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CSIR committed to wetland protection for a sustainable future

Publication Date: 
Tuesday, February 2, 2016

On Tuesday, 2 February 2016, the global community celebrated World Wetlands Day under the theme, Wetlands for our future: Sustainable Livelihoods. In South Africa, wetlands are of strategic concern and are important in various sectors such as the environmental sector, planning sector and water sector to mention a few. Thus, the CSIR is committed to conducting multidisciplinary research aimed at protecting, enhancing and rehabilitating wetlands in South Africa.

Contact Person

Tendani Tsedu

+27 (0) 12 841 3417

mtsedu@csir.co.za

On Tuesday, 2 February 2016, the global community celebrated World Wetlands Day under the theme, Wetlands for our future: Sustainable Livelihoods. In South Africa, wetlands are of strategic concern and are important in various sectors such as the environmental sector, planning sector and water sector to mention a few. Thus, the CSIR is committed to conducting multidisciplinary research aimed at protecting, enhancing and rehabilitating wetlands in South Africa.

Science is crucial in properly understanding the link between wetlands and these sectors to ensure sustainability, as these sectors may have far reaching impacts on wetland ecosystems.

This year’s World Wetlands Day theme aims to help spread awareness about the importance of wetlands and to demonstrate the vital role wetlands play in securing a future for humanity, and specifically their relevance towards achieving the new sustainable development goals.

“A sound and defensible scientific base is needed to evaluate the significance of threats on wetlands and how to potentially limit or mitigate these threats,” said Leanie de Klerk, CSIR researcher specialising in aquatic ecotoxicology and limnology.

“Sustainable development, utilisation and the management of wetlands is non-negotiable for improving the quality of life and human health in South Africa.”

According to the Ramsar Convention, more than a billion people make a living from wetlands. These ecosystems play a crucial role in the environment, aiding in water purification, flood control and providing habitats to a wide range of plant and animal species. In addition, they host a huge variety of life, protect the coastlines, provide natural defences against river flooding, and store carbon dioxide to regulate climate change.

However, wetlands are under threat of over utilisation for short term benefits, thereby compromising their ability to sustain the provision of benefits for human beings and the environment in the future. Unfortunately, wetlands are often viewed as a wasteland. In South Africa, a considerable threat to the sustainability of wetlands is contamination through pollution. Loss of wetlands will lead to a reduction or loss in biodiversity, as the plants and animals that are adapted to wetland habitats are often unable to adapt to new environmental conditions, or to move to more suitable ones.

The CSIR is working hard in ensuring the sustainability of wetlands in South Africa. Along with the Water Research Commission, Coaltech and the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), the CSIR recently pooled together their resources and skills to rehabilitate a portion of the Zaalklapspruit Wetland in the Mpumalanga Province.

Concrete structures were built on the water streams to slow down the velocity of water through the wetland and redirect the flow of water. The purpose of this was to increase contact time between the water and sediment by spreading it out over a large area to re-establish the drained wetland and purify the water passing through the wetland.

Another successful project is the high risk wetland atlas produced by the CSIR in collaboration with SANBI. The atlas was aimed to improve the knowledge and use of appropriate spatial information to guide both mining companies and regulators with regard to their planning and decision making processes as it relates to wetlands. The atlas entails a spatial decision support tool to guide both mining companies and regulators with high risk wetlands and associated landscapes. Furthermore, the atlas aims to make sense of the confusing area of spatial information available by collating and integrating all available information into a single and coherent product which is accessible to geographical information system specialists and general users.

“We are currently exploring various avenues into developing best practice guidelines that would enable us to develop better techniques to rehabilitate wetlands and also tools to avoid, minimise and mitigate impacts on wetlands,” concludes Arno de Klerk, CSIR researcher specialising in aquatic ecosystems and ecotoxicology.