For several years now I have found large empty dog food bags on a local beach and, until this weekend, I could never explain why or how they got there.
On Friday there was a large truck parked near the start of the walking trail that leads to the Sardinia Bay Marine Reserve in the village of Schoenmakerskop near Port Elizabeth. I recognised the truck and knew that it belongs to the firm that has the concession to harvest seaweed along the east coast of South Africa. I also know that they can collect seaweed anywhere along the coast as long as it is not in a marine protected environment. Seaweed harvesting is a good thing as the seaweeds grow back quickly and it counts as an environmentally sustainable practice.
Seeing as I had my cameras I thought I might photograph the illegal harvesting in the reserve and use it to stop the practice. Seaweed harvesting is not easy and the workers work at low tide getting wet and working on what is very rough terrain. Of course once you have harvested the seaweed you need to get it back to the truck and the workers have to carry the heavy wet bags back to the truck.
It was while I was examining these images that I finally understood the large empty dog food bags on the beach. The locals are used to carrying heavy loads on their heads like firewood – it is a cultural practice and something that is often seen. Firewood might be heavy but at least it does not drip salt water so it makes sense to put the heavy wet bags of seaweed that have to be carried on the head in another bag that does not leak and continually shower you with water. Dog food bags are strong and watertight and are perfect for the job.
Now I just need to find out why empty dog food bags are used (there are so many different bags out there) and how they obtain them.
(The good news is that today the seaweed harvesting was not in the reserve – it helps to raise concerns and sometimes you get a good response!)