The Cape Whale Coast, South Africa – a joint stakeholder approach to conservation

The Cape Whale Coast, South Africa – a joint stakeholder approach to conservation

Fair Trade Tourism (FTT) and the Dyer Island Conservation Trust (DICT) have joined forces to ensure that the people who contribute their land, coastal and marine resources, labour and knowledge to tourism are the ones who reap the benefits. Together with businesses, civil society and local government on the Cape Whale Coast of South Africa, the DICT create awareness about protecting the marine environment to travellers visiting the Cape Whale Coast’s little towns of Hermanus, Stanford, Gansbaai and Kleinmond.

Within the destination of the Cape Whale Coast, Fair Trade Tourism has been working with a number of different businesses over the past 10 years. So far seven of them have been certified: Grootbos Private Game Reserve, Farm 215, Whalesong Lodge, Dyer Island Cruises, Marine Dynamics, White Shark Projects and Southern Right Charters. Dating back to the late 1990s these businesses and their multitude of partners from public authorities and civil society have organically grown a network of initiatives and organizations that have provided an exceptional example for responsible tourism development in a coastal and marine destination. While the leadership for sustainable tourism development that these business owners have demonstrated over the past years was independent and originally unrelated to Fair Trade Tourism certification, the building blocks of FTT’s services help to structure and reinforce the outputs and outcomes of these good practices along the set of criteria in its quality management system.

The Dyer Island Conservation Trust (DICT) was founded in 2006 by Wilfred Chivell, owner of Marine Dynamics and Dyer Island Cruises. Together with the companies, DICT conducts research, conservation and education in the incredible marine environment of the Gansbaai district, Cape Whale Coast in the Overstrand Municipality of the Western Cape. The commercial companies provide logistical and onsite support for biologists and the Trust to operate. The Trust projects are focused on the Marine Big 5 – African penguin, great white shark, Southern right whale, Cape fur seal, dolphins – surrounding Dyer Island. Dyer Island lies 8 km off Kleinbaai harbour and is a breeding colony for the endangered African penguin, a species endemic to southern Africa. The Island is managed by CapeNature and is considered an Important Bird Area by Birdlife International.

Enabling factors for DICT to succeed so far have been i.a.:

  • Success of commercial businesses by constantly reinvesting profits into the companies and growth of the business: current project includes the construction of a bigger, Blue Flag certified vessel to increase revenue; establishing the African Penguin & Seabird Sanctuary in Kleinbaai that will both greatly increase conservation efforts and include a carefully shielded visitation section, which will, in turn, diversify and thereby again grow tourism revenue.
  • Research and conservation of coastal and marine ecosystem and biodiversity, which are the main asset of the business model on the Cape Whale Coast, while protecting of these assets would be impossible without monitoring research. Similarly, investing in bigger boats and other forms of physical capital would be redundant if the natural capital assets were to erode further.
  • Partnerships with other businesses in the destination, tour operators, other non-tourism businesses such as automotive industry and banks; local government (Overstrand Municipality), non-profits and the general public in the destination.

Together, the businesses in Cape Whale Coast area employ many men and women in decent jobs, while having a positive impact on their host communities, their culture, livelihoods and economic development. Through the provision of tangible economic benefits derived from tourism, a significant part of the Fynbos coastal flora is conserved. Income generated through tourism and donations paid by tourist’s finances the protection of one of the last habitats of the endangered African Penguin. Tourism income also provides the means for researching a marine ecosystem, which is highly frequented by several species of sharks, whales and seabirds. Blue Flag certifications ensure that the whale and shark watching vessels are operated according to international standards that seek to minimize the harm done to marine biodiversity and the marine ecosystem in which they operate. The companies’ whole ethos is based on conservation and protection of the environment and the belief that “Your Choice Makes a Difference”, encouraging tourists to choose wisely.

