The South African Shark Conservancy (SASC) is settled in the Cape Whale Coast Hope Spot (CWCHS). An area on the tip of South Africa that is abundant with marine life and showcases the marine Big 5: whales, dolphins, sharks, seals, and African penguins. This positioning allows the conservancy to focus on marine life that is not widely understood. Instead of targeting larger pelagic predators such as the White shark (Carcharodon carcharias), the conservancy focuses on endemic and commercially valuable species. By focusing on these species, the conservancy guides managers on effective policy making and management plans.
There are several shark and teleost fisheries surrounding the CWCHS that are unsustainable in practice. Fisheries are prone to bycatch, the accidental collection of non-target species. About 49% of chondrichthyans in South Africa are subject to bycatch or are targeted for commercial use (Silva et al. 2015). Previous records of bycatch are inadequate due to data gaps and generalization in species identification. SASC is filling in the data gaps by tagging any shark specimen encountered through long lining, hand lining, or snorkeling.
Some of the largest commercial uses of South African sharks include finning and harvest of the vitamin rich liver. The fins of sharks are commonly exported to Hong Kong, Uruaguy, and Australia for consumption and medicinal purposes. Shark livers also have a substance called squalene that is used in a variety of beauty products. If left unmanaged several shark species will end up like the commercially extinct soupfin shark (Galeorhinus galeus). As an intern I am contributing to reaching more sustainable practices in fisheries.
To have sustainable marine resources, local communities must understand what is taking place in their waters. Education on how sustainable fisheries function and the actions individuals should take when recreational fishing is just as vital to conservation. SASC offers tours of the facility, led by interns, that provide tourists, locals, and students an overview of shark conservation. During the tour we debunk myths and irrational fears by having positive human – species interactions with sharks in the lab.
Overall, the South African Shark Conservancy is focused on aiding managers and the government with policy decisions based on scientific data in hopes of inducing sustainability in fisheries. While educating the public about marine conservation and their role in ecosystem functions.