Lake St Lucia estuary mouth opened - what happens next
Durban - The Minister of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries, Barbara Creecy, received a response from the iSimangaliso Wetland Park Authority on the opening of the estuary mouth in January this year.
Heavy machinery removed tons of beach sand to link the ocean with Lake St Lucia.
Creecy said the opening of the estuary mouth arose from discussions at a multi-disciplinary symposium hosted by the Park Authority in October 2020.
According to a statement by iSimangaliso Wetland Park Authority the lake St Lucia estuary mouth intervention took place on January 4.
The St Lucia estuarine functional zone task team saw the light of day, when equipment was moved on site to begin the implementation of a short-term solution to help reinstate functionality of the estuary, and re-establish links with the ocean.
Lake St Lucia is one of the largest estuarine systems in Southern Africa.
It falls within the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, which is South Africa’s first World Heritage site (recognised by UNESCO in 1999).
In recent years, the estuarine system has not been able to function naturally.
The following principles were thus adopted at the St Lucia symposium, as key steps that should be addressed to restore function to the system:
1. the need for reconnection between the marine system and the lake;
2. the reduction of sediment load in the bay;
3. the need for restoration of estuarine functionality;
4. the need to resolve back-flooding into agricultural fields which currently is resulting in agricultural loss;
5. the restoration of economic activity, including tourist attractions;
6. the importance of managing the floodplain and prevention of silt transportation to the estuary;
7. consideration of future plans to maintain the functionality of the estuary.
The consultative process led by the new management of the iSimangaliso Authority has been ongoing, with the involvement of various stakeholders.
This extensive consultation culminated in a symposium held from 13 - 15 October 2020, which included scientific experts in various fields, business operators, community members and community leadership, traditional leadership, small scale fishers, private and associate/ affiliated farmers, NGOs & NPOs, provincial and national departments, as well as key government parastatals.
At this symposium, a presentation was made of actions that have been taken over the past few years, linked to the Global Environment Fund (GEF) project.
It was noted that while the restoration of the St Lucia Estuary/uMfolozi catchment connectivity has the potential for positive long-term benefits, short-term challenges for stakeholders remain, and ongoing interventions and monitoring may be needed to maximise positive outcomes.
Key short-term interventions were deliberated at this first meeting and four technical teams were appointed to investigate and report-back on the following focus areas: scientific, legal, finances and logistics, and communications.
The second task team meeting held on 15 December 2020, confirmed the need to urgently focus on a short-term solution to assist the system to function in its natural state as an estuarine functional zone. A unanimous resolution was taken by the task team to recommend to the iSimangaliso Wetland Park Authority that urgent action be taken prepare the area to attempt to achieve a reconnection between the sea and the St Lucia lake, and Umfolozi and Umsunduzi rivers.
“The symposium acknowledged that the St Lucia Lake system is a complex, dynamic socio-ecological system, the natural functioning of which is critically important for its natural assets, as well as to the many other ecosystem services it provides to the diverse stakeholders that depend on it,” Creecy said.
The symposium further acknowledged, said Creecy, that all participants have a strong interest in the restoration and effective management of the St Lucia system.
“According to the response, it was in this context that a decision was taken to assist the Umfolozi River to fulfill its role as a driver of inlet dynamics by removing the unnaturally high beach berm, so as to allow the system to breach unimpeded,”Creecy said.
“There was widespread public interest in this matter, as well as differing scientific views on the most ideal management strategy for the conservation and preservation of this significant World Heritage Site,” Creecy added.
Creecy has decided to appoint an independent scientific panel to advise on:
The significance/impact of the opening of the estuary mouth and how this relates to the implementation of the GEF 5 project interventions and the St Lucia Estuary Management Plan;
The exceptional circumstances, as defined in the Estuarine Management Plan, that led to the decision to open the mouth, including those of an environmental, social and economic nature;
The impact of the mouth opening on 6 January on the functioning of the estuary system and the wetland system as a whole, as well as the associated environmental, social and economic implications; and
Guidelines for the immediate and ongoing management of the system.