KwaZulu Natal Tourist AttractionsAliwal Shoal Marine Protected Area
Where? Umkomaas, South Coast, KwaZulu Natal
How? Call +27 (0)39 973-2233
The aim of a marine protected area is to conserve marine life. They take the form of a collaboration between civil society, communities and government that promote conservation and safeguard threatened marine species and important habitats.
Most people know that Aliwal Shoal is one of the country's major dive sites, and one of the best sites at which to spot raggies, or ragged-tooth sharks, particularly as they are in evidence in these waters for five months of the year.
It makes absolute sense, then, that the offshore reef (interestingly not a coral reef - although there is evidence of soft and hard corals, especially sponges - but fossilised sandstone) should have protection within a marine protected area.
The reef lies 5 km offshore from the Umkomaas River mouth just off the little coastal village of Umkomaas.
The marine protected area extends 18.3 km between the Mzimayi and Umkomaas river mouths, and 7 km offshore, including a couple of ship wrecks within its parameters.
Raggies are not the only sharks protected within the MPA. There are also Zambezi sharks, tiger sharks, hammerheads and, every now and again, an enormous whale shark.
From May through November one can sight humpback whales from the shoal, whilst dolphins in the area include humpback and bottlenose dolphins. Divers can also expect to see turtles and reef fish, for the reef is also a breeding and nursery area.
However, because it is such a popular dive site and fishing area, the seas are inundated with divers, ski-boat fishers, charter fishers, spear fishers, rock and surf fishers and commercial fishers. Shark diving and chumming is an issue. And it is difficult to monitor the tendency of shark diving operators to disobey the conditions for permits, rules and exemptions.
As a result, one of the objectives of the MPA is to reduce user conflicts over the use of Aliwal Shoal, as well as to protect and conserve the marine ecosystem.
The Aliwal Shoal no-take zones are too small at the moment, and there is not enough protection for marine biodiversity. The MPA is looking at an additional sanctuary and restricted zone.