Michael Carnegie



Marine wilderness

How the marine wilderness ideas developed

Path from Gifkommetjie to Platboom - Cape of Good Hope Reserve

Following national service in the South African Navy I worked from 1989 to 1990 as a wilderness guide on the Orange River taking rafting trips through the Richtersveld along the South African and Namibian border.

Then from 1990 to 2001 I worked part-time and full-time as a lifeguard on the Durban beachfront, at Jeffreys Bay and Sun City.

During this time in Durban as lifeguards we worked together with the law enforcement departments to try to maintain law and order along the beachfront. We dealt with ongoing issues involving drugs, violent crime, abuse, street kids etc. Working in this environment it was difficult not to become caught up in people's problems. After working as a wilderness guide it seemed sensible advice to me to encourage a connection with nature which is very much part of the surfing lifestyle.

In 1999 While working as a part time lifeguard in Durban I was employed by Tripper (who was importing sea Kayaks) to set up sea Kayak trips. I was also doing surf-ski repairs for Tripper and through this I met Ian Read and Keith Roberts,  both Wilderness Leadership School guides and keen ski paddlers. We became friends and did a sea kayaking course together at Saldanha. Keith and Ian helped me with preparing my kayak trips in the Durban area. The ideas of dealing with the sea as a wilderness area and doing simple outings into natural areas close to town to connect people to nature and encourage an appreciation of nature was part of the plan for the trips.

Trips were set up on Durban Harbour, Umgeni River, Umhlanga Rocks Lagoon and Umdloti river. It was very encouraging to find how much wildlife there was to see in these overlooked spots close to home including fish eagles which one associates with the wilds. There were pairs of fish eagles on all the rivers and even in the Mangrove forest in the harbour where one can be completely cut off from the city all around in the company of the creatures of the mangrove swamps as well as many different wild birds.

Setting up the trips was a productive educational exercise but things were never developed commercially. The trips were intended to be a basic, practical start to developing sea kayak trails with a long term plan of  setting up trails expanding into more remote areas as we progressed.

These trips were intended to make it possible for people to experience and enjoy these natural areas close to home. It seemed a sensible idea to make people aware of the wildlife close to town and to encourage people to appreciate and take responsibility for these area as well as the far away wilderness areas.

Experiencing  a well guided wilderness trail in a remote wilderness area can be a powerful and life changing experience which can win over many supporters for conservation but these trails are expensive. The trips close to home were affordable, making it possible for many people to enjoy nature and learn about conservation. By doing simple trails through areas close to home with a wilderness guide approach people can benefit by linking to the elements of wilderness close by. It seemed to me that the sea is an accessible wilderness area where simple outings into nature could be developed with a view to developing more involved trails as things progressed.

After working with Tripper I also worked with John Church doing commercial kayak trips from Vetch's Pier along the beachfront and out into the Durban Bay.

At a Wilderness Action Group Meeting at the Wilderness Leadership School I spoke about marine wilderness and what I had developed with the sea kayak trips. Sheila Berry was very encouraging. We discussed developing things further to use the venues I had explored in the Durban area for sea kayak trips as meeting places for bridging courses - Follow up outings for people who had done wilderness trails and wanted to keep in touch to keep their enthusiasm for conservation etc alive.

I had been working in the surfboard factories as a board sprayer and working towards developing my art for other uses in the surf industry. I did art for Quiksilver t-shirt prints and became involved with the Quiksilver Crossing project in 2002. The Crossing was a surf trip being made around the world by the Indies Trader to promote conservation issues in a spirit of good will. I did a number of Crossing shirt prints and a painting of the Indies Trader, commissioned by Quiksilver and hung in Bruce Jacksons coffee shop at New Pier. This was a highpoint in linking conservation work and surfing. I hoped to build on this to do more conservation work in the surfing world through Quiksilver.

Zig- zag surf magazine used some of my paintings for their 2006 Zig-zag Foundation calendar which was another step forward.

Durban Beachfront - 1 Jan
Instinct shirtprint
Quiksilver Crossing

At the launch of his book I heard Dr Ian Player, the founder of the Wilderness Leadership School, speak and I found this very moving. I felt the approach of the Wilderness Leadership School, encouraging a connection and love of nature through experiences in the outdoors had much in common with the thinking of many surfers and sea-going people who have a deep connection to nature through their involvement with the sea. I felt it was appropriate to link the work I was doing with marine conservation and surfers to the work of the conservationists in the wilderness group.