Today’s achievements of the Dyer Island Conservation Trust (DICT) would have been impossible without Wilfred Chivell, the visionary behind the successful companies Dyer Island Cruises and Marine Dynamics. When South Africa’s financial crisis of 1998 destroyed the five concrete companies that Wilfred owned at the time, he not only decided to turn his passion for Marine Life into a profession but also to reinvest as much as his new company would allow him to in into conservation. He started a whale watching company in 1999 called Dyer Island Cruises with just a rubber dinghy. He then purchased a shark cage diving company in 2005 called Marine Dynamics and has since changed much in an industry that could be used purely for financial gain.

Finally, Wilfred’s concern for nature and especially that of the fast declining African penguin saw him founding the DICT in 2006. He created the ‘Faces of Need’ housing project for this flightless and vulnerable bird and initiated two penguin conferences, in order to push for the African Penguin to be listed as endangered and mobilize funding for its protection. Soon after, Wilfred is changing the way the shark cage diving industry is viewed and enjoys the support of other conservation organisations.

He has structured a business model that not only creates employment but also benefits the environment and is aimed at protecting the marine heritage. Every day funds are raised from clients visiting the companies and this supports the work of the Trust. Wilfred’s companies support the Trust in various ways, ultimately contributing a R1million towards research and conservation – three marine biologists have been supported in completing their Master’s degrees. Marine Dynamics also started an international marine volunteer program where participants can learn even more about the great white shark and other species through a series of dedicated lectures. These students become ambassadors for great white sharks when they leave and the more people changing the perception of this misunderstood predator the better its chances of future survival.

Together with his partner, Michael Lutzeyer, owner of Grootbos and founder of the Grootbos Foundation, DICT and the Grootbos Foundation stand at the forefront of research and conservation of marine biodiversity and the coastal ecosystem of the Fynbos along the Cape Whale Coast.

Lessons learned by FTT and DICT include that while the Trust has been instrumental in raising the profile of this incredible marine area, none of the conservation, research and education work that the Trust does would have been possible without successful commercial businesses. For example, the daily data capturing and observations of marine animals and seabirds have been instrumental in conclusions with regards to their behaviour – and have led to important scientific publications such as wound healing in great white sharks and a population study of this threatened species. Funds toward the Trust are also raised by the companies, daily ensuring the financial stability of the Trust. The Trust aims to protect the marine heritage and with this support was able to submit a letter of concern regarding the proposed nuclear power plant at Bantamsklip, just over 22 km from their head office (March 2010). Bantamsklip is one of the three preferred sites earmarked by the government for the construction of the power plant based on the wealth of its own research findings and local knowledge was able to point out critical flaws in the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for the proposed power plant. Most importantly the University of Pretoria will in future be consulted regarding the species of this area and any possible monitoring programs.

“It is the hope of the Cape Whale Coast that, by becoming part of an international network of Hope Spots, the profile of Overstrand will be raised both locally and abroad. By showcasing the remarkable resources and outstanding work being done in the area, and by prioritizing and drawing attention to the threats to these resources, stakeholders in the area hope to also attract resources and focus efforts towards creating a culture of caring that will translate into one of protection of our natural environment. Iconic animals such as whales and sharks will be used to draw attention to the plight of the environment, and this attention will then be broadened to include the habitats of these and of lesser-known species. Conservation efforts will be focused on parts of the coast that are currently not formally protected, with the idea of lifting the status of these areas and linking them into one unified protected area stretching from the Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve in the west to the De Hoop Marine Protected Area in the east” (

Fair Trade Tourism promotes good practice examples such as these from our Cape Whale Coast partners as solutions for responsible tourism development in coastal destinations elsewhere. A collaborative multi-stakeholder approach like the one taken by DICT, which continues to involve local communities, municipal government, the local and national business community and NGOs from the local to the global, forms the backbone of any sustainable destination development approach. These experiences, from an institutional and communication, can be replicated elsewhere.Any destination in the world is unique in its attractions, business models and stakeholder landscape. But learning from each other in how to set up proper mechanisms for change and how people and organizations can work together better toward conserving their natural environment and safeguarding the natural capital enshrined in the intactness of their landscape is transferable. In the case of the Cape Whale Coast, replication of their lessons learned would be especially interesting for marine-based destinations along the African coast, such as in Mozambique, Tanzania or Kenya.

