ON THE BRINK, a national campaign initiated by environmental NGO, WILDTRUST, on Thursday “World Ocean Day” released a captivating video bringing South Africans closer to marine conservation.
In a unique and engaging way the video brings people closer to marine conservation, more specifically, sharks and rays (chondrichthyans).
The video links human stories to the critical need to increase marine protection in the Ocean around South Africa for sharks and rays.
In the video, the campaign team sat down with five South African women and asked them to share their heartfelt stories about their “sanctuaries”.
Each woman expressed the significance of their safe space and the devastating impact it would have if they were to lose it.
The narrative beautifully intertwines their personal experiences and vulnerability with the urgent need to create more safe spaces in South Africa’s waters for the preservation of sharks and rays – arguably one of the most endangered species on the planet.
One participant, Bernice Mosala, emotionally conveys her fear of losing her sanctuary, stating, “It is a very scary thought because those are places where I can completely be myself,” while another participant, Buyi Makhoba-Dlamini, adds: “It would be a dark and unhappy place.”
The resounding message from the video is that “we can choose our sanctuary. We can choose our safe spaces. Sharks and rays cannot”.
SANCTUARY: Bernice Mosala fears of losing her sanctuary. She is participating in the WORLD OCEAN DAY campaign to connect South Africans with sharks and rays
The primary objective of the ON THE BRINK campaign is to spread awareness about the vulnerability of sharks and rays, as well as highlight the substantial benefits of establishing new sanctuary areas for them in South Africa’s Ocean.
SANCTUARY: Casey Chiang is participating in the WORLD OCEAN DAY campaign to connect South Africans with sharks and rays
A shark and ray sanctuary is a demarcated area in the ocean which is established to protect their populations and their habitats.
The latest International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List Assessment reports that 42% of shark and ray species occurring within South African waters are threatened (Vulnerable, Endangered or Critically Endangered).
There is an urgent need to increase these sanctuary spaces.
The WILDOCEANS programme of the WILDTRUST spearheads the ON THE BRINK campaign as part of the “Sanctuary for Sharks & Rays” project.
The project is a three-year endeavour in collaboration with the South African Department of Forestry, Fisheries, and the Environment (DFFE) and funded by The Rainforest Trust, with co-funding from Oceans 5 and the Shark Conservation Fund.
“Presenting an ocean conservation video through personal-human stories may initially seem unusual,” says Lauren van Nijkerk, WILDTRUST Director of Campaigns & Communications.
“It is becoming increasingly challenging to capture public attention amidst the online noise, especially for crucial messages that we want to resonate, have an impact, be relatable and inspire action, and even more so messages about a not so cuddly or popular species like sharks.”
Van Nijkerk adds: “That is why I am so proud of this campaign because it has the potential to achieve just that.”
“We have a responsibility as a highly biodiverse country to create safe spaces in the ocean for all species and the habitats they call home, and while we have 41 Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in South Africa, they only protect 5.4% of our ocean space.”
Van Nijkerk said recent data suggests that out of approximately 90 shark and ray species found in South Africa’s Ocean, only 28% of their habitat is currently safeguarded within MPAs.
“Expanding the coverage of MPAs from 5% to at least 10% of our ocean could potentially almost double their protection, effectively safeguarding up to 50% of their range,” said Van Nijkerk
The 2021 report by the IUCN indicates that approximately one-third of all shark and ray species globally are facing threats, making them highly vulnerable to extinction.
Sadly, South Africa has already witnessed the local extinction of two species, namely the Largetooth Sawfish and Green Sawfish.
Encouragingly, there is a team of scientists mapping out areas along the South African coastline to determine where sharks and rays would benefit the most from new or increased areas of protection.
The increase in effective protection is crucial, as most sharks and rays are slow to mature and produce few young, which makes their population recovery a “slow burn.”
Recent statements from Dr. Tsepang Makholela, the Chief Director of Biodiversity Monitoring and Specialist Services at DFFE, suggest positive progress from the South African government.
Dr. Makholela expressed South Africa’s full support for the global 30×30 target (protecting 30% of land and sea by 2030), along with the expansion of MPAs and the integration of Other Effective Area-Based Conservation Measures (OECMs) in our waters.
Dr. Makholela says, “We must remember that we can choose our sanctuary. We can choose our safe spaces. Sharks and rays cannot.”