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Mossel Bay
29th February 2024
Community & LivingNature & Nurture

Sands of time; coastal change in Mossel Bay.

Myself and family have a long history with the beaches of Mossel Bay. Although from KwaZulu-Natal, my first memories of the sea are the wonderful rock pools (the “De Jagers pools” to us) that lie along the Rhebok and Tergniet beaches; learning to snorkel, building sandcastles and eating watermelon on the rocks. I fondly remember fishing with bamboo dip-sticks; my grandfather, Ian McLaren, risking life and limb to harvest “Red bait” off the rocks so that I could catch Blacktail in the gullies while he would probably rather be fishing for Elf, or Muscle Cracker. Though we walked to the beach from our family home in Olivier Laan, I recall parking lots and ablution blocks along the coastal dune. I remember when they were there, I remember when they were in danger of collapse and I remember when they did collapse and fall into the sea. I found this alarming: what else would be lost to the sea; why is the beach eroding; where does the sand go, and will it come back; where does the sand come from in the first place? It has taken many years of study, but now, as a Marine Geologist, I am in a position to start answering some of these questions that relate to a place very close to my heart. Together with two colleagues, and good friends, we are investigating geomorphological changes along Mossel Bay’s coastal zone. We want to understand what drives these changes, if anything can be done to reduce the risk of erosion while maintaining the wonderful beaches Mossel Bay is known for.
Sandy beaches represent a terrifically important, and dynamic, transition zone between terrestrial and marine settings. In addition, they offer various services from social and ecological perspectives. These sandy beaches, and adjacent nearshore and coastal zones, support significant biodiversity through provision of varied habitats and associated ecological resources. In addition to habitat provision, the coastal zone host sites of important cultural heritage (Pinnacle Point caves), recreation, economics (tourism, property sales and taxes), and natural resources (fishing).
The coastal zone is under ever-increasing pressure from various stakeholders in both active and passive capacities, as well as naturally forced changes. Active stakeholders are those that actively drive change in the coastal zone (developers, municipal services, city planners, coastal engineers), while passive stakeholders make use of natural and anthropogenic services; they do not directly drive change (tourists, local residents, beachgoers, surfers etc.). The key to assessing changes along sandy beaches is the assessment of shoreline migration over time. The shoreline position is a meaningful measure of change in the coastal setting, however, it must be considered in an integrated approach which includes the analysis of coastal dynamics, and geomorphology. Most times, this integrated approach is only integrated with science and scientists. This leaves a wealth of extremely valuable knowledge out of the assessment; local knowledge is missing.
Coastal communities are often well aware of changes to their beaches, often more so than researchers who investigate these changes. In order to get a realistic understanding of the Mossel Bay coastal area we are appealing to the Mossel Bay community to assist us. What we are looking for are photographs from the past. The beach is the focus of many family holidays and many pictures are taken every year. The pictures are fantastic memories; however, they are also records of coastal change. If you have any pictures of the beaches at identifiable locations, we would be very interested to see them. From them we may be able to better define areas that have changes dramatically over time and get a better understanding on how much change is normal, and what represents cause for concern. This could be anything form new rocks uncovered om the beach, flood damage from rivers, and erosion of the beach and dunes.
Of course, we are not asking for the original pictures; a digital scan or photo of the original would be perfect along with the owner’s details, any information you may remember; date, anything else of interest. We will not use any of the photographs or information without written consent and will acknowledge the people who have made the photographs available to us.
Please get in contact with me via email: e.wiles@saiab.ac.za if you would like to contribute.
Dr. Errol Wiles is a Marine Geologist based in Durban, working for the South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity as a Geophysical Instrument Scientist. His research interests span the deep sea to coastal zone. His aim is to work with communities in applied research, bringing science to the fore through a holistic, integrated approach.

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