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Explore Namibia's Precious Coastline and Dunes with Chris Nel

  
  

Chris Nel is a tour guide who runs the Living Desert Adventure through the Namib Desert near Sossussvlei. On these tours he shares his wisdom and expertise with visitors. Chris was also involved in the establishment of the Dorob National Park in 2010 along Namibia’s Skeleton Coast.

We had a chance to sit down and chat with Chris about desert conservation and the role that ordinary citizens can play in protecting Namibia’s natural treasures.

Chameleon 9

A desert-adapted chameleon photographed on one of Chris' adventure tours.
(Picture courtesy of Chris Nel)

Adventure, Conservation, Skeleton coast, Namibia, Sossusvlei, Swakopmund, quad biking, Namib, dune

Vehicles Chris uses for his Living Desert Adventure Tours.
(Picture courtesy of Chris Nel)

 

How long have you been involved with desert conservation in Namibia? What made you decide to get into it in the first place?

I have always loved nature and always been interested in protecting it since a little child but in 2002 I started doing day tours in the dunes around Swakopmund. At that stage I realised that quad-biking had become the new craze of the nation and thousands of people were driving all over the Namib Desert just for fun.

Adventure, Conservation, Skeleton coast, Namibia, Sossusvlei, Swakopmund, quad biking, Namib, dune

Chris getting up close with a desert chameleon.
(Picture courtesy of Chris Nel)

 

I attempted to run an educational tour for tourists and it was virtually impossible to do a quality tour because of the noise, aesthetic destruction (with tracks all over the place) and the little creatures we were showing people were getting killed under the wheels of the quads and 4x4 vehicles.

The year I started doing tours out of Swakopmund I realised Namibia had a big problem in the coastal Namib, largely caused by quads and 4x4’s. I did a flight over the Namib to take pictures and videos of the state of the desert. It was this day that my heart broke- I saw one of the most destroyed deserts in the world.

Adventure, Conservation, Skeleton coast, Namibia, Sossusvlei, Swakopmund, quad biking, Namib, dune

When Chris saw the damage he knew he had to do something to help.
(Picture courtesy of Chris Nel)


What are the most important lessons you hope to impress upon the people in your tour groups?

For me it is vital that people learn to respect and appreciate the desert, it is only then that we have a chance to understand the desert. If more people understand the desert better then there will be a greater chance that they will see the beauty of the desert.

Adventure, Conservation, Skeleton coast, Namibia, Sossusvlei, Swakopmund, quad biking, Namib, dune

Chris feels that once people understand, they will want to protect.
This is why he encourages guests to close to the fauna of the desert.

(Picture courtesy of Chris Nel)

 

What do you enjoy most about taking a guest into the desert for the first time in their life?

I love showing them from the beginning that this is one of the driest places on earth relative to rain, but because of the fog we have a certain degree of moisture that sustains a large variety of specialised desert life.

Adventure, Conservation, Skeleton coast, Namibia, Sossusvlei, Swakopmund, quad biking, Namib, dune

A desert adapted chameleon having a snack.
(Picture courtesy of Chris Nel)

 

I always start by telling them that because it almost never rains we will not see typical ‘safari’ wildlife (some tourists want to see lions and elephants no matter what part of Namibia they are exploring). I then tell them that the fog is made of micro drops and this means that on the tour we will only find micro elephants, bonzai crocodiles, and tiny lions.

 

The Namib Desert is an extremely fragile ecosystem, what do you think are some of the greatest threats to its survival and continuing biodiversity?

The Namib is very fragile, especially its gravel plains. When vehicles or quads travel on the gravel plains the tracks can last for hundreds of years. Dust and gravel form a crust with the humidity of the fog over hundreds of years. When the wind blows over these tracks, the dust comes out but the ridges of the tracks stay on the plains for just about forever. You can see where the Germans crossed the desert in 1880 in ox wagons.

Adventure, Conservation, Skeleton coast, Namibia, Sossusvlei, Swakopmund, quad biking, Namib, dune

Marks from the German settlers' wagons from well over a hundred years ago.
(Image via Andy Cowley)


I believe the aesthetic damage is of great concern as tourists and local Namibians don’t want to see their beautiful desert scared for life. I don’t think all of the animals are in danger but many get killed from off road driving.

