Alien vegetation affects Berg River water quality

Posted by: Saving Water SA (Cape Town, South Africa) – partnered with Water Rhapsody conservation systems – 24 May 2011

It will cost in the region of R300 million to remove alien vegetation from the Berg River that’s drastically affecting the water quality.

The Berg River’s degraded ecosystem is not being managed correctly

The river – 294km long – runs through several agricultural communities and is an important element in the development of the tourism industry in areas between Franschhoek and Velddrif.

Iaan Badenhorst, manager and resident at the Berg River Resort, said debris (mainly logs) and alien vegetation were the biggest problems in the Paarl area.

“The vegetation takes oxygen out of the water and affects the ecosystem. The government needs to put money into solving the problem when it can still be solved. This river is essential to farmers.

“Their business depends on the quality of the water. If it isn’t right the EU cancels export contracts, which is a major loss to the farmer and the local economy,” he said.

A spokesperson for the Western Cape Department of Agriculture, Francis Steyn, said the river’s degraded ecosystem was not being managed correctly and would “drastically affect” human health, the rural economy and ecosystem if nothing was done. Continue reading

Shell crushing crabs threaten ecosystem

Posted by: Saving Water SA (Cape Town, South Africa) – partnered with Water Rhapsody conservation systems – 09 February 2011

Warming waters along the Antarctic peninsula have opened the door to shell-crushing king crabs that threaten a unique ecosystem on the seafloor, according to new research by a U.S.-Sweden team of marine researchers.

Crabs haven't lived in coastal Antarctic waters for the past 40 million years.

On a two-month voyage of the Swedish icebreaker Oden and U.S. research vessel Nathaniel B. Palmer, marine biologists collected digital images of hundreds of crabs moving closer to the shallow coastal waters that have been protected from predators with pincers for more than 40 million years. They are the same kind of deep-water crabs with big red claws that you might find at the seafood counter.

“Along the western Antarctica peninsula we have found large populations over like 30 miles of transects. It was quite impressive,” said Sven Thatje, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Southampton in England and chief scientist on the cruise.

Finding crabs on the bottom of the ocean isn’t that big a deal. But here in Antarctica, crabs haven’t lived in coastal waters for the past 40 million years. Until now, it’s been too cold.

Bottom-dwelling creatures like mussels, brittle stars and sea urchins have not developed any defenses. They have thinner shells, for example. For the same reason, filter feeders, like clams and worms, burrow underground in most regions. The lack of predators has led to a thick canopy of sorts, much like a submarine jungle comprised of flowery feather stars, tube worms and squirming sea spiders.

During an interview on board the Oden just after it docked at the main U.S. base in Antarctica, Thatje described how the crabs are moving closer to an ecosystem with no defenses.

“The Antarctic shelf communities are quite unique,” Thatje said. “This is the result of tens of millions of years of evolution in isolation.” Continue reading

Research claims organic farming harms wildlife

Posted by: Saving Water SA (Cape Town, South Africa) – partnered with Water Rhapsody conservation systems – 09 May 2010

South Africa’s organic farming industry is up in arms over international research that claims organic farming harms wildlife and produces less food – and that its produce is no healthier than conventionally farmed foods.

The popularity of organic foods – produced naturally without pesticides and potentially harmful fertilisers – has soared in South Africa in recent years.

But research conducted by the University of Leeds in England found that organic farms produced less than half as much food compared with conventional farming and needed twice as much land to produce the same amount of food.

The study also showed there were 10% fewer small birds, such as yellowhammers, corn buntings, linnets, skylarks and lapwings, in organic fields in the UK. Researchers found that larger birds, which were attracted to dense organic crops, were scaring away the smaller birds, disrupting the ecosystem.

But that was not the worst of it. A recent review commissioned by the UK Food Standards Agency found that organic food was neither more nutritious nor healthier than conventionally farmed food.

Said the agency’s Gill Fine: “This study does not mean that people should not eat organic food. What it shows is that there is little, if any, nutritional difference … there is no evidence of additional health benefits from eating organic food.”

But local experts have slammed both reports. Durban agricultural scientist Dr Raymond Auberbach said that, contrary to the study’s findings, organic farming was beneficial to birdlife, adding that conventional farming methods were wiping out birds of prey. Continue reading

School collects environmental data for city

Posted by: Saving Water SA (Cape Town, South Africa) – partnered with Water Rhapsody conservation systems – 28 April 2010

The Rondevlei Nature Reserve, located about 20 kilometres outside of Cape Town, and learners from Sid G Rule Primary in Grassy Park are engaged in a collaborative conservation education project.

Rondevlei wetland. Photo by 'timparkinson' under creative commons licence.

The project’s goal is twofold: the pupils learn about ecosystems, biodiversity and conservation, while helping to collect important environmental data that the City of Cape Town can use to assess water health throughout the municipal area.

It is also part of a bigger vision developed by Dr Mark Graham, aquatic ecologist and director of environmental consultancy Ground Truth, aimed at mobilising communities to better look after their rivers and other water resources.

“Due to increased utilisation of water sources, our rivers are more and more under pressure in terms of pollution. Our water quality shows fairly worrying statistics,” Graham said.

To protect water resources, municipalities usually implement a range of initiatives, such as improving their solid waste management and sewerage systems as well as investing in wetland rehabilitation and conversation. But without community involvement, water conservation schemes will never be completely successful, believes Graham.

He therefore came up with the idea of asking schools to adopt a section of a river that they monitor on a regular basis. The data the pupils collect could be fed to the water affairs department of the municipality in which the school is located. Continue reading

Water quality deteriorating fast warns MP

Posted by: Saving Water SA (Cape Town, South Africa) – partnered with Water Rhapsody conservation systems – 16 April 2010

“Your department has let South Africa down, and seriously so,” Democratic Alliance MP Annette Lovemore told Water Affairs Minister Buyelwa Sonjica.

Lovemore, speaking during debate on the water affairs budget vote in the National Assembly, called on the minister to show “vital, critical and urgent leadership to address the current shocking level of mismanagement of our water resources”.

Excessive concentrations of nutrients stimulates algal growth resulting in the decrease of water quality and the emergence of harmful algal blooms.

Ground and surface water quality in South Africa was deteriorating fast, and people had died after drinking polluted water, she said.

“Animals in the Kruger National Park and ecosystems across the country are under threat. Tourism is compromised by the eutrophication of rivers and dams. Water treatment costs are escalating due to poor raw water quality.

“Farmers are unable to irrigate with polluted river water. The availability of water to sustain economic development and human and environmental health is diminishing. Opportunities are being seriously undermined,” Lovemore said.

United Democratic Movement leader Bantu Holomisa told MPs they were sitting on a time bomb. Continue reading