World Wetlands Day in South Africa


Working for Wetlands

From The Gumboot: South Africa Wetlands Newletter (Working for Wetlands)

January 2007

1. Fish for Tomorrow?
2. South Africa's No. 1 Estuary
3. Wetlands Day Celebrations around the country
4. Vital Statistics
5. Snippets

Fish for Tomorrow?
World Wetlands Day, February 2nd

This year the wetlands community is focussed on the theme Fish for Tomorrow? to draw attention to the role that healthy wetlands and river systems play in maintaining healthy populations of marine and freshwater fish and other aquatic food species.

With a billion people worldwide dependent on fish as their main source of protein and the demand for seafood products doubling in the past 40 years, it is increasingly important to ensure the correct and sustainable management of the marine, coastal and inland habitats that support aquatic food species.

75% of the world's commercially important fish stocks are currently overfished or being fished at their biological limits and South Africa does not escape scrutiny with many of its inshore (along the coast) fisheries in an unhealthy condition. For the most part the fault lies simply with overharvesting, but degradation of habitat is also part of the problem. Healthy aquatic communities depend on a suitable quality and quantity of water which in turn depends on healthy wetlands all the way from the mountains to the sea.

The interface between freshwater and seawater, estuaries in particular play an important role in maintaining the populations of many inshore marine fish species and other aquatic life, providing not only nutrients that are washed out along the coastline but also a safe nursery for many species and a valuable feeding ground for others. "Estuaries are the veins from the land, via rivers, to the inshore marine environment, and provide corridors for the movement of the various life stages of many fish and other aquatic species," says Barbara Weston, deputy director for Resource Directed Measures at Water Affairs and Forestry. South Africa has 255 estuaries along its 3,100 km coastline, many of which support specialised wetland communities such as mangroves and salt marshes.

World Wetlands Day commemorates the 1971 signing of the Convention on Wetlands, more popularly called the Ramsar Convention. The wetland definition used by the convention includes estuaries and marine areas up to a low tide depth of 6 metres.

Of the 160 fish species that are found in our estuaries, 80 are important for human use, and of these about 75% depend on estuaries to some extent with at least 12 species entirely dependent. In fact, although no commercial fishing is allowed in estuaries, 83% of inshore commercial catch relies to some extent on the life support function of estuaries.

"The recreational fishing industry in estuaries is also particularly lucrative," says Dr Alan Boyd deputy director in Marine and Coastal Management at Environmental Affairs and Tourism, "Research done by Steve Lamberth and Jane Turpie shows that estuarine fish support a two billion rand industry in South Africa, if the value of supporting industries and tourism is included." Subsistence estuarine fisheries are very important in terms of livelihoods, despite being small and localised, and these habitats also provide wood for building, are important tourism attractions and are valuable for health and aesthetic reasons.

Fish traps at Kosi Bay support subsistence livelihoods. The estuary is closely dependent on the associated swamp forests.

Worldwide, estuaries and coral reefs are the most threatened of all coastal ecosystems, according to the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. In South Africa, even though many estuaries are still in good condition, catchment degradation, pollution and onsite impacts such as insensitive development increasingly jeopardize estuarine health and functioning. Because they lie at the end of rivers, estuaries bear the cumulative impact of a wide range of activities in their catchments that contribute to reducing water quality and altering the quantity and flow regimes of river water reaching the estuary. In addition, says Barbara Weston, "One of the most concerning issues is the availability of freshwater to maintain ecological functioning, with inflow into estuaries reduced by dams, water abstraction for urban and agricultural use and thirsty alien vegetation in the catchment."

The National Water Act views estuaries as water resources. In so doing, the act enables a range of mechanisms for protection and management of estuaries, including classification of water resources, determination of the Reserve and setting resource quality objectives. Weston says that "the Reserve is the only right to water in the Water Act. It provides for the water quantity and quality for basic human needs and the quantity and quality to protect aquatic ecosystems in a sustainable manner." Reserve studies are currently being conducted for the Knysna, Groot and Klein Brak estuaries in the Gouritz Water Management area, with the intention of completing by 2009.

Water Affairs and Forestry is also establishing Catchment Management Agencies around the country to entrench co-operative and participative approaches in the management of water resources. Catchment Management Strategies will be developed by each agency.

