In a joint operation between iSimangaliso Wetland Park-based Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife staff, the Richards Bay SAPS ORS border police and the SAPS KZN Airwing, a number of illegal poacher boats in the uMfolozi floodplain area of the iSimangaliso world heritage site were captured.
The combined operation comprised a ground team, supported by a quad-bike and scrambler supplied by the SAPS, who rounded up the boats, while the helicopter from the SAPS KZN Airwing circled overhead, pointing out hidden boats in the dense vegetation and co-ordinating the operation.
The floodplain area lies a short distance from St Lucia and adjacent Dukuduku and is a known place where poachers hide their illegal boats in dense vegetation and reeds beds. From here they infiltrate the Lake St Lucia Estuary to set gill-nets for catching fish and prawns. Gill-nets are not permitted in any estuarine system in South Africa due to the negative impacts on the delicate ecology. In the last month over two kilometres of gill-nets and four boats were seized by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife’s Anti-Poaching Unit in the Lake St Lucia Estuary, and two arrests were made.
“The large-scale killing of fish and prawns from gillnetting has a direct negative effect on the food supply within the estuarine system. It is not sustainable and is literally taking the food out the mouths of legitimate subsistence fishers’ families. It can also impact negatively on tourism and jobs” says iSimangaliso CEO Andrew Zaloumis.
The fish stocks and prawns are particularly vulnerable at the moment as the estuary functions begin to re-establish following the recently opening of the estuary to the sea after ten years of a closed mouth. Many of the fish and prawn species are known as ‘estuarine-dependant’ which means they are completely dependent on the Lake St Lucia estuarine system to complete their life cycle. The juveniles enter the system and grow up in the sheltered food-rich waters of the estuary and then migrate out to breed in the open ocean.
For these reasons Park management remains vigilant and will continue combating illegal activities. If members of the public have any information, or see something suspicious please report these to the iSimangaliso’s emergency no. 082-7977944 or Siboniso Duma (Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife Conservation Manager St Lucia Marine) on 082-5592871.