World Wetlands Day 2018
Many communities across South Africa are directly dependent on wetlands for their survival, while wetlands provide indirect, but crucial services to many others. Yet despite this, these critical ecosystems are deteriorating and their capacity to provide goods and services is increasingly diminished as a result of human activities.
After the signing of the Convention on Wetlands in the Iranian city of Ramsar in 1971 (the Ramsar Convention), the 2nd of February was declared World Wetlands Day. This is a day when we reflect on the benefits that wetlands provide and highlight the need for society to appreciate the value and functions of wetlands. The theme for World Wetlands Day in 2018 is “Wetlands for a Sustainable Urban Future”.
Wetlands provide breeding and feeding habitats for birds, insects, mammals, reptiles and amphibians. They are rich in biodiversity and are important stop-overs for many migratory species, while some species are dependent on wetlands for breeding.
Wetland conservation is not only about the rural people who are directly dependent on them for their survival, but affects all human beings and several other species. Every wetland forms an integral part of a natural ecological system that supports human well-being and biodiversity. This applies to wetlands of all types irrespective of size or location.
Wetlands provide many benefits, including:
- Flood reduction and streamflow regulation
- Groundwater recharge and discharge
- Water purification
- Erosion control by wetland vegetation
- Habitat for biodiversity
- Chemical cycling
- A valuable source of water
- Economically efficient wastewater
- Aesthetics (beauty) and nature
Unfortunately, about 50% of South Africa’s wetlands have already been destroyed or converted through draining, the building of dams, incorrect burning and overgrazing, invasive alien species, waste disposal, water abstraction, agricultural, urban development and inappropriate land management. These losses are expected to increase as the human population grows and demand for water resources and land expands.
In the drought-stricken Western Cape, we are only too aware of the importance of water. In the latest Western Cape State of Biodiversity Report published in 2017, the importance of the protection, rehabilitation and sustainable use of wetlands is a key priority. Initiatives like the Working for Wetlands Programme, a joint collaboration between the Departments of Environmental Affairs (DEA), Water and Sanitation (DWS) and Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF), have identified multiple wetlands projects in the Western Cape for rehabilitation, including several on CapeNature reserves like Groot Winterhoek and Rocherpan. Wetland condition is assessed by looking at the soil structure, vegetation composition, wetland extent and overall health.
The wetlands however remain under great threat and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and the South African National Bioinformatics Institute (SANBI) are currently conducting an assessment which is due to be published later in 2018 which will provide a more complete picture of the state of wetlands in the province and the rest of the country. In the meantime CapeNature is working tirelessly with partners at provincial and national level to identify endangered wetlands and put measures in place for the rehabilitation of wetlands ecosystems.