Building SA’s coastline for leisure activities may harm the protection of sea life

The recently gazetted marine and coastal tourism implementation plan could see the protection of some sea life such as whales and turtles being undone.

The plan, which aims to make 3 200km of South African coastline into a tourism haven by developing leisure resorts and watersport activities, has been met with scepticism by conservationists.

The development, which will mainly stretch from Cape Town to Durban and will be implemented in six nodal zones over five years, aims to turn the country’s coastline into a “world-class and sustainable marine tourism destination that leverages South Africa’s competitive advantage in nature, culture and heritage”.

The department of tourism says the successful implementation of the plan will create self-sustaining communities by alleviating poverty, unemployment and inequality. It added that a crucial part of the project would include the direct participation of and consultation with the affected local communities.

However, marine, environmental and conservation experts say the plan will interfere with aquatic life and disrupt already established ecosystems in the ocean and along the beaches.

Stephanie Plön of Nelson Mandela University’s Earth Stewardship Science Research Institute said noncompliance with prescribed guidelines protecting some ocean animals, such as whales, was often a problem when such projects were implemented.

“While it is recognised that there is a need for development and job creation, there is currently a growing body of evidence that such ecotourism ventures can have a negative impact on whales and dolphins if there are too many vessels in the area,” said Plön to the City Press. 

“Whales and dolphins are highly social mammals that require a certain amount of rest and privacy. In an effort to keep tourists happy, operators of such ecotourism ventures often disregard the guidelines that have been developed to protect the animals. Some research has shown that such behaviour may have a negative effect on the animals and they may start avoiding certain areas altogether.”

Peter Myles, a world-renowned coastal and marine tourism specialist and committee member of the International Coastal and Marine Tourism Society, said the only way to reduce such risks and potential conflicts of interest was via marine spatial planning – a tool for “responsible and sustainable ocean governance”.

“Ocean governance is the way in which ocean affairs are governed, not only by governments, but by local communities, industries and other stakeholders, which includes national and international law, public and private law, as well as customs, traditions and institutions, and processes created by them,” said Myles.

He said the same tools and systems of environmental management applied for land use should be used when dealing with such marine developments.

“Coastal states should create arrangements governing human activity taking place within their zones. In ocean governance, attention should be given to the development of new tools and approaches to manage marine areas, including the development of ecosystem-based approaches to management and the attempt to shift from sectoral to integrated management,” said Myles.

The implementation nodes are in the Eastern Cape from Port St Johns to Coffee Bay, and East London and Port Elizabeth; in the Western Cape in areas in and around Cape Town and the west coast; along parts of the Northern Cape coast; and in KwaZulu-Natal in areas in and around Durban, and in the Umkhanyakude district.

In outlining the projects in the Eastern Cape, Susan de Bruin, the acting chief director of communications for the department of tourism, said the funding of the various projects would be received through public or public-private partnerships.

“The groundwork has already started and the plan will be implemented over the next five years. The project is part of the presidency’s nine-point plan to accelerate job creation and inclusive growth. Forty participants from more than 20 stakeholder groups from tourism and environmental organisations came together for five weeks to gather and prioritise issues, and develop solutions and action plans,” said De Bruin.

In the Eastern Cape, the SA Maritime Safety Authority has been brought on board and has already started engaging with local communities to prepare them for the intended developments.

De Bruin said the department’s human resources development strategy would ensure that the skills needs of the initiatives were considered.

Myles said: “With 820km of coastline, the Eastern Cape has one of the most diverse coastlines in the world, offering a mix of coastal, cultural and social activities.”

With more updated data and a comprehensive audit of coastal tourism assets and infrastructure, Myles said coastal tourism alone could account for 60% of total GDP in the province.

He said a study conducted by Grant Thornton on the development of a waterfront in Port Elizabeth revealed that more than 92 000 jobs would be created during the 16 years of construction, and close to 120 000 jobs would be available when the development was fully operational in 2030.

“The study also showed that, during construction, R12.7 billion will be spent directly in Nelson Mandela Bay, resulting in a total contribution to the gross geographic product of R18.3 billion. The waterfront is estimated to attract an additional 46 000 foreign and 220 000 domestic tourists each year,” said Myles.

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