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The tales of a coastal voyager

South Africa has one of the most spectacular and productive coastal spaces on the globe, attracting locals and tourists from around the world. Plus, they are valuable to fishing communities who rely on them for food and income. I was lucky to grow up in the small fishing village of Kalk Bay in Cape Town and I have had the privilege of working in various coastal spaces from South Africa to the Seychelles. I have had many unique work and fun experiences from managing a team of rangers monitoring illegal fishing activities to having a front row seat to whale watching in one of the most awesome and remote coastal spaces that few have access to. I’d like to share with you a few of my stories…

Robin Adams
© R. Adams
WWF’s Robin Adams is all about the sustainability of our oceans. He has visited and worked in various coastal areas in South Africa and the Seychelles. And sometimes he even gets to put his feet up.
Watching fishers doing what they do best

Nestled between Muizenberg and Fish Hoek, about 40 minutes from Cape Town’s city centre, the little neighbourhood of Kalk Bay is my home turf. This quaint coastline is also home to one of the last remaining working hand line fishing communities in South Africa.

One of my fondest Kalk Bay memories as a boy was watching fishers going out on their early morning trips to sea. They would leave the harbour around 3am in their wooden fishing boats and return around 12 pm. Upon arrival, they were not only welcomed by customers waiting to buy the catch of the day but also by resident seals, birds and fish that slotted into this routine and getting a free meal. The fishers used to catch a lot of snoek, hottentot, yellowtail and red roman. It was fun to see and be part of this daily activity.

I still visit the harbour to watch and support the small-scale fishers as they off load their catch and sell it to make money. But these days the fish catches are much less than before.

Fishers in Kalk Bay
© Homebrew Films / Claudio Valesque
Many fishers in Kalk Bay make a living from selling their catch of the day.
From fishing to confronting poachers

As someone who has lived among fishers, and as an ocean user myself, I understand how much fishing means to coastal communities. A day without a catch can mean going home with an empty stomach. Certain areas of the coast need protection to allow fish in these spaces to spawn and reproduce to spill over into adjacent areas bordering marine protected areas (MPAs). This way fish stocks can be sustained and support livelihoods.

Poaching is however a challenge along the Cape coast, targeting high value marine species. One of my most exciting ocean roles was when I worked as a senior section ranger in the Table Mountain National Park MPA. During my five years there, the team I managed arrested over 300 poachers – mostly with catches of highly vulnerable and high value abalone and West Coast rock lobster.

This team I managed was motivated, dedicated and determined. Besides dealing with poachers, they worked hard to ensure that the law was equally applied to all users. This enabled users to benefit from what is legally permissible and ensure that protected species are not targeted. This is something that I am proud of today.

Over-exploited species
© Thomas P. Peschak
Many species of line fish that used to occur in numbers along Kalk Bay and other surrounding areas are overfished.
Safeguarding marine diversity and resources

Many city residents and visitors don’t realise that Kalk Bay is in a marine protected area. In fact, the entire Cape Town coastline from Muizenberg to Mouille Point lighthouse is the coastal length of Table Mountain National Park (TMNP) MPA – approximately 127 km long.

I was part of the team that established this MPA that allows for the recovery of over-exploited species and the protection of endangered species like the African penguin.

Fishing is allowed in certain areas of the TMNP MPA – Controlled Open Areas – as we call them. It has six restricted (No Take Zones) between Muizenberg and Mouille Point Lighthouse where no fishing is allowed. This stretch of protected Cape Peninsula coastline is an important tourism destination and allows many recreational activities like swimming, surfing, snorkelling, and diving. The ocean off the coast of Millers Point in False Bay is a popular diving site with kelp forests and often large seven-gill cow sharks.

Seven-gill cow shark
© Steve Benjamin
Unlike most sharks that have five gill slits on either side of the body, which they use for breathing, the seven-gill cow shark (pictured) has seven gill slits as per its name.
A paradise only seen by a few

Another coastal area that I have had the privilege to encounter and work in, is the De Hoop MPA, about three hours outside Cape Town. Have you ever been to a place so beautiful it takes your breath away? I experienced the magnificence of De Hoop in my three years working as a manager in this special MPA. Unlike the Table Mountain National Park coastline, which is an urban park with many threats, my beloved De Hoop MPA is a secluded naturally protected area.

This beautiful coastal space, on the southern Cape coast about 50 km east of Bredasdorp, is a haven for migrating whales. I remember watching groups of southern right whales breaching near the shore. It was like watching live television. It is not surprising then that the De Hoop MPA is renowned as one of the best places in the world for shore-based whale watching. More than 350 southern right whales have been recorded in this place at once. How amazing is that!

Whale watching
© Peter Chadwick
Southern right whales usually arrive in May and June to give birth to their calves, making De Hoop even more special as a safe nursery area for marine species.
Species of all shapes and sizes

One of my fond memories of working in De Hoop is snorkelling in the large rock pools in crystal-clear waters making the experience so enjoyable. The best advice from me is to check these rock pools for sharks before you jump in.

This MPA is a treasure trove of marine life, from the biggest bony fish – the sun fish – to migratory species of whales, sharks, bottlenose dolphin and many reef fish species.

De Hoop
© Peter Chadwick
The large clear rock pools are popular to those who manage to access De Hoop MPA.
For fishers, tourists, communities, and everyone

Fishing is not allowed in the De Hoop MPA but the areas just outside it are popular spots for fishers as they catch fish which may be the result of the spill over from the MPA.

These coastal areas play a key role in assisting eco-tourism. The De Hoop MPA was declared in 1985 and attracts tourists, which brings income and contributes to local employment through eco-tourism activities like whale watching, bird watching, hiking and more.

De Hoop beach
© R. Adams
MPAs provide us with a lot of benefits and provide food and income for communities who depend on them.
Behind the scenes of the spectacular coastal spaces

To ensure the sustainability of fish stocks for future generations s, WWF works in partnership with the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries to capacitate and ensure good governance in South Africa’s marine protected areas.    

My role at WWF as Manager of the MPA Secretariat has allowed me the privilege to visit all the MPAs in South Africa to conduct the Management Effectiveness Tracking Tool assessments (a technique used to assess the management effectiveness of protected areas) and work with the  managers on the ground.  

I am also proud to coordinate a forum which brings together the MPA sector in the country. We provide support, training, and news about innovation to the MPA sector as well as an opportunity to network and learn from each other. We strive to ensure our ecosystems are functional and healthy so that the marine species living in them can be a sustainable source of benefit today and in future.

I am motivated by my engagements with the committed and dedicated marine conservators that manage our MPAs. I can’t wait to go back to visit these areas again and closely explore the spectacular spaces and diverse species found in them.

Robin Adams Photo
Robin Adams, MPA Secretariat Manager

Robin Adams has worked in the marine space for over 20 years. His hope is to see improvement in effective management of South Africa's marine protected areas, creating more opportunities - For Nature. For You.


If you’re a fan of South Africa’s beautiful beaches, breath-taking seascapes and dazzling array of underwater sea life, you’ll want to learn more about WWF’s work in our country’s coastal spaces