OBJECTION TO THE ARNISTON SPA HOTEL APPLICATION FOR A PERMIT TO CONDUCT GUIDED VEHICLE TOURS WITHIN THE COASTAL AREAPosted on the 29th June 2017
Members will recall that we, together with other organisations, lodged an objection to this application by the Arniston Spa Hotel. We are delighted to announce that the the Department had refused the application. Our sincere appreciation goes to all of you had written letters of support to our objection.
OBJECTION TO THE ARNISTON SPA HOTEL APPLICATION FOR A PERMIT TO CONDUCT GUIDED VEHICLE TOURS WITHIN THE COASTAL AREA
As Chairman of both BirdLife Overberg and the Western Cape Birding Forum (on which the chairs of bird clubs in the province sit) I strongly object to this application. Note that this objection only focuses on matters related to birds and not other ecological issues. Kindly note further that comments received from the following individuals have been incorporated into this objection:
• Dr Mark Brown – Director of the Nature's Valley Trust and the Western Cape representative on the Board of BirdLife South Africa
• Carin Malan – Deputy Chair of BirdLife Overberg and Secretary of the Western Cape Birding Forum
• Johann du Preez – Ecologist and Director of GreenRSA
• Dave Whitelaw – Conservation Manager of the Western Cape Birding Forum
• Tierck Hoekstra – Regional Manager of CapeNature and he will submit objection on behalf of CapeNature
• Keith Harrison – Conservation Manager West Coast Bird Club and member of the Western Cape Birding Forum
• Dr Anthony Williams – Previous Chief Ornithologist for CapeNature and member of the Western Cape Birding Forum
• Ralph Sheppard – Professional Ecologist from Ireland
• Tony Tree – Generally regarded as the top expert on the Terns of Southern Africa
We have also received emails in support of this objection from a variety of individuals representing many conservation agencies – list of supporters attached.
From a technical perspective the following objections should be noted:
• No Bird Specialist’s Report is included in the application;
• No DEA or DEADP reference numbers are included as far as we can see, with the result the “Marine Specialist Statement” in the application should be regarded as a Basic Information Document (BID) and the start of the process of moving towards a Scoping Report;
• In principle I strongly oppose the opening of beaches to 4x4 vehicles. Besides the obvious impacts on birds (to be addressed below) the cumulative impacts such as the high volumes of anglers that would flock down to these beaches during holiday periods should be added. Like in other cases control by officials would fade over time due to lack of funding and staff. Once opened it would be very difficult to reverse such a decision. “It is very easy to interpret the most optimistic outcome for a development as the most likely. But in practice, once planning permission is given for a minimal development at a sensitive site, it routinely opens the door to development creep. And the outcome is that habitats get fragmented, and ground-nesting birds which require safe, secluded sites, end up by abandoning them.” - Ralph Sheppard B.A. M.Sc. - Professional Ecologist from Ireland who regularly visits our region.
• It is evident that the authors of the report have their facts on the birds incorrect, especially as far as the supposed impacts are concerned. They anticipate that birds will adapt and avoid high vehicle traffic areas, which will not be the case. Research data from studies undertaken by the Nature's Valley Conservation Trust (NVT) from the Plettenberg Bay region show that birds remain dedicated to established territories, even with high disturbance levels, so that high impacts on breeding will occur, with continual high nest failure rates. The discussion around individual bird collision is insufficient – there is no thought given to death of chicks. The NVT team have described three occurrences of plover chicks being driven over by municipal quad bikes used for beach safety during the previous breeding season.
• The potential negative impacts on the breeding of several bird species in the area are not addressed meaningfully. These species include, but are not restricted to African Black Oystercatchers, White-fronted Plovers, Caspian Terns and Damara Terns and to a lesser extent possibly a potential breeding colony of African Penguins at De Hoop Nature Reserve.
We highlight some of our concerns in this regard:
African Black Oystercatchers - The NVT work shows that oystercatchers stop incubating when a disturbance is as far as 60m away, so to prevent this, they would need to place buffer zones around nests of 60m minimum.
White-fronted Plovers - The NVT data for White-fronted Plovers suggest a minimum buffer zone of 30m for this species. Surprisingly this plover is not listed in the application as a species occurring there, but it is well known that the species does occur and breeds there.
I am personally against any unnecessary beach driving as White-fronted Plovers and African Black Oystercatchers cannot adapt to this. There has been no mention of the species biology taken into account in terms of chick behaviour for these species, whose eggs and chicks are VERY susceptible to trampling. The only mitigation here that would be acceptable is if they employ full time nest monitors every season (6-8 months), identify each and every nest, and place suitable buffer zones around each nest.
Caspian Terns – The Caspian Tern is listed as VULNERABLE in “The 2015 Eskom Red Data Book of BIRDS of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland”. It is important to note that Caspian Terns breed on the Arniston side of De Mond estuary and the breeding colony was in the past regarded as the largest in the Western Cape .
Damara Terns – The Damara Tern is listed as CRITICALLY ENDANGERED in “The 2015 Eskom Red Data Book of BIRDS of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland” and receives very little if any mention in the specialist report. The proposed development could well cause more trouble for the remaining Damara Tern pairs breeding in the area. They are still declining and are being affected by off-road vehicles. The chicks usually make their way to the beach as they get older and, like, wader chicks, tend to hide in wheel ruts. A reference to a paper on the near immediate (i.e within 1 year of the law coming into place) effect of the banning of off-road vehicles including the positive effect on breeding Damara and Caspian Terns between De Mond and Arniston is attached.
African Penguins - The proximity to the De Hoop penguin colony is possibly a secondary concern, so it is recommended that specialists from BirdLife South Africa working on this species comment on that.
Ultimately we should be setting positive precedents for beach breeding birds, so should try prevent this permit from being granted – especially since it is so close to important protected areas, falling within Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas recognised as such by BirdLife International. Sustainable tourism alternatives, involving hiking to the sites as guided tours, should be explored.
We are prepared to be involved in further discussions and deliberations in this regard.
Dr. Anton Odendal
(Images by Anton Odendal of BirdLife Overberg)