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Isimangalsio Wetland Park Authority News

The new Western Shores section of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park will be open to the public during this year’s festive season despite setbacks brought about by the dissolution of the original infrastructure contractor. This spectacular new addition to the Park’s tourist attractions promises to further entrench iSimangaliso as a favourite national and international destination.

Among the many projects lined up for 2014 include the completion of the swing bridges at the Fig Forest walk in uMkhuze – a firm favorite with regular visitors to that section of iSimangaliso. This new aerial boardwalk is 300m in length with six interlinking aerial platforms – the highest of which is about seven stories high (14m) – with the total trail about 3 km long. Other projects include the building of a new eMshophi Gate at uMkhuze and Bhangazi Gate at the Eastern Shores.

At Sodwana Bay, completion of the new gate facility at Sodwana Bay in 2014 is expected, which will enable improved traffic flow. Work on the ecological restoration of dune systems and dune functioning at Sodwana Bay and the complete rebuilding of all the resort’s day visitors facilities will begin in the next financial year, bringing this in line with ecological requirements and world heritage standards.

iSimangaliso 2013 milestones and highlights

The Auditor-General announced iSimangaliso’s 11th consecutive clean audit and performance review. This unbroken success record has been achieved through steady and sound management, and oversight of the finances and performance of the iSimangaliso Authority by its Board and staff. The audit comprised a financial as well as a performance review. The audit opinion confirms that iSimangaliso achieved the objectives it committed to in the business plan approved by the Minister of Environmental Affairs and National Parliament.

Inscribed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 1999, the iSimangaliso of today is a far cry from its early beginnings in almost every respect. The majority of land claims have been settled, eco-systems functioning has been largely restored and thousands of hectares of plantations removed, almost all previously existing species including the ‘Big 5’ have been reintroduced, extensive road and tourism facitlities developed and/or refurbished, and over 350 km of big game fencing erected. This has been underpinned by significant job creation, skills transfer and above average tourism growth.

All this has been achieved by carefully managing the balance between between conservation and development in order to ensure that the the Park’s core outstanding universal values (eco systems, biodiversity and natural beauty) that won the hearts and unanimous vote of the 180-odd UNESCO member countries are honoured.

Renown conservation Dr Ian Player comments, “iSimangaliso has shown us that at a time when conservation budgets are at their lowest, and there are so many other priorities globally, parks can still prevail.”

Key highlights of the financial year 2012/2013 include:

Visitor and Financial matters

Visitor numbers to the Park increased by 13% from the previous year. At the same time Park revenue increased by 18% from the previous year. Donor funding increased by 9% from the previous year.

iSimangaliso adheres strictly to the tenet of spending the bulk of monies on delivery rather than salaries, and administration is kept to a minimum. Expenditure increased by 0.4% consistent with the cost containment strategies that have been implemented. 62% of iSimangaliso’s budget was spent on implementation including new visitor and conservation infrastructure projects, and infrastructure maintenance. Salaries comprised 10% of expenditure and 3% of the budget was spent on administration.

Community Partnerships and Jobs

In the past financial year, 1531 direct jobs were created by iSimangaliso. As part of iSimangaliso’s Co-Management agreement with land claimants, revenue derived from park income is shared according to a determined percentage. Annual revenue sharing payments to the value of R806 680.38 have been made to nine trusts whose combined land makes up about 82 percent of the Park. Seen above are iSimangaliso Park Operations Director Herbert Mthembu and Chief Executive Officer Andrew Zaloumis (left) handing the cheque to Bhangazi Chairperson Mr Ephraim Mfeka together with members of the Bhangazi Trust, and specialist transaction advisors Peter-John Massyn and Sandra Mombelli who are assisting in the development of a Bhangazi tourism site on the Eastern Shores.

Growing young minds

With funding provided by the World Bank GEF Fund, 47 bursaries were awarded in the last financial year for university study to community youth from around the Park. Their pass rate is around 99%. This far exceeds the national average of 32%. This top achieving result is in no small part due to quality of the individuals and their pride in representing their world heritage site and community. Support and mentoring is included in their programme. These fine young minds form the next generation of leaders and iSimangaliso applauds their achievements. Five of the first graduates have already been employed as interns in iSimangaliso. More will follow

 

Extract from the message of the CEO 2012/13 annual report: ” I had the privilege of listening to one of our young students, Mandisa Nkosi (pictured centre above together with fellow recipients Bongani Gumede and Sifiso Vumase), address a KZN Education Department Career’s Symposium in Jozini, hosted by Premier Zweli Mkhize. Mandisa attained a Bachelor of Social Science in Geography and Tourism. This young woman from Somkhele captivated the learners and like all graduates on iSimangaliso’s Higher Access to Education Programme, stands as a beacon of hope for all young people in the area. With the right support our young people can change their lives.” – Andrew Zaloumis.

iSimangaliso also runs an Entrepreneurship Programme that started with 23 participants and now supports 117 small businesses.

Said CEO Andrew Zaloumis, “It is customary for development conservation agencies such as ours to put up front their conservation and governance achievements. While we hold both of those to be of the utmost importance, we also believe that conservation is not possible without a contribution to and participation of the people who live in and around conservation this Park. This principle has informed the strategy of the Park since inception. We think that this it is paying off.”

Conservation wins

The St Lucia Estuary has been the subject of much heated debate. iSimangaliso’s GEF funded initiative has assessed historical interventions and ideas, and presented hard science that has debunked some old myths. This resulted in a new management strategy for the Lake St Lucia system which was widely consulted.

As part of this strategy, the uMfolozi River was re-linked to Lake St Lucia in July 2012. This led to the opening of the St Lucia mouth, with many positive results. These include a return to salinities more typical of an estuary and the reappearance of fish and prawns, which can now enter the Lake from the sea.

“Exciting changes in the system are being monitored and indicators show that natural processes are being restored and that the estuary is recovering. iSimangaliso remains committed to this course,” said Zaloumis.

iSimangaliso was the first Park in South Africa to designate and pro-actively implement a buffer zone around the Park. Voluntary compliance in the Park and the buffer zone has increased significantly following the successful conclusion of high court cases against a number of illegal developers. In the last year under review three civil cases were successfully won. iSimangaliso has and will continue to bring to book transgressors against the park in order to ensure its conservation and development integrity.

Looking ahead: Park expansion and infrastructure 

The new Western Shores section of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park will be open to the public during this year’s festive season despite setbacks brought about by the dissolution of the original infrastructure contractor. This spectacular new addition to the Park’s tourist attractions promises to further entrench iSimangaliso as a favourite national and international destination. 

Among the many projects lined up for 2014 include the completion of the swing bridges at the Fig Forest walk in uMkhuze – a firm favorite with regular visitors to that section of iSimangaliso. This new aerial boardwalk is 300m in length with six interlinking aerial platforms – the highest of which is about seven stories high (14m) – with the total trail about 3 km long. Other projects include the building of a new eMshophi Gate at uMkhuze and Bhangazi Gate at the Eastern Shores. 

At Sodwana Bay, completion of the new gate facility at Sodwana Bay in 2014 is expected, which will enable improved traffic flow. Work on the ecological restoration of dune systems and dune functioning at Sodwana Bay and the complete rebuilding of all the resort’s day visitors facilities will begin in the next financial year, bringing this in line with ecological requirements and world heritage standards.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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