"I'm a local fisherman in Sezela... I come down every afternoon...I think sardine run for us is very important... it's the largest shoal in the world... it's an experience... you get hundreds and thousands of people running into the water... its an awesome experience... " Warren Meyer


A small shoal of sardines trapped in the shallows, KwaZulu Natal

Each year on the Eastern Coast of South Africa, in the winter months of June/July, the nutrient rich currents that bring colder water northwards of the Cape also bring millions of pelagic fish: the staple diet of every predator in the area.

Common dolphins mass into superpods several thousand strong, flocks of gannets gather in their hundreds, having left their colonies in the south, and sharks mass in huge numbers on the Wild Coast in anticipation of the shoals.

The sardines find their strength in numbers, yet are vulnerable to being forced upwards out of the deep, by sharks and dolphins. They form metamorphosing silver baitballs at the surface, twisting and dividing to avoid the ocean predators. 

Dolphins swoop, gannets plunge, seals glide and penguins jet through the baitballs in stunning visceral assaults on the sardines: the sharks lurk below and move in to finish them off... 

Some shoals are driven into the shallows, stranded by the beaches of Kwa Zulu Natal, where local people scoop them up in nets, buckets and skirts: this is what has become known as the sardine run.

Commercial netting operations have been built up around the annual event, with some years more successful than others: coastal businessmen employ.

This is a place where man and nature are locked in a titanic struggle for survival. When all of these predators and more are hunting the same shoals, what will it take to keep our oceans alive?




The film was shot in two distinct areas: KwaZulu Natal and the Transkei. Bordering on each other, they are very different parts of South Africa.

KwaZulu Natal's coastline, south of Durban, is is dotted with seaside towns like Margate, Scottborough and Port Edward. Towns that would not look out of place in the UK or the US.

Further inland, however, is the Zulu territory, once ruled over by the king ShakaZulu: an area rich in history and tribal culture, yet suffering economically.

The Transkei is one of several tribal lands granted independence in the early eighties, and officially became a part of South Africa only as recently as 1993. As a result is nowhere near as developed as KwaZulu Natal. It's coastline, known as the Wild Coast, is one of the most unspoilt coastal areas in the world with stunning freshwater waterfalls cascading directly into the sea.

Spectacular as the area is, the Xhosa population is close to poverty.

With no harbours, and no coastal road, the Wild Coast has had little or no development: and recently it was designated a marine reserve: a no go area for fishermen.

Just south of Port Edward lies an area known as the "red desert" which is rich in iron ore. Developers are keen to exploit this. Also, there have been proposals for a new coastal highway passing through the Transkei. Both developments could have huge economic and ecological impact: as ever, life is in the balance, and the question remains, who or what will really benefit?

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