Crucial Conservation Areas – Protecting The Wetlands

By Fiona Wakelin & Jessie Taylor

World Wetlands Day is commemorated annually on 2 February on the anniversary of the adoption of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance (Ramsar Convention) in 1971. South Africa is a water-scarce country, where both droughts and floods are common. Wetlands are able to reduce the severity of droughts and floods by regulating stream flow – they also help to purify water which allows for ecosystems, plants, and animals to flourish. Wetlands play an important part in river catchments both directly and indirectly by contributing to flooding control, drought relief, water storage, sediment and nutrient retention, and water purification, among others.

Raising Awareness

South Africa is one of the Contracting Parties to the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance (Ramsar Convention). South Africa signed the Ramsar Convention at its inception. The membership was formalised in 1975 when South Africa became the fifth country to ratify the Convention. One of the obligations of the Contracting Parties to the Ramsar Convention is to commemorate World Wetlands Day.

Imperative For Environmental Wellbeing

Wetlands are home to 40% of the world’s biodiversity and provide vital connectivity between land and sea. However, wetlands are being lost faster than any other ecosystem. Almost half of South Africa’s wetland ecosystem types are critically endangered, and the country has lost around half of its original wetland area. Approximately 300 000 wetlands remain and only around 11% are well protected. Of South Africa’s 791 wetland ecosystem types, 48% are critically endangered, 12% are endangered, and 5% are vulnerable – making wetlands the most threatened ecosystems of all in South Africa.

They are considered one of the world’s most productive ecosystems, which is even on par with rainforests. They provide various foods to several different types of animals and act as a refuge for mammals, insects, fish, amphibians, and birds. South African wetlands are estimated to comprise less than 5% of the country, however they are imperative to the surrounding environment.

National Wetland Management Framework

To protect these critical ecosystems, the South African government embarked on the development of the National Wetland Management Framework (NWMF) in 2020. The NWMF assists with the conservation, preservation, and management of wetlands at a high level. “The Departments of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment; Water and Sanitation; and Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development are jointly responsible for the implementation and monitoring of the National Wetland Management Framework. The implementation of thematic areas is done in partnership, and with the support from a wide range of role players, including the South African National Biodiversity Institute, provincial departments and conservation agencies, research institutions and non-governmental organisations.

“Since the inception of the National Wetland Management Framework, 213 wetlands have been rehabilitated across all 9 provinces” – Hon. Barbara Creecy, Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment, National Assembly, 3/11/2023 Wetlands around the world all have something in common: They are essential to rich biodiversity, playing an important role in the lives of humans and animals, and they are also extremely threatened.

We currently have 30 designated Ramsar sites across South Africa (see our Regional Focus on Mpumalanga); here are 5 of them:

  1. Langebaan Lagoon on the West Coast
  2. St. Lucia System – KwaZulu-Natal
  3. Verloren Vallei – Mpumalanaga
  4. De Mond Nature Reserve – Western Cape
  5. Blesbokspruit – Gauteng

Sources: Aquarium| DFFE | Engineeringnews |SAGov| IOL|UNEP | Wetlands.orgINationalAssembly

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