It’s difficult to imagine anyone prouder and more stoked than two young men from Hermanus on the evening of Reconciliation Day last week. At a function at The Marine, Dylan Beukes and Ashley Booysen were introduced as Hermanus Varsity’s first two fully-qualified Whaleworld eco-guides. Smartly kitted out in their brand new uniforms they were hardly able to contain their excitement at being able to give locals and visitors alike a unique insight into our very special marine and fynbos environment.

Dylan Beukes with Ashley and their instructor Grant Hine, who presented the five-week Marine Dynamics Academy course.
PHOTOS: Johann Kruger

Having completed an exhaustive five-week training course presented by Grant Hine of Zen Guiding at De Kelders, and after successfully passing through a tough examination and monitoring process, they were presented with a guiding certificate from the Marine Dynamics Academy and are now registered eco-guides with the Field Guides Association of Southern Africa (FGASA). Three other students are still undergoing training and hope to be registered by March next year.

Grant, who was with FGASA for 17 years, comments that most people sleepwalk through life and even when surrounded by nature, are barely conscious of what they are seeing, hearing or smelling. It is the task of the field guide to draw their attention to the environment and to interpret it – to awaken all their senses, so that they can begin to rediscover their connection to nature.

To start off with, there will be three Whaleworld trails for visitors to choose from, varying in length and eco-environments. The two young guides are keen to emphasize that although they will want to keep group sizes down to a maximum of six to eight people, they would be very happy to include children. It’s important to feed their curiosity when they’re young, they say, it will last them a lifetime.

This project fits snugly into what Hermanus Varsity Trust (HVT) refers to as its ‘Blue-Green Programme’, encompassing the gradient from blue ocean through to green fynbos, which seeks to promote economic growth, social inclusion and preservation or improvement of livelihoods, while at the same time ensuring environmental sustainability. 

At the function, HVT’s CEO, Delana Finlayson emphasised that the training of these two eco-guides was the first step towards the realisation of a much wider vision, to establish a world-class Marine Science Centre in the Overstrand which would act as a catalyst for further community, business and economic development in the region.

The newly-qualified Whaleworld eco-guide, Ashley Booysen exploring the Marine Pool with a young guest.
PHOTOS: Johann Kruger

“Our natural environment is our greatest asset and the Eco Trails project, with its family-friendly focus, is aimed at sharing not only scientific knowledge, but also the social histories and rich folklore of the area with visitors as well as local residents. An added bonus is that all proceeds derived from this project will be ploughed back into student education.” 

As she pointed out, the pandemic had brought home the stark reality that fundraising for an institution like HVT was going to rely in the future as much on income from transformative social enterprises, such as this, and partnerships with the local business community, as on donations from philanthropic Foundations and individuals. She paid specific tribute to local businesses like The Marine Hotel, Creation Wines, Marine Dynamics and Hermanus Experience for buying into the Eco Trails project with so much enthusiasm.

Expanding on HVT’s vision for the creation of a Marine Science Centre, recent Hermanus resident Grahame Lindop of The Ulwazi Partnership outlined his ideas for what he has called the Whaleworld Science Centre, to be jointly developed with HVT. He would like, he says, to see Hermanus become the whale capital of the world, combining high-calibre scientific research with a strong educational component. 

He says through Councillor Kari Brice they have obtained endorsement from the Overstrand Municipality for the R75 – R100 million project, and a potential site for the project is currently being discussed. If all goes according to plan, he sees this ‘world-class attraction’ taking between 24 and 27 months to reach completion. The increased tourism the centre will bring to the area, will, he believes, add a multiplier effect to its existing drawcards and thus to economic sustainability.

Anina Lee of Whale Coast Conservation, Delana Finlayson of the Hermanus Varsity Trust and Cllr Kari Brice at the launch of Whaleworld Eco-Trails at The Marine. PHOTO: Hedda Mittner

From a conservation point of view, specialist whale photographer, Dave de Beer underlined the important function such a centre could have in protecting the Right whale species in particular. In a region where large-scale commercial whale-hunting was once practised, it would be appropriate to focus attention on the important role whales play in the marine eco-system. 

So, in a few days’ time when Dylan and Ashley step on to a Whaleworld coastal trail for the first time with their first group of eco tourists, join them – be a part of history-in-the-making. Like Satchmo, you might end up saying: ‘And I think to myself, what a wonderful world’. 

For more information on the eco-trails, contact 084 808 1100 or whaleworldecotrails.co.za.

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