Protecting the entire Central Highlands of Iceland as National Park – supporting the Conservation Movement on Iceland

The Vatnajökull National Park, established in 2008, includes all of Vatnajökull glacier as well as the national parks previously existing at Skaftafell in the south and Jökulsárgljúfur in the north, as well as significant new ice-free areas. Hence today’s national park covers 14% of Iceland (about 13.920 km2 as of June 2014) and ranks amongst Europe’s largest. In general, national parks are protected areas which are considered unique because of their nature or cultural heritage. The unique qualities of Vatnajökull National Park are primarily its great variety of landscape features, created by the combined forces of rivers, glacial ice, and volcanic and geothermal activity.

The Vatnajökull Nation Park covers about 1/3 of the pristine wilderness of the entire Icelandic Highlands

The establishment of the Vatnajökull National Park is a result of a major national environmental movement in the 1990s to protect the Icelandic Highlands as one of Europe’s largest wilderness areas against physical fragmentations such as dams, power lines and roads. There is today increasing discussions, whether the national park needs to be extended over the entire highlands of Iceland in order to cope with these continuous threats. 

The story began in 1997 when the Iceland Nature Conservation Association (INCA) was established with the primary objective of conserving and protecting Iceland’s wilderness. INCA’s goal was to establish a national park in the highlands, encompassing some 40 percent of Iceland’s total land mass of about 100,000 km2. The catalyst was a plan by the government to build a huge hydropower complex in Eastern Iceland, damning two out of four major glacial rivers running north and east from the Vatnajökull Glacier, destroying waterfalls, drowning valuable highland areas and wilderness. The construction would have impacted Europe’s largest remaining wilderness area of some 15 thousand square kilometres. ReadHighlands_IcelandSummer2012[1]

Karahnjukar dam

The campaign of INCA in the 1990s for the protection of the entire Highlands of Iceland was supported by the WWF Arctic Programme. It resulted in half a success: The establishment of the Vatnajökull National Park was an important achievement. However, an aluminium smelter was built in Reidafjordur on the East coast of Iceland and the related Karahnjukar Project of a huge power plant was realised in the highlands. Today two major glacial rivers running north off the glacier have been destroyed by the Karahnjukar Project. However, two of the rivers with their watersheds are still untouched and should be protected for all future.

In 2015 INCA (a member of LT&C) and Landvernd joined forces. Their common and continuous goal is to complete the success story and get the entire Highlands of Iceland designated as a national park!

Establishment of a National Park

Also, the Icelandic Environment Association, Landvernd, says: “It is important to look at the central highlands as one continuous whole and endeavour to defend and protect it both today and for future generations. Landvernd has, along with other nature conservation associations, proposed that the central highlands of Iceland be declared as protected with the establishment of a national park. There are many strong arguments for such protection: the unique nature as described above and that Icelanders are responsible for, the opportunity for a unique tourist experience through sustainable tourism and wealth creation for the nation. Outdoor activities in almost unspoiled nature are also very important for people’s physical health and well-being.


Landvernd believes that the establishment of a national park would not only ensure the protection of the area against further development by the energy industry but also create a great opportunity for comprehensive planning of the area. It is worth noting that about 38% of the area is already protected either as a national park or a nature reserve.”

The Highlands. Photo: Landvernd

Icelanders support the idea

In March 2015 INCA received the results of an opinion poll by Gallup. The results are very encouraging as 61.4% of those surveyed say they support a national park in the Central Highlands. The support is up by 5 percentage points since the same question was asked in 2011. The other good news is that at the party congress of the Social Democratic Alliance, a resolution was adopted, calling for a national park in the Central Highlands.

Photo: Landvernd

LT&C, therefore, joins the movement and asks its members, and in particular tour operators and tourists to Iceland: get involved and support the joint efforts of the Icelandic conservation organisations to protect the entire Highlands of Iceland as a national park! 

See also the statement by INCA, Landvernd, Bjork, Patti Smith, Darren Aronofsky and others who organized a Concert called, Guard the Garden.

LT&C will continue to inform about this important initiative on this page and may play a facilitation role to get both tourism and conservation into the same boat.


If you would like to support this initiative, please do not hesitate to contact us:

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