The rocky shoreline (Intertidal zone) between Ballito in the South and Christmas Bay to the north has incredibly rich natural beauty and an array of wildlife that the average tourist and many resident are totally unaware of.
It is home to the rare Elegant Pipefish (a member of the seahorse family) to nudibranchs (an incredibly colourful, charismatic family of sea slugs) that have not yet been described by science, to being an important nursery ground for a huge variety of marine species. This stretch of coast is also home to some of the southern most shallow water hard corals in the world. It is a very special place. Humpbacked Whales undertake an ancient migration past our shores each year, Whale Sharks, Dolphins, Turtles; they are all here, we live in a very special place.
“I always wondered why somebody doesn’t do something about that. Then I realized I was somebody.”
But this special area faces many threats, commercial harvesting of our tidal zone life for the marine aquarium trade, litter, fishing line smothering corals, high levels of poaching and unsustainable collecting. The reality is, we do not know what we have along the coast, there is very little complete scientific data on species diversity, population trends, carrying capacities. We love this place, we spend a lot of time in the water and we see the changes happening. This beautiful stretch of coastline deserves better protection. It is without a doubt very special from a biodiversity and aesthetic perspective.
How do we address the challenges, reduce the threats to our coastline ....we have a plan!
“In the end, we will conserve only what we love. We will love only what we understand. We will understand only what we are taught.” – Baba Dioum
We started Tidal Tao with the vision that getting people into the water would help people appreciate our marine life more. And it works. We estimate that from the surface you see 5% of what is in the average rock pool, put on a mask and snorkel and an entirely new world opens up, people are amazed, in awe and start understanding the rich life we have on our coast here. This is a wilderness, a wildlife refuge, bigger and wilder than any national park or game reserve, right here, accessible.
But we need to do a LOT more, reach a LOT more people and do a LOT more work......to help achieve this, Tidal Tao has partnered with the Wilderness Leadership School, one of South Africa's oldest and most established conservation NGO's. Founded by the late Dr Ian Player (brother of Gary Player) over 55 years ago, the Wilderness Leadership School aims to bridge the growing gap between man and nature. This is achieved through direct experience, taking leaders into the wilderness, giving people an opportunity to experience our natural world in a way that changes their perceptions, their world views and ultimately enhances their relationship to our natural environment.
Central to this experience is the conservation of Wilderness Areas; these are defined by the World Conservation Union as:
“A Wilderness Is a large area of unmodified or slightly modified land and/or sea which retains its natural character and influence and which is protected and managed so as to preserve its natural condition”
The Wilderness Leadership School is part of a global network of partners, all working to protect and give people experiences of Wilderness Areas. In many countries Marine Wilderness Areas have been long established, but still a relatively new concept in South Africa. A concept we want to bring to the North Coast.
Working with the Wilderness Leadership School, we aim to pilot a marine conservation project, a first for Southern Africa which tackles our conservation needs from a variety of different angles, these include:
Gathering baseline data on our coastal biodiversity,
When it comes to fish species, marine invertebrates and other intertidal life, no one has any idea of population trends, threats, risks or species diversity along our shoreline. The existing information is shallow to say the least. We could very realistically be loosing species before we even know they exist, right here on our doorstep. Knowing what we have is an important first step. This baseline data would then be used for further planning, implementation as well as more formal conservation action in the future. But our approach here is slightly different, we want locals to get involved, citizen science, people from the North Coast collecting data and information on our coastline, regularly and feeding this information into scientific databases. Once we know what we have, what the trends are, threats, rare species, common species....that level of information it critical to justifying improved conservation action.
Creating awareness, excitement and educating people about the life along our special coastline.
Tourists, residents, school children do not realize or acknowledge just quite how special this place is, how special the ocean is. This awareness around the wilderness on our doorstep could change a lot in the way our beaches are perceived and utilized. It’s a question of exposure. We want to expose hundreds of children to snorkeling, to our tidal pools and marine life, generate a love for the ocean. Not a once of "visit" but an ongoing program to develop a small army of ocean ambassadors along the North Coast. This is probably our biggest outcome. We need resources, educational tools, identification guides, every possible resources to help people understand. Once they understand they can start to love and protect. Included in this will be incorporating a marine experience to the traditional Wilderness Trails undertaken by the Wilderness Leadership School.
Create low impact exclusion zones, areas where nature can flourish, fish stocks can replenish,
This is especially relevant around areas with coral growth that can receive the protection they deserve. On this point, we estimate that well over 50% of the damage to coral along the north coast is purely out of a lack of awareness. People simply do not recognize it for what it is; an animal, not a rock, an endangered species, not something you should innocently stand on. Fishing line gets caught on corals and smothers it, mussel collectors crunch coral like it's mud, aquarium enthusiasts steal pieces for their tanks, people simply do not understand the impact they are having. Coral is protected in South Africa, you are not allowed to remove coral from the ocean, dead or alive. This is a great first step, but sadly if the coral is going to get killed in the ocean from being smothered in discarded fishing line to crunched under an unknowing boot, what is the point. Our corals are special, it is some of the southern most shallow water hard corals in the world and deserves formal protection.
Create economic opportunities that promote a non consumptive use of our coastal resources,
We argue that a live Octopus is worth a lot more than a dead one. We want to create alternative, sustainable livelihoods, especially for rural people who rely on coastal resources for their living. Tourism is a great, well tested model for adding value to our coastline in a sustainable way. Imagine coastal Slack packing trails between Tinley Manor and Ballito with ready made picnic breakfasts half way, rocky shore walks, snorkeling tours, wilderness experiences, environmental education programs over school holidays, a host of opportunities come to mind, all of which are perfectly suited to small, community owned SMME’s, low barriers to entry and excellent support networks. Suddenly a mussel bed, a crayfish, an octopus, a pool full of fish are a LOT more valuable alive. And we have another great incentive for conservation. These opportunities could be further extended to coastal wilderness trails, a new experience to add onto the traditional Wilderness Trails pioneered by Dr Ian Player over 50 years ago.
Create enthusiasm and excitement - a unique branding opportunity for the North Coast
The north coast isn’t just a party town, or a place with nice beaches and golf courses, it’s an ‘environmental consciousness’ area, and we should harness the value of natural assets as a high value product. Success will rely on a community of excited, committed, proud individuals who share our vision. We have spoken to a lot of people along our coast, they share this vision and this is one of the great things about this proposed project, local support has been overwhelming.