Champions of Marine Conservation
South Africa’s internationally renowned, beautiful and biodiverse coastline stretches for over 2500km, and KwaZulu Natal accounts for almost one quarter of this. South Africa’s second most populous province features 580km of scenic tropical marine environments sandwiched between Kosi Bay and the Mozambique border to the north, and the Mtamvuna Estuary and the Eastern Cape border to the south. The coast is as sensitive as it is spectacular, and local conservation group Coastwatch KZN are at the forefront of efforts to protect and conserve it for present and future generations.
Tourism has long been a mainstay of the national economy, with KwaZulu-Natal a firm favourite for local and international visitors, thanks to its warm climate and splendid beaches. Recognising the need to ensure the continued protection and sustainable management of the province’s natural coastal and offshore marine resources, Coastwatch KZN was formed in 1997 by a group of concerned conservationists with this exact aim in mind. This Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) is now celebrating its milestone 20th year of tireless work in 2017, having a far-reaching influence over both the high level of government policy-making, and the grassroots education and empowerment of local communities throughout KwaZulu Natal’s coastal regions. Coastwatch KZN itself forms part of WESSA (Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa), an environmental organisation tasked with initiating and supporting high impact and sustainable conservation projects, a leading implementer of initiatives of this kind.
Diverse coastal KwaZulu Natal:
Bio-geographically, KwaZulu Natal consists of three distinct and unique sections: the North, Central and South Coasts, all of which exhibit rich tropical biodiversity, thanks to one of the earth’s largest and fastest-moving currents – the Agulhas.
Stretching from Kosi Bay to Richards Bay, the North Coast is characterised by the Sodwana Bay National Park and the iSimangaliso Wetland Park in St Lucia, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the country’s third largest protected area.
Spanning from Richards Bay to Durban, the Central Coast features a much wider continental shelf, and vast stretches of sandy beaches.
The South Coast area from Durban to the Mtamvuna Estuary also boasts a wealth of golden sand beaches, although these are separated by many rivers and rocky points and shores. The Aliwal Shoal and the breath-taking natural spectacle of the Sardine Run further attest to the area’s rich and diverse marine life.
Threats to KwaZulu-Natal’s coastal environment:
Threats to South Africa’s and KwaZulu-Natal’s rich and biodiverse coastal environment come in many different forms. Residential and industrial development and the resultant destruction of ecosystems and habitat loss, as well as the mismanagement of natural resources, pollution and climate change, are all factors that put the integrity of the environment at risk.
The role of Coastwatch KZN in sustaining coastal and marine ecosystems:
The organisation’s make-up of dedicated, experienced and expert individuals who share a passion for the coast and the marine environment has resulted in it being an effective instrument in achieving the long-term protection and sustainable management and use of the province’s natural resources.
With the assistance of the general public and local communities, who play an important role as the eyes and ears of the organisation, as well as almost two decades of interaction with relevant government departments, Coastwatch KZN is now viewed as an essential Interested and Affected Party (IAP) during the various processes affecting the health of the coastal environment. As a result, it contributes regularly to the development of a wide range of policies, white papers and bills, including the Integrated Coastal Management Bill, the revised Natal Sharks Board Bill, the National Aquaculture Strategy, the Waste Bill and the National Environmental Management Act.
With the help and participation of conscientious members of the public, Coastwatch KZN has, since 2006, had a central role to play in managing and ensuring that the rapid development of the province’s coastal areas have been done responsibly and with due regard to their natural integrity and sustainability. Accordingly, the organisation has commented on more than 100 Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) or Record of Decisions (ROD), projects, ranging from single houses to small craft harbours, golfing estates
and sewage plants.
Coastwatch KZN and WESSA:
Although a separate entity, with its own constitution and identity, Coastwatch KZN is guided by the policies and practices of WESSA. As such it is ideally placed and suitably empowered to make real progress in working towards meaningful and lasting capacity building, empowering individuals, communities and the government to make sustainable lifestyle and environmental management choices.
Significantly, Coastwatch KZN conducts independent fundraising under its own name, in line with its status as a Non-Profit Organisation (NPO), and its efforts are driven largely by community membership and funding.
Dr Judy Mann, former Chairman of Coastwatch and currently a Conservation Strategist and Head of Research at SAAMBR (South African Association of Marine Biology Research), said that “the long-term health and beauty of South Africa’s coastal and marine environments are under threat from a multitude of sources. With the help of the public in recognising these issues, and our partnership with WESSA in combatting them, Coastwatch KZN is working to protect our province’s rich natural heritage and high biodiversity. Change does not occur overnight or without massive and welldirected effort, which is why we rely heavily on public participation in terms of both funding and membership. The culmination of the efforts of all who have contributed to Coastwatch KZN over the last two decades are both tangible and immensely rewarding, and we hope that the progress we have made only gains momentum as we look to forge ahead in our quest to create a mutually symbiotic and sustainable relationship between humanity and the environment”.
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