Making the wonky marriage work between conservation and development
The waltz between development and a healthy environment has been a bit wobbly, but 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. Plettenberg Bay has more than made its mark in developing a sustainable tourism economy. There are several reasons for this achievement.
Although the successes 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 Plett’s recognition as one of only eight Whale Heritage Sites in the world earlier this year. Leading the way too is Bitou Municipality, who have managed to maintain 6 Blue Flag Beaches for the 2023/2024 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 coexistence with its biodiversity. The team urges members of the public to be on the lookout for nesting area signs placed 30 m 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.
The 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; a system which has been in place for a number of years. The aim has been to ensure all beach users are able to enjoy themselves responsibly together with the birdlife with colour-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.