Row over Aliwal Shoal
Local resident, Phillip Pillay, said he was worried about how the community would be affected by marine protected areas. Photo Credit: Zanele Zulu, Independent Media
"A public meeting over plans to declare Aliwal Shoal a marine protected area reached fever pitch on Monday, with some walking out and heckling those opposed to fishing."
Concerns were also raised about restrictions on scuba diving at the popular dive site.
Residents of eMkhomazi (Umkomaas) and its surrounds on the KwaZulu-Natal South Coast, had gathered to air their views on a proposed protected area 20 nautical miles into the sea and 40 nautical miles in length.
The Department of Environmental Affairs is holding public hearings on the establishment of 22 marine protected areas in the country.
The proposal was gazetted in February and the public has 90 days to comment. The final date is May 17.
Some residents were concerned about “sanctuary areas” at the shoal being closed to fishing or any marine activities besides research.
Fisherman Mannie Pillay said: “We will fight this issue as what you are doing is fighting development.”
He said the community would lose millions in investment in the area.
He said the poor depended on fishing for their livelihood.
Peter Sivanadhajugdison said his family had been fishing in the area for more than 100 years and was concerned they would be prevented from continuing.
He said he would consult the department to get clarity.
Concerns raised were that the protected area could affect the scuba and shark cage diving industry at the shoal.
However, some residents welcomed the idea of a marine protected area.
Keith Cunningham, of the Clansthal conservancy, said: “There are so many people making demands on the same piece of coastline. The natural habitat can’t deliver on it.”
He said they wanted to restore the area to its former rich, natural diversity.
“It is not just the marine side it is also the terrestrial side,” he said, explaining that the dune forests were also important.
Cunningham said they should work with the fishermen and look at ways to bring economic development in a balanced way.
“What I see with the fishermen is that they look at their own rights and not the bigger picture.”
He said if things did not change there would be nothing left of the environment.
He said they saw few subsistence fishermen in the area.
Sivanadhajugdison disputed this and denied they damaged the environment.
Local environmental activist, Adrienne Edgson, said applications for exploration for offshore oil and gas were already causing problems.
Edgson said exploration companies set off explosions on the seabed in their search for oil and gas. These, she said, created sonic booms which harmed marine life.
“They are supposed to have observers on boats that control and ensure a certain level of sonic boom from the explosion. They don’t.”
She said the search for oil harmed sea and eco tourism.
Xola Mkefe, the director of marine protected areas for the department, said he had noted the comments made by the public and these would be considered when they made their final proposal to Environment Minister Edna Molewa.
He said they would go to other communities in the province to get their views on marine protected areas and return in December to update the community.
He said fishing by people with permits would be allowed in some of the proposed protected areas, but not “bottom fishing”, where a net is cast and rakes up everything in its path.
He said the government’s Operation Phakisa aimed to unlock the wealth of the ocean economy, which he said could add R177 billion to the South African economy by 2033.
He said only about 0.4% of the coastline was protected.
He said 98% of the zone was “under some sort of permit for exploration of petroleum, oil and gas”.