Spearheaded by Helga du Preez and Melissa Lee, of Soul of South Durban (SODURBA) Community Tourism Association, the campaign to bid for Whale Heritage Site status for eThekwini has seen fruition. Inspired by the World Whale Conference held in Durban in June 2017, du Preez, supported by WILDOCEANS’ Rachel Kramer, Matthew Cocks of WESSA and Bluff ward councillor JP Prinsloo worked assiduously with the Bluff Steering Committee to meet the criteria required by the World Cetacean Alliance (WCA) to apply for certification.
Established by the WCA, Whale Heritage Sites are an initiative aimed at increasing the protection and conservation of cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) and their habitats while also contributing to sustainable livelihoods, the arts, science and education.
Whale Heritage Site (WHS) status is granted to those places around the world where cetaceans are celebrated through art, education, research and cultural events; where sustainable practices and livelihoods are continually improved to ensure the health of cetacean habitats and the long-term economic health of human communities; and where respectful coexistence with cetaceans is supported through law, policy and cooperation. Whale Heritage Sites are high sea or coastal marine areas, and less often freshwater rivers and lakes, where cetaceans live, and the associated land areas. Whale Heritage Sites are identified against criteria that interweave natural and cultural elements and acknowledge critical places that, for reasons of physical and social geography, are sites where people can coexist with cetaceans in an authentic and respectful way. “Whale Heritage Sites are becoming the gold standard for responsible whale watching destinations worldwide,” said Jean-Michel Cousteau, honorary president of the World Cetacean Alliance, which runs the certification initiative.
Accreditation as a Whale Heritage Site brings regional, national, and global attention to the area and helps to promote sustainable tourism, marine conservation, and the whale-related cultural heritage of coastal communities. Out of nine international applications only two where successfully, the Bluff in Durban (South Africa) and Hervey Bay in Australia. The potential economic impact on the South Durban Basin and eThekwini as a whole is tremendous and will be embraced by all stakeholders who will benefit from the steering committee’s achievement. Only two such sites exist in the world and the Bluff is one of them. “This can be a strategic job creator and investment opportunity in our city and community. Given the difficult economic climate and high unemployment rate such an opportunity should be widely embraced. This is also a chance for us to keep building towards our vision of making the Bluff a Green Community,” said JP Prinsloo, ward councillor for the Bluff area.
The Bluff offers an historic whaling station and many opportunities for whale and dolphin watching along the extensive coast. This presents an opportunity for tourists to take a cultural and environmental journey from the cruel, irresponsible activities of commercial whaling to the respect these magnificent animals now deserve from conservation authorities around the world.
The future success of the Whale Heritage Site status will rely heavily on building partnerships and getting private investment. Another key success factor will be the response by the city of eThekwini and their drive towards supporting this fledgling industry. The combined efforts of SODURBA, WILDOCEANS (a programme of the WILDTRUST), WESSA Treasure Beach, the councillor and local municipal officials has proved successful. These successes include an annual Welcoming of the Whales Festival attended by more than 6000 people in 2019, a Whale Sports festival, establishing view sites, whale themed art installations along the whale heritage route and a 3m whale sculpture called Destiny.
Dylan Walker, CEO of the World Cetacean Alliance said, “We would like to thank The Bluff Steering Committee for the outstanding work undertaken that has culminated in this certification. We view the Bluff as a wonderful example of how a small, but dedicated, group of people working tirelessly can develop responsible and sustainable tourism with associated benefits for local human and cetacean communities in an area that faces many other environmental and social challenges.”