Trajectories of change in wetlands of the Fynbos Biome
It is commonly reported in the literature that at least 50% of wetlands in South Africa have been lost and many more are seriously degraded. Prior to the establishment of Ramsar Convention in 1971, wetlands were neglected in South Africa and globally. In 1987-1989 researchers Jackie King and Mike Silberbauer photographed and measured the physico-chemical and biological (plant and aquatic invertebrate) characteristics of 100 wetlands in the Western Cape. In 2012-2014, 65 of these wetlands were revisited and the same parameters were studied, with the addition of diatoms. The major aim of the project was to clarify factors leading to wetland degradation and through this to facilitate their conservation and demonstrate the importance of monitoring.
An analysis of the change in environmental condition based on an ecological health score, showed that 29% of the 65 wetlands had improved, 24% wetlands were unchanged, 8% showed a slight deterioration and 23% had deteriorated significantly. Of the remaining wetlands (16%), the change in ecological health could not be determined or the wetland was no longer in existence. This study suggests that the main drivers of deterioration in the Fynbos Biome are invasion by alien plants (acacias, pines, eucalyptus), urban development and agricultural development. The number of wetlands that have been completely lost was lower than expected. The improvement in many wetlands could be attributed to the protection within new conservation areas, both at local and national level, involving both state institutions and private landowners.
The overall conclusion from this project is that although good progress has been made in terms of the management and protection of wetlands, there is no room for complacency and the future of many wetlands located on private land is uncertain. There is an urgent need to investigate ways of incentivising land-owners to protect wetlands on their property in addition to promoting the importance of wetlands and the benefits derived from them. Encouraging citizen-science, where land-owners are involved in the monitoring process, is one way to advance the value of wetlands as important and beneficial features of the landscape.
- Malan, H.L., Day, J.A., Ramjukadh, C-L. and Olivier, N. (2015) Trajectories of change in wetlands of the Fynbos Biome from the late 1980s to 2014. Technical Report. Water Research Commission Report no. 2183/1/14. Water Research Commission, Pretoria, South Africa.
- Ramjukadh, C-L. (2014) “Are wetland plant communities in the Cape Flora influenced by environmental and land-use changes?” MSc thesis. Biological Sciences, University of Cape Town, South Africa.Project Leader
Jenny Day, Carla-Louise Ramjukadh, Nadia Oliver