Aliwal Shoal to be declared a Hope Spot
Durban - KwaZulu-Natal’s famous reef, Aliwal Shoal, is to be declared an international Hope Spot – a special place critical to the health of the ocean.
This week legendary American marine conservationist and oceanographer Dr Sylvia Earle, who was named by Time Magazine as its first Hero for the Planet in 1998, will be in the country to announce the first of six Hope Spots.
Hope Spots are critical spaces identified by Earle’s non-profit organisation, Mission Blue, which aims to elevate public awareness about ocean issues.
Earle started Mission Blue after she won the TED prize in 2009, an award which annually grants three individuals about $100 000 who have a “wish to change the world”.
There are 51 Hope Spots around the world, including in the Seychelles, the north-western coast of Mexico, the Chilean Fjords and Islands and the Andaman Islands, India.
South Africa’s Hope Spots are False Bay, the Cape Whale Coast, Knysna, Plettenberg Bay, Algoa Bay and Aliwal Shoal.
Dr Tony Ribbink, director of the Sustainable Seas Trust (SST), which is co-ordinating the initiative here, said: “As Dr Earle said, this is the time in history when we have the information at our disposal to make changes.
“We can turn negatives into positives. Most of the Hope Spots we’ve chosen are based on what people are already doing in those areas in terms of conservation. Aliwal Shoal is a magnificent area, one of the top dive spots in the world with a reputation for sharks and beautiful coral.”
The criteria for choosing the country’s Hope Spots were that they must be of environmental importance; that they be well placed to facilitate the involvement of local communities; and must already support functioning research initiatives.
Olivia Symcox, one of the organisers of the Hope Spot initiative at Aliwal Shoal, said: “I am very passionate about this place and about conservation. The Hope Spot initiative will be an amazing announcement for the area, and add to conservation efforts.
“Aliwal Shoal is a special place for me, as it was where I first learnt to dive.”
Allen Walker, a diver and photographer, said Aliwal Shoal being named a Hope Spot would add to public awareness about the importance of the reef.
“I have been diving at the reef for about 15 years and it’s an incredible spot. It competes with the best reefs internationally. It’s a place where warm water and cold water species live. I do not know of anyone who has been down there before come up disappointed.”
Jessica Escobar, a shark scientist at Blue Wilderness in Rocky Bay, Scottburgh, said Aliwal Shoal becoming a Hope Spot would put the international spotlight on the reef.
“People will be looking at us and what we are doing in terms of conservation and research. It is a unique spot and encourages ecotourism – swimming with sharks is popular here.”
Earle’s visit will include the offcial launch event of the Aliwal Shoal Hope Spot, due to take place at uShaka Sea World Education Centre next Friday.
A coffee table book will also be launched by the SST, which celebrates the marine life across the country.
Funds raised from the sale of the book will go directly towards funding the education projects in vulnerable coastal communities that are an integral part of all six Hope Spots.