World Wetlands Day 1999 in South Africa

25/03/1999

Activities reported for World Wetlands Day 1999

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South Africa’s World Wetlands Day Report 1999

Since many groups and organisations were interested in organising or participating in activities on World Wetlands Day and during the following week, the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism felt that it would be easier to join hands and do things together than to do it alone. World Wetlands Day has been a haphazard event in South Africa till now, so it was decided to organise it better this year by appointing coordinators in each province to help focus attention and events and draw people together.

With the theme being Wetlands and People, we hoped to involve as many local organizations, grassroots environmental groups and stakeholders as possible, with the idea that cherishing wetlands and learning to value their biological diversity and functions will help people to appreciate the role that wetlands play in their lives, and why they should be protected for future generations.

Provincial coordinators were appointed in all nine provinces, with the idea that each coordinator would make a list of events happening in their province. They would also coordinate events or let other organizations know what is happening in their province and where they can join existing programmes and events, or initiate programmes and events themselves. This would help focus attention and give more people the opportunity to club their resources together.

The coordinators in the different provinces really made an effort and many organizations were pulled in and joined hands to make a great success of this event.

The following organisations took part in the events across the country: 

  • National Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism
  • Department of Water Affairs and Forestry (DWAF)
  • Working for Water Programme
  • Northern Province Department of Agriculture, Land and Environment
  • South African National Parks
  • Mpumalanga Parks Board
  • Mpumalanga Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism
  • Free Sate Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism
  • North-West Province Department of Tourism, Environment and Conservation
  • Cape Nature Conservation
  • Northern Cape Department of Environmental Affairs
  • Gauteng Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Environment
  • Waterberg Biosphere
  • University of the North
  • University of Venda
  • Khanyisa College
  • Schools
  • Mondi
  • Olifants River Forum
  • City Councils
  • Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa (Friends of Nylsvley)
  • Rennies Wetlands Project
  • Endangered Wildlife Trust (South African Crane Working Group)
  • Highlands Crane Group
  • National Botanical Institute
  • Council for GeoScience
  • National Zoological Gardens (Pretoria)

The following events and projects were coordinated across the country by the different coordinators, either on, or close to the 2nd of February, in celebration of World Wetland Day:

The main event for World Wetlands Day in South Africa took place in the Soshanguve township where the Ramsar certificates for the sites designated since the last COP were presented to the MEC’s for the Environment of the respective provinces by the chairperson of the Portfolio Committee for Environmental Affairs and Tourism. The function was attended by representatives from the management authorities and communities associated with these sites

An exhibition was also held at the community hall for the rest of the week to give school children and the community a chance to see why wetlands are important to them.

Following the ceremony in Pretoria, the MEC’s returned to their provinces, many to present these certificates to the management authorities for the Ramsar sites.

Several presentations (audio visual, poster displays) and talks (with slides and projections) were delivered around the country covering topics such as the role of wetlands, descriptions of conservation initiatives for different wetland types, wetland rehabilitation, the National Water Act (1998) and implications to wetland conservation, current and future studies proposed for wetlands, wetland conservation, the re-introduction of wattled cranes, the value of medicinal plants, responsible use of crop protection chemicals, amphibians, cranes, importance of wetlands, monitoring methods, management, the functional values and wetland characteristics. Specific references were made to recently declared (Nylsvley Nature Reserve) and proposed (Verloren Valei Nature Reserve) Ramsar sites.

Many presentations were followed by practical sessions and field trips at wetlands which included school children and teachers, a large cross section of government officials, farmers, land owners and several media groups.

Reviews of fauna and flora of different wetlands were done (eg. Georges Valley wetlands), and assorted management aspects discussed and demonstrations were given to participants in the DWAF adult project.

In Northern Province a geothermal wetland (Soutini Baleni) was proclaimed a Natural Heritage Site. The certificate presentation was hosted by the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism in Pietersburg.

Since World Wetlands Day is followed by National Water Week (15-18 March), this was seen as an ideal opportunity to link to this week in March. The purpose of World Wetland Day was presented to the Provincial (Water) Liaison Committee. All provincial government departments were asked to take note of the celebration on 2nd February, and to provide support. Programmes for National Water Week were also discussed.

Frog monitoring in the Nwambiya sandveld pans on the eastern border of the Kruger National Park was done.

In the Dullstroom - Steenkampberg region four young wattled cranes were re-introduced to the wild. This was a project of the South African Crane Working Group, a working group of the Endangered Wildlife Trust. The aim of the project is to boost the wild population of wattled cranes which is already declared as a critically endangered species. Because wattled cranes rely on wetlands for feeding, roosting and breeding it seemed the best day to reintroduce these four young birds to the wild. These birds will be closely monitored and everything possible will be done to allow them to grow to maturity.

In Lydenburg the Mpumalanga Parks Board and the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism held a workshop and a practical wetland session for forty environmental education officers from Environmental Education Centres from all over the province. Since this year’s theme is Wetlands and People, environmental education officers were targeted to take the wetland message further.

Press releases were sent to all media sectors both locally and nationally, and several local radio stations, news papers and TV programmes covered stories about World Wetland Day. This event attracted considerable media attention in all the provinces.

Although all the coordinators have not reported back in writing, most reported telephonically that this was a great success with a lot of media coverage and enthusiastic participation from many sectors.

-- reported by John Dini,   Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism

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