Mega-reserve wetlands a success
A MAJOR study on the health of 65 wetlands in the fynbos biome has revealed that 29 percent are in better shape than they were 25 years ago.
Another 24 percent are in the same condition, 8 percent have shown a slight deterioration and 23 percent have deteriorated significantly. The remaining 16 percent no longer exist.
Jenny Day, one of the researchers and former head of UCT’s fresh water institute, said yesterday they were surprised at the results. While 39 percent of the wetlands – nearly one in four – are worse off or have disappeared completely, Day said they had thought the situation would have been worse.
“It was a pleasant surprise,” Day said.
The study, by the Freshwater Research Centre, was commissioned by the Water Research Commission to establish what the status was of 65 wetlands that had been studied in the late 1980s. The aims included getting a better understanding about what led to wetland degradation and to feed in to techniques needed for the national wetland monitoring programme required by the Water Act.
Wetland destruction is a major problem globally and reports are that South Africa has already lost half its wetlands, yet they are crucial for a variety of goods or services – from flood control, water purification and soil protection to food production, climate regulation and water supply. A WWF study in 2004 calculated the total economic value of the world’s wetlands to be $3.4 billion (R40bn) a year.
Day said one of the main reasons for better than expected results was because many of the wetlands now fell within mega-reserves, particularly the Agulhas National Park and Table Mountain National Park, managed by SANParks, and the Cederberg Conservation Area, managed by CapeNature. Day said the establishment of these mega-reserves was a recommendation of the Cape Action for People and the Environment (CAPE) programme, co-ordinated through the South African National Biodiversity Institute.
“Where there was an improvement in the health of a wetland, it was almost always in one of the mega-reserves. That’s fantastic because it shows that establishing these large reserves is working.”
Some of the wetlands that have been lost are the Pinelands Crossing and the Yzerfontein Inflow. Lake Michelle, formerly the Noordhoek salt pan, still exists but has been radically altered and is surrounded by a housing development. Nevertheless, the study said the complete loss of 16 percent of the 65 wetlands was lower than expected.
The wetlands in the worst condition are Khayelitsha Pool, affected be extensive urban development in the catchment, and Kiekoesvlei and Koekiespan in the Swartland, affected by agriculture.
Heather Malan, another of the researchers, said another reason for the improvement of some wetlands was the efforts by many municipalities, particularly the City of Cape Town, and the Overstand and Overberg.
“Municipalities have massive pressures of decreased budgets and population increase, but many are a lot more aware of the importance of wetland conservation,” Malan said.
A potential threat to wetlands was that many of them were on private land and had no formal conservation status.