A screen grab of the opening of the estuary mouth at St Lucia.
A screen grab of the opening of the estuary mouth at St Lucia.

Dismay over breach on the St Lucia beach

By Duncan Guy Time of article published Jan 16, 2021

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Durban - A group of scientists has expressed its dismay at the recent artificial opening up of the Lake St Lucia Estuary to the sea, in an open letter to Environment Minister Barbara Creecy.

They said this had happened after her department, along with the isiMangaliso Authority, had accepted the recommendations of a costly, detailed scientific study.

“By breaching the estuary mouth on January 6, the iSimangaliso Authority seems to have abandoned its own management strategy and ignored the scientific evidence on which this strategy is based,” read the letter. “It specifically recommended that no artificial breaching of the mouth was to take place.”

The estuary is linked to the ecosystem of South Africa’s first United Nations World Heritage Site. Rivers that feed it were first tampered with in the early 20th century and, since then, all interventions to solve problems that have resulted have failed to address the impaired hydrological and ecological functioning of the Lake St Lucia Estuary, it added.

The authority had invested time and money in the iSimangaliso Global Environment Facility project and outcomes between 2010-2017, it noted.

Its signatories are “a concerned group of scientists, some of whom have worked in the Lake St Lucia Estuary since the 1970s, with extensive collective experience of estuaries and their functioning both in South Africa and internationally”. They are Nicolette Forbes; Professor Anthony Forbes; Professor Derek Stretch; Dr Barry Clark; Dr Jane Turpie; Professor Gerrit Basson and Eddie Bosman.

“The major recommendation from that project was that natural processes should be allowed to re-establish; the uMfolozi River should be allowed to rejoin the Lake St Lucia Estuary, and allowed to fulfil its dual role as a source of fresh water and a driver of mouth inlet dynamics.”

The Department of Environment had not been forthcoming with any comment at the time of publishing.

Upon opening up the mouth, the isiMangaliso Authority listed its reasons as the need for reconnection between the marine system and the lake; the reduction of sediment load in the bay; the need for restoration of estuarine functionality; the need to resolve back-flooding into agricultural fields which currently is resulting in agricultural loss; the restoration of economic activity, including tourist attractions; the importance of managing the floodplain and prevention of silt transportation to the estuary; and consideration of future plans to maintain the functionality of the estuary.

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