Coal starts tourism project

The word’s largest coal terminal has taken the initiative and involved a nearby rural community in a conservation project.

The Richards Bay Coal Terminal has asked the Wildlands Trust to facilitate a conservation development programme with its neighbouring community. The Dube community comprises approximately 7 500 of the poorest people in KwaZulu-Natal, who live next to the protected uMhlatuze estuary.

They use the sanctuary extensively for illegal gill-netting and use the protected mangroves as a source of wood for their fires.

The coal terminal has approached the Wildlands Trust to involve the community in the development of a bird and marine sanctuary that could become a tourist attraction.

‘We are situated right next to uMhlatuze sanctuary and are keen to assist the community members who live there,” says the terminal’s social involvement co-ordinator, Belinda Moir.

‘We asked the trust to put together a development plan because they’ve had previous successes in this area and we were impressed with their track record. It is absolutely amazing how people in the community have responded. For a long time they have wanted to create a tourist attraction out of their estuary. They told us they have always entertained the idea of getting involved in conservation and tourism but have not known how to do so.”

The Wildlands Trust — an independent, fund-raising and project management organisation concerned with conservation-based community development in KwaZulu-Natal — has identified areas where the community could immediately become involved in tourism development.

‘The area is a famous bird sanctuary and breeding ground for prawns and fish,” says Wildlands CEO Andrew Venter. It was being badly affected by poaching simply because these people had no other source of income. We had to give them an alter-native as a matter of urgency.”

The trust began with the training of 20 members of the com-munity to become tour guides.

The first phase will involve developing canoe-driven bird-watching tours in the reserve. Opportunities to develop canoe-based fly-fishing and 4X4 trails are also being looked in to.

There are several complementary initiatives in the area that will be tied in to the community tourism development.

The National Ports Authority of Richards Bay has plans to build an environmental education centre; the University of Zululand has a science centre that caters for local schools; and BirdLife Africa has earmarked the estuary for birding trails.

The R220 000 grant the Richards Bay Coal Terminal has given towards the project so far is being used to provide liaison services and training for local community members.

‘It’s not so much the funding as our attitude towards the project that is important,” says Moir. ‘It’s not the money you spend, but the impact you make.”

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