Making the wonky marriage work between conservation & development 

Published: December 21st, 2017

Nature’s Valley Trust leads thrust to choreograph the delicate dance between increased tourism and the environment. By Dr Mark Brown.

Conservation2The waltz between development and a healthy environment has been a bit wobbly, Plettenberg Bay is leaping over the hurdles to prove that “responsible tourism” need not necessarily be a contradiction in terms.

It is the natural environment that draws everyone to the region in the first place so Plettenberg Bay has made a concerted effort to break down traditional barriers between opposing factions and ensure that business owners and conservationists speak the same language. And the effort is paying off.

In keeping with the intentions of the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development declared by the United Nations, Plettenberg Bay has more than made its mark in developing a sustainable tourism economy.

There are several reasons for this achievement:

  • Although the succeses of Plett Tourism’s sustainability stretches back a good deal further than the town’s current tourism drive, the prevailing “It’s a feeling” brand developed by the institution has been lauded for its inclusivity of all communities in Bitou. It goes a long way to set Plettenberg Bay’s tourism office apart from many others.
  • The town has also been lucky enough to harbour a substantial clutch of prominent businessmen and women passionately dedicated to finding a sustainable solution to preserving the environment – as well as a rich heritage of strong-willed conservationists working side by side with officials to ensure development does not compromise environmental integrity. As a result, several institutions in the hospitality industry have pledged to go ‘more green’ by discarding single-use plastics such as straws and it is dawning on many others that minimising their environmental impact makes good economic sense. A prime example being the Fat Fish, an award-winning SASSI-accredited restaurant that is setting the trend with top quality seafood responsibly obtained and endorsed by WWF-SA.
  • Tourism operators have consistently been accredited for their efforts in recent years including the achievement of Blue Flag Boat status for Offshore Adventures and a number of Lilizela Awards for Africanyon, Forever Resorts, Ocean Blue Adventures and SAASA amongst others. Leading the way too is Bitou Municipality, who have managed to secure 6 Blue Flag Beaches for the 2017/2018 season. Their commitment to responsible tourism, especially in terms of beaches, is undoubtedly one of the reasons Plettenberg Bay boasts a near-pristine shoreline almost all year round.
  • In recent years, the Nature’s Valley Trust and its stakeholders have developed the Coastal Impact Program, which endeavours to mitigate measured impacts people have on coastal biodiversity. Driving the change has been the #ShareTheShores program, an environment awareness-based education initiative designed to proactively enable the responsible use of our beaches and harmonious co-existence with its biodiversity.

Last year’s intervention by the programme Shorebird-team resulted in a 40% increase in the breeding of White-fronted Plovers – more than adequate proof that we can co-exist with birds that breed on our beaches if we are aware of what they need. The team urges members of the public to be on the lookout for nesting area signs placed 30m away from active plover and oystercatcher nests on Lookout Beach, Nature’s Valley and the Keurbooms Peninsula and to keep out of the vegetated dunes on these beaches. (BirdLife South Africa has partnered up with the Nature’s Valley Trust to promote awareness and conservation of the 2018 Bird of the Year – the African Black Oyster Catcher with trendy #ShareTheShores buffs from NVT, and an oystercatcher plush toy to be launched in January.)

Conservation3The results of three seasons of breeding bird research and surveys of where dogs are often walked has also led to beaches being zoned for dogs by Bitou Municipality. The aim has been to ensure all beach users, are able to enjoy themselves responsibly together with the birdlife with color-coded zone-boards on all beaches.

(GREEN means you can let your dog off a leash if under your control, ORANGE means a dog needs to be leashed and RED means a beach is dog free. This means that for the first time, dog owners can legally and responsibly allow dogs off leash on several beaches in the region while allowing other beach users a choice of canine-free venues and provides safe zones for our beach breeding birds that are often negatively affected by the presence of dogs.

The Share the Shores Fisherman Impact program has seen the NVT team designing and handing out locally relevant fish ID guides and info packs to over 150 fisherman during the past year, and continues to collect valuable data on catches. It also celebrated the launch of the Covie Fishing Club, a community driven initiative facilitated by NVT in partnership with the Plettenberg Bay Angling Association as well as hosting a few catch and release fishing competitions and a workshop on sustainable fishing with children from several local communities.

