This Friday I finally found my way out to the Nahoon Point Nature Reserve, which means I have now had my first true South African ecotourism experience. It was surprisingly difficult getting there, considering it’s only 6 kilometers from where I’m staying. First I had a difficult time finding the address or other information for the reserve, since it’s small, only a few years old, and doesn’t have its own website. I ended up looking at the satellite image of Nahoon Point on Google Maps to find the visitor’s center, and then got directions to its coordinates. The next challenge was actually getting there. My fellow Field Studies students and I depend on public taxis for most of our transportation, but they don’t go toward Nahoon. I’ve been wanting to get a bike, but I have to ask the International Studies office first, and I’m not sure where I would find one. In the end I just walked there, which didn’t take too long (about an hour), especially since I got a ride from a concerned Real Estate man for the last mile or so. Incidentally, he has a friend who does environmental assessment for hotels and other businesses around the world, which is something I’m very interested in. When I got to Nahoon I went straight for the Mercedes-Benz Coastal Education and Visitors Centre, which is the major pull Nahoon has for me. Mercedes-Benz South Africa funded this centre after being approached by Kevin Cole, who helped establish the Nahoon Point Nature Reserve, and is the natural scientist for the East London Museum (Mercedes - Benz South Africa Puts It's Foot Down...). This centre was praised in one article as “an environmental ‘feather in the cap’ for East London,” and provides the benefits of “tourism; community upliftment; protecting the natural environment; and education in general.” This means that the reserve not only provides protection for indigenous species, but also provides environmental education to community members and tourists, creates job opportunities, and draws people to East London.
The center was small but very informative and well maintained. The boards around the walls explained unique aspects of East London’s coastal environment, the archaeological wealth of Nahoon (including the Nahoon footprints, the oldest human footprints ever found), the history of surfing at the Nahoon reef, and the importance of environmental stewardship. I also picked up a flyer on reducing personal impact, with lines like “You need to act NOW to save the earth!” and “There are times in human history where obligations to truth and the future of human society take precedence over personal wants, consumption and comfort. NOW is such a moment. Inside it described specific ways to be ‘green,’ such as using a clothesline, recycling and buying recycled products, avoiding heavily packaged products, using public transport – all the usual things. It always makes me happy to see these sorts of flyers, since I’ve made them and handed them out many times. There was also literature on the Buffalo City Municipality Integrated Environmental Management Plan, the Nahoon Estuary Nature Reserve, and the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa, all great resources for environmentally minded citizens such as myself.
The rest of Nahoon was wonderful. I ate at the Footprints Café to support the employees and the center, then walked on the boardwalk, which has beautiful views of the ocean and the life on the sand dunes. Some of the boardwalk was being repainted – another job provided by the reserve. I then walked along the beach for a ways. Scattered across the sand are millions of perfect seashells, a constant reminder of the incredible wealth of life that inhabits the reef and the surrounding waters. The shore is teeming with life as well – seabirds, small lizards, and carpets of coastal shrubs, grasses and wildflowers. Geologically the area is fantastic. The cliffs all along the shoreline are perfect layers of sandstone, worn down over millions of years to make clearly defined plates. Over and around these you can see the imprints and fossilized remains of ancient plant roots. It was really spectacular. I didn’t have my camera with me, so I plan to go back and bring Diana, the photographer.
When I returned from Nahoon I emailed Kevin Cole to find out whether he knows of ways I could volunteer at the reserve, and to ask him if we could talk sometime about the state of conservation and environmental awareness in East London. He appears to be the city’s greatest authority on nature conservation, nature reserves, and everything else encompassed by those, so he would be an incredible resource for me. Hopefully he’ll email back soon, but if not I can always try to use my connections with Rachel at the museum to get to him. He is exactly the person I need to show me what’s up with the natural environment around EL, and what’s being done to protect it.