By Janis Theron
What do you feel about sharks? Are they scary, majestic, evil or fascinating? Have you ever seen a shark, or know someone who has been attacked by a shark? Do you live near the ocean or inland where the ocean feels as if it is miles away? It is high time people realized that sharks are like any other predator – only scary to the prey they love to eat the most!
Picture a lion on the hunt in a game reserve – it stalks its prey (maybe a buck, a buffalo, small giraffe, hare or zebra) and it uses excellent senses and techniques to get what it wants – food to eat. Lions must eat and they do eat other animals. Now picture a shark on the hunt in the ocean here in Cape Town – it stalks its prey (maybe a seal, sea lion, penguin or other creature) and it uses its excellent senses and techniques to what it wants – food to eat. But it rarely stalks humans.
Swim like a Shark
“Most people in South Africa believe that sharks are the biggest killer in our Oceans, yet it happens to be drowning,” says Terry Corr, Head of education at AfriOceans Conservation Alliance (AOCA). This well-respected Non-profit organisation was founded way back in 2002 to speak up for the oceans and to spread awareness about the importance of the oceans to all people. Their offices are now in Simonstown, overlooking Seaforth beach.
“Many school-going children from poor communities cannot swim as they have simply not been taught,” says Corr. Now this can change with AfriOceans as they carry out their 10 week interactive courses with learners as part of their AfriOceans Warriors Environmental Education Programme. Swim like a Shark aims to teach under-privileged children how to swim in the ocean and how to dive down to see such marine creatures as stunning sharks.
It all started at the beginning of 2015 when 10 youngsters from Grade 8 at Simonstown School arrived at the AfriOceans offices in Simonstown to start the programme. Lulutho Dumezkweni, Lebo Ndabeni, Odwa Mnzoyi, Sihle Mdedetyana, Sive Mnambiso, Maxabiso Makhanda, Tamia Orgill, Abongile Kolisile, Alulutho Guzana, Remmogo Mokaglagadi, Avumile Gxoko and Songezo Zigebe had never dived before and many still had to learn how to swim and snorkel.
As they learned these ocean skills, they also learned as much as possible about the ocean ecosystem and sharks as they could absorb – what an adventure! Says Corr, ”Not only do we intend making our kids Swimsafe through proper swim coaching, but so too do we educate our kids about the importance of sharks and our oceans and how to be Sharkwise.”
Sharks are Cool!
When the kids donned wetsuits and hoodies, booties and fins to really go down to dive, they were accompanied by Corr and dive master Jason Ruger who helped them overcome their fear and start to love diving and being in the ocean. This fear is the fear of drowning and the fear of sharks and it can be diluted and eradicated when kids have a complete belief in their own abilities and when they realise just what wonderful creatures sharks really are!
These young ambassadors can now go out there and spread much-needed awareness about marine life and its conservation. “It was fun,” said Sihle Mdedetyana. “Some of us were afraid of the water and we saw things we have never seen before. We learned about the seaweed, the animals in the water and their habitats. We also learned not to be afraid of sharks as they won’t attack people.”
While AfriOceans believes in saving the oceans, presently at huge risk from numerous human impacts, one of their main focus areas is to highlight the beauty and importance of sharks. People need to move away from the dark side of these magnificent creatures that the media tends to get hold of and distort. “We are the Voice of Our Oceans.”
Lose your fear of Sharks
Sive Mnambiso admitted that she was scared when she was part of the Swim with like a Shark Project. “I got a big fright the one day as I swam in the wrong direction and was all alone,” she said. Being alone in the huge ocean when sharks are known to be present is frightening indeed. But if you understand sharks, and you can swim like a shark, it makes all the difference.
“I believe that environmental education must move from awareness into informed, responsible action,” says Corr. “Our Swim like a Shark Project is an exciting innovative, hands-on intervention that teaches disadvantaged school children the set of basic swimming skills, leading into snorkelling, to be safe in the ocean and to be Sharkwise. The intention is to develop youngsters into competent snorkelers, exposing them to a window beneath the waves and encourage them to reach further and become accomplished divers, whilst becoming role models and ambassadors for our sharks and oceans.”
Terry Corr is passionate about the ocean
Corr is Project Leader of the AfriOceans Warriors Environmental Education Programme and has been involved in Environmental Education for some 20 years. He is passionate about assisting learners to cross social and cultural boundaries related to the marine environment and has already worked with more than 40 000 school learners.
This unique project has already made a huge difference in the lives of the children it has reached and Corr believes that it has the potential to create a myriad of opportunities to develop swimmers where before there were none. The bottom line is that Swim like a Shark is slowly developing life skills and boosting self-esteem and self confidence in South Africa’s most marginalized communities. Here is the chance to really save lives – every child that learns to swim is a life saved!
The 12 learners from Simonstown School heard all about Maxine the shark (http://www.aquarium.co.za/uploads/files/maxinesJourney.pdf ) and are very proud of their AfriOceans T-Shirts, caps and bands. They are now official members of the NGO and can assist other kids to learn how to swim. “We learned discipline and concentration,” said Alulutho Guzana. “We also had to exercise before we went to swim to keep fit.” She and her team learned that the shark is at the zenith of the hierarchy of ocean predators. This top position means it has a crucial role in maintaining a healthy balance between the food chains of all marine life and therefore regulating ocean health.
The Ocean is part of Life
This means a lot when you consider the importance of the oceans to the health of the earth – oceans absorb carbon dioxide and convert it into the oxygen that we breathe which means we need the oceans as global warming heats up. Sharks are great for ecotourism too – not only do people love to dive with sharks but shark cage diving is a huge adventure sport for novice and pro divers. This heightens awareness about the species and allows people to really study sharks and discover more about their fascinating personalities. Unfortunately over-fishing is not helping shark populations as millions are killed for their fins, livers, meat and other products every year.
This then makes the AfriOceans Swim with a Shark Project ultra-important – for sharks, the oceans and people!
“Sharks are greatly misunderstood creatures and we set the record straight. More successful than the dinosaurs, and much older than we are, sharks are the most diverse group of vertebrate animals on Earth. Here at Seaforth we have found a number of endemic shark species found no-where else in the world, “explains Corr with huge enthusiasm.