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Sodwana Bay – facelift for one of iSimangaliso’s jewels

Sodwana Bay, one of iSimangaliso’s “ten jewels” based centrally in the coastal zone of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park world heritage site, is being upgraded. The upgrade seeks to restore the ecological integrity of this prime beach destination while improving visitor facilities.

This 1970’s-styled resort is receiving a major redevelopment in keeping with the needs of today’s iSimangaliso visitors. This entails the removing of structures, as seen above, that are inappropriate and not fit for purpose, as well as those that compromise the ecology and “sense of place”, one of the outstanding universal values for which iSimangaliso was inscribed as a world heritage site by UNESCO in 1999.


Buildings such as this ablution facility, gate house, craft market and compressor building will be rebuilt and where necessary relocated to ecologically appropriate and accessible sites.

The redevelopment of Sodwana Bay is the next phase in a series of transformations that have taken place in the Park. To date the iSimangaliso Authority has spent some R120m improving day-visitor facilities and selected accommodation in the Park. The first phases tackled four sections of the Park viz., Eastern and Western Shores of Lake St Lucia, Lake St Lucia Estuary and beaches and uMkhuze, resulting in modern, people-friendly facilities. Hides, ablutions, camping accommodation, viewing decks, canopy walks, picnic sites, gate buildings, and associated parking have been completed. These are supported through the development of an ecologically diverse self-drive game viewing network.


The up-to-date design and sensitive placement of the new park structures, seen above, has won worldwide acclaim from park visitors “Sodwana Bay needs serious ecological restoration and is overdue for a complete facelift. Its day-visitor facilities no longer meet the needs of our visitors. We are delighted to be moving forward with new facilities with a similar look and feel to those completed at Cape Vidal, Lake St Lucia and Estuary and uMkhuze,” says Andrew Zaloumis, iSimangaliso CEO.

Challenges

Sodwana, internationally known as one of the top 10 dive sites globally for its magnificent coral reefs, is an integral and highly valued part of iSimangaliso.


Not only is iSimangaliso’s Sodwana Bay section renowned for its incredible diving, it is also home to some of the most rare and endangered forest types and includes a highly sensitive and dynamic dune system. A huge increase in popularity and visitor numbers over recent decades has seen unprecedented growth outside of the proclaimed Park. This has increased pressure on the delicate ecosystem. (Swamp forest image, above right, provided by Jan Sliva).

Casuarinas were planted in the 1960s to aid dune stabilisation, which they initially did with great success in certain areas – however, this interruption of natural processes has also led to sand ‘starvation’ in others including Jesser Point which has been significantly eroded. These alien plants are being systematically removed to restore dune functioning. Rehabilitation and promotion of the recovery/growth of indigenous vegetation on the primary dune are included as part of the redevelopment process.


Heavy seas have compounded the negative ecological impacts from Casuarina trees on Jesser Point resulting in the collapse of infrastructure including ablutions and beach ramps critical for launch site operations (above). This ablution block has been relocated to an ecologically appropriate and accessible site by iSimangaliso (below), reflecting the design style of new Park facilities, it is paraplegic-friendly.

Thorough assessments have been undertaken by Park and independent specialists, including dune ecologists and planners. Some initial measures to mitigate pressures and improve parking have already been implemented. The complete redevelopment of Sodwana’s day visitor areas includes a new gate complex with multiple lanes; the replacement and relocation of existing dive shop/retail, compressor facilities, convenience and food outlets; new community safety and first aid facilities; replacement and new ablutions; improved parking; new signage and park furniture such as picnic tables; and the rebuilding of the craft trading area. Facilities will be disabled-friendly.


Seen here is an example of the new Park architecture at the completed Dukuduku gate complex with multiple lanes at Western Shores. The Environmental Impact Assessment for the new Sodwana Bay gate complex is complete and the record of decision has been implemented. The EIA for the redevelopment of the day-visitor and beach area is underway. Interested and Affected Parties are invited to register. (See the local press or http://click.icptrack.com/icp/relay.php?r=37610712&msgid=248959&act=IKJ7&c=878240&destination=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.acerafrica.co.za href="http://click.icptrack.com/icp/relay.php?r=37610712&msgid=248959&act=IKJ7&c=878240&destination=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.acerafrica.co.za">www.acerafrica.co.za for details).

“Successful change happens with good planning and public input. We thank our concessionaires and stakeholders at Sodwana for their inputs and encourage the ongoing communication and lively debate that informs this process. iSimangaliso encourages constructive suggestions. The many comments already received from people clearly demonstrate a strong conservation ethic and a public interest to protect the integrity of Sodwana Bay as a near- pristine environment. While different user groups have, at times, conflicting interests, we believe that the balance that has been struck between ecological conservation, preservation of world heritage values, user convenience, development and equitable access will result in long-term benefits to visitors and business-owners in the region. Ultimately the success of Sodwana as a destination is dependent on the conservation of iSimangaliso’s world heritage values namely ecosystems, bio diversity and superlative natural value of astoun ding beauty” said Andrew Zaloumis commenting on the process underway.

“iSimangaliso is managed for the greater good of the whole system and the broadest range of stakeholder and user groups – locally, provincially, nationally and internationally. We look forward to heralding the new era of this renowned jewel for future generations to experience and enjoy.”

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