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By Brian Sokutu

Senior Print Journalist

Park gets R1.3m for abalone poaching crisis

Wilderness Foundation Africa donates patrol boat to combat abalone poaching in marine protected area.

With South Africa’s marine environment plagued by soaring abalone poaching, the Wilderness Foundation Africa this week handed a R1.3 million cheque from the Oak Foundation to the Addo Elephant National Park (AENP) for a new patrol boat for its marine protected area, to mark World Environment Day.

The new vessel will assist rangers in conserving the 114 000 hectares that are the marine component of the AENP, protecting a wide range of ecosystems including sandy beaches, rocky shores, reefs, an estuary and islands.

The park’s marine project has also been protecting important feeding areas for the 3 000 endangered African penguins breeding in Algoa Bay and 90 000 Cape gannets breeding on Bird Island.

Marine rangers tasked with protected areas

A small, dedicated team of marine rangers are tasked with the marine protected area’s security and conservation.

They are an ever-vigilant presence in the area, with team members based on Bird Island and on vessels in and around the marine protected area.

ALSO READ: Three suspects arrested for possession of 1971 units of abalone

According to SA National Parks (SANParks), rangers have made several arrests in the Eastern Cape coastal area, confiscated numerous vessels, fishing equipment and issued many fines for marine-related crimes.

The Wilderness Foundation has expressed appreciation of the project as “an encouraging collaborative relationship it has entered into with SANParks”.

Parks like AENP were ‘very diverse’

Speaking at the event to hand over the cheque, Wilderness Foundation Africa CEO Dr Andrew Muir said SA’s national parks like the AENP were “very diverse”, contrary to many people’s belief that elephants were the only animal species Addo.

“SANParks here in Addo has also been involved in the patrol of the marine area. “One of the biggest challenges has been the declining penguin population and increased abalone poaching, with syndicates operating in the Western Cape having now moved up to the Eastern Cape.

“SANParks has always managed Bird Island and the only way to get there has been by boat.

ALSO READ: WC police track abalone worth R2.8m down in Gauteng, arrest suspect after high-speed chase

“SANParks had two boats, Msele and Malusi, which have been used in the past 10 to 12 years – now getting to a stage of not being seaworthy and putting the rangers’ lives at risk.

“We have two rangers living on the Bird Island for two weeks and changed thereafter. They have to take enough food to last them for three weeks, considering what the sea did to us the other day, with boats not always able to get there.

“We have been compelled to use helicopters to do the ranger change.

“Through the Oak Foundation, working with the Wilderness Foundation, we had to come up with funding for the new boat.

“It will help us tremendously, making rangers now wellequipped to do their job.

ALSO READ: R1.2 million worth of smuggled abalone and diving equipment seized

“The increase in abalone poaching is getting worse by the day,” said Muir.

Partnership key in areas of conservation, environment and biodiversity

In 2022, the Oak Foundation donated two new engines which were fitted to one of the park’s current patrol boats, Mkhuseli. SANParks board chair Pam Yako said partnership was key in areas of conservation, environment and biodiversity.

“The moment calls for a celebration in working as a collective in the sector – in communities and organisations like the Wilderness Foundation,” said Yako.

“I wish to thank Dr Muir and your team for your relentless role in bringing a different life to conservation in South Africa.

“We are seeing an awareness and a recognition in the need to protect nature and conserve the environment, while bringing people on board.

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“But we are also starting to see worrying trends, which include increased environmental degradation, climate change and biodiversity loss, so our work is cut out for us.

“Partnership is important in the work ahead of us.”

Addressing global, social and environmental issues

Established in 1983, the Oak Foundation comprises a group of philanthropic organisations, based in various countries around the world.

It has committed resources to address global, social and environmental issues.

The Wilderness Foundation Africa is an African-based conservation nongovernmental organisation that protects and sustains landscapes through its agile and innovative approach to conservation.

ALSO READ: Abalone poacher sentenced to 244 years in jail for paying officials to get his haul back

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