South Africa’s marine environment, like its terrestrial counterpart, is also facing a poaching onslaught against its resources and abalone in particular is systematically being targeted by organized crime. However, the end users are not always as might be expected.
During a late winters afternoon and while walking along the Arniston coastline in the southern Cape, I saw two Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries officials watching someone in a wetsuit who was struggling in heavy surf. They said the person was an abalone poacher and that he was refusing to come out of the sea and abandon his bag of illegally collected abalone. His partner had already managed to escape.
The officials had apparently chased the “poacher” all along a kilometer of coastline and he was now very weak in the water. Standing there, I could hear him constantly swearing at the officials and saying that he would rather die than release his abalone and come out to be arrested and go to jail. After an hour of watching this, and with the poacher getting even weaker, the officials gave up and walked away. The “poacher” managed to get to some rocks but was still being pounded by breaking waves. He had been badly smashed up and had large lacerations on his feet and hands and was showing signs of hyperthermia.
When I spoke to him as he still sat on the rocks, he said that he needed the abalone for food and for money to pay for his children to go to school. He said that he was unemployed and that no one in his extended family worked. To me, what was particularly interesting though, is that he said that he sold his catch to the “rich whites” that visited Arniston over weekends and that he sold the abalone by going from door to door to their houses. He stated that it was particularly the people from the rich suburbs of Cape Town that bought his catch and that they knew the abalone was illegal but bought it anyway!
Having regained his strength somewhat, he quickly made a dash and ran off a distance before walking away out of sight over the dunes. This encounter obviously raises a number of questions, particularly about how we can stop crime and poaching when even the so-called well-educated and well-off in society knowingly partake in illegal activities.
Peter Chadwick is a Fellow of the International League of Conservation Photographers (iLCP) whose mission is to further environmental and cultural conservation through photography. The iLCP’s goal is to use the art of high-quality photography to encourage people to take action in support of tangible and meaningful conservation measures.