The Garden Route will finally have a unique green theme park that will attract international tourists, and provide opportunities for them to interact with local communities.
Mossel Bay Environmental Partnership (MEP) hopes to build the centre on the Oyster Bay Reserve, which is situated alongside both the up-market Pinnacle Point Beach and Golf Resort, and the disadvantaged suburb of KwaNonqaba.
This centre will be the first of its kind in the Garden Route. The proposal includes space for SAPREC - the South African Penguin Rehabilitation Centre - which is currently situated in the town's industrial area. The proposed centre will be built by members of the community.
"This Centre will become a community tourism hub that will attract people to Mossel Bay, and thus make smaller eco-tourism projects financially sustainable," said Ms. Boer, Mossel Bay Environmental Partnerships chairperson.
The Mossel Bay Environmental Partnerships (MEP) has made representations to Mossel Bay's Mayoral Committee for the construction of an environmental education centre which will focus on empowering young people and other members of the community to create wealth through the preservation of the natural environment.
"We made the proposal to see if land can be secured and to begin the process of getting the necessary approvals in place so that we can start looking for funding," said Boer.
She said that the centre will be designed as a home for various eco-tourism projects, and the anchor for a number of small entrepreneurial projects like a Rastafarian medicinal garden, a Braille garden, a fossil garden, hiking trails, bird hide tours, donkey cart tours and a community arts and crafts centre.
"It will also be used to teach the preservation of fauna and flora, and how to sustainably develop eco-tourism products." The Mossel Bay Environmental Partnership and the Oyster Bay Reserve have spent five years on planning the project, and the Reserve has now taken over the implementation of the concept.
The 330 hectare Oyster Bay Reserve is involved with a variety of research, conservation, education and eco-tourism projects in Mossel Bay and the Garden Route, and also partners with various environmental groups who share its goals of preserving the natural environment, educating young people, and providing support for local communities.
"Improving the human and natural environments begins with awareness and the sharing of information," said the Chairman of Mossel Bay Tourism, René Bongers. "They are the first steps to gaining unity and mobilising action.
"This centre will do those things and more, because it will be the first of its kind in the Garden Route.
"We expect that it will become a strong attraction for Mossel Bay.
"The town needs a green facility that focuses on young people and disadvantaged communities - but this center will also contribute to the local economy since it will generate income and provide job opportunities for people who need them most.
"The centre will thus become Mossel Bay's first dedicated responsible tourism facility because it will fulfill many of the requirements of the Cape Town Declaration on Responsible Tourism, which came out of the Cape Town Conference on Responsible Tourism in Destinations that was held as a side event of the 2002 Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development," he said.
"We plan to make use of green architecture and technology throughout," said Ms. Boer. "We'll build with recycled bottles that will be collected through the swop shop concept; heating and lighting will come from solar panels; the roof will be used as a water retention device; and we'll install only waterless Ecosan toilets."
Ms. Boer said that a number of funders have already shown interest in the project. "We believe that we'll find the finances once the land has been secured," she said.