It’s the holiday season! Holidaymakers are flocking to the coast in droves. They want to enjoy the beach and nature in general by driving into the Namib Desert and thus into our national parks.
Leave nothing but footprints, take nothing but pictures. For many years this well-meant piece of advice was intended to promote environmental protection. Nowadays it needs to be rephrased to get the message across more clearly. Apart from taking nothing but photos and memories we must above all remove our garbage. Whatever we bring with us for a day at the beach or in the desert must be taken back home and cannot be left littering the shoreline or anyplace else. Many visitors don’t mind piling beverages and food into their vehicles, no matter how heavy and bulky the goods are in their packaging and containers. But when everything has been consumed the containers and packaging, even though empty and lightweight now, suddenly seem to take too much space. They are simply left behind, sometimes stuffed into garbage bags, or they end up in various containers on the beach or get ditched on the roadside. In rare cases garbage is brought back home for disposal.
Taking garbage back home is exactly what we must do to protect our environment. When it is left behind in nature it will be scattered over wide areas by animals and the elements of weather. Glass breaks and can cause injury, even serious, to other visitors. Plastic remains with us forever, it never decomposes but over time disintegrates into microscopic particles which eventually find their way into our bodies. Immediately after being discarded, containers made of glass or plastic become death traps for countless microorganisms such as insects, reptiles and sometimes amphibians. Loads of garbage ends up in the sea, where it not only causes considerable pollution of the ecosystem, but also the death of many marine animals.
‘Leave nothing but footprints’ must also be revised, because we leave a lot more destructive tracks than our own footprints. On the way to our favourite spot on the beach, where we want to spend the day while on holiday, we often ignore the commonly used tracks to the shoreline and simply drive wherever it suits us, leaving tyre marks even on previously untouched ground. At the beach our off-road vehicles plough deep ruts into the soft sand.
The Namib Desert may appear empty and uninhabited, but it is home to countless plants and animals that have adapted to the harsh conditions. Even the defenceless chicks of many seabirds hatch at the height of our summer – the main holiday season – on the vast gravel plains of the Namib. Among them is the well-known Damara Tern, an endangered species of which 90 percent breeds in Namibia. Its well-camouflaged eggs and chicks, as well as those of the White-fronted Plover and the Chestnut-banded Plover, are often destroyed by vehicle tyres.
Those who drive into the dunes with their SUVs, quad bikes or motorcycles, should remember that many small animals actually live there. Insects, reptiles and mammals, some of which are unique on our planet, survive in the soft sands of the Namib.
Garbage and uncontrolled driving in the desert are not only harmful to the environment in the long term, but also blemish the image of untouched unique nature in our country. Visitors don’t want to take pictures of a beach or desert where garbage and vehicle tracks can be seen.
The Namibian government banned the possession of plastic bags in national parks and nature reserves on 22 November 2018. According to spokesman Romeo Muyunda the ban also applies to Dorob National Park. Only garbage bags, plastic bags in which food is sealed and transparent resealable plastic bags are exempt. Non-compliance with the new legislation may result in a fine of 500 Namibia dollars and/or six months imprisonment. The towns and settlements in Dorob National Park are excluded from the ban, says Muyunda, but no plastic bags are allowed in vehicles anywhere with clear signposting to this effect.
Author: Dirk Heinrich