Another important recent development, says Alan Boyd, is the inclusion of a chapter on estuaries management in the new Integrated Coastal Management Bill of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, "In accordance with the Bill, Environmental Affairs and Tourism and Water Affairs and Forestry, with other roleplayers, will develop a National Estuarine Management Protocol that will set guidelines for the management of estuaries that will ensure that they benefit society through proper planning and assignment of responsibilities." Boyd says that while open estuaries such as Knysna and Swartkops have been extremely resilient to impacts because they are permanently open and can exchange water with the sea, estuaries that are periodically closed such as Rietvlei in Cape Town are more vulnerable.

Considering the imminent impacts of climate change and increasing development, the protection and, where necessary, restoration of wetlands plays an important role in ensuring that there is no increase in human vulnerability in near future years.

Freshwater - lifeline of estuaries
Estuaries - lifeline of the sea

Barbara Weston / Water Affairs & Forestry / 012-3368221 /
Dr Alan Boyd / Marine & Coastal Management / 021-4023307 /

Wetlands Day Celebrations around the country

For the wetlands community the year starts with a busy buzz as we get into gear for World Wetlands Day on February 2nd.

As always, wetlands forums, NGO's and government departments are organising various events around the country, but the main national event will be held at the Knysna estuary in the Western Cape. The theme this year, as chosen by the Ramsar Convention secretariat, is Fish for Tomorrow?

Download a World Wetlands Day information brochure from the Ramsar site:

For more information on WWD2007 in South Africa and to order free posters and calendars from Working for Wetlands :

Knysna Estuary
February 02 : Wetlands specialists, conservationists, policy-makers, municipal managers and journalists will be hosted by Environmental Affairs and Tourism Deputy Minister Rejoice Mabudafhasi on World Wetlands Day.
Marti Kirstein / 082-7827115 /

WfWet Peninsula Project, Cape Town
The rehabilitation teams will undergo two days of environmental training by the Wildlife and Environment Society and then workers will be invited to share their work with each other through plays, songs or other creative mediums. There will also be a photographic and video exhibition on Peninsula Project work.
Mandy Noffke / 082-8767155 /

North West Province
The North West Wetlands Forum and North West Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Environment will host two celebrations :
02 February : Abe Bailey Nature Reserve near Carltonville
Date to be announced : Heuningvlei in the Kalahari
Eric Munzhedzi / 072-0622090 /

WfWet Rietvlei Nature Reserve Project, Pretoria
02 February : Teams will compete in a soccer tournament, and general awareness activities will be held. Schools are invited to join in.
Trish Raath / 012-6671432 /

Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden, Johannesburg
02 February : Two schools have been invited to talks and a tour of the garden.
Mandisa Kondlo / 011-9581750 / /

eThekwini Events
Wetlands support fisheries, keep them healthy
The KwaZulu-Natal Department of Agriculture and Environmental Affairs will be holding 3 events for representatives of 40 schools including talks, a cleanup of the Isipingo estuary and the Bluff Nature Reserve, and building a wetland :
02 February : Isipingo Island Institute, Reunion
07 February : Bluff Nature Reserve, South Durban Basin
16 February : Marianhill landfill site
Asia Banu Khan / 082-4618669 / 031-3612883 /

WfWet Wilgerivier Project, Harrismith
February 06 : Three teams from the project will visit the Rietvlei School near Harrismith to raise awareness of wetlands.
Johann van der Schyff / / 082-7756499

WfWet Seekoei-Klipriver project, Memel
09 February : Three teams from the project will visit the Mons and Grasbbult Schools near Memel to hand out wetland literature and raise awareness.
Johann van der Schyff / / 082-7756499

02 February : The Department Economic Affairs, Environment and Tourism and the Eastern Cape Wetlands Forum will be hosting an even for the Humansdorp community at the Gouga Cultural Centre.
Eric Qonya / 083-7622723 /

There are also several other events planned around the country, so do find out what your local groups and wetlands forums have in store, or plan your own World Wetlands Day Event.

Vital Statistics
Estuary Facts

About 74,000 people fish along the South African coast for commercial, traditional or recreational purposes.

The annual value of estuarine fisheries in South Africa is estimated at about R2 billion.

In terms of ecological goods and services, estuaries are estimated to be worth R153,000/ha/year (1997 Rands)

South Africa's top 5 estuaries are Knysna, Olifants, Groot Berg, Orange and Kosi. St Lucia is No. 6.

The yellowfish sporting industry on the Vaal river is worth R1,2 billion/year.

John Dini / 012-8435292 /

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