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Six youngsters from the Paarl Canoe Development Team participated in the Berg River Canoe Marathon from 11 to 14 July 2012, one of the most gruelling and well-known canoe races on the Western Cape Canoe Union racing calendar. The event, held in 1962 for the first time, covers a distance of 250 kilometres starting in Paarl within the borders of the Cape Winelands Biosphere Reserve (CWBR) and ending in Vredendal in the West Coast Biosphere Reserve four days later - making The Berg the longest canoe river race in South Africa.

The Paarl Canoe Development Team was founded in 1996 by Robin Graves. The programme initially started out with youngsters from a swimming club, but soon children from nearby farms saw this activity and started joining the programme. It grew rapidly in popularity and Paarl Rotary, the Western Province Canoe Union, and Bridge House School started supporting the programme. Soon youngsters were doing so well that they were entering and participating in some senior river races such as the Berg River Canoe Marathon, Breede and Fish River Marathons and the Dusi in Kwa-Zulu Natal.

It is clear that canoeing has given these youngsters the confidence, self-esteem and pride to stand up and achieve not only on the water but in building a future for themselves. In 2002, Robin handed over the coaching to one of the seniors who had excelled in this programme and now ten years later, Wayne August continues to further develop the programme as a full time coach. As a development programme there is, however, a continuous need for support to upgrade equipment, supply clothing and support through finance.
 
The Cape Winelands Biosphere Reserve, proclaimed in 2007 as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, became aware of the needs of the Development Team and with its focus on conservation and development saw an opportunity to support this team in its preparation for the Berg River Canoe Marathon. With 98% of the rivers in the CWBR classified as threatened or already on the red list, the CWBR aimed at using the event as a platform for creating awareness of the importance of clean water sources and education.
 
As this project uniquely runs through the borders of both the Cape Winelands Biosphere Reserve connecting with the West Coast Biosphere Reserve at the coast it has been branded as one of the first Biosphere Reserve to Biosphere Reserve projects, a collaboration between the two Biosphere Reserves.
 
With the support of Dr Kevin Winter from the University of Cape Town (UCT) the Team collected water samples throughout the race, which was then tested and monitored after the race. The six members of the team met with children from the neighbouring farms each afternoon during the race to explain to them the importance of clean water sources and to demonstrate to them how to monitor the water. In addition to education, it is also the first time since 2001 that the Development Team had branded team uniforms and branded gear for the race. This project will be run on an annual basis, with water samples being taken each year and will also be rolled out to include other races in the area. The CWBR is proud to be associated with this very successful project. 

THE AIMS & OUTCOMES OF THE PROJECT:

1) To support local dedicated community youth sportsmen and women.
This was achieved with a total of six paddlers, two support crew, and many supporters following the first branded development team for 10 ten years. The team spirit was commented on by many spectators and a follow up program with local schools is in the process of being developed, driven by the paddlers and local teachers who are seen as role models within the communality. The water testing component and involvement of UCT gave great credibility to the project and developed pride amongst those involved. There was a feeling amongst the canoeists of “doing something worthwhile for our Community”

2) To enhance awareness of the CWBR and the CWCBR
This was achieved by both the branding of uniforms and the vehicles together with banners and information at all prominent points. The sending off of the team by the mayor also achieved recognition by the press, as did the podium positions and the resulting press coverage, and television.

3) To link co-operation and marketing of the Biosphere
This project was jointly undertaken to link the two neigbouring Biosphere Reserves in the Western Cape, the CWBR and the Cape West Coast Biosphere Reserve.

4) Support development and eco tourism along the Berg River
Francis Steyn  from Sustainable Resource Management: LandCare, Department of Agriculture  Provincial Government of the Western Cape, contacted us at the end of the race, as he had seen the team collecting samples and is a keen paddler himself.

This has led to discussions about
1)      How can we develop, with all role players, a mechanism to start improving the quality of the water
2)      Create awareness amongst the public and the landowners of the importance of water quality
3)      The clearing of alien vegetation and replanting of indigenous trees along the Berg River. This is in progress along small portions and is proving very successful. The Biomass collected is machines into brickets.
4)      Developing a super trail from the source to the mouth of the Berg, similar to the Eden to Addo, and several others overseas that are much longer and very popular.
5)      Engaging with the farming community to form nodes of good practice. Cultivation in the flood plains and chemical leaching are just two of the immediate issues to be looked into.

5) Create awareness of the importance of water quality and that seven rivers have their source in the CWBR
The collection of water samples along the river caused a lot of discussion amongst the public and the paddlers. Many people asked about the project and requested results. UCT have analysed the results which are disturbing. The challenge will be to put a program in place that is positive and has positive outcomes. It must not become a witch hunt but rather an identification of the pollution sources and a concerted effort to find holistic solutions. We need to engage with local and international organisations in this process.

6) Develop a youth program to monitor water quality.
Although we did have some success, it was marginal due to a lack of human resources. However contact was made with teachers from local schools that are now determined to make this happen. We will pursue this over the next year and have a concise program in place for next year’s race.

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