PORT Elizabeth's scenic Cape Recife nature reserve, which in the past was notoriously plagued by crime and poaching, is cleaning up its act – thanks to the efforts of the Cape Recife Conservancy, which has bold plans to restore the area's tourism potential.
Visitors have been returning to the reserve, known for its beautiful coastal vistas and historic lighthouse complex which, if the conservancy has its way, will be transformed into a bed-and-breakfast facility and volunteer student accommodation.
The conservancy is a collaboration of land owners and environmental bodies that joined forces five years ago to protect and uplift the area. Its mission is to increase the tourism value of the reserve while conserving its biodiversity, creating jobs, educating pupils and providing a place of enjoyment for the families. Thanks to its efforts, the area has seen a noted increase in visits by tourists, schools and recreational fishermen.
The conservancy comprises the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, Pine Lodge resort, South African Marine Rescue and Education Centre (Samrec), Wildlife and Environmental Society of SA (Wessa), Summerstrand Hotel, Humewood Golf Club, Noordhoek Skiboat Club, Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality and supporting organisations.
They have been working hard to make the reserve safe for the public again, and no recent incidents of crime in the area have been reported.
Wessa senior conservation officer Morgan Griffiths said there were fewer visitors to the reserve after several high-profile muggings, hijackings and other criminal incidents in 2007.
"The area became ... a place for muggers and perlemoen poachers."
Pine Lodge owner Dennis Tucker said safety measures included moving the reserve boom gates closer to Pine Lodge, checking the registration of vehicles entering, installing security cameras and employing two rangers.
"We secured some donkeys and got a donkey-cart constructed for tours up and down the reserve."
NMMU ranger and conservancy chairman Craig Breedt said post-graduate botany and zoology students were now doing environmental education tours with schools. Another attraction was the Hobbitton Centre at Pine Lodge, which provided lighthouse tours and team-building events.