Category: <span>Environmental Management</span>

MEDIA RELEASE: Garden Route Climate Change Indaba to coincide with the United Nations World Oceans Day

MEDIA RELEASE: Garden Route Climate Change Indaba to coincide with the United Nations World Oceans Day

The Garden Route Fire Commemoration Event and Climate Change Indaba will this year coincide with World Oceans Day, taking place on Tuesday 8 June 2021. The Indaba is hosted by the Garden Route District Municipality and the Garden Route Environmental Forum (GREF).

The theme for the 2021 United Nations World Oceans Day is Life and Livelihoods. It is a day for humanity to celebrate and support the life and the livelihood that the ocean sustains and puts the spotlight on biodiversity and the interconnectivity between the ocean and its ecosystems.

According to Cobus Meiring, chairperson of the Garden Route Environmental Forum (GREF), entities tasked with environmental management in the Garden Route are increasingly emphasising the importance of restoration and rewilding of natural ecosystems and habitat in the region, which serves to highlight the interconnectivity between a healthy ocean and terrestrial environment.

“A point in case is the drive to reconnect the Indian Ocean with the Outeniqua mountains and the creation of biodiversity conservation and migration routes through the restoration of Garden Route forests, streams, wetlands, rivers and catchments in collaboration with private landowners.”

Stretching from Mossel Bay to the Storms River mouth, the Garden Route is one of the most beautiful stretches of coastline in the world.

Says Meiring: “The scenic splendour of the Garden Route is a precious resource. Celebrating a healthy and vibrant ocean and dependent ecosystems is an opportunity to boost the conservation of the region’s very special natural environment.”

“Climate change, and the challenges and opportunities it offers, is no doubt worth reflecting upon.  We dare not wipe out the memories of events like the 2017 and 2018 wildfire disasters which wreaked havoc in the Garden Route, nor the perpetual drought which decimated much of the agricultural capacity of the regional interior – much of which can be ascribed to slight climate changes with significant effects.”

“As the world celebrates World Oceans Day, South Africa in general, and the Garden Route in particular, will do well to use the opportunity to show respect for what remains of what nature blessed the country with, and even as we focus all our energy and resources to survive Covid-19 and its socio-economic impact, we have to plan to conserve our oceans and natural environment, as therein lies our ultimate survival as a species,” says Meiring.

Climate Change Indaba, Wilderness

The theme for this year’s Garden Route Fire Commemoration Event and Climate Change Indaba is “Adapt to a Sustainable Future”. The keynote address will be delivered by the Deputy Minister of the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and Environment (DFFE), Ms Makhotso Magdaline Sotyu.

Professors Christo Fabricius and Hervé Fritz will present the latest findings on global change research in the Garden Route. Professor Fabricius is Lead, CARMa-Afrika: Capacity for African Resource Management at Nelson Mandela University (NMU) and Professor Hervé Fritz is Director of the ECO REHABS International Research Lab, CNRS France, together with the Nelson Mandela University.

The challenges of climate change and invasive alien species in Africa will also come under the spotlight in a presentation by Dr Arné Witt, Invasive Alien Plant Specialist and Regional (Africa, Asia and the Caribbean) Invasive Alien Species Coordinator for the international science-based development organisation, CABI.

Other presentation topics include disaster management, water resource management, freshwater ecology, and sea-level rise and its impact on coastal infrastructure along the Mossel Bay coastline.

A field visit, hosted by Knysna Municipality, the Garden Route Trail Park and the Garden Route Environmental Forum (GREF) will also be taking place on Wednesday 9 June 2021. The focus of the field visit will be on methods for killing blackwood including herbicide mixing and application, as this remains one of the most difficult weeds to control.

Interested organisations or individuals who would like to attend the indaba and/field visit can send an email to Louise Maré, louisamare@gmail.com for more information. Due to Covid-19 regulations, is it essential to register in advance for the Indaba.

