Where have all the Great Whites gone? We asked shark photographer and marine conservationist Chris Fallows to name his top three strategies to save South Africa's sharks.

Chris Fallows was a wildlife naturalist before he became a photographer. He was the first to get up close and personal with breaching Great White Sharks in False Bay, Cape Town. When his spectacular images hit front pages around the world, the majestic shark rode a new wave of media popularity – one much more positive than the fear-inducing sensationalism of Jaws.

Chris's photos made it clear that the apex shark was a magnificent creature to be revered. But he hasn't seen a Great White in False Bay since 2018.  

Experts believe that the sudden absence of the apex ocean predator coincides with the decimation of their primary food source – smaller sharks – and that long-line fishing is to blame.

Here Chris shares the three most urgent and important things we can do right now to help South Africa's sharks:


"My first recommendation would be to manage fisheries at a national level from an ecosystem approach, as is done in many places around the world.

There have been amazing studies done on what happens when you remove an apex predator from a terrestrial environment, like the one on how the wolves shaped Yellowstone. It's no different with our oceans. If you take out an apex predator it has a cascading effect.

From a scientific point of view, it would be really useful for South African fisheries to look at an ecosystem approach instead of managing our resources in a species-specific approach. If you issue permits to extract sharks, you need to look at the implications and ramifications for the entire food chain.

In South Africa, the shark long-line fishery has had no environmental impact study done on it. That is function of the fact that the department has a mandate to focus on creating jobs – but the implications of doing that are widespread.

If you look at the differences between the South African shark long-line fishery and the Australian one you will see huge gaps in terms of how the respective fisheries are managed. Not surprisingly, the Australian fishery is in good health and South Africa’s shark stocks are collapsing.

South Africa’s short-sighted approach not only has a huge effect on the natural resource itself, but also has a potential impact on other industries that create more jobs and bring far more revenue to the country. If creating one industry knocks out another ten, it makes no sense on an environmental level, and it makes no sense on a financial level.

Due to massive public pressure, in March 2020 Environmental Affairs Minister Barbara Creecy convened an expert shark panel (a tick-box exercise, some would say, since the panel was comprised of mostly the same government officials who got South Africa’s shark resources into the mess they are in currently).

Sadly, after three months all the panel could suggest was a one-size-fits-all slot limit across all targeted shark species. This means that the fisheries may kill only sharks between 70cm and 130cm in size. This is obviously a very broad brushstroke, as different species mature at different sizes and quite simply it’s like lumping elephants, lions and impala in the same size range for hunting – it does not work.

Tragically, despite their own data clearly showing a catastrophic collapse of the soup fin shark, which is designated critically endangered, they still allowed it to be commercially targeted. This is quite simply ecological genocide and needs to be brought to the international public's attention."


"My second suggestion would be to dramatically increase the enforcement of existing rules around Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). Despite the well-intentioned creation of all these offshore reserves, if you have no enforcement you are relying on people's honesty to not go and plunder those resources. So you need to have effective enforcement of regulations.

At the end of the day if you don't have enforcement you pull the wool over everybody's eyes thinking that these areas are protected, when in effect they are not. They just become private fishing areas to be plundered by poachers.

Around the world we are seeing a trend to creating MPAs specifically with protection of apex predators in mind. We're seeing many countries where shark and marine tourism is being pushed and promoted.  I'd like to see the same amount of energy and resources from fisheries directed towards non-consumptive use, and to ensuring that those industries are sustainable long term."


"Thirdly, it would be very beneficial to create buffer zones around reserves. In that buffer zone you allow limited exploitation or extraction. You certainly don't allow industrial scale fisheries to camp on the edge of marine reserves ready to catch everything as it crosses the boundary. But this is what the shark long-liners do. Can you imagine the outcry if we went to the Kruger Park, took all the fences down, put out chunks of meat to attract the lions, wild dogs, hyenas and cheetah, and then set gin traps waiting for them? But that's exactly what we're doing to our ocean.

I would cherry pick a couple of marine reserves in South Africa and direct funds towards putting a patrol vessel with two rangers in each one. You are always afraid when you know there's a policeman looking out for you; that's the deterrent effect that a patrol vessel has. Giving those rangers enforcement capabilities, or even strengthening those capabilities that may already exist, would substantially enhance the viability of marine reserves in South Africa and help protect the marine resources in those reserves."

For more on long-lining and its impact on shark populations, and in particular the practice of exporting so many of our sharks to Australia for fish and chips, go to

For more on long-lining and its impact on shark populations, and in particular the practice of exporting so many of our sharks to Australia for fish and chips, go to