Johnny Snyman – Protecting and Restoring our Freshwater Lakes

Johnny Snyman

Johnny Snyman is the founding director of Invasive Fish Species Management (IFSM). Johnny has a 15-year marine background as a commercial diver, along with exposure to commercial fisheries. He has been a professional bow maker and archer since 2003. Johnny Snyman produces custom made bows to local and international clientele and has been involved in local and international film productions since 2000, specialising in actor training, archery stunt shooting, and a range of other specialised archery services for film productions.

During the 90’s, Common carp was illegally introduced to Groenvlei lake. Three years ago, after receiving the necessary permissions from conservation authorities, Johnny recruited and trained a small team of dedicated volunteers who had likeminded interests to tackle the challenge of removing Common carp from Groenvlei.

By combining waterborne skill sets and some commercial fisheries experience with archery and bowhunting skills, and a thorough study of the lake and the quarry, an unconventional methodology was developed which entails the use of 5 different types of nets combined with bowhunting. This methodology has over the past 38 months seen the capture and removal of over 18 tons of invasive carp from Groenvlei lake.

These innovative fish disposal methods offer solutions benefitting both conservation and a healthy circular economy.

How did IFSM come into existence – and how has it impacted your life?

IFSM was founded out of necessity. As a small team of private volunteers, the operational running costs towards invasive fish species capture and removal became more than our self-funding efforts could manage on a long-term basis. My vision for IFSM is to grow and expand nationally, as invasive freshwater fish species is becoming a growing concern in our waterways.

If you had a theme song, what would it be?

Crosby Stills and Nash Southern Cross

What is the biggest risk you have ever taken?

Whilst diving as a commercial diver off a fibre optic cable laying barge in Indonesia! We operated a 40-ton machine which very much resembled a giant chain saw. Called a Rock Saw, it was designed to cut a 5-meter-deep by half a meter wide trench into the seabed, wherein fibre optic cable was simultaneously fed. The Rock Saw was towed along the seabed by a system of heavy winches.

At a point, the Rock Saw got stuck, placing enormous tension on its 2 main bow wire ropes (steel cables thicker than a man’s wrists). If the bow cables snapped, the multimillion-dollar rock saw would be lost. I volunteered to dive and collect a rock sample. The Rock Saw was stuck in the seabed at a depth of 49 meters.

Indonesia consists of five major islands. There are a total number of 17,505 islands, of which about 6000 are inhabited. The tidal currents created by such a large archipelago are extremely strong.

There was no time to be wasted; the strong current presented a challenging descent into the murky tropical waters. Once I reached the seabed, I had to orientate myself in zero visibility conditions, whilst fighting an almost overwhelmingly strong current. When I made it to the Rock Saw’s bow, I needed to find a rock sample to be analysed by geologists on board the barge. Feeling my way through the dark I could find no small samples – as the Rock Saw’s bow was stuck in what felt like a huge pile of rubble its bow had created.

I had no other option. Before I could collect a smaller rock sample, I had to physically move a series of large rocks which were stuck around the bow of the Rock Saw. The risk? The large rocks I had to move where about 2 feet below the wire rope bow eyes – the area onto which the primary towing cables were attached to. In the darkness, the deep creaking noise created by the two cables being subjected to enormous tension sounded like moans coming straight from the throat of hell. In hindsight, if one of those cables snapped whilst working directly below them, I at least would not see my own death come.

My ascent was another challenge. The strong current snagged my umbilical line somewhere onto the Rock Saw’s superstructure. A commercial diver’s umbilical line consists of an air or gas supply hose, communications line, electrical line for the diver’s helmet lights and helmet camera, a hot water supply hose which connects to the diver’s suit when working in cold waters, and a pneumo-fathometer hose which measures the diver’s exact depth.

All these lines are twisted into one heavy line which resembles a foetus’s umbilical cord. In the sense of commercial diving, it is the diver’s lifeline. The delay in freeing my umbilical line resulted in me having to undergo extensive surface decompression in one of the hyperbaric chambers on board the barge.

I have been in a few life-threatening situations before, but this one steals the show!

If Mars were liveable, would you accept a one-way ticket there?

No thank you.

If you were given one thousand acres of land, what would you do with it?

I would create and use organic soil amendments to enrich the land’s soil to produce crops. One cannot eat money.

Are you more of a hunter or a gatherer? 

I am a hunter.

How many pairs of shoes do you own?

2 Pairs – A pair of well worn-in all-purpose boots, and a pair of Red Wing Boots.

If we came to your house for dinner, what would you prepare for us?

I would first find out what your cuisine preferences are and adapt accordingly.

How would people communicate in a perfect world?

By listening to another, rather than merely hearing.

When you have 30 minutes of free time – how do you pass it?

I allow positive thoughts to act as a magnet for positive ideas.

If you woke up to 300 unread emails, how would you prioritise which ones to answer?

I would spend the time to answer queries first; this engages in dialogue which may hold prospects and opportunities.

Where do you go and what do you do to find peace and recharge?

I am mostly at peace on the waters capturing invasive fish. It is hard work which requires a great deal of energy, accurate planning, and logistical management. The more tired I return home, the better I recharge afterwards.

If you could know the absolute answer to one question, what question would you ask?

“I have found my purpose in life, what is the next challenge?”

If you could write one new law that everybody had to obey, what would it be?

“Tolerate, adapt, unify, and unconditionally accept each other’s cultural differences”

What, if anything, have you ever re-gifted?

Unconditional friendship.

What is the most interesting thing you have seen or read this week?

Watching a documentary about the origins of Terra Preta (Biochar) of the Amazon basin.

What skill or craft would you like to master?

To make biochar using energy efficient methods.

If you could dedicate your life to solving one problem, what would it be?

To find the perfect balance between questioning and accepting the world for what it has become.

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