Adventure, Conservation, Skeleton coast, Namibia, Sossusvlei, Swakopmund, quad biking, Namib, dune

Animals like this Namib dune gheko are at risk when vehicle access is not regulated.
(Picture courtesy of Chris Nel)

Can you tell us a bit more about your involvement with the Dorob National Park?

After seeing the destruction of the desert I started an online petition to bring it to the attention of Namibia and the rest of the world. The petition was signed by thousands of people and it lead to the Namibian government forming the Coastal Management Committee (the CMC). The CMC brought together people from all different spheres of the community - town councils, regional councils, commercial fisheries, tourism stakeholders, local residents - to work together in finding a solution to the devastation of our precious desert.

A video about Namibia’s incredible and fragile coastline.
(Video via NACOMA)

 

Around the same time, fellow conservationist Rod Braby managed to get sponsors from the World Bank to start NACOMA (The Namibian Coast Conservation and Management project). Together with NACOMA, the CMC and the people of Namibia, we were able to establish the Dorob National Park.

Helping with a project like Dorob was stressful at first. Holiday makers from all over Southern Africa would flock to Swakopmund with their quad bikes and 4x4s. As an advocate for restricting their playground, locals feared tourism (their livelihood) would suffer. There was a lot of opposition, even death threats. This was despite expert conservationists like the late Dr. Hugh Berry saying: “The most destroyed accessible coastline in the world is found in Namibia”.

Adventure, Conservation, Skeleton coast, Namibia, Sossusvlei, Swakopmund, quad biking, Namib, dune

No rational person could deny the seriousness of the situation.
(Picture courtesy of Chris Nel)

The truth is that we didn’t want to ban people from enjoying our dunes, but there were simply too many people joy-riding over Namibia’s deserts and ruining the beautiful landscapes that would be so important for tourism in the future. Steps had to be taken and access to the park had to be controlled.

Adventure, Conservation, Skeleton coast, Namibia, Sossusvlei, Swakopmund, quad biking, Namib, dune

Etosha has strict rules about staying on the roads in the park…
That’s why it looks like it did 50 years ago even though millions of tourists visit each year.


The government zoned areas so everyone could enjoy this unique part of Namibia. So whether you are a tourist, an environmentalist, or a quad biker, there's something for everyone to enjoy. You can download the park’s rules and regulations here.

Adventure, Conservation, Skeleton coast, Namibia, Sossusvlei, Swakopmund, quad biking, Namib, dune

Namibia is now the only country on earth with its entire coastline falling into a national park.

 

Is there a way that people not already directly involved with a conservation organisation can get involved?

The best way for the public to get involved is through NACOMA. You can read their brochure on their website. You can also be a game warden in your own capacity – approach people who are driving off the road and hand them the brochure, stop them littering, and make sure they respect the area.

Adventure, Conservation, Skeleton coast, Namibia, Sossusvlei, Swakopmund, quad biking, Namib, dune

There is still a long way to go, but there is good reason to be hopeful about the future.
(Picture courtesy of Chris Nel)

 

What part of your conservation work are you most proud of thus far?

I am most proud of my involvement in the creation of Dorob. Ten years ago everything was destroyed, it felt like mission impossible, but today it’s quiet, beautiful and flourishing again. Thinking back to all the death threats and stress I had to deal with, I still think it was totally worth it.

I am also proud of our country. It took a lot of years, tears and sweat but now our children can enjoy our hard work. The town of Swakopmund is within the area that has been declared a national park- several thousand people live in a national park, and that is quite something if you think about it.

Adventure, Conservation, Skeleton coast, Namibia, Sossusvlei, Swakopmund, quad biking, Namib, dune

Dorob National Park is Namibia’s first national park since independence.
Its creation ensures that landscapes like the one above can be shared with future generations.

 

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Comments

We were on a Eco Tour the beginning of this year with Tommy Collard. It was an amazing tour. Tommy was barefooted in a temperature of 47 degrees before he sandeled his feet. 
The living desert is amazing !!! 
Posted @ Tuesday, August 19, 2014 6:05 AM by Franci Grobler
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