Call for new look at Bay’s ‘blue growth’

Decision-makers must look at whole picture, says expert

Decision-makers must look deeper than just dollars when planning marine development, according to a prominent visiting scientist who has been involved in Sweden’s recent drive for “blue growth”. Professor Mats Lindegarth, who was in Port Elizabeth last week at the invitation of NMMU, said while he did not know the details of the controversial fish farm mooted by the Department of Forestry and Fisheries for the eastern segment of Algoa Bay, the protection of the Bay’s ecosystem was key.

“There are various issues to consider depending on the details of the project, like the possible escape of alien fish into your bay and eutrophication [excessive build-up of nutrients from fish food waste and excretion].

“But more broadly than that, marine spatial planning [MSP] is important to show conflicts and consequences.

“Clearly, the development decisions made must go deeper than just dollars. It’s also about leaving a good working ecosystem for the next generation.”

Fisheries initially proposed the location of the fish farm off Hobie Beach but after a public outcry about this site’s role as a tourist and watersports hub, the focus has moved to the eastern segment of Algoa Bay.

The department has maintained that neither site has yet been discounted. But SAN-Parks is worried that the eastern site will have a negative effect on the Addo Elephant National Park marine zone, on the proposed marine protected area and on St Croix Island, home to the biggest colony globally of the endangered African penguin.

Speaking at the NMMU event, Port Elizabeth marine tourism expert Peter Myles said besides the fish farm, Algoa Bay was home to a uniquely wide and varied swathe of activities and developments either under way or planned.

These ranged from shipping and off-shore bunkering to sewage spills and underwater diving tourism and conservation.

“Unless we plan properly, we’re heading for a collision course.”

Lindegarth described his work in Sweden’s Kosterhavet National Park on an island separated from the country’s western mainland by a 250m deep marine trench.

This unusual coastal deep water habitat is home to unique seabed species. But although it was so important ecologically, trawling was also allowed and various tourism activities which increased tenfold in the summer months, he said.

“The agreement on the different uses was reached after lengthy negotiation.”

Now a new phase of “blue growth”, use of the ocean to generate economic development, is sweeping Europe, and a range of MSPs are under way to ensure sustainability.

Lindegarth’s multi-disciplinary team has been immersed in this work through their Kosterhavet regional MSP, identifying and quantifying the value of the various ecosystem services from tourism and recreation to the provision of food, and the role the area plays in countering climate change.

They have also been looking at nutrient cycles, the way organic matter decays in the sea and feeds new life.

Sampling data giving direct evidence of the presence of certain species was extrapolated through predictive mapping, using information about depth, salinity, seabed and wave action, he said.

“We try to find out exactly what is there and what its value is ecologically and culturally so the best possible decisions are made as to development or activities and where to ensure sustainable economic growth.”

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