The remarkable and noted colorful traditions of Kosi Bay
In December of 1999, The iSimangaliso Wetland Park was recorded as a World Heritage Site (WHS)! Amidst this region of high conservation, a black stitched seam zigzags across a sequence of shimmering interconnected crystal blue lakes.
The name Kosi Bay means a true miracle and wonder, and accurately defines that which we know to form part of the Elephant Coast!
To become a WHS there is a formal nomination procedure and format, and if the area is successful, following inspection and evaluation it is “inscribed” as a WHS for certain listed values. Dr Scotty Kyle, scientific manager, EcoAdvice, iSimangaliso Coastal & Marine for Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife says, “iSimangaliso was listed for its biodiversity, natural beauty and ‘sense of place’. Protected areas are set up to look after representative instances of all our veld types, and to protect biodiversity and ecological processes, or any other aspects of value.”
Currently, the most important conservation project in Kosi Bay is the turtle monitoring and conservation programme, which has been running for more than 50 years. The coral reef complexes just off Kosi Bay are important foraging areas for five species of turtles. The most common though are the leatherbacks (Dermochelys coriacea) and loggerheads (Caretta caretta, although green turtles (Chelonia mydas).
Seasons, as we know them mark particular weather patterns, and daylight hours’, resulting from the earth’s changing position with regards to the sun, or as a period of time when a female animal is ready to mate. And mid-October marks the start of the turtle breeding season along the Kosi Bay coast. Santosh Bachoo, Senior Ecologist (Marine) says, “The females of the leatherback and loggerhead turtles emerge on the beaches of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park World Heritage Site during the summer months, and mostly under the cover of darkness, to nest.”
These 2 species have been the subject of an intensive monitoring and conservation programme undertaken by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife. It has now entered its 52nd year of implementation, making it one of the longest running programmes of its kind in the world. The programme started in 1963 in response to rumours of turtles nesting on Tongaland beaches, and that those turtles were being killed while attempting to do so. The response of the nesting leatherback and loggerhead populations after conservation intervention has been nothing short of startling.
Bachoo exclaims, “Over this time and for all these seasons, our nesting loggerhead turtle population started at fewer than 450 nests in the early sixties to just over 6000 nests for the 2013/2014 nesting season. And our nesting leatherback population started from around 50 nests, (even dropping to below 10 nests at one stage!) has again reached just under 400 for the 2013/2014 season.”
The loggerheads have shown tremendous growth, with spectacular year-on-year increases since the early 2000’s. Leatherback nesting numbers are much lower than those recorded for loggerheads, but they are now considered stable and not waning despite global population decline. “At least they are stable,” says Bachoo, “which would not be possible without protection.”
Kosi Bay ancient and colourful traditions
Over and above the turtle conservation projects in Kosi Bay, the local people have an ancient and colourful tradition of relying on the natural resources of the region, be it dry-land, freshwater or marine. Previously there was not much development or employment, and so many young people used to travel far and wide to obtain employment and send cash back to their families.
This has however changed, and today most people staying in Kosi Bay do their best to live off of the land and its resources. The black stitched seams populating the water play a big part in this – known as fishing kraals, they have been in operation now for approximately 400 years.
Historically, the traps all faced upstream and “culled” a proportion of the fish migrating (often to spawn) from the lakes to the ocean. The traps catch a percentage of these fish depending on the number of traps, their manufacture material and if they encroach on the channel. A fence made of local sticks goes from the bank out towards the middle of the channel then curves upstream and ends in a valve-like basket. The valve is an opening in the terminal basket through which fish can enter, but never leave. Fish thus straying from the centre of the channel are caught by the fence and guided through the valve into the basket and later the owner comes to spear them.
Many indigenous tree species are used to build these kraals, but approximately 80% is often the red heart tree (Hymenocardia ulmoides). New species, such as gum trees and bamboo, are becoming popular as they become more available and are generally straight and long lasting. Dr Kyle, explains, “The use of non-indigenous trees is not legal, neither is the use of nylon rope, or netting which makes the traps more efficient, and enables the catch of ever smaller and younger fish.”
Further to the above mentioned conservation’ projects, Kosi Bay simply manages its resources wisely and sustainably to the advantage of present and future generations.
It is true that the Elephant Coast comprises an astonishing variety of ecosystems which extends from St. Lucia to Kosi Bay, and includes the Hluhluwe iMfolozi Game Park. It is bound in the north by the Lubombo Mountains, to the east by the Indian Ocean, and to the south by the Umfolozi River, just below the St Lucia estuary.
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