Dalfrenzo Laing

Marine guide, De Hoop Nature Reserve

Dalfrenzo’s life could have turned out very differently. As a teenager he got caught up in a gang, but by an effort of will started fixing his life, staying up late into the night to study for his matric. His only source of light was a candle. A job as a petrol attendant in the small Western Cape town of Napier followed in 2008.

As the oldest child in the family, he had to be a breadwinner. Being retrenched from that job was ironically his springboard. Napier Tourism offered him a position to study in the country’s first course for marine guides. Dalfrenzo had never been inside a nature reserve. A year later, in 2009, he started working at the De Hoop Nature Reserve. Wrapped along a section of Western Cape coastline, it is one of the country’s least developed wilderness areas. It’s also the best place in South Africa to watch whales.

Able to walk around a huge area of green and brown beach, he quickly fell in love with the world around him. A fascination with how species coexist with their environment has kept him going in the field. In 2012, he was appointed as head guide. He was then promoted to the manager position at De Hoop’s Melkkamer Lodge, where he now guides tours when high-profile clients stay at the lodge. Dalfrenzo is one of only 50 marine guides in South Africa.

Qualified by the Field Guides Association of South Africa, he takes schoolchildren around the De Hoop Dam. He is now a level three certified field guide. Last year ended with an award for his outstanding performance at work, and for being the employee of the year. But being a guide isn’t enough. Dalfrenzo worries about the greatest threat that natural resources face; humans. Greed and overconsumption mean a species that destroys the natural environment.

In trying to change that, Dalfrenzo is focusing on getting people into national parks to experience what he calls the silver line between conservation and tourism. As the main place where the public engages with nature, it is the responsibility of parks, and guides like him, to get people fired up about nature. This doesn’t stop during his day-to-day work. When he isn’t working he is travelling to as many places as he can with his family, sharing his passion with those closest to him.

— Sipho Kings