Cape Town – A world-famous explorer and marine biologist, who counts US President Barack Obama among her friends, is coming to South Africa to spearhead conservation efforts along the Western Cape’s shores.
Sylvia Earle will use the opportunity to declare the first “Hope spots” in the country – stretches of coastline that will be no-fishing, no-drilling sanctuaries for ecosystems ravaged by overfishing.
The diver, who was named Time Magazine’s Hero of the Planet in 1998, recently turned 79. But this hasn’t slowed down her conservation efforts, and she is still leading underwater expeditions across the globe.
“She will be diving when she gets here too,” said Kogelberg Reserve Company director Richard Starke, who is helping to co-ordinate her visit.
The Sustainable Seas Trust – an NGO focused on ocean conservation – said Earle’s visit would form part of her Mission Blue Expedition. She will declare “Hope spots” at Plettenberg Bay, Knysna, Algoa Bay, the Cape Whale Coast, and Aliwal Shoal in KwaZulu-Natal – special conservation areas critical to the health of the ocean. In parts of the world, some of these spots are already formally protected, but most are not.
“About 12 percent of the land around the world is now under some form of protection, as national parks, world heritage sites and monuments, while less than 3 percent of the ocean is protected.”
Starke said Earle’s declaration of these zones did not yet have any backing from national government. But it was hoped the diver’s influence as a famous public figure would draw attention to these areas and force departments to take action and protect fish stocks and wildlife.
“We can say, look at these areas – they are meant to be protected, but you are doing nothing about it,” said Starke.
The trust added: “SA does not have a Mission Blue Hope Spot, yet it richly deserves to have several as it has so many spectacularly beautiful seascapes, a huge diversity of marine habitats, amazing richness of life and an enthusiastic population. Indeed, the country as a whole could qualify as an International Hope Spot. As this is not feasible, we will build up its list.”
Earle’s expedition has already gained a fair amount of traction. In June, Obama pledged support for a proposal to create almost 700 000 square miles of newly protected ocean. For Earle, who has spent almost her entire life leading the charge for ocean conservation, support is invaluable.
She launched Mission Blue in 2009 after she received the TED Prize, an annual award of more than R1-million given to someone with “a wish to change the world”.
“I wish you would use all means at your disposal – films! expeditions! the web! more! — to ignite public support for a global network of marine protected areas, hope spots large enough to save and restore the ocean, the blue heart of the planet,” she said, the statement becoming the project’s mission statement.
The Sustainable Seas Trust said by declaring Plettenberg Bay a Hope Spot it would obtain international recognition and support as a valuable marine area critical to the health of the ocean.
“But it will also be promoted internationally as an area to visit for its beauty.”
Earle is set to arrive in Cape Town on December 4.