The Bluff in Durban has been declared a Whale Heritage Site (WHS) in recognition of its first-class responsible whale watching practices; a world away from its commercial whaling past. There are only two locations globally which have achieved this much-lauded status, Hervey Bay in Australia being the other top spot.
Helga du Preez and Melissa Lee of the Soul of Sodurba Community Tourism Association led the two-year campaign for this landmark status, supported by WildOceans, WESSA, the Bluff Ward Councillor JP Prinsloo, and the Bluff Steering Committee.
The WHS initiative was established by the World Cetacean Alliance (WCA) in 2016 with the aim of increasing the protection and conservation of cetacean species (whales, dolphins and porpoises) and their habitats worldwide. Accreditation from the WCA is awarded to locations 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.’
Sodurba and its partners collaborated on a number of projects to fulfil the WCA’s criteria including setting up an educational whale watching route and whale sculpture, establishing four whale-watching viewpoints along the Bluff coastline, creating a citizen science initiative ‘Whale Time, to monitor the annual migration of whales, hosting an annual ‘Welcoming of the Whales’ festival and a localised tourism strategy in place to promote conservation and responsible tourism. Future work will focus on building partnerships, particularly with the city of eThekwini, and obtaining private investment.
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.”
Cetaceans face many issues including climate change, plastic waste, ocean pollution, commercial hunting, fishing net entanglement and habitat degradation. The IUCN classify three of the 88 species are critically endangered, seven as endangered, six as vulnerable and five as near threatened. Yet the number of people whale watching each year is increasing. In 2019, over 15 million people went on a whale watching trip.
Jean-Michel Cousteau, honorary president of the World Cetacean Alliance said: “WHS’s are becoming the gold standard for responsible whale watching destinations worldwide.
“By interweaving natural and cultural elements and placing communities at their very heart, these sites will become places where people respect, celebrate, and protect cetaceans and their habitats long into the future.”
There are currently four other candidate sites, Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica, Mosaic Jurubatiba in Brazil, Marlborough Sounds in New Zealand and Vancouver Island North in Canada.
For more see: Southlands Sun Media