Dune rehabilitation on track

The netting that has been introduced at the corner of Princess Avenue and Harbour Road.

It’s a costly lesson Hout Bay’s nomadic dunes are teaching, but one developers will do well to remember – don’t mess with Mother Nature.

This was one of the key messages that came out of a public meeting at Hout Bay library, last Thursday, where Natalie Newman, from the City of Cape Town’s coastal management branch, spoke about the Hout Bay dunes rehabilitation project she leads.

The project started in 2007 after spreading dunes closed roads.

At the heart of the project are plants that stabilise the dunes and netting that traps windblown sand.

But residents at the meeting said they weren’t sure interfering with nature was a good idea and that Sandy Bay could become “sandless”.

But Ms Newman rejected that notion, saying nature had already been messed with when developers built so close to the dunes. And her team – which had done three years of environmental assessments before starting the project – was now trying make the best of a bad situation.

“We studied the environmental systems extensively. Hout Bay dunes can no longer function as a natural system,” she said.

They had looked at trucking the sand away and found it was too costly.

“You cannot take the sand to the shore of Sandy Bay; it cannot get there. We’ve tried moving it to the top of the dunes, but still it doesn’t blow all the way down to the shore, so it doesn’t replenish significantly. It’s just not sustainable.”

How did she propose solving the dunes issue, residents asked.

It couldn’t be solved, she replied.

“We’ve had various suggestions for solving this issue, but we’ve reached the conclusion that we can’t solve it, so we’re trying to manage it.”

Councillor Roberto Quintas supported Ms Newman, saying the current project was the best way to deal with the sand.

Trucking the sand, he said, had been fighting an “expensive ongoing losing battle”.

“We can’t break down the sand, wind, or houses – we can only manage it this way. This also serves as a lesson for future development and developers to not build houses in front of millions of years old nomadic dune systems.”

The project has a three-year budget of R7.5 million and currently employs 10 people from Imizamo Yethu and Hangberg.

“The workers that we’ve trained are completing a National Qualification Level 1 course in ornamental horticulture. This trains them in the basics of plant management, propagating plants, and environmental processes,” said Ms Newman.

“We’re trying to find ways of sustainable employment, so even if this project stops, they’ll be able to find work at a nursery and horticultural businesses, or even start their own businesses.”

She said 50 sprinkler heads had been snapped off the irrigation system on the dunes over the school holidays. She urged the community to educate each other and their children about the impact of vandalism.

“With our limited funding every expense counts.”

A proposed boardwalk through the dunes could only be built once the rehabilitation project was completed and plants established, she said.