Kosi Bay ‘has been unfairly tarnished’

2008-12-17 00:00

Kosi Bay has been in the news with reports of unruly behaviour, rock stripping by locals, uncontrolled gill netting and the illegal sale of fish and invertebrates.

These are age-old difficulties given the impoverished communities living within and alongside this northern section of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park. They present serious management challenges for conservation and development for government. Fortunately, we believe most visitors are not affected by these difficulties. Unfortunately, the recent reports are negatively affecting the tourism the area depends on.

The recent media reports have painted the entire Kosi Bay area with the same brush, yet the main problem area is the Umdoni day visitor picnic site near the Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife camp where large groups of undisciplined young people have been drinking while recreating in public. This matter is taken very seriously by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, the iSimangaliso Wetland Park Authority and the local South African Police Service, and is being dealt with accordingly.

Police now patrol the area daily and an SAPS vehicle at the main gate checks incoming vehicles for alcohol. Litter is constantly strewn at the picnic site but is collected daily by Ezemvelo staff. Noise from the facility occasionally reaches some local lodges outside of the park.

Collection of intertidal organisms like mussels by locals is an age-old tradition that has declined markedly in recent years, although it still persists at places like Black Rock. Demand is underpinned by poverty and partly fuelled by visitors and lodges that provide an illegal but lucrative cash market.

The latest report complains about Ezemvelo prosecuting tourists who buy the organisms but this is the only way to stop the unsustainable commercialisation of the grassroots subsistence nature of the harvesting.

Gill netting is illegal in all KZN estuaries but still persists in places like Richards Bay, St Lucia and Kosi Bay. Ezemvelo works hard to try to prevent this: last month more than three kilometres of nets were removed from Kosi Bay. The practice is driven by the high fish prices received, and exacerbated by purchases by tourists and some local lodges. Ezemvelo is aware of the export of fish to places like Durban, but with the present uncontrolled access to the region it is simply not possible to monitor all traffic.

Ezemvelo has developed an “action plan” to deal with the abuse of alcohol during the festive season and other difficulties in the park’s northern coastal area.

Roadblocks are being carried out. More than 2 000 new leaflets have been distributed, notices have been put up and brochures on the sustainable use of seafood issued.

People have been fined for fishing without a licence but reports that they spent time in jail are incorrect. The public must be aware of the laws and regulations and they must expect to be held accountable if they disobey them.

Significant strides have been made so far to engage the communities living in and alongside the iSimangaliso Wetland Park and to provide a vital economic stimulus for them. In 2008, iSimangaliso, supported by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, established 40 functioning food gardens in the area, worked by about 900 mainly female gardeners, of whom 400 recently participated in certified training courses. Other programmes and interventions include: small, medium and micro-sized enterprises (SMME) and temporary job creation in infrastructure and land care; equity partnerships in lodges; health and safety training for SMME contractors; SMME and entrepreneur development; tourism skills development; and craft production.

New public, private, community partnered lodges and activities such as scuba diving, boat cruises, game drives (day and night) and horse safaris, to name a few, are resulting in meaningful economic empowerment and jobs for community partners. A recent inventory of tourist accommodation in and around iSimangaliso revealed a 59% increase in establishments and an 18% increase in beds since 2000. At the same time, the average occupancy rate of tourism accommodation has grown from below the national average to above it.

The good news is most visitors to Kosi Bay are having a great holiday and fishing has improved markedly. Over the past week, an angler caught and released a giant kingfish weighing about 30 kilograms — one of the largest on record in some 30 years. Another caught a 9,5-kilogram rock salmon, while a seven-kilogram Malabar rockcod was caught and released. Grunter being caught are well above average size, and a three-kilogram Natal stumpnose was recently caught from the camp site jetty. The fishing owls in Kosi Bay camp have just fledged a new chick, which can be seen inside the fence.

• This is a joint media statement from Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife and the iSimangaliso Wetland Park Authority.

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