Lylie Musgrave was helping promote my art.  She put me in touch with SWC (Sustain the Wild Coast) a group linked to the Wilderness Group working to help with conservation issues on the Wild Coast.  Lylie suggested I do a painting of Dr Player to commemorate his 80th birthday in 2006. This painting was a great success and through this I was able to meet Dr Player at his Karkloof home. It was an inspiring experience to meet Dr Player and spend a day with him, his wife and Sheila Berry.  He encouraged me to continue developing my conservation work.

In 2008 my brother, Adam suggested I move to Cape Town to help him with his commercial art business. He was working with the Save Our Seas Foundation and had more work than he could handle. My home and work on the beachfront had become very insecure and the neighbourhood was rapidly deteriorating.  I wanted to move to a more stable environment so I could develop my art and conservation work under more secure circumstances. In April I moved to Cape Town.  

Shortly afterwards I received news from Sheila that the Magqubu Ntombela Foundation wanted to buy the Ian Player painting.  The Painting of Dr Player was sold for R 22 000 of which I donated half for the training of a Wilderness Leadership School Guide. The paining is displayed at the entrance to the Ian Player, Magqubu Ntombela Library in Hillcrest. I attended the opening of the library where I was asked  to make a short speech before Dr Player spoke about his work. I was asked to do a second painting of Magqubu to hang alongside the Painting of Dr Player outside the library.

Soon after this another of my paintings, Bottlenose Dolphins, which I had entered into the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation Wildlife Artist of the Year Competition 2008 was selected to be included in the exhibition of short-listed entries in London. The painting was sold for £ 1 350 and half was donated to DSWF to fund their conservation projects. Together with the success of the painting of Ian Player this was good progress in linking as an artist with good conservationists.

Bottlenose Dolphins - 2003
Dr Ian Player - 2007

How marine wilderness ideas were put into practice

The projects I was helping my brother with In Cape Town involved setting up the Save Our Seas Shark Centre at Kalk Bay and helping him with his Kelp Environmental Learning Project, KELP. After helping prepare the Shark Centre for its opening I worked part -time as assistant educator developing an education programme.

Initially I worked with Lesley Rochat and her sister Verona to develop an education programme. I was asked to help Verona with the lessons, presentations and coastal litter clean ups etc as I had experience with water safety . I also developed rock pool lessons as part of our education programme. To begin with we worked with Dr Wayne Florence from Eziko Museums and then progressed to develop our own programme dealing with sharks and marine conservation. We visited various education centres in Cape Town to learn about environmental education and then put together a programme that was fresh and different from what other centres were doing. Our shark lesson programme was made up of a shark lesson in the class room,  a rock pool outing at Dalebrook Beach and a movie about sharks.

Verona was a holistic healer as well as a teacher and sailor. She was very loving in her approach to the children we dealt with.  Lesley and Verona were both protective of the rock pool creatures so school groups were encouraged to be gentle with the creatures. Children were encouraged as future leaders to find solutions to conservation problems. We worked with thousands of people from various backgrounds from 2008 to 2010 but largely school groups from disadvantaged backgrounds. We worked with the City of Cape Town Youth Environment School to bring underprivileged kids and others on outings and we reached many people through outreach programmes and by participating in various events. We did lessons at the Shark Centre as well as presentations at functions, outreach programmes and litter clean-ups etc.

Developing the rock pool lessons was an opportunity to put the marine wilderness ideas discussed with the WLS guides and the wilderness Action Group into practice.  i.e. Using outings into nature along the coastline to put people in touch with nature and through experiences with the marine creatures and outdoors to encourage a love and appreciation of nature with a similar approach to what one does on a wilderness trail.

At the same time I was also developing an education programme for KELP with my brother which tied in with the Shark Centre programme.  Groups doing the KELP lesson were shown a movie about life in the kelp forests, they then did a beach outing to learn about life in the rock pools and the life cycles involving the kelp forests as well as the kelp once it is washed ashore.  After this they went on to paint their own kelp vuvuzela made from kelp dried on the shore.  The vuvuzela painting lesson added a fun art, creative dimension to the programme.  Developing this programme was also an opportunity to develop marine wilderness ideas in practice.

I found the experience I had of working with inner city problems in Durban was also helping me connect on a real level with these kids from disadvantaged backgrounds.  After working with law enforcement for many years in Durban beachfront I was very familiar with problems one finds in the disadvantaged communities in SA.  Our approach as educators was to be realistic about the problems and with the kids find practical solutions.

The environmental education we did with the Shark Centre and KELP was very successful. At the KELP project we were interviewed and filmed so often for the press and TV that it was getting in the way of our work.  Through my involvement with SOS and KELP I was able to link up with surfing and lifesaving groups in Cape Town and begin developing a surfing environmental programme through Save Our Seas.

