No dogs allowed on no-dog beaches

Lynn “Beach bird” Rall, Somerset West

Pooch parents often compare their fur babies to “kids” and whether you are the mom or dad of the four-legged variety, or the two-legged version, we all like to see them running free on wide open beaches with wind in their “hair” and smiles on their dials.

After the national lockdown, nothing will be more true (or necessary) as we all flock back to these wide open spaces in droves for walks, runs, and yes, letting the kids (all types) off the leash.

With Strand Beach having rested, so to speak, and bird- and other wildlife having enjoyed a respite from human interference, it stands to reason that we should approach our little wildlife sanctuary with more respect and even ownership going forward.

The area of Strand Beach beyond the Lourens River towards Macassar Beach falls under the Helderberg Marine Protected Area (MPA). This tiny 2.4km MPA was proclaimed in 2000.

In South Africa, MPAs are declared through the National Environmental Management: Protected Areas Act.

A protected area is defined as “a clearly defined geographical space, recognised, dedicated, and managed, through legal or other effective means, to achieve the long-term conservation of nature with associated ecosystem services and cultural values”.

Managed through legal and other effective means? “Other effective means”, dear reader is you and me.

It stands to reason that to expect law enforcement to stand on the beach all day to make sure that you and I respect and protect this part of the beach is perhaps legal, albeit it non-sensical.

Signage demarcating this area is clear and the “no dogs allowed” mandate even clearer, yet it is ignored by pooch-loving parents on a daily basis.

The Helderberg MPA protects this piece of sandy beach and the mobile dune system that is the home to a list of seabirds that reside and nest there, most notably, the African Black Oystercatcher.

This attractive seabird with its jet-black feathers and bright red beak is endemic to the Cape coastal region and Namibia.

The oystercatcher mates for life and starts breeding at three to four years of age. They breed once a year at the start of summer and usually lay only two eggs in a basic, unadorned nest on sand which hatch after 32 days.

During the breeding period the parents, eggs and chicks are vulnerable to natural predators, extreme high tides and fishing line.

Humans and their dogs pose additional threats, especially when fur babies are let off the leash to run free on the beach and dunes in an exciting chase of all things winged or moving.

The take home message here: birds who nest in the dunes need low disturbance to breed. So, for pooch parents out there, that means no dogs allowed on the no-dog beaches.

Just because a copper isn’t parking off at the bollards demarcating this area to gently usher you away each day, does not mean you can disregard the law. Not all beaches are created equal nor do they all welcome pets.

The section of beach on the eastern side of the Strand Pavillion is for the whole family and is known by locals as “dog beach” (the clue is in the name) but is also referred to as Mostertsbaai.

This will likely ruffle a few feathers among the furkind, but you have options, please use them.