BERG ESTUARY DESIGNATED AS SOUTH AFRICA’S 28th WETLAND OF INTERNATIONAL IMPORTANCE
As the world marks World Wetlands Day 2022, South Africa is celebrating the declaration of its 28th wetland of international importance.
SOUTH AFRICA: As the world marks World Wetlands Day 2022, South Africa is celebrating the declaration of its 28th wetland of international importance.
The Berg Estuary in the Western Cape was declared as a Ramsar Site under the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance in time for the marking of World Wetlands Day.
“The declaration of South Africa’s 28th Ramsar site is an indication of the importance of conserving and protecting these unique environments that are considered super ecosystems because of their contribution to the provision of water and because they provide habitats to a large variety of migratory birds, especially water birds,” said the Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment, Ms Barbara Creecy.
The Berg Estuary, which is one of 290 estuaries in South Africa, is the second wetland of international importance to be declared in the country in two years. In 2021, the Ingula Nature Reserve in the northern Drakensberg was declared the country’s 27th Ramsar Site.
Situated at Velddrif, close to St Helena Bay where the Berg River flows into the sea, this estuary spans an area of 1 162 ha. The West Coast fishing village is situated in the Bergrivier Local Municipality.
The Berg River forms one of only four estuaries on the West Coast of southern Africa that always have water. This is in addition to the main estuarine channel which it a floodplain encompassing five major wetland types of importance to 250 species of waterbirds. These are ephemeral pans, commercial saltpans, riparian marshes, saltmarshes (which are the third-largest on the cape coast), and intertidal mudflats.
Although estuaries comprise less than 2% of South Africa’s territory, these highly productive ecosystems contribute R4.2 billion per annum to the South African economy. They are focal points for development, tourism and recreation, as well as important for supporting biodiversity, livelihoods and marine fisheries. The Berg Estuary, in particular, contributes about 60% of the estuarine habitat on the West Coast and is therefore extremely important in terms of the biodiversity, cultural and economic activities that it supports.
Despite their significance to human life, wetlands are threatened nationally and globally. The 2018 National Biodiversity Assessment found that at least 79% of South Africa’s wetland ecosystems are threatened. Of these 48% of wetland ecosystem types are critically endangered, 12% are endangered, 5% are vulnerable, and 35% are least threatened, making wetlands the most threatened ecosystems of all in South Africa. Over 70% of South Africa’s wetland ecosystem types have no protection and only 11% are well-protected.
The report had emphasised the role of rivers, wetlands and their catchments as crucial ecological infrastructure for water security and often complementing built infrastructure. Major threats to these freshwater systems include over-extraction of water, pollution, invasive alien species, habitat loss, land-use change and climate change.
Minister Creecy said by addressing threats to the productive use of land and water, and the functioning of natural systems, South Africa not only supports sustainable livelihoods for local people through integrated landscape management that strives for resilient social-ecological systems, but secures strategic water resources and wetlands.
By building a new deal for people and nature, work is being done to secure strategic water sources and wetlands in South Africa, which is a water-scarce country. These strategically important areas supply water that sustains 60% of the country’s population, more than 90% of urban water users, 67% of national economic activity and 70% of irrigated agriculture.
World Wetlands Day is marked annually on 2 February commemorating the adoption of the Convention on Wetlands in 1971 in the Iranian city of Ramsar on the shores of the Caspian Sea.
As a signatory to the Ramsar Convention, South Africa remains committed to working towards the wise use of all wetlands through effective land use planning and the development of appropriate policies and legislation, management actions, and public education to protect these natural purifiers of water resources.
The 2022 World Wetlands Day theme is ‘Wetlands action for people and nature’.