Towards the end of each year hundreds of thousands of people escape dark, cold, rainy winters in Europe and North America for a break in sunny South Africa“.
Many are drawn by the country’s wide array of outdoor attractions: nature reserves, beaches and adventure activities like skydiving and water sports. All of these are reliant on prolonged pleasant weather conditions. And, for now, South Africa delivers just that.
A range of research we have conducted suggests that climate change will badly compromise the sector. In one province, the Eastern Cape, sea levels will rise so much by 2050 that properties in popular tourist haunts might be flooded if adaptation measures are not implemented.
Weather changes are inevitable
The sub-Saharan region will likely be hit hard by climate change. It will experience temperature increases above the average global rate. Extreme weather events will become more common and the region’s rainfall patterns are set to change. Some areas will experience increased rainfall and a heightened flood risk, while others are projected to experience a decrease in rainfall and become more drought prone.
South Africa and other countries on the continent such as Mozambique, Morocco and Egypt, whose tourism sectors also rely on good weather, need to act urgently to navigate the choppy waters of climate change.
Mapping the problem
These concerns led us to initiate a pilot study that explored climate change threats to the tourism sector in two small coastal Eastern Cape towns. The study used Digital Elevation Models that map future sea levels relative to the land surface. These maps explored the potential impact of rising sea levels to the towns’ accommodation establishments by 2050 and then again by 2100.
Our results indicate that the worst effects will be experienced by 2050. The models suggest that 23 guesthouses which immediately border the coastline and one town’s canal will be flooded by this time.
We also calculated the Tourism Climatic Index scores for the two towns based on climate data from the past 30 years. The index incorporates a range of meteorological variables which influence human comfort and aesthetic pleasure. This serves as a measure of a location’s climatic suitability for tourism in future.
We also interviewed people: 52 tourists and 53 accommodation establishment owners. The owners expressed a significant concern for tourists’ comfort in changing climatic conditions. Many told us they’d installed air conditioning units and organised indoor activities to deal with higher temperatures or rainfall. But rising sea levels were perceived as far too distant a problem to require immediate intervention. Many of the owners didn’t believe it would pose a threat within their lifetime.
Widening the lens
After we’d completed the pilot study we initiated a broad-based analysis of Tourism Climatic Index scores which included 18 locations distributed relatively evenly across South Africa.
This study confirmed the widely held perception that South Africa has particularly suitable weather conditions for tourism. All of the locations returned annual scores within the international classification of “Excellent” to “Ideal”.
For most locations, climates are most suitable in spring and autumn: winters are too cold and summers too hot. Cape Town is particularly suitable for tourism summer, which is confirmed by peak tourist numbers during this season. The scores were low in winter because of a combination of cold temperatures, persistent cloud cover and a large number of rainy days.
The study also explored the factors within the index which contributed to lowering a location’s score. For all 18 locations, the factor was either rainfall or thermal comfort – how hot or cold a place was.
Although this model confirms that the climate is currently suitable for tourism, projected changes in these meteorological variables are bad news for South Africa’s tourism sector. Climate change will not only shift seasons, changing the start date of spring and summer and extending the duration of summer. It will also alter rainfall patterns and daily temperatures. These factors will result in a reduced climate suitability for tourism. So what can tourism bodies and individual establishments like hotels or guesthouses do to mitigate against these changes?
There is room for action
An improved understanding of how climate change threatens tourism is a good thing, no matter how gloomy our findings look. Understanding can improve the sector’s capacity for effective adaptation and mitigation.
Accurate, high resolution forecasts of specific climate change threats allow for well targeted measures that improve the chances of sustainable tourism – whether it’s at the level of individual establishments or the whole sector nationally.
Individual establishments that operate from coastal premises could, for instance, build solid retaining walls, relocate to higher land and develop an emergency evacuation plan. They can also make improvements indoors to increase comfort during periods of bad weather, like installing air conditioners or organising indoor entertainment.
Nationally, the government could develop quicker responses to flood affected regions. This would allow tourism establishments to get back up and running quickly after a climatic event like a flood. Tourism authorities should work with forecasters to understand weather patterns better – then, armed with accurate scientific information they can draw tourists to the most suitable locations for a particular time of year.
South Africa is blessed with such a beautiful and dynamic array of wildlife and wilderness that we tend to inspire the world to come knocking at our front door. There is, of course, the famous Kruger National Park, which no doubt deserves its praise, but have you ever considered adding the ocean to the mix? Somewhere where both marine and land life coalesces into one unforgettable experience?
