otherwise known as the WETLANDS.  Welcometo our little corner of learning, to matters that are close to our pocketsand hearts.

Port Alfred is renowned for its wetlands, these have been the subjectof many a controversial discussion for so many years. To spoil or not tospoil, dat is da question?   How do these affect our daily lives? Well, that, like the question of development, dunes and  growth, willnever really be resolved.  What we can hope for, is that the peoplein charge, when making decisions regarding the developments, can weighthe facts against greed.  If this is too harsh a statement, then wecan only hope that they look years ahead and ask themselves whether ornot what they decided in the heat of excitement, when proposals are putbefore them, is 'how will this affect the future?'

In tourism, we constantly beg the 'powers-that-be' to think before theystamp, to understand the dire consequences of making decisions for peopleyet to take their place amongst us...

Our estuaries are dwindling.  They are not being cared for. Withthe upsurge of tourism, more and more people are buying anything that willrace them over the waters. Little thought is given to the river banks,the life under the water and the effects that these motorized modes ofpleasure will do to the waters..

Just out of town, the largest of our wetlands, are being suffocatedunder the garbage that people throw away, supposedly from gardens.

In town, the area known as 'the duck pond' is being developed, witha fair amount of thought, it is up to us the concerned, to ensure thatthe careless people who throw litter, the builders who have no thoughtof preservation and the buildings that will try to sneak their waste, willbe monitored.

          Estuaries arethe meeting places of the rivers and the sea, and are
         characterized by theinteraction between the two. Conditions in
         an estuary are alwayschanging, and this instability or variability
         is one of the mostimportant features of estuaries.

         The salinity of estuarinewater varies depending on the tide and
         the strength of theinflowing river. In addition, a river also brings
         silt and nutrientsto the estuary in varying quantities, depending
         on conditions in thecatchment (drainage basin) of the river

         Conditions in estuariesare very different from those in the sea.
         Estuaries are usuallycalm, sheltered and shallow, and vary
         greatly in temperature,salinity and turbidity (murkiness). As a
         result they are specializedenvironments.

         A nursery for marinespecies: Over 100 species of fishes, prawns
         and crabs in SouthAfrican off-shore waters use estuaries as
         nurseries and/or feedinggrounds. The life cycle of most of these
         species involves eggproduction at sea, often close inshore and
         near an estuary mouth.Eggs and larvae develop at sea, but the
         larvae and juvenilesmigrate to estuaries in great numbers. In fish,
         this migration takesplace mainly during late winter, spring and
         early summer whenmillions of juveniles swim into estuaries.

         Estuaries are goodnurseries because they offer protection from
         most marine predators,and their high temperatures and rich food
         supplies favour rapidgrowth of the juveniles. The source of this
         food supply is estuarineplants growing in the water, as well as
         the plants of theneighbouring wetlands, e.g. mangroves and
         reeds. These plantssupply most of the detritus (fragmented
         remains of dead plantsand animals) which, together with bacteria
         responsible for decomposingdetritus, forms the basis of the
         estuarine food web.

         Most juvenile fishmigrate back to sea at an age of about one
         year. These sub-adultstend to live close to the shore, where they
         join adult spawningpopulations once they become mature.

         Estuaries are favouritesites for human settlement, urban
         development and recreation(boating, fishing etc.). Many cities
         and towns along thecoast depend on estuaries for harbour
         facilities, tourismand recreation, e.g. Durban, Richard's Bay and
         Estuaries are particularlypopular with anglers when adult fish
         enter seasonally tofeed. At these times fish are easier to catch
         and are importantas a source of both food and recreation. An
         example of this isthe famous spotted grunter "run" into
         KwaZulu/Natal andCape estuaries. Of the 81 fish species which
         depend on estuariesin South Africa, 29 are sport angling species
         and an additional21 species are used for human food.

