At these Hope Spots around South Africa, you can enjoy the marine world while contributing to its conservation.
Here’s an interesting fact: 85% of South Africa’s tourism is coast-based, according to tourism statistics. From this, I think we can safely assume that tourists love the sea. And what’s not to love? The sway and crash of the waves and the fun they give us, beautiful beaches and the life along them (and then there’s the small matter of the sea being our largest source of oxygen and a great source of food). But under the surface, there’s a survival crisis going on.
One of the ocean’s biggest crusaders is a very small, 80-year-old woman, Dr Sylvia Earle. While humanity continues harvesting from this resource it sees as infinitely bounteous, Dr Earle, who’s been diving since she was 16, witnessed over the years that it was categorically not, and has given a passionate voice to this. In 2009, via a TED award, she launched the Hope Spot movement to help preserve important marine areas. Across the world, there are in the region of 70. In South Africa, six were launched in 2010: Algoa Bay, Cape Whale Coast, Plett, Aliwal Shoal, False Bay and Knysna.
What are Hope Spots?
Hope Spots are marine areas of ecological and biodiversity significance, but in South Africa, they are also unique in that:
- they are the only community-based Hope Spots;
- they are where people live, and aim to involve those people in conservation;
- they aim to ignite human support through involvement and education;
- they aim to share information with people so that everyone can appreciate the enormous value of the seas on their front doorstep and to then promote pride.
We featured the first three in our February issue of Getaway, where you can read what Hope Spots are all about (if you don’t already know). Here’s how you can engage with the Aliwal Shoal, False Bay and Knysna Hope Spots.
Things to do in the Knysna Hope Spot
1. Take a magical coastal walk under the moon
Garden Route Trails offers powerful and interactive trails through beautiful natural environments – coastal, riverine, afro-montane, wetland and dune – that educate on biodiversity and how all the elements interact and rely on each other. Around the new and full moons there’s the highly recommended Moonlight Meander and Starlight Stroll, in which Judy Dixon talks to hikers about the magic the rich intertidal zone hides. Costs from R150 per person.
2. See a whale from a boat
Ocean Odyssey is a Blue Flag credited whale-watching operator that’s permitted to take you to within 50 metres of these magnificent creatures (it’s Wessa credited so is very mindful of being eco-conscious). During whale season (1 June – 30 Nov), whale-watching tours are conducted over one-and-a-half to two hours with only 12 passengers. Costs R850 per person (kids under 12 cost R650).
During the summer (1 December – 31 May) there are eco-tours, which focus on all marine life along the coast from dolphins and sharks and Bryde whales to sea and coastal birds. Costs are R680 per person (kids R480). There’s another tour within the incredible and ecologically significant Knysna estuary, too, which takes only 45 minutes and costs R380 per person (kids R230).
3.Learn to surf
Trip Out is a surf school with a strong eco-conscious approach, and they are passionate about the sea, especially about not littering. It’s a great introduction to the ocean for young people (and educates about rip tides and safety). A two-hour lesson starts at R400 per person.
For more offerings in the area, visit the Knynsna tourism website.
Things to do at the False Bay Hope Spot
So much goes on in and around the southern peninsula, and there are plenty of ways to engage with the sea here:
4. Learn about sharks and marine life
Save Our Seas Shark Centre is open to the public from 2pm to 4pm Mondays to Thursdays, and is also available for group bookings for school children (from Grade R) and adults, at no charge. You can participate in shark lessons and rocky shore explorations (which take you out onto the shores of Dalebrook in Kalk Bay). There are also holiday programmes, which costs from R50 per child per day. Save Our Seas Shark Centre’s Facebook page will keep you up to scratch with all events.
5. Learn to free dive
I Am Water Ocean Conservation Foundation offers free-diving courses in the kelp around the peninsula. Free diving is a remarkable way to engage with wildlife underwater as you enter the ocean silently and on one breath. Certified courses for adults cost from R2800 per person. It has also recently launched children’s summer camps where kids can learn about the sea in a fun and engaging way. All proceeds go to educating less privileged children about conservation and offering first time ocean experiences. Costs start at R3500 per child.
6. Snorkel with sharks and marine life
Pisces Divers, based in Simons Town, offers two exciting trips that can be done by non-divers: the pelagic shark dive, where you can snorkel (or dive) with blue and shortfin mako sharks 25 nautical miles off Cape Point (costs start at R2500 per person); the Cape Point ocean safari takes divers or snorkelers swimming with seals but also educates about the coast on the trip down to Roman Rock Lighthouse (costs R1400 per person). Pisces Divers’ main business is dive courses, and details for this can be found on the Pisces Divers website.
For more offerings in the area, visit the Cape Town tourism website.
Things to do at the Aliwal Shoal Hope Spot
This Hope Spot is still at fledgling stage, but you can do the following here:
7. Dive with sharks and other sea life
Aliwal Shoal is rated one of the world’s top 10 diving sites, with warm water and abundant subtropical marine life from colourful reef fish and corals, to raggies and tiger sharks. Costs start at R600 per person with African Watersports.
8. Do uShaka Sea World’s ecology course
This runs every Thursday evening for five weeks and is linked to the SASSI programme, and covers everything from oceanography, biodiversity, marine creatures, plus nocturnal behaviours and biodiversity threats. And it only costs R805 per person. Find out more on the uShaka Sea World website.
Find out more about Dr Earle’s mission on her website, Mission Blue.
Read more from this story in the February 2016 issue of Getaway magazine.
Our February issue features a wild new way to traverse the Baviaanskloof, the Okavango Delta’s most affordable safari, 6 local shores to explore and Italy’s 8 prettiest dips.