Coast KZN

26 May 2017

“No” to shark nets, says world famous photographer

Shona Aylward (South Coast Herald) Picture: 'All in formation' is the title of Tanya Houpperman's winning photograph.

‘All in formation’ is the title of Tanya Houpperman’s winning photograph.

Sharks are beautiful and graceful, and as the apex predator, must not be removed from the ecosystem

WORLD acclaimed underwater photographer, Tanya Houppermans has spoken out against shark nets, saying “they kill indiscriminately”.

Tanya was the winner of the 2015 The World Shootout Underwater Photography Grand Prix.

She and her husband Scott recently visited the South Coast from the USA to enjoy her prize … a two week trip to this beautiful part of the world.

Her winning photographs were a set of three sand shark images referring to the environmental context of the shark, emphasising its powerful visual appearance, as well as its independence and tendency to control.

“Tourists, especially divers, won’t come to the coast if they think that the sharks are being mistreated. Even if you have the best conditions in the world, they will stay away,” she told various journalists and representatives of Ugu South Coast Tourism last week.

Ugu South Coast Tourism team (from left) Howard Kelly, Kay Robertson and Justin Mackrory (far right) welcome the couple, Scott and Tanya Houppermans (middle) to the South Coast.

She said shark conservationists are against shark nets, because they don’t work as well as people think they do, and they indiscriminately kill the ‘cute’ animals like dolphins, seals and turtles die.

“In the United States, even Miami Beach, they don’t use many shark nets. It’s swim at your own risk,” she said.

Tanya was impressed to hear steps were been taken to protect the marine waters of the South Coast.

I know your sharks are attracting some of the best underwater photographers in the world, and their images are being seen around the world.
The trip for two was sponsored by Tourism KwaZulu-Natal and Ugu South Coast Tourism.

It included flights, accommodation, car hire and excursions, worth $6 000.



It was her first time in South Africa, but she hoped to come back for the Sardine Run next year. And she was extremely grateful for the prize, saying she would not have been able to come out with her own means.

She specialises in taking images of the natural world, especially below the water’s surface, all the while advocating for the protection of the world’s marine ecosystems through education and conservation.

Tanya’s knowledge, love and passionate about sharks is truly incredible, and one could listen to her speak about sharks for hours.

Two years ago she decided to give-up her corporate world career and do what she loves best – diving with sharks, underwater photography, and being an advocate for shark conservation.

Although she has traveled around the world photographing sharks, she spends a lot of her time diving the coastline of North Carolina where she has the opportunity to dive with sharks and shipwrecks, some which date back to the early 1600s.

This is one of Tanya Houppermans three winning photographs titled: taking-center-stage. The sand tiger shark is surrounded by spade fish and bait fish above the wreck of the Caribsea off the coast of North Carolina.

She felt local tourism should focus on promoting itself by making the best possible use of available images.

It doesn’t really matter how much you talk about it, it’s the images that will promote and market the coast. Word of mouth also helps a lot.
After hearing that humans kill 70-million sharks a year, Tanya felt she needed to dispel the many misconceptions around sharks and actually help these animals.

Her career has led her to help scientists with their research, and she now, spends much of her time writing articles and selling her photos to publications and online sites around the world.

She explained that sharks world-wide under threat but in areas where they are protected, they are doing well.

Several shark species whose population over the past several decades have been decimated by over 90 percent and are on the verge of extinction.
The big problem, she said is shark-finning in Asia, where the shark is caught and its fin is sliced off for fin soup while it is alive.

The meat is not worth anything and so the shark is thrown overboard and left to die.

In addition, all marine life worldwide is suffering from plastics and pollution.

One of the three photographs which won Tanya Houpperman a trip to the South Coast. This photograph is called: Piercing the Sun. A lone sand tiger shark swims through the sun rays off of coast of North Carolina.

How dangerous are sharks?
Tanya explained that five to seven people are killed worldwide by sharks every year, but pointed out that you obviously need to be careful where and when you swim.

More people are killed each year by falling coconuts, being kicked to death by a cow, die in childbirth or a have a vending machine fall on them.
The reason Tanya initially picked up a camera was to show people the way she sees sharks.

“They are beautiful, much smarter than people give them credit for, graceful and critical for the health of the ocean. As the apex predators, you can’t take them out and expect the ecosystem to function.”


“I really love these animals and I want to show them to people in the best possible way. I feel like I owe that to them, so I do want to do the best I can.”

Tanya never dream’t of being one of the world’s best underwater photographers.

She thought when she bought her camera that she would take probably take bad pictures for a while, then decent pictures for a year or so, and maybe after a few years take some good and then eventually some really nice images.

Location: Isla Mujeres, Mexico. Caption: A whale shark swims just under the surface of the water off of Isla Mujeres, Mexico.

A whale shark swims just under the surface of the water off of Isla Mujeres, Mexico.

She recalled talking to a friend, who is a professional underwater photographer, when she first got her camera.

“I told him I just want to take some pictures of sharks and show them to people, I don’t need to be the world’s best photographer. He said to me: ‘Why not?’ I just laughed.”

“I guess you shouldn’t sell yourself short,” she said, with a smile.