LIVING SUSTAINABLY WITH WHALE COAST CONSERVATION
With the population and unemployment rising rapidly and social services already strained, it is time for all of us in the Overstrand to look to our future. We must ask ourselves two fundamental questions:
– What natural resources does the Overstrand offer to help us to provide a better life for all?
– More important, how are we going to protect these resources so that we can still benefit from them in years to come? In other words, what do we need to do to develop sustainably?
The OverstrandMunicipality recently launched an initiative to prepare the Overstrand Integrated Development Framework (IDF). It poses the question “What environment do we want to live in, in 30-40 years from now and how do we achieve this?” The document will ‘provide guidance to the private and public sectors on the agreed long term development direction for the Overstrand’.
The first step in the conservation of any resource is not to waste it. We, at Whale Coast Conservation, have therefore chosen “Waste Not, Save a Lot” as the central theme for our activities for 2013. This theme is integral to the project funded by the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund to promote sustainable living and development in the Overberg.
The planet has ecological limits to growth or, put more simply, we only have one planet and it has finite resources. If we consume these resources faster than nature can produce more, we will soon run out of the essentials for life on earth provided to us – free of charge – by nature. These are the so-called ecosystem services. These services include clean air, fresh water, healthy soil and oceans, and the biodiversity of all the animals and plants on earth.
Similarly, we have only one Overstrand, a region that is blessed, not only with natural beauty, but with valuable ecosystem services. These are our most precious resources. But what are they? How do they benefit us?
The beauty of the natural and urban environment of the Overstrand is evident. It features in all our promotional material to attract visitors to our area – visitors who contribute hugely to our economy and potential employment opportunities. Yet are we doing enough to protect these priceless vistas of mountains, fynbos and seas?
Fynbos is synonymous with the Western Cape and the Overstrand in particular. The Kogelberg is the heart of the world’s smallest, but most bio-diverse, floral kingdom. We are all familiar with the value of wild flowers in terms of tourism, flower exports and habitat for bees. But what other hidden services does fynbos provide and how much is this floral kingdom worth to us? In a study of the value of mountain fynbos ecosystems services, Higgens et.al. concluded that “The total mountain fynbos ecosystem is estimated to be worth up to R300 million p.a. Water production and genetic storage are the most valuable.”
Water provision is one of the most important eco-system services provided by fynbos. The fibrous roots of the many fynbos species act like a giant sponge soaking up the rain – an adaptation to drought that evolved over millions of years. This retention of water not only helps fynbos survive, but also prevents wasteful loss of rain water in the form of flash floods that cause soil erosion and other damage. Instead, the water is released gradually to provide a steady and controlled flow of water into rivers, wetlands and ground water. This service provided by fynbos is seldom recognised and certainly not given a monetary value when land use decisions are taken. Do we really know what the cost is to us all when even a small patch of fynbos is irrevocably transformed by development?
The Mountains of the Overberg are a visual inspiration and a hiker’s delight, and provide us with the most critical ecosystem service of all – fresh water. How sustainable is our water supply and how are we managing it? Global Climate Change predicts 20% less rainfall in the Western Cape; this translates into 40% less run-off into rivers, dams and groundwater. Hermanus is already abstracting about 50% of its water from ground-water. No-one knows exactly how much water there is and what the long-term effect will be on the environment. There are monitoring boreholes in place, but once adverse effects are noted it might be too late to stop extracting.
The southern ocean’s value to the Overstrand cannot be underestimated. Visualise Walker Bay as a fisherman’s paradise once more. What would this mean for tourism and the many fishing communities who live along this coastline? What would it take to restore the marine life in our Bay and do we have the will to do it?
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 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, for example, 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.
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.
Few of us understand just how important estuaries and wetlands are to us, both ecologically and economically. What services do they provide and how can we ensure their future health?
How can we conserve these important ecosystem services?
We all know what is required. We need to live within the capacity of the planet, extracting only what can be replenished and caring for the natural areas that provide the services we all need. Every patch of natural vegetation that is transformed to another use – be it for agriculture or for housing – reduces the capacity of the earth to provide for our needs. In other words, we need to live sustainably.
Central to sustainability is the issue of waste – wastefulness of resources as well as physical waste produced by human existence. “Waste not, save a lot” is the theme of the educational expo, road shows and meetings that Whale Coast Conservation will take to schools in the Overberg, exhibit to the public and promote in the media.
The Whale Talk Sustainability Edition sets the context and provides the content for these exhibits. It can also serve as a valuable resource of information about how waste and wastefulness impact on our environment and its essential ecosystems services; how we are dealing with waste in the Overstrand – what it costs us both in terms of rands and cents and how it affects our environment; what we are getting right about conserving resources and where we can improve.
We take pride in Hermanus being the “Greenest Town” and we want to defend that title for the next 30-40 years.