Few visitors to Marshstrand, arriving by road or along the coast, realise that tucked behind the sea-bush is one of South Africa’s most successful aquaculture farms.
Wild Coast Abalone, which started as a small family run business in 1998, is now the largest employer in the area. The MD, Richard Clark: “It started as a dream to leave behind the rat race in Gauteng and live and work next to the ocean. What followed is 22 years of hard work made easy by a great partners and a fantastic team. ”
The farm is focussed exclusively on the breeding, growing, processing and exporting of haliotis midae – a species of large sea snail commonly known as abalone or perlemoen. The highly qualified staff oversee the entire life cycle of the abalone – from the spawning process which takes place in the hatchery developed specifically for Eastern Cape conditions, and strictly controlled by experienced marine biologists, through to the growing and processing of the animals in a sustainable way.
The whole process happens on land, “we pump seawater into tanks 24/7, where we grow the abalone. Wild Coast Abalone also grows the sea-weed used to feed the abalone, in the process cleaning the effluent water and reducing our ecological footprint”. According to Richard “the abalone are exported, both live and dried to the Far East, where, due to impeccable quality attributes, South African abalone, and particularly our Eastern Cape abalone is regarded as a delicacy.”
In its lifetime, Wild Coast Abalone has weathered several storms, but none have compared to the onslaught brought by 2020. The combined impact of social unrest in its major market, Hong Kong, the closure of its primary transporter, SAA, and finally the Covid-19 pandemic which has wrought devastation to global markets and supply chains – has forced the company to bring its focus back to basics: ”To survive, we needed to focus on the wellbeing of our employees and our animals.”
“We’ve weathered the COVID-19 storm by scheduling new shift patterns for staff which ensured none had to be retrenched”. By doing so, Wild Coast Abalone assisted their 294 staff members by averting the financial devastation experienced by so many other communities during the nation-wide lockdown. COVID-19 protocols were immediately instituted with the result that within two weeks from the start of the lockdown the company was 100% compliant with the guidelines issued by the DoL.
Despite the challenges of 2020, Wild Coast Abalone has many future aspirations, aligned to its philosophy of environmental and social responsibility. The company is committed to reducing its environmental footprint through the use of alternative energy sources and is currently working with communities to explore sustainable ranching cooperatives. The company is part of a multi-national research consortium partly funded by the EU, “we are currently analysing what it would take to become carbon neutral, we have a sense that Wild Coast Abalone could get there faster because we already sequester so much carbon by growing our own seaweed.”
In an otherwise sparse socio-economic landscape, Wild Coast Abalone is a beacon of hope. The team has invested decades of labour and research into streamlining their practises and processes, making them truly a world class business. With demand for abalone growing in the Far East, the company has the potential to make waves internationally, holding perhaps a golden key to future growth and opportunity in the Eastern Cape.