Coastline as the world celebrates World Oceans Day 2021, the Garden Route reflects upon the way we manage our coastline in the face of the severe impact of development and coastal vulnerability. (Photo: SCLI)

The Garden Route Environmental Forum (GREF) is a regional forum and public platform for collaboration in conservation, environmental adaptation and community interaction.  It is a think tank for national, regional and local government, conservation bodies, academics, the media, landowners and land managers, active in the full spectrum of environmental matters in the region. Website: https://www.scli.org.za/gref/

 

MEDIA ENQUIRIES

Cobus Meiring: Chairperson of Garden Route Environmental Forum (GREF)

Cell: 083 626 7619

Email: cobus@naturalbridge.co.za

Media Release: Safeguarding Wetlands and Preserving Nature’s Ability to Filter and Supply Clean Water

Media Release: Safeguarding Wetlands and Preserving Nature’s Ability to Filter and Supply Clean Water

For Immediate Release
5 May 2021

Wetlands are of immense value as it contributes to ecosystems, for instance, flood control, water filtration and security, which are increasingly important in the context of climate change. Therefore, the Garden Route District Municipality (GRDM) seeks to enhance the conservation and management of the district’s natural wetland resources by integrating biodiversity considerations into local government planning and decision-making. Subsequently, the GRDM developed a Wetlands Strategy and Implementation Plan. These strategic documents are essential tools that enable dynamic wetland protection and management going into the future.

Wetlands are gradually vanishing around the globe, and with that, also the important ecosystem services that they provide.

OUR OBJECTIVES AND MANAGEMENT PRINCIPLES RELATING TO WETLANDS
The Garden Route District Municipality recognises the complex socio-ecological interactions relating to wetland protection and has therefore adopted the following objectives and management principles:

FIVE (5) OBJECTIVES:

1 – Ensuring wetland protection

2 – Ensuring long-term sustainable wetland use

3 – Research and monitoring

4 – Climate change mitigation and adaptation

5 – Ensuring up to date spatial information and mapping

SIX (6) MANAGEMENT PRINCIPLES:

1 – Maintenance of connectivity

2 – Maintenance of landscape heterogeneity

3 – Maintenance of biodiversity & complexity

4 – Maintenance of intact aquatic ecosystems

5 – Disturbance identification to guide management

6 – Maintenance of important wetland functioning

Careful management and the investment in the maintenance of healthy wetlands and the rehabilitation and restoration of damaged or degraded wetlands are critical. It will ensure the continued provision of vital ecosystem services, especially within areas where rapid environmental and water ecosystem degeneration occurs. Contributing factors to the degeneration of ecosystems include, amongst others, population density increases, unprecedented property and industry development.

ECOSYSTEM SERVICE CATEGORIES

All wetland types can be classified as high value’ ecological infrastructure’ due to the large number of ecosystem services that they provide. Wetland ecosystem services can be classified into four separate categories: ‘ provisioning services’, ‘regulating services’, ‘cultural services’, and ‘supporting services’.

Provisioning services can be described as the products one can physically obtain from wetlands and regulatory services can be described as the benefits one receives from the wetland. Cultural services are the nonmaterial benefits that one can obtain from wetlands. Lastly, supporting services are the services provided that are necessary for the production of all other ecosystem services.

MORE BENEFITS OF KEEPING WETLANDS HEALTHY

Wetlands have been identified as storehouses of carbon. Wetlands are estimated to store more than 25% of the world’s total land area. Wetlands also contribute significantly to the water purification and filtration function of trapping a wide range of substances. Such substances include suspended sediment, excess nutrients, phosphorus, nitrogen, pesticide residue, industrial effluent, pathogenic bacteria and viruses. High concentrations of these substances are prevented from reaching groundwater supplies or surface water downstream, which results in communities being able to enjoy clean drinkable water.

IMPORTANCE OF PRESERVING WETLANDS

Wetland protection goes beyond wetland conservation to ensuring that local communities within the district can continue with subsistence initiatives. This is linked to the sustainable use of wetland plants and fish to support their diets and health. Many of the plants growing within and around wetlands have natural medicinal properties and local communities harvest these plants to maintain/improve their health.

Small-scale entrepreneurs and traders in the Garden Route harvest reeds from the wetlands to make baskets and furniture, grasses for thatching and Arum lilies to sell. Fishing local fish to sell on and bait collecting (small juvenile fish, prawns, and blood worms) is common to support the local informal fishing industry.

