Social media is something that can be ‘marmite’ for a lot of people, as it does give voice to those sometimes best left unheard. But at ONEOFTHE8 we believe that its positives so often outweigh its negatives, entertaining, informing and connecting people, and providing a window on the world that allows us to see things we may otherwise never be aware of.
The work of Naude Dreyer and Ocean Conservation Namibia is a truly wonderful example of this, as the videos of the incredible work he does are witnessed by thousands of people all across the world. Seeing Naude catching seals and cutting them free from fishing line, they’re not always an easy watch, but each and every video shows just how much our guest is dedicated to the rescuing of injured animals and to ‘repaying a debt to the ocean’.
But how did this all begin?
Growing up in Namibia’s Etosha National Park wildlife sanctuary, where his parents worked before moving to the coast when he was seven years old, and having a father involved with rescuing dolphins and stranded whales, meant a ‘conservation mindset’ was a natural progression of things for Naude.
‘We’ve grown up with Attenborough in the house, always had conservationists around us’
His love for the great outdoors and for the stunning natural landscape of Namibia’s Skeleton Coast, led Naude into studying tourism management and subsequently starting out in Namibia’s biggest industry.
‘You come on holiday to Namibia, it’s completely for the outdoor experience’
Qualifying as a scuba diving instructor, spending time surfing and kayaking, Naude set up a business with his wife, giving kayaking tours to visitors wanting to experience this unique natural environment, and at the same time allowing him to spend more time on his beloved ocean.
‘I’ve just always been in the ocean and in nature, I’ve really got an extreme passion for being outdoors and in nature’
70% of Namibia’s coastline is MPA (Marine Protected Area) with little public access, so it’s not widely known that the country has a huge seal population, estimated at 1.3 million. Naude and his wife run their kayaking business from an area of the coast called Pelican Point, and there alone they have a colony of over 60,000 of Cape fur seals.
And this is where the seal rescues began.
On a kayaking trip back in 2013, Naude spotted a seal entangled in fishing line and dragging a net behind him. They were able to catch the seal, cut away the entanglement, and send him to swim freely on his way.
‘We just saved this animals life, it was an awesome experience’
From that moment on Naude’s awareness of injured and entangled seals was heightened. Unable to bear seeing these beautiful animals suffering, he saw every opportunity to help them as an opportunity to pay something back to the ocean, and everything just developed from there. ‘The more I looked for them, the more I found them’.
‘I mean being an animal lover I just couldn’t bear the feeling of seeing these animals, knowing they were going to die and not trying my absolute best to save them’
Whilst that first rescue could be described as opportunistic, ‘just trying to help out’, what has happened since is truly incredible. Making a serious commitment, ‘more of an obsession’, to the rescuing of entangled seals, Naude and his wife set up not for profit organisation ‘Ocean Conservation Namibia’ and have since rescued an estimated 1,500 seals, including an amazing 600 in this year alone.
The small OCN team of Naude, his wife, and a couple of the guides who work with the kayaking business, has recently been supplemented by Sea Sheppard member Antione Amory, who after visiting Pelican Point became stranded there because of the COVID 19 lockdown.
Watching this team do what they do is both astonishing and humbling, and whilst the action is condensed into minutes for the videos they share, the reality that we don’t see is the hours and hours invested in patrolling the beaches looking for injured animals.
‘If the videos were a live feed it would be really, really boring. We spend hours and hours just slowly driving around looking through binoculars’.
As soon as an entangled seal is spotted a strategy for catching them is worked out, and the team springs into action, sometimes using a net, sometimes grabbing them by hand, depending upon the size of the seal. Every rescue demands its own tactics. Once caught, the assortment of cutting tools that the team carries are called upon to free seals from the fishing lines, fishing nets, and even fishing hooks, that have entangled them.
It’s not without its hairy moments for the team either, seals are powerful animals and Naude has a few scars as lasting souvenirs of his work. ‘I’ve got a few stitches, but it’s never attack, it’s purely self-defence - he’s protecting himself’.
As you watch the videos – and we highly recommend that you do - it’s an absolute joy to see these animals freed from entanglements and dashing back into the ocean, where they can then swim freely and let the natural healing powers of the salt-water repair the wounds caused by the fishing lines.
‘Bittersweet is the word I always use to describe it, it’s so awesome to be able to do that, but at the same time it just highlights how big this problem really is’
So how can this problem be solved?
Unsurprisingly, the people whose livelihoods depend on fishing for ‘snook’ are not the biggest fans of the seals. They see them as their competition, often taking fish off their lines. For a country that doesn’t view its seals as an endangered species, and that also has its significant social issues to focus upon, the problem of injured seals is a difficult ‘sell’ too.
‘Conservation is a luxury in a place like Namibia, we have massive social problems’
Recognising that they are ‘treating the symptoms of the problem’ and ‘not getting to the root cause’, Ocean Conservation Namibia are determined to find ways to reduce the amount of waste that’s ending up in the ocean.
With a desire to find a solution that works for both sides, Naude believes the answer is to incentivise the fisherman to bring back the knotted lines they cut loose and ditch, rather than dumping them in the ocean where they entangle not only seals, but also turtles and dolphins too. If this could be done, both the seals and the fishermen would benefit.
The work of Ocean Conservation Namibia doesn’t stop here either.
Collaborating with scientific studies, the team provide valuable data through the collection of fur samples, and the recording of any changes in behaviour in the seal colony. This recently led to Naude featuring in a live interview on BBC News World Service, when thousands of seal pup foetuses were found dead in what was a tragic scene on a beach in Namibia.
After collecting samples for biopsies, Naude was able to tell the world that rather than over-fishing, climatic changes may be the cause, as similar climatic conditions in 1994 saw the colony lose almost one third of its seal population. During these changes, unusual currents and temperatures force the fish further away and out of range of the pregnant female seals. With such a lack of food, they’re known to abort their babies, apparently obeying nature’s law of helping only the fittest survive.
‘It’s a natural cycle that’s been happening since long before human interference’
By now you may be asking ‘how do they fund their work?’
Well, this dedicated family man and father of three, who draws his own inspiration from his young daughter and her successful battle with serious illness, is driven purely by his love of the natural world, and his love and respect of the ocean.
Every single thing they do is funded through their social media and through crowd funding on their OCN ‘Go Get Funding’ page. ‘We’re a small team doing what we do’ and it’s clearly very much appreciated by donors from all around the world. As Naude proudly tells us ‘the support is incredible’ and costs are covered enough ‘to keep us out there every day’.
‘I owe so much to the ocean, it’s my playground, my work, my source of income, it gives me peace. I feel like a custodian, I owe it, I need to pay it back’
Our world and our oceans need more people like Naude Dreyer, and more organisations like Ocean Conservation Namibia – and to continue their incredible work they need our support. You can find out more about OCN here, and you can make a donation here.
To see Naude and his team in action, follow him on Instagram @namib_naude
To hear more about Naude and the incredible work he is doing to rescue entangled seals, be sure to catch his episode on the ONEOFTHE8 podcast.