Promoting healthy ecosystems to build resilience to climate change

Stories and experiences of Climate Change

Sarah Niemand (Buffelsjags Bay, South Africa)

Sarah Niemand lived in Buffelsjags Bay, which is a small town situated near to Cape Aghulas. For generations her family has been entirely dependent on natural marine resources for their livelihood. Since 2002 she has seen various changes in the climate – such as reduced stock, flooding, changes in ecological growth and water conditions. As a result, the community’s livelihoods have been severely impacted. She explains her experiences:

“I am a traditional fisherwoman. My house was built from broken timber and iron from the sea. In Buffelsjags Bay there are no schools, nor shops. Everything we know is transferred through oral tradition . For our livelihoods we depend on rock lobster, line fish, abalone and kelp which is dried, ground and exported.

In 2002, the waters moved up by six metres. We were very scared. In the middle of the night the neighbours came out, shouting and calling each other. We thought that that the water would come right over our houses. The water came into the neighbours’ houses. The suffered greatly. Then one day my brother went out into the sea. Suddenly for some inexplicable reason the water conditions have changed direction, and my brother and the skipper died that day.

In the past we would go out 12 sea miles to go and get kelp and today we go out one mile. The sea temperatures have increased, the alkaline balance of the sea water is changing and birds are nesting and certain fish species are moving further south. As a result, today we take out less stock. The law has also changed, putting limits as to what we can take out. This has made it worse for us. Are these signs of climate change?

The scientists are warning us about the impact on marine species, as well as the impact on coastal communities and the risk that we carry. But if I look at the ocean and how the ocean is rising over the last few years, I get scared and tell my family we must pack up and leave. But for me it is not easy to leave the place where I was born. My whole life is the sea.

Steps must be taken to anticipate climate change. We must ask why are we not part of the discussions of climate change? Why is our indigenous knowledge not part of the science and the knowledge of climate change? What does adaptation mean in the context where we are small scale fishermen are not the ones doing the damage?

We have solutions. The government can help us by reducing fishing quotas of the big trawlers because the by-catch is not sustainable. We could also be supported through the development of aquaculture projects in other places. Communities must be encouraged to look at alternatives”.

(Testimony presented at the Pan-African Hearing on Climate Change 5th October 2009)

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Posted: 12/7/2009 (5:01:17 AM)

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