A social project in Sodwana bay
This month I am in Sodwana Bay - a marine protected area within the Isimangaliso Wetland Park which is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Sodwana Bay is renowned for its pristine coral reef system with over 1500 species of fish, around 350 coral species and a wide variety of mega fauna and invertebrates. The region also boasts the largest forested coastal dunes in Africa, the largest natural freshwater lake in Southern Africa.
My role here, however, is more on the anthropocentric side which is very new to me. But I have always believed that community development is irrevocably linked to conservation - especially when rural communities outlie protected areas.
As part of the social project, I am working with local schools to implement an environmental education lesson plan in the curriculum. This involves teaching local kids about the iSimangaliso Wetlands area, its value, what threatens it, and things they can do to help and get involved in conservation.
Some of the conservation threats to this area include unsustainable agriculture, deforestation, and pollution.
The main issues, however, lie in the marine environment which is heavily impacted by illegal fishing, commercial over-fishing, tourism pressures, and the poaching of turtles and their eggs.
I believe there is great value in creating a sense of pride in a land. As locals begin to understand the true value of their home, it initiates a self-relugating society. This could take generations, but raising awareness among the youth is the best way to effect long term change - and environmental education is a start. Another important factor of course, is for locals to benefit more from tourism revenues but that's a story for another day.
Exploring new environments
It's wonderful to be in a new environment. Sodwana bay is an incredibly relaxed town with a laid back hippie vibe.
The town is small – just one street really - and although quiet now, I have heard it comes alive during the peak season. I am glad I will miss that part. I am definately enjoying the stillness and simpleness of beach life.
On this project there's a lot of downtime and I've taken advantage of that by doing some exploring.
I've made friends with some of the scuba diving interns sharing our camp and we have been spending afternoons hiking random trails from the beach into the forested area. And I have been joining volunteer groups for sundowners at the picturesque highpoint Ngobo Seleni.
Learning about marine life
The camp is run by an awesome couple passionate about marine conservation. I was lucky enough to tag along on one of their turtle tours.
We drove from Sodwana bay through coastal forest north toward Mozambique and hiked along the beach for about eight kilometers looking for turtles. Leatherback and loggerhead turtles nest on these beaches from around December until March.
Thus far I have always been involved terrestrial wildlife conservation but the marine world has always intrigued and inspired me. In the few weeks I've been here, I have already learnt so much - sitting in on lectures wherever I can - and I must say, my mind if blown. Evolution in the marine environment is unbelievably advanced. It is really an alien world to me, and one I am very much looking forward to exploring.