Conservation

COMMENTS ON BIRDWATCHING WATER SAFARIS ON KLEIN RIVER LAGOON, HERMANUS

Posted on the 11th December 2019

The Chairperson of the Hermanus Ratepayers Association requested me to comment on this application on Thursday afternoon 5 December with the note that the closing date for comments is Tuesday 10 December. This very short timeframe left very little time for meaningful comments and this correspondence should therefore be regarded as provisional in nature. The application was forwarded for opinion and comment to BirdLife Overberg members with possible interest in the matter and relevant officials at BirdLife South Africa.

The reactions received at this stage indicate that this is clearly not an application that can be answered with a simple “yes” or “no” as several grey areas or issues had been pointed out. The reactions ranged from conditional approval through to the total rejection of the application. It is therefore recommended that the issues described below need to be clarified before a decision on the possible approval of the application is taken.

The issues discussed herewith are raised in the order that these were given in the application.
• The application states “to commercially operate guided birdwatching and other boat trips”. The “other boat trips” should be specified. So-called “booze cruises” in a natural environment such as this may not be permissible under any circumstances. Trips should also not occur beyond daylight hours. Also refer to comments on catering below.

• It further states that the purpose of the trips would be “to view some of the 120 odd bird species on the lagoon, and other boat trips”. (Note that the latter vague words referred to above are again used). And later “Guests will also be supplied with a manual on the Kleinrivier Lagoon birdlife with photos and some interesting facts re these bird species”. The number of species mentioned is debatable and the question on how decisions will be taken on species to be included in the manual needs to be asked. Who will compile such a manual and is this person suitably qualified to do so? The contents of such a manual further needs to be checked and verified by a recognised authority of estuarine birds in general and the Klein River lagoon in particular. Will data from historical and current CWAC counts (Coordinated Waterbirds Counts being administered at UCT) be included when decisions about species prevalence and abundance are taken? The members of BirdLife Overberg initiated regular quarterly CWAC counts as part of the CleanMarine campaign. Representatives of at least nine bird clubs and conservation agencies participate in these counts at all the estuaries along the Overstrand including the western section of the Klein River lagoon. Also note that the area forms part of the Cape Whale Coast Important Bird and Biodiversity Area (IBA) recognised by BirdLife South Africa, as well as BirdLife International. The principles and conservation guidelines incorporated in the official IBA directory for this IBA should be taken into consideration when a decision on this application is taken.

• Most observers in the know will recommend that these trips should not be allowed during the main breeding season between August and November, or at the least that the boat not be allowed closer to shore. Will such logical conservation principles be taken into consideration when a decision on this application is taken?

• “Some telescopes will also be supplied”: Is the applicant serious, or does this indicate the applicant’s perceived lack of knowledge of bird-watching and related bird-watching equipment?

• We must accept that the applicant “is passionate about our natural environment”, but does this imply that the applicant, the skippers and first mates/ workers have enough knowledge about birds to meaningfully guide participants on these trips? Will they be qualified to do so?

• “Naturally all other regulations applicable to the lagoon, such as restricted activities in the different zones, will be adhered to”. We are not convinced that such regulations are sufficiently clarified. How would this relate to the activities of CapeNature and the Estuary Management Forum and what would their reactions be to this? It should be accepted that sections of the lagoon form part of the Fernkloof Nature Reserve: Are guided boat trips on the lagoon adequately addressed in the reserve’s Protected Area Management Plan (PAMP) that is currently under review?

• Questions are also being asked about the potential negative impact that waves created by the wake of a boat of this size might have on the erosion of the shore – this despite assurances by the applicant that low speeds will be maintained. This issue is problematic at several estuaries along the South African coastline and has caused huge controversy. Refer to work in this regard being undertaken by Dr Giselle Murison, the estuaries manager of BirdLife South Africa at the Berg River estuary at Velddrif.

• “All relevant safety requirements for a commercially operated boat, not carrying more than 12 passengers, as prescribed by the Merchant Shipping (National Small Vessel Safety) Regulations, 2007 (SAMSA), as well as regulations of the Municipality, is met.” (sic). Refer to comments in the previous paragraphs. It should also be asked whether skipper’s licences will be required, and if so, whether the skippers of this boat have (or will have) such certified qualifications. Possible issues regarding indemnity, liability and health and safety requirements (for both the applicant and the Municipality) also need to be addressed before approval for this venture is given.

• “Water levels of the lagoon will determine from where the boat will be operated. At this stage it will be from the public slipway at Prawn Flats, Klein River Lagoon, Hermanus”. What happens when the water levels are low and are there enough measures in place to ensure that the habitat is not disturbed when passengers and crew have to get to the boat (or the boat with occupants be taken to the water) when it can’t be launched from the slipway?

• There are contradictory statements as far as catering is concerned: “It is possible that light meals/snacks be offered on the vessel”. And later when job creation is discussed: “two skippers, 2 first mates/workers and two cooks/food preppers.” Clarification on this will be needed, as would be assurances that all waste will be brought back to shore. It is stated that these trips will last for a maximum of 90 minutes – it is recommended that only pre-prepared snacks and water or soft drinks be allowed on these trips as more formal catering seems inappropriate for a trip of such a short duration.

• One BirdLife Overberg member responded as follows and it is recommended that such a provision be built into a possible approval of the application: “It would be nice to have the ability in due course to stop this if there is an unforeseen impact on bird populations…”

Note that we are not necessarily against this application and that we at BirdLife Overberg have for many years been actively involved in the marketing of the Cape Whale Coast as a top birding destination to both the domestic and international bird-watching fraternity. We are in fact very close to the completion of the revision/ upgrade of the Cape Whale Coast bird finder web page previously commissioned by the Overstrand Municipality. At this stage we are releasing detailed information on selected top bird-watching destination in the Overstrand on a daily basis and are receiving massive reaction from local and international birders on social media and our website. Visit:
http://www.westerncapebirding.co.za/overberg/routes.php?id=16

It is recommended that a decision on this application only be taken once the issues raised are sufficiently addressed. Further deliberation and consultation would be advisable given the potential controversial nature of this application. It should be considered that at least Pierre deVilliers, the Estuaries Manager at CapeNature, Dr Giselle Murison, the Estuaries Manager at BirdLife South Africa, Carin Malan, the coordinator of the quarterly CWAC counts and all property owners along the shore of the lagoon be consulted in such a process. Problematic and controversial issues related to the lease of the property from where De Vette Mossel operates, as well as the use of the slipway by the public need to form part such a process of consultation.
Please confirm receipt of this email and that the comments and recommendations in it will be considered.
With appreciation.
Anton Odendal


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