Nets protect World Cup fans from Durban's sharks

Mon Jul 5, 2010 9:34am EDT
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By David Clarke

DURBAN (Reuters Life!) - The boat speeds out of Durban's port before dawn carrying men with a crucial job: checking the nets that keep sharks at bay each day before thousands of World Cup soccer fans hit the beach.

Since June 11, hundreds of thousands of visitors from around the world have enjoyed the coastal city's winter sunshine, sandy beachfront and spectacular surf, but the Indian Ocean waters off Durban are also teeming with large, hungry sharks.

Great Whites, tiger sharks and bull sharks -- known locally as Zambezis -- are the most dangerous to humans among the 14 species typically caught off the KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) coastline and the Sharks Board based in Durban is taking no chances.

"We have adequately provided protection for holidaymakers, irrespective of the volume of people on the beach. We've got them covered," said Sharks Board spokeswoman Debbie Hargreaves, aboard a boat showing tourists the early morning work.

The board was set up in 1964 to protect bathers from attacks after a spate of deaths in the late 1950s and it now guards 38 beaches along 360 km (224 miles) of KwaZulu Natal coastline.

The Board's record from 1990 through 2009 speaks for itself: the last attack at a protected beach was in 1999 and the surfer survived. The last fatal attack was in 1995, but not at a beach guarded by the Sharks Board.

In the same period, there have been 16 fatal attacks off the Cape in southern South Africa -- with seven in the past three years -- as more and more bathers take to the sea, shielded from the chilly waters thanks to wet and dry suits.

"If you look at a graph, shark attacks in KZN have gone down and the shark attacks in the Cape have actually risen, purely because of the volume of people that are now utilizing the beaches in the Cape," she told Reuters.   Continued...

<p>A surfing instructor and his student head towards the Indian Ocean surf on Durban beach June 20, 2010. REUTERS/Paul Hanna</p>