Shocking ecosystems spur water crisis

Posted by: Saving Water SA (Cape Town, South Africa) – partnered with Water Rhapsody conservation systems – 22 March 2011

By: Duncan Alfreds

The ecosystems in SA are under threat and unless something is done urgently, the country will face a water crisis, a researcher has found.

Up to 85% of our estuaries are critically endangered .

“Our ecosystems are in a shocking state,” CSIR researcher Dr Jeanne Nel told News24 at the World Water Day 2011 conference in Cape Town.

Nel’s remarks at the conference were underpinned by the water report by the CSIR and released to the public. It showed that water ecosystems were under threat from a variety of factors, including development and industry.

“Up to 85% of our estuaries are critically endangered and in the past five years we’ve been able to map the zone of an estuary. Our big systems are in trouble,” she said.

Estuaries form the transition ground between river and ocean environments and play a critical role in managing the marine ecosystem, but they are also sensitive to ecological damage from farming or industry.


Nel emphasised the importance of conserving estuaries, but insisted that her research did not suggest a policy of anti-development.

“Healthy ecosystems are responsible for ecosystem service delivery and so protection and utilisation go hand-in-hand. We should design catchments sensibly; this isn’t anti-development.”

The design of catchments should take into account the different uses of the system and through the CSIR, Nel and her team have developed Fepa (Fresh Water Ecosystem Priority Areas) maps which can assist planners in developing catchments.

“Catchments can be designed for multiple levels of use and natural rivers can support sustainable use. We’ve identified all the country’s water management areas with our Fepa maps. It can be used for land use planning and water resource development planning,” Nel said.

The lack of skilled personnel is a concern though, and Nel said that provinces in particular, had to make plans to develop skills in water management.

“Of concern is that the provinces don’t have aquatic ecologists and this impacts on their ability to manage water resources effectively.”

Source: News24

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