the shark.
“We will be marketing these animals – sharks and whales – to the whole world,” she said. “We will add these two species to the Big Five and have a resultant Big Seven.”
Though she did not specify which shark and whale species, Sonjica was presumably referring to the famous great white shark and the southern right whale, plentiful off South Africa’s coastline and smaller only than the blue whale.
Sonjica said this year had been declared the Year of the Shark, and October would be declared Marine Month to focus on the significance of the country’s sea and marine life.
Sonjica pointed out that declining fish stocks was a global phenomenon, with approximately 25% of the world’s marine fish stocks being considered over-exploited.
“This requires innovative management strategies if we want to ensure sustainability of our marine living resources,” she said. “A government-wide intervention is required in the coastal communities to address coastal poverty and alternative livelihood opportunities in light of declining fish stocks.”
She added that it was important for the government to pursue its programmes of protecting the country’s marine life, given that there was already a decline of the stocks of some of the species, including the shark.
Sonjica said many environmental crimes were committed by organised crime syndicates, and warned that the government would not take a soft stance on perpetrators.
As the justice department could not adequately deal with environmental crime, environmental courts would be set up to see that criminals were not only caught but also prosecuted.
She added that partnerships with security institutions such as South African Police Service, the National Prosecuting Authority, the Asset Forfeiture Unit and the Department of Defence were crucial to deal effectively with environmental crimes.