Years ago, black oystercatchers were in trouble. But after driving on beaches was banned in 2002, numbers started recovering.
In more recent times, white-fronted plover numbers have started decreasing along coastal South Africa to various disturbances to their nests during breeding periods. The threat to these birds in the Wilderness section of Garden Route National Park is not from those on four wheels, but those on four legs. Domestic dogs being walked by owners are causing many problems for these birds.
Words by René de Klerk. Originally published in SANParks Times
Now, further action needs to be taken to assist populations of the plovers, as was done for black oystercatchers before.
After almost a year of keeping an eye on this situation, park management has implemented new zones for dog walking on the beaches in Wilderness. Hopes are that this attention-grabbing system will play a contributing role in stabilising numbers.
One of the major threats to these birds is that dogs tend to chase the birds or disturb their eggs once the eggs are left exposed the temperature is not regulated and in the hot summer sun eggs essentially begin to cook. “Our aim is to increase compliance of dog walking on beaches in Wilderness,” says Wilderness section ranger Jonathan Britton. “This way, we can find the balance between different visitors’ recreational expectations as well conservation protection of bird breeding habitats.”
In the past, most dog walkers did not comply with park rules and would even go so far as to remove the red lines through signs that indicated dogs are not allowed on certain beaches. Now management is meeting dog walkers halfway by dividing the beach into different zones.
Red areas indicate seabird breeding spots and Blue Flag Beaches. No dogs are allowed in these zones at any point in time. The red signage is also meant to draw attention, much like a traffic light, says Britton. Dogs are allowed in areas zoned as orange, but they must always be on leashes. The park has also made provision for many spaces green zones where dogs can still run free – as long as owners can control their dogs and stick to the code of conduct for dog walkers.
According to Britton, approximately 45% of the 17km stretch of beach is available to dog walkers. Signage is clearly visible at every point of entry. “We believe that the presence of these zones strikes a balance between protecting coastal bird breeding habitat areas, dog walking and other recreational users,” adds Britton.
But there are still people who do not adhere to the rules. “We understand that we can’t get compliance overnight, but we hope this will start happening as people become more aware of the zones and the reasons why they are in place, there is a specific conservation outcome says Britton.
Dog walkers that fail to comply with the conditions of new zones are subject to a R1000 fine. Britton says that there are even a few warrants of arrest out for people not paying their fines. This system has also been adopted by the George Municipality on the Wilderness beach under their management.