Hope for the Hope Spot

Last Year over the December month South Africa was treated to a whirl wind tour by Dr Sylvia Earle and Mission Blue as they launched the first 6 Hope Spots on the African Continent.  As part of the Overberg community we were lucky enough to be involved with the launch of the Cape Whale Coast Hope Spot and got to tour with Sylvia for the three days she was in the region.

Right so for those not in the loop here is a breakdown of what this was all about.


First up- Dr Earle.

Affectionately know as  “Her Deepness”, when the name of Sylvia Earle is uttered around diving circles, ocean conservationists or marine scientists you will see eyes glaze over with a kind of fevered, glossy almost tear-like giddy appreciation. I have observed a similar affect when the likes of the Arch Desmond Tutu walks into a room. She is an ocean rock star on the Beatles fever level when she makes an appearance. Never mind that she is one sassy betty.  This powerhouse of ocean conservation and exploration has had six decades of achievement under her dive belt that have included being a pioneer for women in diving and ocean science. In 1979 in a male dominated industry she set a new women’s deep-diving record when she descended to 1,250 feet (381 meters) off the coast of Hawaii. She served as the chair of the Advisory Council for the Ocean in Google Earth, was named Time magazine’s first Hero for the Planet (1998) and served as the first female chief scientist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) from 1990 to 1992.  25 doctorates, 16 years as a National Geographic explorer-in-residence, a children’s book, leader of more than 50 expeditions worldwide involving in excess of 6,000 hours underwater in connection with her research and heading up the first team of women aquanauts during the Tektite Project in 1970. She really is a living legend.

And here’s where the Hope Spot’s kicks in.


Thanks to her massive contribution to our blue planet in 2009 Dr Earle was awarded the TED prize (details of what that is here) where she was allowed to make her vision to inspire change in the world a reality through the support of TED and other partners. From this Mission Blue was born. An organization with an idea as a means to ignite public support for a global network of special marine management areas, or Hope Spots, which are critical to the health of the oceans and the planet.  Now an area that is designated as a Hope Spot can either be formally protected under government legislation, like a recognized Marine Protected Areas, or an area that is not protected at all but is recognized as being a special place that are critical to the health of the ocean. The idea is using an inclusive approach where science, tourism, education, sustainable development and use of marine resources are possible- call it an actionable way to address the tremendous existential challenges the ocean faces by using all the stakeholders relevant to try and bring about change and custodianship of the resource. So far there have been 51 Hope spots designated around the globe creating a conservation network that reaches from the Arctic to the Antarctic, and from Europe to Australasia.

And then last year South Africa became a part of Mission Blue as 6 Hope Spots were launched for the first time on the continent.

Our six areas includes;

Aliwal Shoal

Algoa Bay and the islands: Includes the principal breeding colonies of the African penguin, now down to 2% of historical population levels

The Cape Whale Coast:  From Rooi Els to Quoin Point and includes offshore islands, just over 200km of coast line and then out to sea

False Bay:  All of False Bay from Cape Point to Cape Agulhas  

Plettenburg Bay:  Links the Robberg MPA to Tsitsikamma MPA

Knysna:  Includes the Knysna Estuary and marine coast and offshore waters


I’m still working out exactly how effective the practicality of the Hope Spots is right at this moment. I really do believe in getting the local community to be custodians of their resource and by using a figure like Dr Earle to bring attention to areas that are in need of support. It’s a wonderful concept and frankly a good direction to be heading in when it comes to finding ways to get people to stand behind ocean conservation issues.  Realistically we are facing some trying times ahead when it comes to ocean conservation. The numbers are looking a little shy-off pretty bleak at the moment. Illegal and unregulated fishing is rampant across the ocean. Roughly one-quarter of coral reefs worldwide are already considered damaged beyond repair, with another two-thirds under serious threat from ocean acidification, destructive fishing practices and human pollution. Ocean overfishing is simply the taking of wildlife from the sea at rates too high for fished species to replace themselves.

What I am trying to say is that the test of time is only going to show whether the public does take on these Hope Spots and they become as affective as what we all wish they might be. The industry, NGO’s and organizations around the Hope Spot hopefully will develop a long term plan to be able to work off the initial attention that was created by Dr Earle’s presence, but not just rely on Mission Blue as some kind of wonder pill that will bring in funding and solutions to all our ocean issues. It’s not that easy, a great force of Dr Earle behind you sure helps let’s not kid ourselves, but it takes work on the ground to keep the momentum going. And that work is often long, hard and unrewarding.

With 51 Hope Spots now recognized around the globe and even with her unflinching stamina that she still possess at her age, she cannot be expected to visit on a regular basis (even though there are Mission Blue Expeditions-she has 57 across the globe to try and move between) and we cannot rely on her public persona to drive the mission of the Hope Spot forever. It is really up to us around the Hope Spots to take cognizance of why it was created in the first place, and that we have to continuously drive the education of ocean conservation and growing momentum of ocean conservation.

Follow us on twitter and the blog through this year as we will be making a point of trying to send out the message of as many different projects, people, initiatives or ways you can get involved on a local and international level and be part of, or at least participate in any small way, in an ocean conscious community.

In the words of Mission Blue “We must find a way to live sustainably within the great systems that sustain us”

Let’s see where this takes us.



Oceanographer Sylvia Earle awarded Lifetime Achievement honor as a Champion of the EarthPioneering oceanographer, scientist and author Sylvia Earle - sometimes know as 'Her Deepness' - is recognized for her lifetime body of work as a Champion of the Earth.

Supplemental footage courtesy of Conservation International


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