Sodwana Bay in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park is scheduled for a R72 million facelift in the next 24 months, which will aim to better preserve the area, while unlocking development.
Work will include a new visitor reception and gate complex, new parking, new craft markets, and new recreational areas for day visitors.
Siyabonga Mhlongo, iSimangaliso Wetland Park spokesman, said a number of specialist studies were commissioned to better understand the dynamics of this area, with a view to enhancing and protecting the ecology of the area and promoting economic development.
This part of the park contains rare forest types and species and is a popular tourism destination for beach lovers, divers and fishermen.
“The studies considered how best to modernise day visitor facilities to improve the visitor experience, and create jobs. Specialists in the fields of dune dynamics and estuarine management as well as civil engineers, landscape architects, architects and professionals who have successfully managed and implemented rehabilitation programmes along the KwaZulu-Natal coast line were involved,” Mhlongo said.
The studies, done over a two-year period, included vegetation surveys, ecological functionality assessments, coastal dune dynamics, estuarine functional assessments, cultural heritage assessments and ecological rehabilitation.
The breakdowns of the costs are:
* R11m for a new entrance gate complex;
* R50m for visitor facilities and ecological rehabilitation; and
* R10m for road upgrades.
The redevelopment of Sodwana’s day visitor areas includes the replacement and relocation of the existing dive shop, compressor facilities, convenience and food outlets; new community safety and first aid facilities; replacement and new ablution facilities (one of which was completed in the first phase of the project); improved parking; new signage and park furniture, such as picnic tables; and the rebuilding of the craft trading area.
All facilities will be disabled-friendly.
“The facelift will also require the removal of structures that are inappropriate or ‘not fit for purpose’, including those within the estuarine basin, and those that compromise the ecology and ‘sense of place,” Mhlongo said.
Alien plants will be removed to restore dune functioning and growth of indigenous vegetation on the primary dune will be encouraged.
The increase in visitor numbers to the area has increased pressure on the ecosystem, already strained by the planting of Casuarina trees in the 1960s to aid dune stabilisation.
Mhlongo said natural processes had led to sand “starvation” at Jesser Point, which has been significantly eroded, resulting in the need to remove infrastructure and arguably contributing to sand choking in the bay.
“Heavy seas have compounded the negative ecological impacts from Casuarina trees on Jesser Point, resulting in the collapse of infrastructure – including ablutions and beach ramps critical for launch site operations,” Mhlongo said.
The park is known for its world class coral reefs, more than 1 200 species of marine fish (including coelacanths) and scuba diving.
It also has rare and endangered forest types and a highly sensitive and dynamic dune system.
Park chief executive, Andrew Zaloumis, said good planning and public input had resulted in a balance between ecological conservation and development.
“The construction will provide 164 jobs with additional new permanent jobs during the operational phase. This will benefit the community surrounding us,” Zaloumis said.
iSimangaliso’s business director, Terri Castis, said: “We are managing the park, not only for the benefit of this generation, but for our children and our children’s children.”