Marine Protected Areas An Ecotourism Drawcard For South Africa

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Known as the ‘game reserves of the sea’, Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are earning their place in the spotlight as the MPA Day celebration on 1 August goes global this year. In addition to the many ecological benefits of these protected ocean areas, MPAs bring with them significant tourism potential which aligns with the 2023 World Tourism Day theme, Tourism and Green Investment.

“Tourism is a massive contributor towards our local and global economies and in a country like South Africa, which has 41 MPAs, the potential for ecotourism is just waiting to be unlocked,” says Dr Judy Mann, Founder of MPA Day, and the Executive of Strategic Projects at The Two Oceans Aquarium Foundation.

“By promoting MPA tourism initiatives, we’re able to empower local communities surrounding our MPAs through job creation, while educating and supporting conservation efforts and the advancement of our MPAs.”

Morukuru Family De Hoop

The potential of ecotourism around MPAs is already evident with several local establishments welcoming domestic and international visitors who are drawn to the natural beauty of the areas. One such example is in the Western Cape near De Hoop MPA where Morukuru Family De Hoop – consisting of Morukuru Beach Lodge and the exclusive-use Morukuru Ocean House – considers the MPA a unique selling point.

“Guests at Morukuru Family De Hoop enjoy the unspoilt coastline, the scenic beauty of the reserve, the fynbos vegetation, as well as the abundant marine life,” explains Rinse Wassenaar, the Marketing Manager.

“De Hoop MPA offers some of the best land-based whale watching anywhere in Africa, as the whales are not disturbed by boats. Unlike other places, the De Hoop Nature Reserve is not overcrowded and guests at Morukuru Family De Hoop experience the sensation of feeling almost alone.”

From July to October, visitors enjoy land-based whale watching, guided marine walks at low tide, guided fynbos and nature walks, guided nature drives, mountain biking, dune boarding, snorkelling and swimming in tidal pools. Visitors also enjoy sightings of resident turtles, such as the five rehabilitated turtles that were recently released into the reserve by the Two Oceans Aquarium Foundation’s Turtle Conservation Centre.

Morukuru Family De Hoop employs 42 people and welcomes around 1 700 guests every year. The business also supports the MPA further through the Morukuru Goodwill Foundation, as well as sharing educational information via its website and marketing material.

Africansunroad

Another Western Cape-based tourism establishment that has leveraged the De Hoop Nature Reserve and MPA for ecotourism is Africansunroad. The company provides nature guides and hikes, and wine walks, with a special focus on the 55km Whale Trail which extends through the nature reserve from Potberg to Koppie Alleen.

Gillian Louw, CEO of Africansunroad, said they welcome around 80 tourists a year for The Whale Trail during which time they educate visitors about the MPA, and clean any litter along the trail. She said the protection and restoration of this natural environment has attracted significant interest from tourists, with the recovery of ocean life, particularly welcome.

Snorkeling in the rock pool. (Image: Supplied by Morukuru Family De Hoop)

African Dive Adventures

The KZN South Coast is home to three MPAs, one of which is the world-class dive site, Protea Banks. African Dive Adventures is one local tourism establishment that gives up to 1 000 divers a year the chance to experience the incredible marine life at this MPA.

Owner, Roland Mauz, said that while the term ‘MPA’ was not widely known, visitors were happy to know they were diving in a ‘national park’ that protects local marine life. He said, however, that more needs to be done to enforce the regulations around MPAs, as there is still illegal fishing and activities taking place that threaten these protected species.

Kingfisher Lakeside Retreat

Kingfisher Lakeside Retreat is situated near another KZN South Coast MPA, Trafalgar, which is renowned for its fossil remains found on the beach.

This, and the annual Sardine Run, are some of the big drawcards for visitors to the area. Malissa Barnard explained that the resort, which employs five people, is a unique glamping and dam fishing site, with around 450 annual visitors coming to spend time in nature.

The resort contributes towards the upkeep of Trafalgar MPA by advertising beach clean-ups while supporting dune rehabilitation by planting indigenous vegetation.

iSimangaliso Wetland Park

Further north in KZN is the World Heritage Site and renowned MPA, iSimangaliso Wetland Park where tourism establishments like Adventure Mania offer scuba diving, snorkelling, and boat rides to tourists.

The company, which hires six to 10 staff depending on the season, welcomes more than 4 000 visitors annually to this globally renowned tourism destination.

The MPA status of iSimangaliso allows them to generate income through tourism and sustainable fishing, with the region providing valuable scientific research.

All divers are instructed on the MPA status while being educated to ‘take only memories and leave only bubbles’. The preservation of this MPA is not only valuable for marine life and angling but has significant spiritual and cultural value for local residents.

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