Winter is known as the ‘green season’ in the Western Cape, and one only has to look out over the wheat fields of the Overberg as one comes down the mountain on the Houwhoek pass to see why. It is also the time that the Whale Coast welcomes our winter visitors to these shores – both the whales and the people who come to see them.
Whales are the icons of Walker Bay – and so they should be – but there is so much more on offer in wonderful Walker Bay. I don’t have to tell anyone how wonderfully blessed we are to live on the Whale Coast with its amazing biodiversity and wold-class natural beauty. I also don’t need to tell you that the Whale Coast economy is intimately connected to the health of Walker Bay.
But do we know exactly what Walker Bay is worth? Unless we know what something is worth in rands and cents, it’s very difficult to make informed decisions about its best economic exploitation and management.
One attempt has been made to quantify the economic value of the Whale Coast – it is a study of the small Kogelberg portion of Walker Bay. The report ECOLOGY, VALUE AND MANAGEMENT OF THE KOGELBERG COAST by J.K. Turpie, B.M. Clark, K. Hutchings, K.K. Orr & J. de Wet was prepared for WWF‐CAPE Marine Programme in 2009. They 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.
Coastal activities contribute 71% to all users’ enjoyment of the Kogelberg coast, with beach activities (26%) and coastal nature (27%) contributing the bulk of this, and fishing (13%) and water sports (5%) making a smaller contribution. Visitors spend an average of 70% of their leisure time at the coast. Two‐thirds of visitors in summer are beach‐oriented visitors and the remainder are fishing and water sport‐oriented.
Coastal cleanliness and bathing safety are the most essential attributes that that attract visitors to this part of the coast. The terrestrial environment (geographic features and terrestrial nature) and marine wildlife are the next highest draw cards.
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.”
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, e.g. the expansion of marine protected areas, this would result in significant increase in value of the coast. So would better enforcement of environmental laws. Litter would have the greatest negative impact on value, followed by more houses and fewer cetaceans.
If 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 a huge asset. But we need to know how huge and exactly what it is we need to protect and how. We need proper research to inform us of the extent and health of the biodiversity of Walker Bay. We need to know what we have in Walker Bay and how much the creatures in the bay contribute to our economy. Only when we understand what is at stake can we make informed decisions about its management and protection. This knowledge is vital for a much-needed economic assessment and management of the whole Whale Coast.
For this reason a recently launched project is a step in the right direction. Southern Right Charters and the South African Shark Conservancy have partnered to create the Walker Bay Marine Ecology Research Programme (MERP). MERP is dedicated to collecting long-term baseline data on the marine ecology of Walker Bay for conservation and management purposes.
Management of the Whale Coast is not a simple matter and it is not just up to the local authority to make sure it happens. Management of our coasts and estuaries is the responsibility of many different government departments with different competencies and different budgets. Ensuring coordinated action is a challenge – to say the least. It is therefore important for all of us who have the Whale Coast at heart to join forces to ensure the best possible outcome.
With this objective Whale Coast Conservation has been in discussion with the Municipality about entering into a Memorandum of Understanding to define and agree our respective roles in environmental management and research. Such cooperation between environmental NGOs and the Municipality can only benefit our people, our economy and wonderful Walker Bay.