Fair Trade Tourism. – Working out of Gansbaai in the Overberg, White Shark Projects fly the Fair Trade Tourism flag with pride, being one of only a couple of operators that have attained that certification in an industry that certainly needs monitoring.
I arrived for breakfast, which is served in their sunny dining room whilst forms are filled out, a briefing is offered and the anticipation gently builds. There was a group of about 20 that have come here from around the world, all with the hope of seeing the endangered Great White Shark.
We walked down to the Kleinbaai Harbour with our life jackets on, a precaution for the launch of the Shark Team boat.The cage had been left out at sea after the morning dive, and we headed there and attached it to the anchored boat, starting the prep as we were divided into groups of 8. The cage’s capacity.
Dressed in our allocated 7mm thick wet suits and booties, we watched as the line was thrown out with the slick of fish oil from the chum reaching out to the ocean. After about 15 minutes of bopping on the wave, the first great white arrived and we were helped into the cage.
From the cage we waited for the sharks to show themselves, dropping below the surface to get the best look at them when they did. Visibility was 1-2m, not the best, but still there we were, in the water with these powerful animals.
After more than half an hour in water that was said to be about 12 degrees celsius, we got out to make place for the next group. Drying off and snacking on a sandwich while we watched the activity from above water. After each group had been offered a generous opportunity in the water, we pulled up the cage and took our place for the trip back to shore. Content and basking in the privilege of sharing the water with these great animals.
The best time to do white shark viewing is between June and September. The boat bases itself in the Joubertsdam area in Summer and off Dyer Island in Winter. Influenced by the shark’s feeding patterns.
Quote from the team, best thing about being Fair Trade Tourism. certified? The sense of belonging and feel good that the endorsement gives them. They are doing things right and belong to a collection of businesses that do. That and the invaluable guidance FTT offers.
Getting into the cage, while the fish are used to draw the sharks closer.
There is a period of waiting, as these apex animals are wild and will only arrive if and when they want to. Sad reality is that there are estimated to be less than 5000 great whites left in all the world, we’re very lucky to see any at all.
The bait used for chumming, tuna not fit for human consumption, sardines and anchovy oil. They certainly draw attention.
The buoy with chum that waits for the sharks. White Shark Projects do minimum chumming, no feeding at all and work to have minimum impact on the feeding environment.
And there they were, the beauties! Visibility was about 1-2m and I actually ended up with a better view of them from the boat, than the water on this occasion.
Happiness after my turn in the cage. What a privilege to get this close to three great whites. Each session lasts about 30-40 minutes, depending on you, and the cage takes 8 people at a time.
Then headed back to shore after about 3-4 successful hours on sea.
Wetsuits drying in the sun and wind
We were all awarded certificates of merit confirming that we’d braved the cold waters to see the beautiful sharks. Back in the office the skipper completed the Department of Environmental Affairs form and shark cage diving logbook that records how many sharks were seen, their behaviour, whether they are tagged or identified, their length. This serves part of the requirements for operator licenses, as well as valuable marine research.
Shark’s dorsal fins are like our fingerprints and are photographed and recorded to see if patterns are emerging. The evidence dictates that no.
Speaking to the team afterwards they highlighted some of the projects that they are involved in. There’s a Swap Shop and recycling project in the community, beach clean ups arranged and the educating of the impact of litter on the oceans in local schools.
The Fair Trade Tourism audit every two years ensures that these projects are active and guides White Shark Projects in them. They assist with putting Eco-Tourism practices in place, investigate the consequences on the environment and ensure job creation.
White Shark Projects offer a safe and professional environment from which to view the sharks.
White Shark Projects work in operation with the South African Shark Conservancy who are based in Hermanus.
Read about my other experiences here: #FTT10YearBirthdayCampaign