Whale Coast As A South African Hope Spot

National Geographic Society Explorer in Residence Dr. Sylvia A. Earle is an oceanographer, explorer, author and lecturer. She is visiting Hermanus in December.

Her special focus is on developing a global network of areas on the land and in the ocean, “Hope Spots” to safeguard the living systems that provide the underpinnings of global processes, from maintaining biodiversity and yielding basic life support services to providing stability and resiliency in response to accelerating climate change.

According to Tony Ribbink of the Sustainable Seas Trust, South Africa does not have a Mission Blue Hope Spot, yet South Africa richly deserves to have several as it has so many spectacularly beautiful seascapes, a huge diversity of marine habitats, amazing richness of life and an enthusiastic population.

Marienne de Villiers is writing the proposal for the Cape Whale Coast’s inclusion in the bookSplendours of South African Seas. She writes:

The Cape Whale Coast stretches from Rooiels in the west to Quoin Point in the east. It is an area of contrasts. On land, rugged mountains run down to an intricate coastline of estuaries, bays and beaches. At sea, temperate south coast currents meet cold west coast upwellings. This variety of habitats makes for spectacular scenery and is also responsible for diverse and productive terrestrial and marine ecosystems. These provide livelihoods and cultural and recreational opportunities for the region’s people. There are small-scale and recreational fisheries for resources such as line fish, kelp and west coast rock lobster. Ecotourism opportunities abound; the region hosts iconic animals such as great white sharks, southern right whales and African penguins.

Much of the biodiversity of the area is formally protected, for example Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve contains some of the best‐preserved mountain fynbos in the Cape Floral Region, the waters between Hermanus and Gansbaai are a sanctuary for whales, and Dyer Island Nature Reserve Complex protects marine life including breeding colonies of threatened seabirds. However, a burgeoning human population means that there is much competition for, and hence pressure on, the Cape Whale Coast’s natural resources. Abalone poaching, inappropriate development planning, pollution and climate change are just a few of the threats to the region’s ecosystems and the people that they service.

These threats have a common root – a lack of understanding of the dependence of people on the health of our environment. By becoming part of an international network of Hope Spots, the Cape Whale Coast will be able to raise the profile of this special area locally and abroad, attracting resources and focussing efforts towards creating a culture of caring that will translate into one of protection for our natural heritage. The Cape Whale Coast logo, a migratory southern right whale enveloped by an abalone shell, encompasses the concept of the inter-dependence of marine ecosystems and human communities, both globally and locally.

The beauty of the Whale Coast is clearly illustrated by this photo taken in the Kogelberg by Mike Leresche.

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Promoting sustainable and prosperous communities is exactly what WCC does. We will work with other stakeholders to develop the Cape Whale Coast Hope Spot. How exciting is that!