Estuaries constitute one of South Africa’s most productive, but threatened habitats. While well-known for their rich biodiversity and the essential services they provide; including water purification, flood attenuation, fish nursery grounds and recreational opportunities, they remain at risk from a growing number of threats. Threats, including encroaching development, intensifying human disturbance and over-exploitation have caused significant degradation of this important habitat. Whilst upstream, freshwater inflows vital to the health and maintenance of estuaries have been siphoned off or polluted.
A new BirdLife South Africa project is focusing attention on three of South Africa’s most valuable, but vulnerable estuaries. The sites, the Berg River Estuary at Velddrif on the West Coast, and the Klein River Estuary and Bot-Kleinmond Estuarine system near Hermanus, are some of our country’s most important estuaries for the conservation of birds and other biodiversity dependent on these natural ecosystems.
All three estuaries currently have little or no formal protection, leaving them increasingly vulnerable to a multitude of threats. Funded by WWF South Africa’s Elizabeth Harding Bequest, BirdLife South Africa’s new Western Cape Estuaries Conservation Project seeks formal protection and sustained conservation action for these sites. The project will explore various tools for formal protected area expansion to combat the environmental issues being faced by the landowners and users of these estuaries and to help prevent activities that could damage them. It is hoped that these formal protected area designations will provide benefits for the private landowners involved, including a legal framework, incentives and political backing for the conservation and sustainable use of these estuaries.
The project was launched in July and the project manager, Dr Giselle Murison, has begun meetings with farmers and other stakeholders in the estuaries and wider catchments areas. Working together, the Western Cape Estuaries Conservation Project seeks to achieve protection for these estuaries, whilst also maintaining their important role in supporting the local economy of the fynbos biome.