Consider a South African adventure at one of our beautiful coastal national parks.
Garden Route National Park
It’s called the Garden Route for a reason. This is one of the green and gorgeous routes to meander through in South Africa and its national park is just one more tower in heaven’s castle. The Garden Route National Park is split into three beautiful sections, completely removed from one another. En route you’ll find Wilderness, Knysna and Tsitsikamma, and perhaps in the mix, you’ll find yourself.
Wilderness is a “fascinating combination of rivers, lakes, estuaries and beaches, unfolding against the backdrop or lush forests and imposing mountains. During spring, the area is beautifully blanketed by a kaleidoscope of colourful blossoms, further enhancing its profound beauty.”
Knysna consists of a beautiful section of lakes and inlets and is situated along the Garden Route between the mountain forests and coastal lagoons of the Garden Route’s shoreline.
Tsitsikamma is a beautiful vision by the sea where you can experience coastal scenery alongside lush forests and delicate Fynbos. With hiking, water sports and adventure, it is a rare treat on the famous Garden Route.
West Coast National Park
If you’re visiting the Western Cape and you’re looking to uncover the real Western Cape, look no further than the West Coast National Park. Only an hour and a half’s drive outside of Cape Town, you can absorb the sapphire waters of the Langebaan Lagoon, focal point of the West Coast National Park.
With thousands of seabirds roosting on its sheltered islands, luscious golden beaches and interesting salt marshes, this gem of the Cape provides the perfect setting for your South African getaway.
Namaqua National Park
If a painting could come to life then that living tapestry could be called the Namaqua National Park. Most famous during blooming season, if you’re looking to capture happiness in a bottle then you need to take a trip to Namaqua National Park and let its carpet of spring flowers, unspoilt coastlines, and diverse wildlife whisk you away.
Agulhas National Park
Right on the southern tip of Africa you can discover the windswept and rugged beauty of Agulhas National Park. Famous in history as the one the most challenging sea crossings, where the Indian Ocean meets the Atlantic, this corner of South Africa is rich in culture and national heritage.
iSimangaliso Wetland Park
This is one of South Africa’s first World Heritage Sites is a beautiful consortium of eight interdependent ecosystems and an overwhelming diversity of flora and fauna. The park, formerly known as the Greater St Lucia Wetland Park, is a prime destination for those looking for a combination of marine splendour and pristine beaches.
South Africa’s largest freshwater lake, Lake Sibaya, also forms part of the park. Formed against thickly forested coastal dunes, its clear waters support the province’s second-largest hippo and crocodile population.
More South African beaches get a nod from an international Blue Flag programme which is a voluntary eco-label for beaches, boats and marinas.
he Blue Flag programme is highly regarded as a prestigious eco-label body by the World Tourism Organisation. For our beaches to receive a Blue Flag status, it means that global standards are being met when it comes to safety, amenities, cleanliness and environmental standards. This can only be good news for our coastal provinces that attract a number of tourists every year.
The programme was initiated by the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa (WESSA) 15 years ago, but has been in operation for over 29 years internationally. South Africa was the first country outside of Europe to get Blue Flag status for its beaches.
The announcement of new Blue Flag status beaches came right on time as (WESSA) launched their 2015/16 Blue Flag season and celebrated the Blue Flag programme’s 15 years in South Africa. At the launch it was announced that 39 beaches, 9 boats and 6 marinas have achieved full Blue Flag status, and a further 30 beaches have been awarded pilot status. Western Cape is leading the pack with more than 30 full Blue Flag status beaches followed by Kwa-Zulu Natal and then the Eastern Cape.
Speaking at the event, the Minister of Tourism in Western Cape, Derek Hanekom, stressed how important the Blue Flag programme is to South Africa and added that our beaches play a very important role when it comes to attracting tourism and job creation.
Applying for a Blue Flag status
In the Southern Hemisphere, the Blue Flag season runs from 1st November to 31st October each year. Beaches are required to apply for Blue Flag status each year. To achieve Blue Flag status, as many as 33 different criteria spanning over four aspects of coastal management have to be met. These include water quality, environmental education and information, environmental management, and safety and services.
These criteria are set by the international coordinators of the blue flag campaign in Europe, FEE (Foundation for Environmental Education).
