THE IMPORTANCE OF WETLANDS AND SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT
The goal of sustainable development is to meet the needs of today of the current generation without compromising the needs of the future generation. In today’s world, development is an on-going factor that tends to occur on land which is not utilised or has been utilised for other purposes namely: plantations or agriculture. A significant amount of residential development currently occurring on existing agricultural land – mainly sugarcane plantations. Although sugarcane is an important commodity in South Africa it has a major impact to the environment, especially wetland environments.
Wetlands are a critical part of our natural environment. Wetlands have several ecosystems services which play a vital role to the fauna and to the surrounding landscape such as; reduction of impacts of flood events, absorption of pollutants thus improvement of water quality, provision of habitat for a diverse range of fauna and flora and refuge for fauna and flora that will not be found in any other part of a landscape.
In order to achieve sustainable development, it is important for developments to take into cognizance land that has been degraded previously. Wetland rehabilitation has become the corner stone of ensuring water as a resource is not lost and acts as a sink for carbon which reduces the rapid on-going process of climate change in the world. Rehabilitation interventions involves soft rehabilitation such as reinstatement of soil profile and re-vegetation; and hard rehabilitation methods like the installation of gabion weirs to increase base flow in valley bottom wetlands. All of the aforementioned rehabilitation methods increases the integrity and functionality of the wetlands and can be aesthetically pleasant within developable land.
Development near wetlands will constantly be an on-going factor, thus it is important that sustainable development is promoted on any given landscape, more so especially where wetlands occur. This will not only serve as valuable ecological services to the surrounding environment but also as a long-term investment to humans as water is a valuable resource in semi-draught conditions that South Africa experiences.