         Anything that happensto a river in its catchment can have an
         impact on the estuary.A river flowing through farmlands can
         become polluted bypesticides, herbicides and nutrients from
         fertilizer. Soil erodedfrom badly farmed or overgrazed lands will
         also be washed intoestuaries after heavy rains. This excessive silt
         load has the effectof filling up the estuary and in some cases
         resulting in the estuarymouth closing. Silt smothers animals and
         reduces light penetrationso that plants are unable to grow except
         in very shallow water.

         Damming of rivers andthe use of water for irrigation or industry
         can lead to freshwaterstarvation of an estuary. This upsets the
         ratio of freshwaterto sea water in the estuary which in turn
         affects the plantsand animals living there.

         WHAT YOU CAN DO
         * Get to know theestuaries in your area by walking along their
         shoreline or canoeingthroughout their length. Report signs of
         damage to the localauthority.

         * List the plants andanimals living in these estuaries. Photograph
         the upper, middleand lower reaches of the estuary from fixed
         vantage points andmonitor change between seasons and from
         year to year.

         * Find out what theestuary is used for, which local authority is
         responsible for itsmanagement and what strategies have been
         prepared to controldevelopment alongside it.

         DID YOU KNOW?
         * Bad catchment managementis the major cause of estuarine
         damage in southernAfrica.

         * The numbers of manyimportant commercial (e.g. prawns) and
         angling species (e.g.kob, grunter, perch) which rely upon
         estuaries are dwindlingas a result of disturbed estuarine

                        ENVIRO FACTS

         The coast of SouthAfrica runs in a great arc of over 3000
         kilometres from theOrange River on the west coast to Kosi Bay
         on the east coast.The west coast is influenced by the cold
         Benguela current andthe east coast by the warm Agulhas
         current. These currentsgive rise to different communities of
         marine life alongthe west, south and east coast.

         WEST COAST
         This coast supportsa rich fishing industry. Inshore there are large
         kelp forests and manylimpets, mussels, perlemoen and rock
         lobsters. Large concentrationsof seabirds breed on the offshore
         islands. Seals breedboth on the islands and the mainland.
         Langebaan lagoon isthe only national park and an important
         feeding ground forbirds that migrate to the Northern Hemisphere
         to breed. Sanctuarieshave been established to protect bird islands
         and rock lobsters.

         SOUTH COAST
         This section of thecoast extends from the Cape Peninsula to
         East London, and experiencesmuch pressure from land usage
         and tourism. The CapePoint nature reserve is of special interest
         for comparison ofthe west coast and south coast communities.
         Smaller protectedareas occur in False Bay and at Betty's Bay
         where perlemoen areabundant. De Hoop nature reserve, north
         of Cape Agulhas, hasa magnificent stretch of coastline with a
         combination of rockyshore and extensive dune fields. The
         Southern Right whalescan be seen breeding in the sheltered
         bays. Trails go throughthe reserve which is also used as an
         education centre forschool camps. Tsitsikamma coastal national
         park is a well-managedwild stretch of coast which boasts an
         underwater divingtrail and the famous Otter Hiking Trail.
         Knysna lagoon is theonly estuary given any protection.

         EAST COAST
         If one travels northfrom East London to Kosi Bay, the coast
         becomes more tropicaland mangroves line the river banks.
         Dwesa, Hluleka andMkambati nature reserves protect part of the
         beautiful and gentlecoast of the Transkei. They provide a stark
         contrast to the heavilyexploited neighbouring shores where the
         local population harveststhe edible shellfish and also the seaweed
         Gelidium which isused commercially as a source of agar. In
         KwaZulu/Natal, a largearea of northern Zululand from Lake St
         Lucia to Ponto daOuro is set aside for conservation. This area
         contains the onlycoral reefs in the country. Access to these
         beaches is strictlycontrolled as they are the breeding grounds of
         the loggerhead andleatherback turtles which come ashore in
         early summer to laytheir eggs.

         Sharks are plentifulon the east coast of KwaZulu/Natal and
         bathing beaches areprotected by shark nets. These have been so
         effective in catchingsharks that there is now concern over the
         removal of so manyof the top predators of the seas. Shark nets
         also catch dolphins,skates, rays and turtles and this is another
         source of concern.

