Wild Coast Monitoring

Oct 18, 2010

MISSION  38 of  2010

Name of Mission: Wild Coast Monitoring
Date of Mission: 18th October 2010
Aircraft used: Cessna 182           
Pilot: Noel McCullough                 
Beneficiary: Robert Stegmann


Objective of the Flight

To ascertain per photos and GPS recordings, sites along the Wild Coast where illegal developments are taking place.

Pilot’s story of the mission            By  Noel McCullough

I took off from Lanseria on the morning of 18th October 2010 and flew directly to East London where I refuelled and connected with Robert Stegmann, who had requested this mission, and his colleague.

The mission required flying along the length of the Wild Coast to photograph and GPS mark all illegal activities, including sand mining and any structures being erected within one kilometre of the high water mark of the sea and any rivers.

It appears that there is a massive amount of illegal activity going on, due to little or no action having been taken in the past.  Robert Stegmann is heading up a newly-formed department to deal with these problems and hopes to stop these illegal operators in their tracks.

The weather was clear but the wind was 19 knots, gusting to 39 knots, which made for some interesting flying!

The return flight from Margate to East London allowed us to pick up a few more illegal activities missed on the up run.\\After overnighting in East London I returned to Lanseria, landing at 10h30 in the morning.

With Rob’s knowledge of the area the mission was a success and Rob certainly has his follow-up work cut out for him.

Beneficiary’s story of the mission        By  Robert Stegmann

Environmental Officer Juliana Gouws, a lady with approximately 16 years of experience in the South African Police Services, was recently employed by the Department of Economic Development and Environmental Affairs.  Juliana jumped at the chance to assist with an aerial survey to gather intelligence on environmental crime along the Wild Coast. Never having been in a light aircraft, and dismissing warnings that the flight would be like a roller coaster ride, she thought that she was in for a fun flight along the Wild Coast that could not possibly yield much intelligence.

On 18th October 2010 a strong north easterly wind was blowing when Juliana and I drove to the East London Airport and into the general flying area where we met Noel McCullough with his Cessna 182 – ZS-OCW. After a final briefing and synchronising of the GPS and camera clocks (for use later when geo-tagging images with the GPS breadcrumb, a useful hint which was provided earlier by Steve McCurrach,  one of the Bateleurs pilots and Directors).

It was not long before East London paled into the distance and we were on our way over the Great Kei River onto the Wild Coast. Noel put his aviation skills to good practice, flying low and allowing me to take good pictures of seemingly new alleged unlawful developments, plus areas where sand mining was occurring, and also current locations where the public is using off road vehicles to access the coast. Using a handheld GPS Juliana recorded the locations where the images were taken.  But this was easier said than done, as the wind strength steadily increased during the flight and the aircraft bobbed about in the turbulence. This conjured up images in my mind of aircraft taking flack during a bombing raid in World War II – commonplace visuals on the History Channel. Soon Juliana started to feel a little queasy and the flight’s similarity to a rollercoaster ride became more of a reality.  Noel was very accommodating and on several occasions the target area was orbited until a good photograph was taken.

As we neared the Margate airport the fine lady in the tower calmly informed us that the wind was gusting up to 38 knots crosswind, adding a further challenge.  Noel had to be careful of the wind shear at the threshold of runway. When ZS-OCW touched down Juliana screeched relentless whoops of praise for Noel and very much enjoyed her rest from the rollercoaster.

After a brief lunch we were soon on our way back to East London Airport, checking en route for any potential environmental crime that may have eluded us on the flight northwards. It was a rapid flight that was over only too quickly, assisted by the strong tail wind.

A quick tally of the potentially unlawful environmental crime noted during the flight revealed the following:

  • 31 incidents of sand mining
  • 100 incidents of illegal development (4 sites where case dockets had been opened were specifically monitored)
  • 1 incident where a field was being ploughed
  • 5 roads under construction, (the roads are known, enquiry files have been opened and one case docket had already been opened)
  • Forest clearing was prevalent though out the central portions of the Wild Coast
  • 3 new incidents where brick making is occurring were recorded
  • 2 ORV’s being used to salvage steel from the wreck of the BBC China. (ORV tracks were noted throughout the Wild Coast but no specific area was noted for a special law enforcement effort to combat the problem)

The flight has significantly changed Juliana’s perceptions of aerial surveys.  She now sees the significance of aerial surveys for detecting environmental crime – a big change from the flight being perceived initially as nothing more than a joy ride She has stated that they must become an integral part of the operational planning to combat environmental crime on the Wild Coast and an essential aspect of the strategy of the  Wild Coast Illegal Development Task Group, which aims to combat illegal developments and other environmental crime on the Wild Coast. Further, Juliana said that the “aerial survey helped in identifying the damage and the ‘hotspots’ on the Wild Coast. Without the aerial survey, no clear picture could have been conceived of the extent and diversity of the damage and the influx [of illegal development] into the coastal conservation area (CCA).  As from a bird’s eye we could see remote areas where, in normal circumstances,  no vehicle patrols could have reached.”

The following day, again at East London airport, Noel performed his pre-flight check, we took a photograph for the record, and he was on his way back home.  As ZS-OCW disappeared into the distance I felt a slight sense of melancholy.  This involved gratitude for the pilots who have joined the “formal” executors of the natural estate in efforts to achieve their objectives, acknowledgement that the task ahead is daunting – for a variety of institutional reasons, and acceptance of our accountability to the generations that will follow ours.

Since the flight the DEDEA WCIDTG Strategy (Project) team has been hard at work.  The intelligence gathered has resulted in patrols by vehicle, on foot and per helicopter, the latter in collaboration with the SAPS and the Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism Agency.  Tasks receiving attention include:

  • illegal development case dockets are under investigation (most of which were in the near pristine area of northern Pondoland)
  • administrative notices have been issued
  • admission of guilt fines have been issued for the unlawful use of off-road vehicles and sand mining and fishing without licenses
  • warnings have been issued for first offenders undertaking unlawful sand mining.

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