Nets on yachts a danger to coastal birds

A Cape cormorant trapped in nets on a boat.

Five dead birds have been found in nets on one yacht. They are not the first and Tracy Pomeroy-Ward wants something to be done about it.

Ms Pomeroy-Ward of Paddle Experience said they were noticing more and more Cape cormorants trapped in the nets on the boats.

“It’s an awful way to die,” she said. “The boats that we’re talking about aren’t used and have not left their moorings for more than a year that we’ve been paddling there.”

Ms Pomeroy-Ward notified Sea Search and the South African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB).

Sea Search co-founder Dr Tess Gridley said most nets were used to prevent birds from nesting and pooping, with some used as a safety measure, for example to prevent people going overboard.

“But poorly maintained or incorrect nets are an issue if birds nest on the boats and then become entangled. This is most likely to happen with boats which are anchored for long periods and are not used or maintained regularly,” said Dr Gridley.

According to Sanccob’s research manager, Dr Katta Ludynia, the Cape cormorant is a protected species under the Marine Threatened and Protected Species (TOPS) regulations due to the lack of suitable prey. Any disturbance to breeding Cape cormorants can lead to a fine or imprisonment.

Dr Ludynia said Sanccob had admitted two birds with injuries sustained when they became entangled in nets.

“And we know of several mortalities in these nets, including those on the yacht in the image supplied,” she said, referring to the pictures taken by Ms Pomeroy-Ward, which the Bulletin had forwarded to her.

Dr Ludynia has been working with Dr Gridley and Ms Pomeroy-Ward recording the sounds birds make as part of a bioacoustic research project.

“We’ve noticed high amounts of plastics in the bird nest – mainly cable ties, fishing line, ropes,which is a concern. Also multiple dead birds entangled in nets,” said Dr Gridley.

Dr Ludynia said Sanccob was engaging with the Simon’s Town Marina Company (STMC), the False Bay Yacht Club (FBYC) and the Department of Environment, Fisheries and Forestry (DEFF), oceans and coast branch.

Most nets are used to prevent birds from nesting and pooping on the yachts.

Dr Ludynia said the marina company is presently removing the nets from boats that don’t have any breeding Cape cormorants on them.

“When the birds have started building nests, the boats cannot be used for several months. Trying to remove nets from boats with active nests will cause huge disturbance and mortalities and boats with active breeding birds will have to remain as is until the chicks have fledged,” said Dr Ludynia.

She urges the public not to interfere and not to try to remove nets.

“We’re engaging with boat owners and have requested for the boats to not be accessed (or used) so as to let the birds finish their breeding season,” said Dr Ludynia.

She said owners install nets with good intentions but they are not always appropriate and the local conditions, with strong winds, lead to nets ripping. If nets were to be used they would need to be maintained regularly.

Dr Ludynia said birds will not settle to breed if the boats are used regularly.

However, most boats on the swing moorings (concrete blocks positioned on the sea bed with a series of chains attached to a buoy which floats on the water) in Simon’s Town have not been used and thus birds have chosen to breed on them.

False Bay Yacht Club is a blue flag marina.

Wildlife management programme coordinator at Two Oceans Aquarium, Brett Glasby, said there were many non-lethal methods to deter birds (from nesting on boats) such as flashing lights and sudden noises so hanging anything reflective that can turn in the wind will help. Also anything that makes a noise when the birds land will deter them.

When the Bulletin asked FBYC and STMC for the contact details of yacht owners with nets on them, Kim Dustan of STMC said all boat owners had been contacted to remove the netting from their vessels.

“The threat to these birds from the netting is of great concern to us hence we are working with the assistance of the authorities to find a safe and sustainable solution,” she said.

Yvonne Macdonald of FBYC said Simon’s Town was a blue flag marina and it was of utmost importance to both FBYC and STMC that “we ensure a healthy and sustainable environment for all life in and around the Simon’s Bay marinas”.

Blue Flag is a certification by the Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE) that a beach, marina, or sustainable boating tourism operator meets its standards. Certificates, which FEE refers to as awards, are issued every year to beaches and marinas of FEE member countries.

DEFF did not respond to questions by the time this story was published.