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Story Publication logo May 14, 2024

Coastal Communities on the Frontline of the Climate Crisis — Hondeklip Bay, Northern Cape


Scientists say the seismic surveys used to locate oil and gas are harmful to marine life.


March 30, 2024: A boy watches as fishers prepare to launch their boats at Hondeklip Bay’s natural harbour. During the snoek season, fishers from across the Western Cape travel to Hondeklip Bay and Port Nolloth, where the snoek is said to “arrive” first. This year, unlike former years, the snoek appeared in Hondeklip Bay before Port Nolloth. The local economy benefits as the travellers rent accomodation and use the local tuck shops. (There are no supermarkets in Hondeklip Bay.) Image by Barry Christianson. South Africa.

This series of photo essays explores the relationships between the people living in various coastal communities and the ocean, in each of South Africa’s coastal provinces.

This work was supported by the Pulitzer Center. Daily Maverick will publish a series of four photo essays. This is part two.

Read Part 1 here.

The small, coastal Namaqualand village named after a dog-shaped rock is accessible only by gravel roads from Koiningass and Klipfontein. Springbok, the nearest commercial hub, is two hours away. There is no supermarket, high school, or petrol station. The tall floodlight meant to provide light at night hasn’t worked in years.

Hondeklip Bay has a natural harbour that was first used to ship copper ore in the mid-1800s, and later by the commercial fishing industry. Many people living in Hondeklip Bay have been fishers for generations. Some like Boy Adams have family members who died when boats capsized in the 1950s.

The closure of the mines and the collapse of the commercial industry in Hondeklip Bay has left residents with very few employment options. The small-scale fishing industry is one of them and the presence of the harbour makes Hondeklip Bay an unlikely meeting point for fishers across neighbouring provinces, despite the difficulties involved in accessing it.

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March 30, 2024: A fishing boat can be seen exiting Hondeklip Bay’s harbour at the “bek,” through an opening in the abandoned factory at Hondeklip Bay. Image by Barry Christianson. South Africa.

Each year, around Easter time, at the start of the snoek season, shoals of travelling fishers, who “chase the snoek,” arrive in the small village and make it their home for as long as the “fish are biting.” They make the trek to Hondeklip Bay each day the catches are good, and return to the areas where they sell their fish on the same day.

Some residents make money by cleaning and gutting fish, carrying fish from the boats, cleaning the areas where fish are cleaned and gutted, and through renting the travelling crews’ accommodation. Some of the poorer residents wait around for unused parts of gutted fish to take home for cooking.

The reliance of the village on fishing makes many people, such as Boy Adams, anxious about the risks attached to marine oil and gas extraction offshore from Hondeklip Bay. Should extraction go ahead in the future, the coastline may become vulnerable to oil spills, which would have far-reaching environmental and social impacts.

March 31, 2024: Boy Adams was fortunate to get a spot as a crewman on Cracker Jack, a boat belonging to Christian Adams, a small-scale fisher from Steenberg’s Cove in St Helena Bay. Boy has fished for most of his life. His father worked as a skipper for Oceana and his mother worked in the crayfish factory. As is the case with many fishers, he wasn’t successful in his application to join Hondeklip Bay’s small-scale fishing cooperative. These days, he only gets to fish when a boat has an open spot for crew. Image by Barry Christianson. South Africa.

March 30, 2024: Fishers push a boat into the surf. Image by Barry Christianson. South Africa.

March 31, 2024: For the last 10 years Patrick Rulph worked at the Hondeklip Bay Small Vessel Safety Monitoring Center. The center was funded by the Kamiesberg Municipality, but the funding has stopped and Rulph is without work at the moment. When the conditions were dangerous, or when there was dense fog, Rulph would give each of the boats location devices, which he would track using software. When the boats were set to return, he was able to guide them in safely. Image by Barry Christianson. South Africa.

March 30, 2024: The dark gravestone holds the names of fishers who died at sea in 1957. Among the dead are members of Boy Adams’ family. Image by Barry Christianson. South Africa.

March 30, 2024: On a day when lots of snoek were caught, the Hondeklip Bay beachfront came alive when it was transformed into an outdoor fish market. Young people waited around hoping to get the job of cleaning and gutting the fish, others hoped to clean the surfaces on which the fish was processed. Residents and vacationers gathered around to watch the spectacle. Image by Barry Christianson. South Africa.

March 30, 2024: Two fishers offload their catch at the beach while an official inspects their permit as part of Operation Phakisa. Weeks earlier, large amounts of fish were confiscated from fishers at Hondeklip Bay with the help of the South African National Defence Force. Many of the fishers who had their catches confiscated did not have valid permits as the Department of Forestry, Fisheries, and Environment had been late in issuing the permits. Residents of the poor village were unsure of what happened to the confiscated fish. Image by Barry Christianson. South Africa.

March 30, 2024: Andreas Adams and his nephew Christian Adams are among the community of travelling fishers staying at Hondeklip Bay "chasing the snoek." Image by Barry Christianson. South Africa.

March 30, 2024: On this day the catches were bigger than expected. Only a few fish marketers made the gruelling journey to Hondeklip Bay, and some fishers, such as those pictured, were left struggling to sell their fish. In the end, someone from Hondeklip Bay agreed to buy the fish, and these fishers ended up working into the night by the light of their van. Image by Barry Christianson. South Africa.

March 29, 2024: Boy Adams (left) chats with a group of visiting fishers after smoking a snoek in his yard. Boy has extended his home to include some basic accommodations for visiting fishers, making it a social hub during the season. Image by Barry Christianson. South Africa.

Children play on the beach as the fishers prepare to head to sea. Image by Barry Christianson. South Africa.


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Environment and Climate Change

Environment and Climate Change
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Extractive Industries

Extractive Industries
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Labor Rights

Labor Rights
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