For further information about the Flag programme please visit www.blueflag.org.za
From Florida to the Costa del Sol, costly sea defences are accelerating beach erosion and will ultimately fail to protect coastal towns and cities from rising tides, say experts
The world’s beaches are being washed away as coastal developments increase in size and engineers build ever higher sea walls to defend against fierce winter storms and rising sea levels, according to two of the worlds’ leading marine geologists.
The warning comes as violent Atlantic and Pacific storms this week sent massive 50ft waves crashing over sea defences, washed away beaches and destroyed concrete walls in Europe, north America and the Philippines.
“Most natural sand beaches are disappearing, due partly to rising sea levels and increased storm action, but also to massive erosion caused by the human development of the shore,” said Andrew Cooper, professor of coastal studies at the University of Ulster.
“The widespread damage on western Europe’s storm-battered shores, the devastation caused by hurricane Sandy along the northeastern US seaboard, the deaths brought on by typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines all exemplify the total inadequacy of [coastal] infrastructure and the vulnerability of cities built on the edge of coastlines”, said Orrin Pilkey, professor of earth and ocean sciences at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.
Pilkey and Cooper say in a new book, The Last Beach, that sea walls, which are widely believed by many local authorities to protect developments from erosion and sea level rise, in fact lead to the destruction of beaches and sea defences and require constant rebuilding at increasing cost.
Dunes and wide beaches protect buildings from storms far better than sea walls, say the authors. “The beach is a wonderful, free natural defence against the forces of the ocean. Beaches absorb the power of the ocean waves reducing them to a gentle swash that laps on the shoreline. Storms do not destroy beaches. They change their shape and location, moving sand around to maximise the absorption of wave energy and then recover in the days, months and years to follow,” said Pilkey .
Beaches in nature are almost indestructible, but seawall construction disrupts the natural movement of sand and waves, hindering the process of sand deposition along the shorelines, said Cooper.
“The wall itself is the problem. If you build a sea wall to protect the shore, the inevitable consequence is that the beach will disappear. The wall cannot absorb the energy of the sea. All beaches with defences … are in danger. When you build the sea wall, that is the end of the beach,” he said.
“Beaches have become long, narrow engineering projects sustained only by constant maintenance and ongoing expenditures. Ugly seawalls have removed beaches altogether. Trying to hold the shoreline in position makes a flexible response to sea level rise more difficult,” said Pilkey.
Many of the world’s most famous beaches are now ecologically dead and dependent for their survival on being replenished with sand or gravel, they say. “The death knell has already sounded for large stretches of beaches along densely developed shorelines like those in Florida, Spain’s Costa del Sol, Australia’s Gold Coast and Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro,” says Pilkey.
But Jonathan Simm, technical director for flood management at HR Wallingford defended engineers. “We are but servants. There are some very difficult social and political decisions that have to be made about which frontages should be defended. Engineers get struck in the middle between different… political and technical arguments.
“The reality is that major urban conurbations are going to want to sustain their existing defences. But a lot of beaches are under stress so the engineering is going to become much more expensive.”
Sea level rise, which is expected to raise levels significantly over the next 100 years, will affect beaches in different ways, said Pilkey. “Although the sea has only risen a foot (0.3 meters) over the last 100 years or so, that amount can have a real impact on shoreline retreat on very gently sloping coasts. In theory, a one-foot sea-level rise should push the shoreline back 2,000 feet.”
As beaches disappear, countries are turning to increasingly expensive sand replenishment programmes which dump thousands of tonnes of dredged sand on existing, eroded beaches.
But these artificial beaches usually erode at least twice as fast as natural beaches and can only ever be a temporary solution, said Cooper. “As time goes on and as the sea level rises, the interval of re-replenishment will get shorter because the beach becomes less stable. Beach replenishment is only a plaster that must be applied again and again at great cost. It doesn’t remove the problem, it treats the symptoms. Eventually and inevitably beach replenishment will stop either as sand or money runs out”.
It also smothers all life on the beach. “The near shore food chain that originates with the tiny organisms living between grains of sands and surviving on occasional influxes of seaweed is now gone. The whole ecosystem is out of whack. Habitats for turtle and bird nesting are being destroyed,” said Cooper.
“We have a mentality to just rebuild everything after a storm. The simplest solution would be to move the infrastructure back. The problem is the obsession with building and defending property right next to the beach and to hold the beach in place. This process just destroys the beach.”
Source: The Guardian