         Marine reserves protecta selection of ecosystems from:

         * Human pressure andurban development.

         * Pollution which maybe caused by sewage, industrial effluent,
         thermal effluent frompower stations, oil pollution from ships,
         plastic and rubbish.

         * Recreational activities,e.g. boating, fishing, bait collecting and
         harvesting for thepot.

         * Commercial ventures,e.g. fishing and harvesting rock lobsters,
         perlemoen, kelp andother seaweeds - overfishing will disturb the
         delicate balance ofnature.

         * Mining ventures,especially diamond mining and the mining of
         sand dunes for heavymetals.

         * The use of beachvehicles which damage sand dunes, compact
         the sand and destroythe sand-dwelling plants and animals.


         THE COAST OF SOUTHERNAFRICA. J Kench. Struik,

         Bannister and R. Gordon.Struik, Cape Town, 1983.

         Branch. Struik, 1984.

         Branch. Struik, CapeTown,1987.

         THE TRANSKEI. DuncanButchart. The Wildlife Society,
         Linden and Durban,1989.

         Department of EnvironmentAffairs and Tourism; and the Dept.
         Environment and CulturalAffairs (previously Cape Nature

         PARADISE UNDER PRESSURE.A. Mountain. Southern
         Books, Johannesburg,1990.

         and R. Crawford (eds).Vlaeberg, Cape Town, 1989.

         Lubke, F. Gess andM. Bruton (eds). Wildlife Society,
         Grahamstown, 1988.

         All books availablefrom Russel Friedman Books, PO Box 73,
         Halfway House, 1685.Tel. 011-7022300/1.


         Natal Parks Board.PO Box 662, Pietermaritzburg 3200. Tel.

         National Parks Board.PO Box 787, Pretoria 0001. Tel.

         Dept. Environment andCultural Affairs (previously Cape
         Nature Conservation).Private Bag X9086, Cape Town 8000.
         Tel. 021-483 4227.

         KwaZulu Dept. NatureConservation. Private Bag X98,
         Ulundi 3838. Tel.0358-700552.


                        ENVIRO FACTS

         There is clear waterup to your ankles and a dragonfly zips past
         your head as you watchsome ducks fly off the water - welcome
         to the soggy worldof the wetland!

         Wetlands are difficultto define because of their great variation in
         size and location.The most important features of wetlands are:
         Waterlogged soilsor soils covered with a shallow layer of water
         (permanently or seasonally),unique types of soil, and distinctive
         plants adapted towater-saturated soils. Marshes, bogs, swamps,
         vleis and spongesare examples of wetlands.

         * Flood busters:
         Wetlands associatedwith streams and rivers slow floodwaters by
         acting as giant, shallowbowls. Water flowing into these bowls
         loses speed and spreadsout. Plants in the wetland play an
         important role inholding back the water. The wetland acts as a
         sponge as much ofthe flood water is then stored in the wetland
         and is slowly releasedto downstream areas, instead of it all
         rushing to the seawithin a few days. This greatly reduces flood
         damage, particularlyerosion, and ensures a more steady supply
         of water throughoutthe year.

         * Filters:
         Wetlands improve waterquality as they are very good natural
         filters, trappingsediments, nutrients (e.g. nitrogen and
         phosphorus), and evenpathogenic (disease-causing) bacteria. In
         addition, pollutantssuch as heavy metals (e.g. mercury, lead) and
         pesticides, may betrapped by chemical and biological processes.
         In other words, thewater leaving the wetland is cleaner than the
         water entering it.

         * Wetlands and wildlife:
         Wetlands are filterswhere sediments and nutrients accumulate,
         so many plants growthere, e.g. bulrushes, grasses, reeds,
         waterlilies, sedgesand trees. The plants, in turn, provide food
         and a place for attachmentand shelter for many creatures. There
         is more life, hectarefor hectare, in a healthy wetland than in
         almost any other habitat.These productive places support huge
         numbers of insects,fish, birds and other animals. Some animals
         are completely dependanton wetlands, whilst others use
         wetlands for onlypart of their lives. The wattled crane, for
         example, is dependanton wetlands for breeding. The rich
         diversity of waterbedsin southern Africa (totalling 130 species) is
         possible because ofthe many wetlands spread across the
         sub-continent. Thewetlands of southern Africa are of
         international importanceas they are the southern destination for
         many migratory wadingbirds.

