'A flipping silly idea'

14 May 2015 - 02:07 By Bobby Jordan

Boat rides to view Cape Town's seal colonies could soon be illegal if new environmental regulations come into effect. Snorkelling close to seal colonies would also be outlawed.In terms of draft new regulations, gazetted last month, boats and divers would have to observe a 30m buffer zone between any group of 50 or more seals. This would effectively criminalise Cape Town's popular boat trips to Duiker Island near Hout Bay.But tourism stakeholders say the regulations - intended to stop "harassment" of threatened or protected species - were impractical and could do more harm than good."This proposed legislation makes no provision for the practice of scuba diving or snorkelling in close proximity to seal colonies," said internationally renowned photographer Jean Tresfon, who has formally objected to the new regulations issued by the Department of Environmental Affairs."There is no indication that activity by snorkellers and scuba divers causes the seals any distress or leads to harmful behaviour modification that could impact individual seals' chances of survival."Seals are curious and friendly, and frequently and willingly approach people in the water in order to interact."If conducted sensitively, trips allowing visitors to experience Cape fur seals have great conservation value, not only encouraging awareness of seal conservation issues but also of other species, and of plastic pollution in the marine environment."The move to "protect" seals was also questionable because Cape fur seals were not endangered."They are classified as 'least concern' on the IUCN Red List."Ken Evans, of Circe Launches in Hout Bay, which offers tourist boat rides to Duiker Island, said the seal trips supported about 50 jobs. Boats would no longer be able to enter the channel between the mainland and the island."The channel is hardly that wide [30m]. So if you go in the channel you are automatically transgressing."Steve Benjamin from Animal Ocean Seal Snorkelling, the biggest operation of its type in Cape Town, said the regulations would destroy the burgeoning seal snorkelling business."I don't think that anyone in government realised that there are so many businesses featuring seals. There are lots of people paying to go and dive with them."Zelda Jongbloed, a Democratic Alliance member of Parliament's agriculture, forestry and fisheries portfolio committee, said: "It seems as though the department creates unnecessary problems because of the failure to consult properly with communities and interest groups."The Department of Environmental Affairs could not be reached for comment.

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