By Charles Tjatindi
Despite ongoing campaigns calling on holidaymakers at the coast to protect its fragile ecosystem, parts of the coastal areas were damaged to the extent that it could take years to recover.
Experts say the destruction caused to the rich and vulnerable coastline during the holidays was the worst ever experienced.
The largest damage was mainly caused by off-road driving and quad biking in restricted areas.
Stakeholders in tourism and conservation met last week to critically look at the situation and possibly enact strategies that would limit damage during the next holidays.
Among them were representatives of the Namibia Coast Conservation and Management Project (Nacoma), the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, the Erongo Regional Police and marine conservation experts.
An aerial assessment of the damage to fragile areas along the coast was undertaken and was aimed at providing first-hand information.
The area north of Henties Bay, which consists mainly of gravel plains, is the worst affected as tracks of off-road vehicles could be seen almost along the entire stretch leading to the mouth of the Ugab river, which borders the Skeleton Coast Park.
Other areas that have been damaged include part of the 30-km coastline between Walvis Bay and Swakopmund, and areas along the pristine sites of Mile 78 and Mile 108.
The coastline in between is designated as an important bird area, and hosts up to 770 birds per kilometre of rocky shore, the highest linear count of birds anywhere in southern Africa.
The rare and specially protected endemic Damara Tern has its important breeding ground in this area.
Although certain areas along the dunes were demarcated for off-road driving and quad biking activities, holidaymakers seemingly took no regard of the provision and simply entered fenced off areas causing further damage. The dunes have unique beetles and spiders, reptiles and mammals that live mainly on the vegetation or on the slip faces.
Although pamphlets and brochures were distributed at strategic points across the region such as roadblocks and main tourist attractions, this appears to have had no effect on people who caused the damage wantonly. Timo Mufeti of Nacoma fears that such acts of destruction will continue unabated if current laws and by-laws are not strengthened.
“We need to impose stricter laws. There are no such laws at present. All you can do is simply ask people to respect the marine and coastal life, but there are no provisions for punishing them if they don’t,” he said.
Mufeti noted that various signboards and demarcations reflecting prohibited areas for off-road driving were erected along the entire coastline and fragile desert locations. These were however completely ignored by visitors.
He proposes proper zoning of the area. The Nacoma coordinator is also pushing for the speedy enactment of the environmental act which would make the work of conservationists much easier.
The act, although already passed by Cabinet, is yet to be enacted.
Other efforts to save this fragile ecosystem include the development of a Coastal White Paper policy, referred to as the Namibian Coastal Management White Paper (Nacowp), which will address the long-term management of the Namibian coast.
The Namibian coast is rich in biological diversity, has a variety of features and many special areas that are a major boost for local tourism. The coastal resources have however been continuously threatened by human activities, with mining posing the biggest threat.