EZEMVELO’S EMERGING ‘SEA RANGERS’
Nothing suggested it would be so, but the sea came alive. Grey skies and smooth, swollen seas provided a calm backdrop to what opened up before us.
Anything up to 12 whales were seen breeching; two hawksbill turtles poked above the surface, three ragged tooth sharks glided past our boat and schools of dolphin cut through our wake in the two hours we were out there.
Perhaps it was ordained because this eye-opening trip gave such meaning to the growing recognition that Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife’s Marine Compliance Unit is an outstandingly visible and active group of some 55 staff responsible for monitoring 380 km of our coastline. It’s a vast, tough and often confrontational responsibility, where 11 teams of five people each patrol 15 kilometres of coastline from Mapelane in the north to Port Edward in the south.
They work 24-hour shifts to cover both spring and neap tide fishing activities, day and night. (And poachers favour poor weather conditions). To say nothing of the abuse they field from fishermen, either arresting them and / or transporting them to the nearest police station. On this particular occasion the focus was trained on a team with a growing reputation; the monitoring of our internationally-prized Aliwal Shoal Marine Protected Area (MPA), stretching from Umkomaas River mouth some 18 kms south of Scottburgh to the Mzimayi River mouth.It was a special day. The gutsy professionalism and transformative nature of an emerging black staff embracing marine conservation was worth the trip on its own. Here was Londiwe Mbuyisa, Ezemvelo’s Manager for Marine Districts and Projects. She’s worked her way through the ranks from being a trails officer, Protected Area Manager and Marine Off-Shore Compliance Officer. She’s the senior conduit between Ezemvelo and such government departments as Fisheries and Forestry and Environmental Affairs. This day she dropped everything to get back to the coalface of her responsibilities. Amongst these, Londiwe now commands the tricky task of overseeing the expansion and re-zoning of the Aliwal Shoal Marine Protected Area (MPA). This is a complex process of encouraging all user groups to support this initiative.“With conservation, it often appears to be the carrot and stick, not so? But I try to impress on people the growing need to protect and manage the limited resources available to us all. And the expansion of this Aliwal MPA is part of a larger governmental initiative to secure a greater share of our overall marine resource. Yes, it’s a tough process as various users could lose some of the benefits they enjoy. But, it’s for the greater good, not so?”
|Our boat pulled up against a small fishing vessel and later on a scuba diving outfit. Both operators clearly knew Sam Ndlovu, Ezemvelo’s Marine Compliance Officer. Now, here’s a no-nonsense, battle-hardened type. Whatever the familiarity amongst them, the fishing operator had forgotten his licence and Sam made no bones of the fact that he present it when he got back to Rocky Bay. Ezemvelo’s manager for the East Region Ken Morty described Sam a beacon of commitment and discipline: “The public should really raise their hats to all members of this unit. But he has an unwavering compliance ethic; a ferocious commitment to protecting our oceans. For 24 years he’s been largely responsible for the respect that Ezemvelo commands amongst recreational and commercial fishermen”. A renowned conservation manager and administrator, Ken spoke of the unit’s dedication and success; of 7000 patrols carried out last year with more than 50 000 inspections done. Amongst this 247 arrests were made as well as numerous successful prosecutions for a variety of permit and fishing irregularities. Some R240 000 worth of fines were paid, too.|
|Yet Sam is not just a policeman. He has a wise and appreciative head on his shoulders. "I’d prefer to be understood for the lessons I’m trying to give others. I want to share my knowledge. I want to make the seagoing public my larger surveillance team. Many people care but you know that it only takes a few to disrupt everything.” He was proud to highlight some of his unit’s recent successes: A R4 000 fine paid for the illegal capture of four east coast rock lobster during the closed season and catching a fisherman for having 67 shad (you’re only allowed four!) resulting in a house arrest. He arrested someone for having 37 geelbek (only two allowed) – and caught him again and this time was fined R5 000.Boat fishing and diving are predominantly sports enjoyed and operated by whites. In this respect it was invigorating to be skippered by Themba Luthuli. Here ‘Ezemvelo’ has a boat skipper of real skill and experience. Trained by the Sharks Board, Themba moved to Ezemvelo some two years back. Knowledgeable and highly assured, he provides an outstanding role-model for future black interest and advancement in marine conservation. “My greatest wish is for my people to learn this trade and break their fear of the sea. It will happen, I am sure of that. And there are a few – perhaps four I know of – that are doing their Skippers Course. Slowly we are moving forward.”|
At a time of real financial stress with all focus given over to Rhino poaching, few pay attention to such marine efforts. And yet here we have some ‘sea rangers’ who should make us all proud.