The NVT team believes, and is committed to, inclusive decision making based on sound science which will lead to informed communities minimising their impact on the environment as a personal choice. That it is now more important than ever to ensure sound management of Plett’s environmental resources to keep it safe for future generations. Gone, it seems are the days of excluding people to attain sound conservation.

As is often the case however, when you start getting things right, everyone wants a slice of the pie. A comprehensive, sustainable bay management plan is a long-term goal whereby real time ecological data could be used to make sound management decisions that sets national trends – and the wheels have already started turning.

The value of the well-established marine mammal tourism industry which consists of three companies that allow tourists to experience cetaceans and seals has not been fully measured for instance. Nor has the sustainability of the industry been effectively assessed anywhere in South Africa. The South African Government’s Operation Phakisa program, geared to unlocking the economic potential of our marine resources, plans to investigate the impact of increasing numbers of such operators based in towns such as Plettenberg Bay and Knysna, but there is currently no data to indicate whether such a plan would be sustainable or not.

The Nature’s Valley Trust will be launching a new marine based program starting on January 2018 on this very issue. Working in tandem with tourism operators, it will be conducting research from Port Elizabeth to Knysna to assess at what point any negative impact on the animals themselves occurs, and how the industry can secure sustainable operating principles.

The NVT will also do a full economic assessment study to investigate the knock-on effect of the industry on small town economies. The program will be funded by The Nedbank Green Trust, and run in partnership with WWFSA, the Coastal and Marine Research Institute at Nelson Mandela University and other local partners. Plett’s very own cetacean scientist, Dr Gwen Penry will head up a team to run the project. The industry is full of passionate people who care deeply about the ocean, and the NVT has expressed its keenness to work with them.



Conservation1The global trend is afoot to reduce the harmful environmental effects of plastic pollution. And not a moment too soon. Renew Able Plett is a town wide campaign that incentivises, celebrates, supports and trains businesses, community organisations and schools to reduce waste to landfill and create local opportunities. The campaign is a partnership of local environmental organisations and local businesses.

Educating the general public and schools to reduce their use of single-use plastics (such as plastic bags and straws) and turning waste into worth through recycling, making eco bricks and converting organic waste into compost, is crucial to the success of this campaign. Working towards a plastic free Plett, a zero waste town with healthy ecosystems and oceans, it brings creative solutions and community enlivening activities. Building benches and children’s playgrounds from eco bricks and inspiring healthy lifestyle choices, is the way forward.

Enjoy your plastic-free Plett Summer!

Get your eco-friendly products right here in the bay at these forward thinking stores:

The Clean Shop has been at the forefront of clean living for a good few years now. Pop in and buy eco-friendly, recyclable cleaning materials, made with the least impact on nature in mind.

Mason’s Packaging on Longships Drive, stock bamboo and wooden cutlery and containers. As well as being eco-friendly, these items are pretty funky, trendy and current.

Reusable Fresh Bags for produce are available from Kwikspar, The Shop, Thyme & Again, Bread & Brew, The Heath and Clare’s Cakes. Never leave home without them. Say no to plastic straws – get your own glass or metal straws from The Shop on Main Street, next to The Table. Always tell your waitron if you don’t want a straw in your drink. It may seem like a small thing but it will make a significant difference.

There are many ways in which to help. For instance, please remember to:

  • Take your own eco-friendly coffee cup to almost any coffee shop or buy one there for your next caffeine fix.
  • Take your own shopping bags to the store.
  • Taking your own containers for take-aways is an excellent way of helping.
  • Take your own water bottles, preferably glass or metal when you fill up on spring water.
  • Separate your recycling – glass, metal, plastic, paper! Use local recycling bins. There are quite a few recycling points dotted around town.
  • BUY LOCAL! Not only because local is lekker but because it’s good for the environment.

For more information on how to facilitate change, find them on FB: @renew_able_plett