On 2 September 2017, eMdloti’s Urban Improvement Program and residents alike kicked off national Arbor Week with a special event – the launch of their Marine Conservancy Signage, with a rehabilitation and greening exercise on the dunes of eMdloti’s infamous South Beach ‘Granny’s Pool’.
eMdloti is a unique and rather special coastal village. This popular North Coast destination is the closest neighbouring community to Tongaat Hulett Developments’ Sibaya Coastal Precinct and boasts long stretches of beach, lush forested landscapes and a close-knit community. All of these serve as the perfect juxtaposition to the trendy restaurants, bustling lifestyle centres and multiplicity of boutique bed and breakfasts on offer. eMdloti offers both residents and visitors a sense of escape with its eco-friendly spirit and focus on the beautiful environment that defines it. Flanked by the Hawaan-Mhlanga Forest Complex, the last coastal dune forest outside of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, and the uMdloti lagoon and river, the area is home to a pristine Coastal Conservancy and two pilot Blue Flag beaches.
The drivers of eMdloti’s eco-friendly programme are the eMdloti Improvement Program (UIP) proudly supported by Tongaat Hulett and the Sibaya Coastal Precinct’s Conservation Trust. Dayalan Chetty, Tongaat Hulett Developments’ Development Executive for the Sibaya Coastal Precinct says, "We applaud and are fully behind the important cleaning and greening work that is being done in eMdloti. The communities of Sibaya Coastal Precinct and eMdloti as well as visitors to the area enjoy the boundless beauty of the beaches and protected coastal forests here, and the eMdloti UIP are playing a significant role in the preservation and protection of the area – not only for now, but for generations to come."
The UIP work in collaboration with the residents to ensure the protection of eMdloti’s bio-diverse ecology – both marine and forest. Enhancing, securing and sustaining the eMdloti Village means going the distance to protect the kilometre-long declared Marine Conservancy on its South Beach shores. The prestigious status of this stretch of beach was granted by the eThekwini Municipality as a result of an on-going mussel research project conducted in the area. Today this is one of six scientific studies being conducted within the conservancy. "These projects are being carried out in the eMdloti Conservancy by O.R.I, Whale Time and UKZN, comparing the populations of rocky shore creatures in undisturbed areas to beaches open to the public. Teams are also looking into the effect of climate change on species found in the conservancy," says Tracey Simkiss, head of the UIP’s cleaning and greening division.
The UIP are encouraging a sense of responsibility and ownership within the local community and are promoting ‘Citizen Science’ – whereby residents get actively involved in various environmental protection and rehabilitation initiatives. A big part of this endeavour involves education. To ensure the best possible and a sustainable outcome, this year the UIP engaged Judy Mann-Lang – Conservation Strategist for SAAMBR at Durban’s uShaka Marine World – to assist in developing a unique series of educational signs for the areas in which the eco-marine studies are being conducted. Commenting on the erection of such important educational signage, Terry-Ann Rens, manager of the UIP said, "We have worked together with the eThekwini Municipality, Judy Mann-Lang and the Blue Fund in designing, erecting and maintaining these interactive and educational signs which are of vital importance to the Coastal Conservancy. We hope that the signs will encourage all beach users to take ownership and become proud of this small but highly effective marine nursery."
In keeping with Arbor Week, six educational signs were erected along eMdloti South Beach Road, each with a positive and detailed explanation. The signs address:
- Monitoring of The Mussel Beds: Before being proclaimed a Marine Conservancy in the 1990s, the rocks along this stretch of beach saw a rapid decline in the numbers of mussels owing to recreational harvesting. In 1998 conservation-minded citizens requested a stop to mussel harvesting and fishing in the area – as a result, it has been declared a protected zone. This sign educates beach users on the subject while also explaining what they can do to get involved in the on-going research.
- Conservation of Coastal Forests: This sign draws attention to the protected coastal forests of Sibaya Coastal Precinct and shared by eMdloti. It highlights some of the animals and plant species that inhabit the forests – including the Spotted Ground Thrush, Red Duiker, African Fish Eagle and Red Milkwood Trees.
- Dune Rehabilitation: Without the protection of sand dunes that assist in staving off high tides during big storms, eMdloti infrastructure is vulnerable to harsh coastal conditions. The sign educates the community on the importance of these dunes, the dune plants and how they go about both protecting the shores and residences here.
- Humpback Whales: Whale Time is currently monitoring the migration of Humpback Whales along the KwaZulu-Natal coastline and this sign draws attention to the study. It also gives some quick facts about whales – what and how they eat, information on their physical make-up and how residents and visitors can assist with submitting photographs of the species’ tale, which has a unique identification-code, much like a fingerprint.
- Rocky Shore Research: The University of KwaZulu-Natal is currently conducting a study where they compare Zoanthid populations in protected areas to those inhabiting unprotected areas. This sign shares information on the study and how it is being conducted, as well as the importance of Zoanthids to the rocky shores more generally.
- A Summary of all the Projects: The final sign gives passers-by a summary of all five studies. It also outlines that the conservancy is a ‘No Take-No Touch Zone’ (in which fishing or removal of any resource is strictly prohibited), and encourages residents and visitors to get involved in the various projects as much as they can.
Public education of this importance could not go without an engaging launch event to encourage further community participation. The eMdloti community, sponsors, the UIP and representatives from both Tongaat Hulett and the eThekwini Municipality gathered on eMdloti’s pilot Blue Flag beach for a morning filled with dune planting and community engagement. Central to the event were the scientists of the eMdloti studies. Engaging the public, they presented an overview of their continued work and answered questions.
Speaking to the presence of these dedicated researchers on the day, Terry-Ann Rens said, "To have so many scientists gathered for this occasion signifies how important this protected area is to the scientific community, eMdloti residents and the visitors to our village. It was also a unique opportunity for the community to engage with them and learn more about the work that they are doing".
Residents’ participation was also encouraged in the protection of the conservancy’s dunes. Prone to seasonal high seas, ongoing dune rehabilitation is required in order to stabilise the beach sand and protect infrastructure. Coastal plants donated by Tongaat Hulett went into the ground with the help of the broader community.
Tongaat Hulett’s Dayalan Chetty, also emphasised that the scientific projects being conducted within this area shed light on just how important the protection of these conservancies are. "The ethos of Sibaya Coastal Precinct, Reconnect, Rediscover, is appropriately amplified by the efforts here in eMdloti, where we aim to re-engage people with the most important things in life: family, nature and community, so as eMdloti’s neighbours, it is initiatives such as these that we are more than happy to invest in and support," Chetty concluded.