By Lisa Starr
Since late 2018 Helderberg Ocean Awareness Movement has been at the forefront of conservation and clean-up efforts in the Helderberg.
We kicked off our movement by displaying an original painting on the theme of ecological awareness from BraveheArt on the lifeguard box at Strand Beach. It was a huge hit, created the right waves, and was sponsored by local companies - It still looks beautiful four years later. Since then, we have positioned ourselves as a strong force of green guardians, consistently giving attention to Strand Beach, the Lourens River, surrounding tributaries, parks, open fields, and in the communities. Our efforts, however, are not just limited to clean-up operations but also include educational programmes for children, partnerships with local organizations, law enforcement agencies, government departments, and NPOs, as well as persistent drives to create environmental awareness.
We've joined clean-ups hosted by others, held hands with drives for animal rescues and supported charities along the way. We also have a bi-monthly "Clean-up, Drum-up, Fire-up" event with the Fire and Flow Studio in Somerset West, including Drumba Rhythm for Life and The Lit Monkeys. The Community love this event and after the beach clean they are treated to join an upbeat drumming circle whilst entertained by the talented fire dancers and LED hoopers. For these events, we approach a variety of local charity organizations to ask for donations towards the less fortunate.
Sadly back in October 2020, there was another nurdle spill from a shipping vessel in Plettenberg Bay, South Africa. Nurdles are small virgin plastic pellets that are melted down to form plastic. We had a huge washout in Gordon's Bay and Strand so we informed and encouraged the public to please pick them up if they came across any. We then had 3 collection points set up where the nurdles could be disposed of, which were then collected by Plastics SA. We are unfortunately still finding them and probably will for years to come. Thankfully, we have formed a great relationship with Spilltech during this time and they come out to do a sweep whenever we find a wash-out.
I’m at the beach nearly every weekend, daily sometimes. I take a leisurely stroll, pick up litter with my family and friends, and occasionally interact with people and encourage them to pick up litter too. In fact, I now take extra bags to hand out - I specifically make a point
of popping down on New Year's Day to hand out bags to the crowds. This is a quick and effective way to educate hundreds of people in a few hours. It truly is so important to give back to nature and never leave anything unnatural behind.
Since December I have been very busy, as there have been several beach clean-ups and seal rescues. Furthermore, I also registered as an interested and affected party against the Total application to drill 6 oil wells from Mossel Bay to St Helena. Seismic blasting applications have unfortunately become a regular occurrence, however, The Green Connection, Oceans Not Oil, We are South Africans and many other role players have worked tirelessly fighting against the planned disruption of our ocean. This has resulted in a temporary success for the environment but the oil giants don't stop.
I was even interviewed on E-news last year which was nerve-wracking, but it has been a great method in cultivating awareness of how we - as ordinary citizens - can fight against these applications. When it comes to educational programmes, HOAM hosts groups at the beach where children are taught and shown first-hand how to keep the environment healthy. Not all schools have the ability to come to us, and so we have made an effort to go to them. We’ve been to Smartie Town in Macassar, Sir Lowry's Pass, and have also hosted Protea Primary School, which travelled all the way from Bonteheuwel for an educational beach clean-up. This was such a special morning as the children not only learnt, and cleaned the beach, but connected with nature too. The latter being very important as only when you embrace and understand nature will you respect it. Further education comprises of our insistence that recyclables and non-recyclables are separated at our clean-ups.
One of our long-standing members Ben Greyling and his wife Helena often come to our educational clean ups and they create memory videos using his drone, which allows a beautiful bird's eye view of the surroundings for the attendees. This is also very important as the children love to see themselves on the screen and they can watch it over and over - helping to encourage themselves and show others. Many local people add so much to the movement. Our biggest clean-up is always International Coastal Clean Up Day in September when the community come out in full force, including support from many local businesses.
In February this year, we hosted a huge clean-up for around 300 students from Stellenbosch University. The support we receive from Coastal Management, Strand Neighbourhood Watch, Shark Spotters, Secure Rite, Plastics SA, and Solid Waste is always greatly appreciated when we have a large group to host.
Plastics SA's Sustainability Manager, John Kieser, has been a Godsend, standing by our side and supporting us since we started. Last year he donated a huge metal whale to us which we then gifted to Parks and Recreation, now sitting wide and proud in the water feature in Strand CBD - the City cleverly put the water fountain through his spout.
This year we received two wax mermaid sculptures made by the Environmentalist Durban Artist Catherine Muller. These mystical pieces are filled with plastic waste that she collected from her local beach. The message they send out is visual and as such we currently house them in Strand Library along with an educational display, the artist's journal and a book showcasing all 5 pieces of artwork.
We are continually learning and educating ourselves on all the dynamics of a healthy environment and sharing this information with the community to encourage awareness. We often team up with other local NPOS and have become very connected with Out Of The Box, who are always watering the seeds that we plant. This is very important when it comes to educating and encouraging children. I believe in what we are doing, as one has got to keep moving and be constantly active to achieve a goal. I feel that I am making an impact, that I’m making a difference and I am creating awareness, I just hope that my passion rubs off onto other people. I believe it to be important because nature rules the world.
We have overwhelming support from so many in the community, however, there are always those that sometimes respond with negativity. Those who ignore our pleas to keep dogs out of the Marine Protected Area and some refuse outright to pick up after themselves. This does not deter us, as our approach is one of kindness, politeness and genuine friendliness. A priority for us has always been the Marine Protected Area along Strand Beach, where transgressions occur around the clock, made up mostly of dogs in a no-dog area. We are extremely privileged to have these types of areas in which over 40 species of birds call home. Scientific research has also proven that marine life is at home in this area and the environment is thriving. Marine Protected Areas are vital for our future, they are a safe space for nature to live and reproduce in a calm and clean area. This is a biologically-diverse productive space, and we are privileged to have an area such as this on our doorstep.
For those unaware, the Helderberg Marine Protected Area is in Strand Beach and starts at the bollards and the big blue awareness signpost. We are constantly imploring our community to join us to preserve and respect it.
Cooperation by Law Enforcement and Metro in enforcing by-laws is a giant leap in conservation efforts, with fines of R1,500 being issued for breaking the by-law. We will advise and assist anyone wanting to do their own conservation programmes, as this is not a competition, but a movement for all. Please join our Facebook Page and come on board the ship for change. If we all do a little, together we can do a lot, the change starts with you choosing consciousness over convenience and planting the right seeds. We need people who not only care but are willing to physically create change. Today we have nearly 4,000 members, all of whom are connected to nature. Our footprints and actions matter towards a cleaner brighter future with the preservation of nature being paramount.
"Nature doesn't speak our language, that's why it's up to us to protect it"- Lisa Starr
If you ‘d like to find out more about, or follow HOAM you can do so here: Helderberg Ocean Awareness Movement