Conservation initiatives in the central Namib
The 250-km stretch of coastline demarcated as the National West Coast Tourist Recreation Area is the only part of Namibia’s coastline that is accessible to the general public. Because this section of coastal desert consists largely of gravel plains, it is also extremely sensitive. Rob Braby, Chief Warden with the Ministry of Environment and Tourism at the coast, reports on the implementation of the Integrated Coastal Zone Management Project, funded by DANCED (Danish Co-operation for Environment and Development).
The central Namib and in particular the National West Coast Tourist Recreation Area (NWCTRA) contains some of the most scenic and sensitive areas of the entire Namib Desert. Extensive lichen fields, concentrations of the largest living welwitschias, some of the most important breeding areas of the rare and endangered Damara tern, and the largest accessible mainland breeding colony of the Cape fur seal, are but a few of the natural assets of this area. Ultimately any activities that impact on the aesthetic appeal, unique plant and animal life and future tourist value on the central Namib have to be regulated and controlled.
The NWCTRA’s designation as a recreation area gives it a lower conservation status than parks. This does not mean, however, that the conservation importance is any less. On the contrary, certain sections of the NWCTRA are arguably of more importance than those in protected areas with a higher conservation status. In the past, the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET) has attempted to protect the area through extension efforts. This has not always succeeded, as an awareness campaign usually needs to be backed up by law enforcement.
In 1987, during the South African administration of Namibia, the National West Coast Tourist Recreation Area had a management plan compiled by the conservation staff of the then Department of Nature Conservation. This plan was, however, not approved by higher authority. During the same period a government document, “Guidelines to the Development of the Central Namib” emerged, emanating from a congress held in Swakopmund. Aspects covered in this document included prospecting and mining, fisheries, nature conservation, agriculture, tourism and infrastructure. There was subsequently an attempt to introduce zoning for the various sectoral activities.
All organisations concerned with development in the central Namib participated in the congress where these guidelines were formulated. This was a premature attempt to implement an integrated approach to development. It was suggested that all relevant organisations should be notified and consulted in the early stages of any proposed development. It was then proposed that detailed investigations incorporating an environmental impact assessment should be a prerequisite before any physical developments take place. However, these proposals were not implemented, and the lack of integrated planning began to threaten conservation efforts and sustainable development within the region.
As the different line ministries and stakeholders in the region continued to operate independently, it was decided to initiate the “Integrated Coastal Zone Management Project” for the Erongo Region. This project, sponsored by DANCED (Danish Co-operation for Environment and Development), reached completion in December 2000. The project represents an investment of N$7 000 000 in the region over a three-year period. It will be followed by the Walvis Bay Local Agenda 21 project. The host agencies for the first project were the Erongo Regional Council and the Ministry of Environment and Tourism. The Walvis Bay Municipality will be the host for the second.
Implementation of project
Some of the actions of the Integrated Coastal Zone Management Project (ICZMP) are still in the process of being finalised. One of the most important of these has been the improvement of public awareness. To date eight information signs have been completed and erected at four important conservation sites. Another two are being prepared. An information brochure was completed and copies were distributed to the various tourist outlets at the end of September 2000.
A number of information posters were designed and are now offered for sale at various outlets. Together with the MET, the Namibia Nature Foundation and Jen and Des Barlett (the internationally acclaimed wildlife film makers) have assisted the project in an endeavour to protect highly vulnerable areas from unnecessary off-road driving by establishing a barrier. The roads department has been busy erecting these barriers, which also contribute to traffic safety by encouraging motorists to leave or join the road only at official traffic intersections. These barriers protect important Damara tern breeding areas and lichen habitats.
An additional attempt has been made to zone the dune area between Swakopmund and Walvis Bay. This area is important for a number of recreation and tourist activities. As new types of recreation activities emerge, so the need to restrict specific activities to certain localities has become essential. The activity with the most severe environmental impacts is uncontrolled off-road driving. Certain areas have been allocated for this activity and access points are advertised by information boards. These boards are placed at strategic points.
Regulation of tourism activities
The increase in quad bikes has enabled two tour operators at Long Beach and three operators at Swakopmund to run organised quad-bike tours. These tours are regulated and monitored by the MET. In general no serious problems are encountered with the quad-bike tours. However, the uncontrolled quad-bike enthusiasts are cause for concern, as they are a danger to themselves, other people and the environment.
Activities that are encouraged in the area between Swakopmund and Walvis Bay are sand-boarding, paragliding, hiking, birdwatching (shorebirds and seabirds), surfing, picnicking, angling, and diving for rock lobster (in season). Activities tolerated within controlled areas are off-road driving and jet-skiing.
In addition to these efforts the ICZMP has:
• Created a home page on the Internet to enhance an intersectoral information source link;
• Evaluated legislation relating to environmental policy;
• Reviewed the possibility of sustainable financing; and
• Investigated the possibility of future DANCED support to evaluate and report on the existing waste disposal systems.
This article appeared in the 2001 edition of Conservation and the Environment in Namibia.