With shark killings reaching 70 million a year globally, shark conservationist Lesley Rochat has intensified her fight against the slaughter of sharks. Recently, Rochat stripped naked for an anti-shark net awareness poster against shark nets on the KwaZulu Natal coast. (A possible alternative to shark nets: a wetsuit that claims to prevent shark attacks.)
“I have proudly joined women who have through the ages gone naked to protest against numerous issues of concern. For example, women have gone naked against bull fighting, against war, against the fur trade, and now against the senseless slaughter of our sharks and other marine life in the Kwazulu-Natal shark nets in South Africa,” said Rochat.
Conservationist, filmmaker, writer, photographer and speaker Lesley Rochat has dedicated her life to shark conservation. Affectionately known as the ‘Shark Warrior‘, Rotchat has travelled all over the globe raising awareness about sharks.
Rochat’s interest in the marine predators developed a decade ago when she was a travel and environmental journalist. Her travels around the world gave her an opportunity to meet Maxine, a shark that had been injured by a net before being rehabilitated at the Two Oceans Aquarium (one of the highlights at the V&A Waterfront) in Cape Town. Maxine’s story inspired Rochat to form AfriOceans Conservation Alliance to raise awareness about the plight of sharks in 2003.
In an attempt to change the sharks’ image as evil man-eating predators, Rochat produced several documentaries and the multi-award winning Rethinking the Shark which was followed by the Panda Award winning short awareness video, Save the Shark.
Film is not the only medium the Shark Warrior has used to spread the word about sharks. She has penned a few educational books on the subject at children such as Sharks – Teacher Handbook and ABC of the Seas. Some of her written work has made it into publications such as Getaway and Africa Geographic.
On her last trip Florida, US, a city with the highest number of shark attacks in the world, Rochat observed that no shark nets are placed to protect bathers. In South Africa, however, there are shark nets on the coast, leading to the death of more sharks. The shark nets on the KwaZulu-Natal coast are 214 metres long and six metres deep, and are laid 400 metres offshore. Durban, the largest coastal city in the country, has 17 shark nets, each with a length of 305 metres.
‘These nets are wiping out our tiger shark population, which people come from all over the world to dive with. They are of high value in the shark diving eco-tourism industry. Florida, despite its high shark attack statistics is a very positive example for South Africa to follow,’ said Rochat.
From Florida, Lesley set sail on the Dolphin Dream vessel for Tiger Beach, a top shark-diving site in the Bahamas. Lesley gathered images and footage of sharks for a book and a documentary to use for her campaign, which aims to put shark attacks into perspective. As part of the campaign, Lesley dove with large tiger sharks at Tiger Beach.
‘It’s important for me to walk my talk and show people that sharks are not monster man-eaters with insatiable appetites for humans, but rather beautiful animals we ought to respect and protect,’ she added.
AfriOcean Conservation Alliance
Tel: 021-7827-590, www.aoca.org.za