As a result of the large-scale degradation and loss of wetlands throughout Africa, the focus on wetland rehabilitation and management has grown substantially (Kotze et al., 2009). With legislation and policy at both the national and provincial level providing clear support and direction for rehabilitation and management, there are no excuses for negligence in South Africa (Kotze et al., 2009). Nevertheless, people continue to reclaim and alter South African wetlands either through changing the timing, quality and magnitude of wetland flow inputs as a result of upstream developments or by overexploiting the invaluable resources these systems provide for financial gain (Schultz, 2005). The reason for this is an underestimation of the economic value of a healthy wetland. This has been pointed out by Nature, a well-respected scientific journal, which calculated the global net worth of all wetlands to be approximately $ 4 trillion annually (DWA, 2005). On a national scale, a preliminary economic valuation of the ecosystem services provided by intact system within South Africa calculated that approximately 7 % of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is generated by maintaining untransformed natural systems, either via inputs to productive activities and welfare, or the losses avoided by retaining these systems (Turpie et al., 2017). This has been calculated to be more than three times the value of the forestry, agriculture and fishing sector, which contributes an estimated 2.2% of the South African GDP (Turpie et al., 2017).
This exorbitant amount can be attributed to the numerous functions of wetlands that ultimately regulate and protect the water resource and supply valuable ecosystem services to the surrounding natural and anthropogenic environments. Without these ecosystem services, the economic growth and productivity within the broader economic sectors would not be able to sustain the human population, which is growing at an exponential rate. Services such as; flood attenuation, sediment-tapping, phosphate and nitrate removal, streamflow regulation, carbon sequestration, toxicant removal and the maintenance of biodiversity all contribute to the value of an individual wetland and the combination of terrestrial and aquatic systems toward invaluable ecosystems. The ungoverned and unmonitored historic and current land-use practices within the numerous economic sectors all have the potential to have detrimental impacts on the invaluable ecosystems and the ecosystem services they provide to South Africa and the globe. This encourages and warrants the desperate need to prevent, mitigate and rehabilitate the impacts of these land-use practices on the delicate and invaluable aquatic terrestrial systems.
In order to prevent further degradation of, and protect, the current state and functionality of freshwater resources at a local and regional scale it is vital to determine the baseline condition of these systems and outline the current and perceived impacts that have and are acting on their functionality prior to any further development taking place in their direct catchment areas. This will allow for site-specific mitigation and rehabilitation measures to be developed, which will essentially assist in the sustainable management of the proposed development for it to co-exist with the surrounding environment without unnecessary destruction of aquatic and terrestrial habitats alike.
The wetland and aquatic specialists at Environmental Assurance (Pty) Ltd. (ENVASS) have conducted numerous freshwater and terrestrial habitat baseline and impact assessments of a wide variety of proposed developments, and subsequently formulated site-specific mitigation and/or rehabilitation plans with the end goal of achieving a no-net loss of biodiversity as a result of the historic and current land-use practices, or proposed developments. This is in-line with the objectives of the National Environmental Management Act (Act no. 107 of 1998) (NEMA) and the National Water Act (Act no 36 of 1998) (NWA) of South Africa. To ensure the ultimate protection of the current ever diminishing natural ecosystems and to promote sustainable development, which may result in the synergy of the vast human population and the natural environment, ENVASS encourages you as the reader to implement or source any mechanism available to mitigate and/or rehabilitate the damages to freshwater and terrestrial resources in your direct sphere of influence.
If you may require any assistance or guidance in achieving the cost-effective mitigation and/or rehabilitation of either or both terrestrial or aquatic ecosystems within the forever changing national and region landscape, please do not hesitate to contact the highly qualified and experienced specialists at ENVASS on 012 460 9768 or firstname.lastname@example.org. By working together, we can achieve the sustainable symbiosis between humans and the natural environment.
Author: Wayne Westcott (Divisional Head: Wetland & Aquatics)