In 2010 KELP linked with a group of businessmen who had high hopes of developing the kelp vuvuzela manufacturing business as a profitable  business leading up to the world cup with links to government upliftment programmes. After developing the project for two years I felt their plans were unrealistic and not in line with the character of the project. They took over the production while I continued developing the KELP education programme independently linking this to the shark centre education programme.

In 2010 the management of the shark centre was changed and I stayed on for a while developing the education programme myself.  I was keen to develop the marine wilderness and surf environmental sides of the programme  and worked at this during this period. Sheila was in touch all along encouraging me and passing on encouragement from Dr Player.  I developed the rock pool outings further to combine this with a short trail and a kelp painting exercise in the Cape of Good Hope Reserve.  I was able to link with SAN Parks education department to set up simple marine wilderness trails and outings using some very appropriate facilities and trails.  Another real step forward in putting marine wilderness ideas into practice.

I did a presentation to for Dr Ian MacCallum, his wife Sharon and the Pride of Table Mountain group, the CT wing of the Wilderness Leadership School, about marine wilderness. This went down well and following this the Pride group visited the Shark Centre to do our education programme and learn about marine issues. I saw his as good progress in linking wilderness ideas to marine conservation.

At this time there was some talk and enthusiasm about 'rebooting' the Cape Town Wilderness Leadership School. I was keen to link with the CT WLS to take my work further. I began working with Ken Eaton, a member of the CT WLS group, who helped me with the trails into the Cape Of Good Hope Reserve.


At a meeting at CT WLS we  were told that plans to 'reboot' would not go ahead but that we would be welcome to take our work further independently under the banner of the WLS. Since then I have continued to develop my marine wilderness education programme independently with encouragement from Sheila and Dr Player.

I was able to develop the marine wilderness ideas in practice at the Shark centre and made good progress.  During this time I worked with Andrea Gordon from WESSA to do outings with groups she was working with. Andrea was very encouraging and  inspiring.. She was working with groups from disadvantaged communities and encouraged me to keep things real.  She emphasised the importance of being honest, straightforward  and proceeding with integrity when dealing with young people who have no illusions about what is going on in SA.  

I had been frustrated with dealing with conservation groups and people who are constantly trying to avoid facing up to the harsh realities unfolding in South Africa. I was finding it very refreshing working with young people where we talked realistically about what is going on. I have continued to try to keep my education with young people on this level and it has been my ambition to link more with conservationists that have a practical straightforward approach to the problems unfolding in SA.

In 2010 leading up to the world cup I was filmed by 50/50 environmental program at the Shark Centre doing the kelp vuvuzela lesson with the Ocean View environmental club. The lessons I was running on my own at the Shark centre during this time were also very popular and received plenty of positive feedback.


During the time of the World Cup (June 2010) I worked with Glenn Bee and the Kommetjie Christian Church to arrange a surf school in memory of Pierre Du Plessis, Glen's big wave surfing tow-in partner who died unexpectedly. I did the rock pool and kelp painting lessons and helped with surfing lessons.


I also worked with TimConiber and Patricia Issertes from Isiqalo combining marine environmental lessons and kelp painting with surf lessons for young people from Masipumelele.

World Surfing Day with Isiqalo
Pierre Du Plessis

In Aug 2010 a new educator was employed at the Shark Centre to take over the education department. I continued working as assistant educator and developing the marine wilderness programme and surfing environmental programme as separate SOS projects with a view to applying for funding through SOS and the Wilderness Group as I developed.

In 2011 my position as assistant educator was made redundant. I was also not able to receive funding from the Wilderness group or SOS so have continued developing my conservation education work independently since then.

Since leaving the Shark Centre my progress has been slow but more focussed. I was able to do a kelp painting exercise with a group of 60 high school students and take them on a very successful outing to Cape Point with Eziko museums. I also did the Kelp lesson with many school groups with AfriOceans Conservation Alliance Ocean Warrior programme and worked with AOCA to develop a holiday programme.

In 2011 in Kommetjie I met Dr Tony Butt, big wave surfer, oceanographer and board member of UK surf conservation group, Surfers Against Sewage. Tony was arranging a conference in Europe with Surfrider Foundation to discuss international conservation issues in the surfing world. I was invited to speak about my work at the Global Wave Conference in Oct 2011. Following this I have been  linking with international groups to continue developing my work.

In 2012 and 2013 I worked in Cornwall as a lifeguard with the RNLI. I was able to visit the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation, Surfers Against Sewage and the National Trust to discuss possibilities for taking my work further linked to international groups. I also met other UK conservationists and have been developing some ideas for interaction between SA and UK to do conservation work. I discussed possibilities with SAS of doing interactive lessons between SA and Cornwall using the internet which I hope to put into practice as things develop.

