Parties ruining pristine Kosi Bay

2008-11-28 00:00

Litter, destruction of sensitive indigenous vegetation and drunken parties are threatening Kosi Bay, one of South Africa’s most pristine lake systems and part of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, one of the province’s precious world heritage sites.

Visitors, lodge owners and tour operators said that authorities appeared to have “lost control”, compromising both tourism facilities and conservation. The conservation area, which is home to birds and animals including hippo and crocodiles, is regarded as a global ecotourism attraction as loggerhead and leatherback turtles visit its beaches each year to lay their eggs.

“The day visitors’ camp is an absolute abomination … The boundary fences have been removed by the locals [who] now have access through various areas into the reserve … the locals disregard all the rules and cut holes through the bush and create their own access roads. A major concern is littering, broken bottles ... discarded in every conceivable place. Used condoms litter the pathways through the forest and loud music is played, at times until 4.30 in the morning,” Len Caalse, from the Lake View Bush Camp, said in an as yet unacknowledged letter to both Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife (EKZNW) and the iSimangaliso Wetland Park Authority.

He said when he saw people stripping the rocks at Black Rock of mussels, he approached an EKZNW official, only to be told that nothing could be done about it.

Caalse also said that fish (especially grunter) are being offered to local lodges or even sold in nearby Mangusi and Durban.

Another lodge owner, who asked to remain anonymous, said foreign tourists have checked out early because of locals who “demolish everything and party through the night”. He confirmed that fish are being sold to lodges and in nearby towns and said that fences have been pulled down and rolled up, whole areas cleared and illegal roads built.

“When you walk knee deep into the lakes, you have to be extra careful of broken bottles. Certain spots are also filthy,” a recent visitor said.

According to a recent report compiled by Henry Combrink, the Inkatha Freedom Party’s spokesman on Environmental Affairs, and Alfred Mpontshane, chairman of the uMkhanyakude District, the entire 43-km fence from Mozambique to Mabibi has been ripped up.

Combrink said he could not believe “the number of new dirt roads that have been created” and said he feared increased traffic would impact on the crucial catchment areas supplying the lakes.

He also referred to “uncontrolled theft of fish from the lakes” and said that bakkies have already been seen illegally loading fish for sale in Durban.

In a joint response, Jeff Gaisford, EKZNW’s media manager, and Roland Vorwerk, the marketing and brand manager at iSimangaliso, said that the harvesting of mussels is part of historic subsistence fishing recognised by national legislation. Only locals — usually poor and unemployed — with traditional rights are allowed to harvest at spring lows. They said this is carefully monitored and no species is threatened. There are also “no take” sanctuary areas. Stock assessments are carried out regularly.

Gaisford and Vorwerk said that sale of fish from legal traditional traps is accommodated. However, illegal trade in fish is dealt with by the police and courts.

They admitted that the Emdoneni day visitor facility was a concern because of “aggressive use and behavioural problems”, but said this has been referred to the local traditional council and to the police, who are responsible for enforcement.

However, they said that they had not received any reports of visitors in EKZNW facilities leaving the area early because of disturbances.

“Should any bona fide lodge or campsite visitors experience poor behaviour within the park, we expect this to be reported immediately so that appropriate action can be taken.”

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