         * People and wetlands:
         Wetlands have beenused for centuries as grazing for domestic
         stock, and as a sourceof reeds used for thatching, hut
         construction and basketweaving. They are provide fishing,
         hunting and the opportunityto observe wildlife, especially birds.
         Wetlands are appreciatedfor their beauty as open spaces and
         also for their educationalvalue.

         To most people wordssuch as "marsh, swamp, bog and vlei",
         conjure up littlemore than the "four D's" - dampness, disease,
         difficulty and danger.Because of this wetlands have been seen as
         wastelands to be convertedto alternative uses such as cropland,
         dams, plantationsof exotic trees, waste disposal sites and
         pastures. Many wetlandshave been "reclaimed" for industry and
         the construction ofairports, harbours and sewage treatment
         plants. Historicallywetlands have been drained in attempts to
         control malaria.

         All wetlands in southernAfrica are threatened. Botswana's
         magnificent OkavangoDelta is threatened by the possible
         canalization of theBoro river to supply water for both domestic
         and industrial use.In KwaZulu/Natal, debate rages over the
         mining of the duneson the eastern shores of St. Lucia because of
         the unknown consequencesto the water table in the area.

         St. Lucia is a Ramsarrecognized site. The Ramsar Convention
         on Wetlands of InternationalImportance recognizes such
         wetlands and worksto conserve them. South Africa has 12 sites
         recognized by theRamsar Convention, including Langebaan on
         the west coast, Barberspanin Gauteng and De Hoop vlei in the

         WHAT YOU CAN DO
         * The Department ofEnvironment Affairs and Tourism runs a
         wetland conservationprogramme and all interested people are
         invited to participate.

         * Get to know the wetlandsin your area and list the plants and
         animals growing there.Draw a map of the wetland's position,
         size and usage. Takephotographs of the wetlands from fixed
         vantage points andat different seasons of the year to compare
         the changes betweenseasons and from year to year.

         * Report the abuseof wetlands to your local nature conservation,
         agricultural extensionofficer or Department of Environment
         Affairs. Always makeyour report in writing to ensure that the
         officer concernedhas to investigate.

         * Read "The Biologyand Conservation of South Africa's
         Vanishing Waters"(see below) which has a very useful chapter
         titled "What you cando".

         DID YOU KNOW?
         * In KwaZulu/Natal,58% of the wetlands associated with the
         Mfolozi River catchmenthave disappeared as a result of siltation
         caused by erosionof overgrazed lands.


         SOUTH AFRICAN WETLANDS.Newsletter on the activities
         relating to the RamsarConvention in South Africa. Department
         of Environment Affairs.
         THE WETLANDS OF NATAL(PARTS 1-4). Natal Town and
         Regional PlanningCommission. Private Bag 9038,

         SOUTH AFRICA. CSIRoccasional report no.56. CSIR 1982.
         Waterlogged Wealth.E. Maltby, Earthscan,1986.

         WETLANDS. C. Gaigher.Dept. Environment and Cultural
         Affairs (previouslyCape Nature Conservation).

         AFRICA'S VANISHINGWATERS. B.R. Davies and J.A.Day.
         CEMS, University ofCape Town and The Wildlife Society of
         Southern Africa, CapeTown, 1986.

         Enviro Facts: RiverCatchments.


         The Department of EnvironmentAffairs and Tourism.
         Private Bag X447,Pretoria 0001. Tel. 012-310 3425.

         All provincial natureconservation authorities.

         Universities of CapeTown, Orange Free State, KwaZulu/Natal,
         Witwatersrand andRhodes.

In conclusion, PLEASE try to ensure, that every precautionis taken, when even thinking of throwing out a bucket of dirt,  itcan and will spoil life forever!


Importantwetlands links