Plans for the future

This year 2014 I plan to return to Cornwall to work another season with the RNLI  and continue to develop ties with international conservation groups.

In Jan 2014 I visited Amakhala Game Reserve in the Eastern Cape South Africa and met with Dr Jennifer Gush who works as an ecologist on the reserve as well as with the Amakhala Foundation which supports various award winning environmental education programmes and poverty upliftment projects with the local communities. She would like to work with me to do interactive lessons over the internet so I hope during my stay in Cornwall this year to arrange at least one lesson as a start to developing an interaction between people overseas and in SA to help with conservation issues. The plan is to arrange groups in SA and UK and do an environmental lesson using the internet. People should also be able to discuss various issues and learn from one another.

In 2015 the plan is to hold a Global Wave Conference in London. I hope to speak at the GWC and by then to have realistic progress to report. As I am working full time as a lifeguard while in UK and have little spare time I am focussing on developing my education programme in small realistic steps to tie in with UK and international groups. It is my ambition to keep developing my conservation work independently, earn the respect of conservationists of integrity and tie in with others to build things up in practice as I progress. At this stage I am hoping to complete at least one interactive lesson in 2014 as an example of what is possible.

After experiencing  the current wave of development along the coastline in SA I have been enjoying working in Cornwall where the coastline has been kept in a beautiful condition. I believe it will be inspiring for young people in SA to be in touch with people in Cornwall to discuss coastal conservation issues.

I have also been talking to people arranging responsible surf tourism packages for people visiting SA. I hope to work with these tourist groups to tackle conservation issues in the surfing world by making them aware of the situation, working with them to find solutions and spreading awareness to make people around the world aware of what is going on.

I would like to link with conservationists dealing with the bigger conservation issues in Africa to make it possible for international people visiting  SA and wanting to help with conservation to learn about the serious issues unfolding in SA conservation such as rhino and elephant poaching.  I hope to find ways to get international people involved in helping in practice with these issues so that they are making a real contribution while visiting SA and learning about the realities involved.

Amakhala have a successful volunteer programme so linking with them is a step forward in becoming involved with international volunteers. People doing interactive internet lessons will be able to learn more about doing conservation work as volunteers.

Amakhala Game Reserve

After speaking at the Global Wave Conference I am linked to many international conservation groups working to make surfing reserves around the world. I would like to build up my involvement with this group to help make surfing reserves in SA and also become more involved with SA's coastal reserves. It would be good to see more of SAs coastline protected from development and I would like to link with people developing conservation areas along our coast.

In the Eastern Cape during recent years many farms have been converted to private game reserves.  Many of these reserves are close to the sea or along the coastline so I believe this is a good area for me to be involved with as there is a connection between marine conservation and the mainstream issues of South African conservation. The area is also close to good surfing areas including Jeffreys Bay for travelling surfers wanting to help with conservation issues.

I have spoken to people from New Zealand and Hawaii who are interested in the marine wilderness ideas on which my work has been based. One of my long term ambitions is to encourage an interaction between people from traditional cultures around the world who have a close association with nature to help with marine conservation issues. Hawaii is an important link as it is the international surfing centre and the traditional Hawaiian culture encourages a love and respect for nature.

I have received a lot of encouragement to apply for funding for my conservation work but since leaving KELP and SOS have not managed to arrange any funding. Working independently I have had to move very slowly but I have been able to develop without compromising my ambitions. My plan is to put my ideas into practice on a small scale keeping the original ideas alive so that I have systems in place on which to build once linked up to others and in a position to spend more time and money on my conservation work.  I would like to arrange funding if possible which will make it possible to take my work to another level but will be careful to make sure the process of receiving funding does not compromise the vision I have for the work I am doing. Hopefully in time I will be able to link with good people who see value in the work I am doing and help me arrange sponsorship to build things up.

While in SA in 2013l I was able to do a painting for Dr Markus Luetge from Germany. He has encouraged me to continue with my conservation work and art and hopes that others from his professional network will support me by buying paintings. The painting, Hout Bay View, sold for R 15 000 which was good progress in raising money through the sale of my art to support my conservation work.

I have enjoyed working with people from various backgrounds in SA who are facing up to the realities of  SA and finding real solutions to the problems. I have also found many good people overseas wanting to help with South African conservation issues. I hope to link with SA and international conservation groups working with a practical, realistic approach and would like to make a contribution towards finding solutions to the extremely serious problems facing SA conservationists.


There is more info about the Marine Wilderness and other education programmes on the Education programs page

There is more info about the conservation and education work I have been doing on the Shark Centre, KELP and Conservation history pages

More info can also be seen by watching my talk at the Global Wave Conference 2011 on the Conservation work page