The evidence of human beings consuming more resources than what the environment is able to bear is becoming increasingly obvious.
From terrestrial to marine poaching, almost no plant or animal species has been left unscathed.
In the depths of the Cape’s Atlantic and Indian Oceans lurks an ear shaped mollusk currently being decimated by many cultures who consider abalone, or perlemoen (Halitosis midae), a delicacy.
Abalone or Perlemoen, haliotis midae, which occurs in South Africa. Photo: iStock
From south east Asia to France, abalone numbers have been declining steadily since the 19th century.
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Human beings are pushing their luck by continuing to harvest them, further driving down numbers – something Table Mountain National Park (TMNP) conservation manager Ezekiel Kosa is committed to avoiding.
TMNP conservation manager Ezekiel Kosa explains the significance of law enforcement and community collaboration, to prevent the decimation of abalone in South African waters. Photo: Nica Richards
Kosa said many tip-offs received by TMNP and police comes from members of the public.
However, these same communities harbour abalone poachers, who are paid to disregard compliance and laws by diving and over-harvesting these creatures.
Police gear up to demonstrate boats used to catch abalone poachers at Miller’s Point in Cape Town. Photo: Nica Richards
The acts of non-compliance are escalating, Kosa said, creating a trend that is difficult to stop without environmental education.
“We have initiatives such as environmental education and awareness where we ensure we involve members of communities. Also, within the organisation, when we have job opportunities, the communities are interested.
Some of the abalone worth millions of rand seized from a house in Table View, Cape Town, 17 April 2019. Picture: Supplied
“We are appealing to communities to work with SANParks [South African National Parks] to protect this pristine coast, because this you will not find anyone else. Without their support, achieving our goals is not going to be easy,” Kosa explained.
Rangers and conservationists within SANParks rely heavily on collaborative efforts with the City of Cape Town (CoCT) and police to assist them in conserving abalone, and keeping them in South African waters.
Initiatives such as Operation Phakisa, started in 2014, was started to bring law enforcement together, “to unlock the ocean economy”, he said.
Police rely heavily on community tip-offs of abalone poachers, but cannot act alone. Collaboration is essential to preserving marine life. Photo: Nica Richards
Abalone busts are made daily by police and patrolling TMNP teams, and despite significant collaborative efforts, the demand for abalone is challenging to keep up with.
“This is driven by various factors. One is demand and supply. There is a lot of money involved. You look at that and the vulnerability of communities.
“However, we do not believe it is in the nation’s interest to fight this alone.
“We need everyone in South Africa, from those working at airports and harbours to border gates, we need to work together, because no resource must leave our shores while we are watching.”
A 24-year-old man was arrested for being in possession of abalone valued at an estimated amount of R370,000 in Cape Town in 2019. PHOTO: Supplied/SAPS
Removing any species from an ecosystem can have devastating effects on other animals dependant on them to survive.
Other than humans, who harvest abalone for profit, sea otters are some of abalone’s most significant predators, despite their tough exterior.
Sea otters have unique ways of opening marine life with tough exteriors, such as abalone. Photo for illustration: iStock
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Even from the start of an abalone’s life, when it is an egg and a larvae, filter-feeding creatures such as crabs, lobsters and fish pose a threat.
From rough seas to snails, abalone are part of an intricate underwater circle of life that is difficult to understand and document, but is significant nonetheless.
A close-up of abalone tentacles. Photo: iStock
Being faced with existing predators is challenging enough, but humans, through unsustainable abalone fishing practices, are coming dangerously close to being solely responsible for the species’ demise.
A woman walks past a shop with a window display of tinned abalone products in Hong Kong | © AFP | Anthony WALLACE
“When you remove something like abalone, you destroy the food chain, and in that, it can affect other species. By keeping the number of abalone, to make sure their predators can survive.
“We believe that abalone need to stay. We cannot fold our arms while watching them disappear. We are going to do our best to make sure we preserve this valuable species, not only for us, but for the future generation.”
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