We live in one of the most beautiful and biodiverse places in the world, and it’s being destroyed before our very eyes. It will be our legacy. I am talking specifically about our marine resources. We don’t know the real extent of the damage, because as far as I can establish no real research on the state of Hangklip/Kleinmond’s marine resources have been done during the past five years. DEFF, Department of the Environment, Forestry and Fisheries did their last assessment in 2016. We understand that they have done some studies last year, but that data is not available yet. Anecdotally shore anglers and skippers will tell you there are no more fish along our coastline. We know the poachers have been taking perlemoen and crayfish on an industrial scale.
We have, for all intent and purposes, lost the fight against poaching in Hangklip/Kleinmond. Operation Phakisa is a public relations exercise and basically a waste of taxpayers money. As soon as the soldiers move in, the poachers go on a break. CapeNature doesn’t have the personnel and resources, the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries is rife with corruption. The police in Kleinmond are struggling just to keep up with the usual crime in the area. They frankly just don’t have the resources to go about chasing poachers. There’s a lot of municipal law enforcers around these days, but I see no letup in the poaching. The poachers have simply adapted to the new circumstances.
There is also a political dimension. The poachers are mostly from previously disadvantaged communities. They have created their own alternative economy. A few have grown comfortably well off from the proceeds of their poaching, others use it to supplement their existing income, others barely make a living. We simply don’t know how many people are directly or indirectly supported by poaching, but I think it would be safe to say more than a hundred in a place like Kleinmond. That makes illegal poaching one of the largest employers in the region. Even if you could, it would probably be unwise to just suddenly cut off this source of income for many in the community. We need to develop a new type of sustainable economy that can replace the poaching economy.
We are going to have to find another way, and as usual in our complicated country, it is going to involve compromises. In the meantime it is crucial that we make some kind of progress towards conserving our marine resources. If we don’t, we are going to lose important elements of our region’s unique biodiversity. Read elsewhere in the paper what we could find on the state of the abalone resource along the Hangklip/Kleinmond coastline. It is scary.
I don’t profess to have all the answers, I don’t. I am not a scientist. I am not a marine biologist. What I do believe is that we should probably make marine resources our number one priority in terms of biodiversity. Fishing companies and the poachers are decimating our marine resources while we are fighting about twenty baboons. The baboons are of course also an important part of our biodiversity, but it is completely outweighed at this stage by the threat the ongoing destruction of our marine ecosystem poses.
I believe the Betty’s Bay Marine Protected Area (MPA) could and should play an important role in any recovery process. We need at least one area along our coastline where nature can replenish. After an initial period, this will undoubtably have a beneficial effect on the surrounding areas. We understand that there are new, stricter regulations regarding the MPA awaiting the signature of the Minister of the Environment, Forestry and Fisheries, Barbara Creecy. The Minister needs to sign off on those regulations and we need to make a start.
At the moment there is basically nothing that distinguishes the MPA from the rest of the coastline. The poachers and local fishermen are simply ignoring the rules. A while ago a group of poachers literally waltzed past the CapeNature booth at Stoney Point. That has got to change. They have to be made to understand that poaching or illegal fishing in the MPA will be met with prosecution and also fierce resistance from the community.
If needs be, we need to go even further. We need to involve the community in protecting the MPA. We need to maybe start thinking about training locals through Cape Nature or organisations like Sanparks to monitor the MPA 24/7. Why couldn’t we for instance use the government’s Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP) to do this? It could create an additional 20 or 30 jobs and also contribute towards the environment. Whatever the case, we need to start thinking differently about our marine resources. It is an important part of our future.
Gerard Grobler: firstname.lastname@example.org