The natural environment provides a range of valuable ecosystems services (also termed goods and services) to society, including provisioning services (such as food, water and other resources), regulating services (e.g. climate regulation, as well as air and water purification), cultural services (e.g. aesthetic, spiritual, recreational, educational and cultural benefits), and life-support services (such as nutrient cycling and soil formation).

Estuaries, in particular, are recognised as being among the most productive types of ecosystems worldwide. They are focal points for community and business activities along the coast, as they provide a wide range of opportunities and benefits. It is estimated that estuaries provide US$22,832 worth of goods and services per hectare per annum (in 1997 values), more than any other ecosystem. In South Africa, a number of studies have shown that estuaries contribute significantly to the local and national economy.

Local governments benefit by generating substantial revenue from higher rates that result from elevated property values along estuary shores and related economic activities, such as estuary tourism. As a consequence of these benefits, coastal communities, tourists and local governments along the coast depend on estuaries as an important source of revenue. Because estuaries are natural features, the opportunities that they provide are free. Estuary services are just like any other that may be bought, except that these are generated through the functioning of the estuary ecosystem. These services can be used directly or indirectly, or they can be left as an option for future use. However, estuaries are seldom considered a local government asset, even though they generate considerable revenue for local government and communities. Because of the failure to appreciate their value, little is spent on their management. Estuaries should be regarded as an asset and managed to maintain their value. Failure to do so can have major cost implications for local governments.

The use of estuaries should be balanced with the ability of estuaries to deliver services. There is a need to manage the demands placed on estuaries to ensure that they do not exceed the natural ability of the ecosystem. If demand exceeds supply, future well-being is reduced. If demand equals or is less than supply, the estuary will continue to supply services sustainably. This should not be seen as a constraint to economic development but should rather be seen as an opportunity to diversify the local economy. By focusing on a wide range of complementary and sustainable uses, the greatest benefits can be generated for the greatest number of people by an estuary at minimised cost to society.

Estuaries are therefore valuable national assets providing essential ecosystem services, such as nursery functions to coastal fisheries, freshwater flows to the marine environment, replenishment of nutrients and organic material to coastal habitats, flood and sea storm protection, carbon sequestration, safe bathing areas and cultivation of plants for biofuels without freshwater.

It is estimated that about 50% of the 160 species of fish that occur in South Africa estuaries are utilised in fisheries (subsistence, recreational and commercial). At least 60% of these species are considered entirely or partially dependent on estuaries, and are thus likely to be affected by changes in runoff.

The total landed catch of fish taken directly from estuaries (2 480 tons per annum) is considerably lower than the total estimated catch of inshore marine fisheries (28 000 tons per annum). However, up to 83 % of the catch by inshore fisheries may comprise estuary-associated species. The total value of estuary fisheries and the contribution of estuary fish to the inshore marine fisheries, is about R1.2 billion per annum in 2011 Rands.

The marine coastline of the Overstrand is at the heart of the local economy. Yet we really don’t know what it’s actually worth.

One attempt was made in 2009 to quantify the economic value of the Whale Coast – it is a study of the small Kogelberg portion of Walker Bay. The study by Jane Turpie and colleagues found that “Commercial fisheries are currently worth in the order of R20.1 million, of which R16.1 million is the value of the West Coast rock lobster fishery and the balance is the value of the line fishery. If recovered, the abalone fishery could potentially yield about R22.5 million and the kelp fishery some R0.75 million. Subsistence fisheries around the Hawston/Kleinmond area are worth about R4 million.

The recreational expenditure by land‐based visitors attributable to the Kogelberg coast was estimated to be in the range of R191 to R235 million per annum. Boat‐based whale‐watching in the area is worth an additional R1.39 million. Coastal property in the area is estimated to be worth approximately R7.3 billion. Of this, the coastal premium was estimated to be just over R1 billion, translating to an annual value attributed to the coast of R59 million. Thus the recreational value of the Kogelberg coast is estimated to be in the order of R272 million per annum.”

In a survey conducted amongst residents and visitors to the area it was found that, if fishing catches in the area were to improve by, for example, the expansion of marine protected areas, this would result in significant increase in value of the coast.

If just a small part of Walker Bay such as the Kogelberg coast is worth such a lot of money it makes sense that the rest of the coastline is an enormous asset. Would it not make sense to grow more fish and other wildlife along the Overstrand coast? This could provide a better living for coastal fisherman and attract more sport fishing tourism to the area. More fish will help increase the number of other marine species like seals, sharks, African penguins, and many other faunal assets that attract tourists to the Overstrand. There is enormous growth potential in whale and great white shark tourism.

We can stimulate this growth by promoting the establishment of more Marine Protected Areas to provide safe breeding nurseries – growing our economy in a very sustainable manner.

Waste litters our estuaries and seas

Marine debris (litter) is a major problem along shorelines, in coastal waters, estuaries and oceans throughout the world. Marine debris is any man made, solid material that enters our waterways either directly or indirectly. Marine debris enters our oceans and coasts from a number of land and ocean based sources. More people relocate to our coastline each year and the production of waste and the potential for marine debris continues to increase. We need to control the disposal of waste more efficiently and avoid it finding its way into our rivers, streams and oceans.

Marine debris is not only an eyesore; it is also harmful to ocean ecosystems, wildlife and humans. Marine debris is detrimental to coral reefs and bottom dwelling species and often the cause of the entanglement, drowning or starvation of ocean wildlife. Some species ingest marine debris, potentially causing choking or starvation. For example, turtles will eat plastic bags, mistaking them for jellyfish. Marine debris often snag on boat motors and can clog seawater intakes. Coastal birds and marine animals often get entangled in discarded fishing lines, causing severe injuries and a slow, painful death.

Dirty beaches discourage tourism and money is wasted on clean-up efforts.

The beaches and estuaries of a coastal community such as the Overstrand are its most valuable assets in terms of tourism and coastal property values. This is recognised by the local authority in its successful efforts to secure Blue Flag Beach status for three of the beaches along our coast, namely Grotto, Hawston and Kleinmond. Two of these beaches, Grotto and Kleinmond, also have associated estuaries, as does Onrus beach. These estuaries are a hugely popular playground for tourists. Yet, the estuaries are often not fit for swimming due to pollution and poor management. While the management of estuaries is not a municipal function, the most obvious direct beneficiary in terms of tourism is the local authority. And conversely, polluted estuaries inevitably reflect very poorly on the municipality, rather than on the responsible authorities. For this reason it is in our own self-interest to look after our estuaries and coast, and make sure that waste and pollution doesn’t ‘cost a lot’.