The future of South Africa's shark populations are not looking good. Outdated shark nets, overfishing, and a general ignorance about the endangered nature of our ocean's marine species are threatening their survival.
But 15-year-old Sethu Mataung is doing everything in her power to change that. The brave young woman is working with her schoolmates, teachers, and research bodies in Durban -- where she is a student at Eden College -- to turn around the fate of Durban's endangered sharks.
Mataung's presentation at the 2017 Wildlife Youth Forum, which took place on Thursday in Johannesburg, presented her team's findings. Their work compared the different shark-protection methods (i.e., methods to protect humans from sharks) currently in place, to determine their effectiveness in a more holistic marine context.
"We always talk about terrestrial animals, like rhinos and elephants, but no one talks about marine species. We leant in our research that sharks were endangered –– even though you always expect sharks to be predators, and always hunting people," Mataung told HuffPost.
Their research examined two case studies: one in Durban, which still makes use of traditional shark nets, and another in Australia, which makes use of more high-tech approaches. Durban's shark nets have a high level of by-catch, she explains –– in other words, other endangered animals like turtles and dolphins, along with harmless shark species like hammerheads, are frequent fatalities of outdated methods like nets.
"We learnt that Australia is very innovative in terms of their shark-protection methods. They have this new system in place that is basically a clever buoy system that detects species," she explains.
Cape Town has moved toward a slightly more advanced drumline system of protection, but there are still psychological barriers in the public consciousness that prevent the adoption of several new technologies, because don't include an actual physical barrier.
"You always think that [protection against shark attacks] has to be a barrier, but it really doesn't have to," she says. "It's all about how people feel. If you tell them that there are only buoys, or drumlines, in the water, they are going to be sceptical about going into the water. They want to feel protected. So the people in charge still want to make people feel comfortable, even though they don't really need to."
Her love for sharks began at the age of three.
"The thing I like about them is that they are so misunderstood. They really don't want to come and attack us. I see that in my friends too –– we judge people before we really know what they want. I feel like the shark species have been judged a lot [because of] attacks, but they aren't the bad predators they are made out to be."