On Friday 8 June a small but enthusiastic group of intrepid people gathered at Swallow Park in Hermanus in the freezing cold, wind and rain. They were the dedicated staff of the SA Shark Conservancy and Whale Coast Conservation who jointly organised the event, together with the folk from Dyer Island Conservation Trust, kids from several Hermanus eco-schools, a team from Working for Coasts, representatives from the Municipal environmental management section and some members of the public. A similar walk was organised for Kleinmond. These events are part of WCC’s sustainable lifestyle project made possible by the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund.
Kindly escorted by the Hermanus traffic department, they all marched, chanting, down Main Road and then turned towards the coast to end at the rather pathetically stranded whale in front of the Whale Museum. There, while the rain briefly let up, the children read out pledges that they had prepared to help protect our oceans. Thanks Hermanus Times, for braving the elements to snap the brave ones.
Crazy, you might say. And who really paid attention or even noticed? What difference will it make to the way the rest of us behave? The truth is that, because what goes on in the ocean is largely out of sight, it is also largely out of mind.
Yet the Whale Coast is intimately connected to the sea and the economy of the area depends almost exclusively on the health of the ocean and coastline. People are attracted to the natural beauty of our coast and the recreational potential of the sea and our estuaries. The biodiversity of Walker Bay should support the livelihood of local fishermen, who have traditionally harvested fish, crayfish and abalone. Marine animals such as seals, great white sharks, dolphins and penguins that depend on fish stocks and our whales (which don’t eat fish) bring tourists and visitors that fuel our economy.
So why is our Overstrand community not up in arms about fishing trawlers coming into Walker Bay from the west coast, to exploit our dwindling fish stocks, and decimate our marine biodiversity? Why are we not pressurising the authorities to do more to put an end to illegal exploitation of our seafood so that the stocks can revive and legal harvesting by local fishermen can to be restored? Why are we content with just a fraction of the Whale Coast’s coastline around Betty’s Bay being a Marine Protected Area, and who is ensuring its protection anyway? Marine Protected Areas, and healthy estuaries, are vital nurseries for fish and other sea life to keep providing for our people and our wildlife.
Let’s not wait for someone else to do something about better management of the eco-system services that the ocean provides for our benefit. It starts with us, the citizens of Walker Bay. Let’s all join hands with the efforts of organisations such as Whale Coast Conservation, the SA Shark Conservancy and Dyer Island Conservation Trust, and let’s, together, make a difference.