Unlocking the potential of the marine economy, including investing in marine ecotourism, could create more than a million jobs and bring in R177-billion to the national GDP through the ambitious Operation Phakisa initiative by 2033.
This is according to Nelson Mandela University research fellow at the Institute for Coastal and Marine Research, Dr Lorien Pichegru, who presented a public lecture on advancing marine ecotourism through conservation and science.
She said the Bay, as the bottlenose dolphin capital of the world, held great potential.
Pichegru, who was born on the island of Reunion and has research interests in ecology, marine biology and zoology, cited figures presented by the Department of Environmental Affairs.
She warned that although marine ecotourism had many benefits, it had to be implemented correctly.
“It is a booming industry with consequences to the environment especially where there is little concern [for] education, conservation and ethical value,” she said.
Detailing a number of concerning statistics she came across during her research into marine ecology, conservation and sustainability, Pichegru said there were three main contributors to a dwindling marine ecosystem – overfishing, pollution and climate change.
“90% of the global [fishing] stocks are either over-exploited or fully exploited.
“By 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in the oceans and 99% of seabird species will have ingested plastic.”
Harnessing the potential of marine ecotourism in creating awareness and upping conservation efforts could help combat the effects humans have had on the environment, she said.
Pichegru said marine ecotourism attractions like shark-cage driving, whale watching and penguin viewing had boosted economies and helped in conserving the marine environment.
“At Boulders [in Cape Town] there have been between 500 000 and 600 000 viewers [of penguins] annually, representing R14.5-million in entry fees for SANParks,” she said.
Other examples of sustainable and conservative ecotourism included marine turtle viewing and scuba diving.
“Port Elizabeth’s major asset is that it is a coastal town . . . with the largest African penguin population in the world . . . lots of charismatic predators such as orcas and various whales,” she said.
Algoa Bay was the only place in the world where the “big seven” could be seen – the big five (lion, elephant, buffalo, leopard, rhino) plus sharks and whales.
It was the most studied bay in the world and “as a marine biologist it is the best place to be”, she said.