SA Hope Spots are unique
In December 2015 the Sustainable Seas Trust facilitated the launch of South Africa’s first six Hope Spots - False Bay; Cape Whale Coast, Knysna, Plett, Algoa Bay and Aliwal Shoal. No sooner had the invitations been sent and the publicity posters released when a cry rang out from the public asking why their area of choice had not also been included in the initiative while others asked why Hope Spots were necessary, were the 22 South African Marine Protected Areas not sufficient in sustaining the future of our South African sea?
Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are usually in wilderness areas, where the government authorities do a wonderful job of caring for nature. This is where the public is allowed to go to unwind and enjoy nature. Such parks are well managed which means that the authorities protect the areas by placing restrictions on what visitors may or may not do. In general the public is permitted to do little more than visit, learn and enjoy the wonders of the pristine wilderness areas. Though, in special circumstances they can be allowed to be honourary rangers, help with education and scientists can get permits for research.
When you visit to a Marine Park, you travel from where you live, enjoy the wilderness area and learn about how the protection of the environment is allowing the ecosystem to recover, how the fish populations in the park are increasing and providing better fishing in the adjacent areas and how threatened or endangered species are being rescued by the protection they are receiving. All of this is excellent and feels good.
South African Hope Spots however are defined as places where people are encouraged to make positive contributions to improve the environment, their quality of life and their economy by caring for nature and people.
The first six South African Hope Spots are near cities and towns and focussing on developing caring communities where people are living. This means you can make a difference (with your daily lifestyle choices and brings improving the environment into to your home, your neighbourhood, your schools, your business and public areas. Dr Sylvia Earle, the architect of the Global Hope Spot Movement, argues that unless you know and understand you cannot care, so the development of caring communities depends on education and knowledge.
It is also absolutely logical and a proven formula that if one improves the environment, then the area is more attractive, more people come to it as visitors (e.g. tourism increases), the value of property increases for those who live and work there, so they become keen to care for the environment too and inevitably the economy grows.
The onus is primarily on government authorities when it comes to sustaining MPAs, for the greater good of the environment and indeed the country and its people, whereas Hope Spots calls for a more civically-minded approach. But are MPAs and Hope Spots completely separate from one another? No, each of the six South African Hope Spots includes an existing MPA area. The pristine MPAs promote pride and appreciation and serve to encourage local Hope Spot initiatives by showcasing the wealth of biodiversity that exists in these wilderness areas, as documented by a wealth of research studies conducted in these areas where human access is restricted or limited.
In launching the Hope Spot initiative it not only became clear that the research findings are not always reaching the public domain and serving to inspire hope, but it also became apparent that research teams were often not aware or familiar with other teams’ findings. Hope Spots aspires to bring existing research into the public domain, available to the public, the authorities, the business chambers, the clubs, societies and even the universities and schools, in forms that are readily understood by all who need to use the information, it also encourages citizen science initiatives and Hope Spot initiatives could well also afford researchers the opportunity to collaborate and form a more holistic picture of environmental health of a particular area.
There are almost 60 Hope Spots in the world and many of those are located off shore far away from cities and towns, indeed truly remote and not easily accessible. South African Hope Spots are unusual in the global context, out of the 57 in the world, only our six in South Africa are truly community based. When Dr Earle fashioned the Hope Spot concept, in response to being awarded the 2009 TED Prize, she had in mind mainly those parts of the world which are not as rich in MPAs as South Africa, her definition of Hope Spots included words, which to South African ears, made them sound just like MPAs. As South Africa has an excellent network of MPAs and SANParks is doing a great job developing them, we in South Africa do not need public assistance to develop more MPAs.
Ikhaya Lethemba (Home of Hope) as the South African community-driven Hope Spot initiative is known, stems from Dr Earle’s call, as expressed in her award winning wish, upon every one of us ‘to create a campaign to ignite public support. She argued quite correctly, that people caused the global environmental and climate crises and people will also need to clean it and that we are better placed than ever before in human history to do so. We have at our disposal knowledge, technology, scientific expertise, understanding and resources and now need to apply our minds, develop the will and move forwards.
SST calls on individuals, families, friends, schools, business colleagues, clubs (diving, surfing, paddling, yachting, angling) to get involved so the tiny ripples of success can be grown to waves and if necessary we may need the occasional tsunami of success. The power of people is what Hope Spots in South Africa wish to harness.