COST IMPLICATIONS OF UPKEEPING ECOSYSTEMS

Numerous ecosystem services provided by wetlands come at no cost to a municipality, and as such, everyone has a responsibility to protect and maintain local wetlands. However, the improper management of wetlands can cause a loss of wetland area and subsequent loss of ecosystem services. This results in the municipalities having to do damage control by investing in expensive infrastructure (e.g. water filtration plants or flood barriers) to ensure the same level of service delivery is upheld. The implementation of the GRDM Wetlands Strategy and Implementation Plan is therefore critical, especially when it comes to sustainable future water security within the district.

Continued community and stakeholder collaboration and partnerships are essential in order to achieve wetland protection objectives. Due to climate change and other increasing risks, “business as usual” will not be sustainable. The municipality and stakeholders need to adapt to a new normal. One central issue that needs to be adapted is community upliftment opportunities and products/services for sustainable wetland use. Others include wetlands prioritisation and following international best practices, new technologies, and methodologies, to name a few.

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News Release: Climate Change likely to blindside RSA on the back of Covid-19

25 January 2021
News Release
For immediate release

Climate change likely to blindside RSA on the back of COVID-19

“Disaster management is the name of the game going forward in a rapidly changing world. In as much as COVID-19 is a wake-up call to the South African Government’s ability to deal with the pandemic, affecting everyday life in complicated layers, climate change will have a much deeper-cutting and lasting effect. Climate change will most likely blindside countries such as South Africa if we fail to heed the warning signs that are already there for all to see,” says Cobus Meiring of the Garden Route Environmental Forum (GREF).

“Regional natural disasters, such as persistent drought and tropical storms in neighbouring countries, have brought the implications of climate change to South Africa’s doorstep.”

“More focused public awareness efforts, education and re-directing public finances, coupled with better planning and more advanced abilities to proactively deal with natural disasters, –including the way we nurture and protect our environment – are vital for those living in South Africa.”

“Policy failure, or the failure to implement sound existing policies due to a lack of political will or the competence to do so, rather than an absolute lack of resources, will have consequences that will haunt South Africa in generations to come. Most likely the consequences will include reduced quality of life for most, increased levels of poverty and social unrest, and the inability to bounce back from climate-change-induced natural disasters imposed upon us by wildfires, floods and droughts,” says Meiring.

“In recent times, the northern parts of Mozambique, including the city of Beira, were completely obliterated by tropical Cyclone Idai. The very same region is now again suffering the devastating effects of Cyclone Eloise, without having recovered from the devastation of Cyclone Idai some three years ago.”

“In addition to the effects of a changing climate on northern Mozambique, the very same region is becoming inhospitable through extremely violent political instability, displacing some 500 000 people, who have no choice but to migrate elsewhere fast if they are to physically survive another year.”

“RSA, despite experiencing a sharp and constant decline in governmental management capacity and the resultant general socio-economic decay, coupled with the devastation of COVID-19 that will set back potential economic revival by decades, South Africa remains the ultimate safe haven for displaced, destitute and desperate refugees from many Sub-Saharan countries, most notably from neighbouring Zimbabwe and Mozambique.”

“Already grappling with service delivery and skyrocketing unemployment, South Africa can ill afford to accommodate millions of people who have no choice but to leave their country of origin because of the realities brought about by climate change.”

“Dealing with COVID-19 no doubt draws away attention and resources in government’s response and ability to focus on dealing with climate change. However, we simply have to wake up to the bigger challenge posed by a changing climate that is already on our doorstep and shouting to be heard,” warns Meiring.

“Environmental management in the context of climate change, and the management of precious natural resources, such as water and agricultural capacity to adapt and feed a fast-growing nation, must take centre stage if South Africa is to survive intact. Planning and sensible political leadership, based on sound policy, is what is required.”

Based in George, the Garden Route Environmental Forum (GREF) is a public platform for climate change and adaptation. The forum is supported by the Disaster Management Centre of the Garden Route District Municipality.

Feature Photo: Informal settlement, Garden Route

“Regional natural disasters, such as persistent drought and tropical storms in neighbouring countries, have brought the implications of climate change to South Africa’s doorstep, and fast-growing populations in new and expanding informal settlements are testimony to that, posing a much bigger political and socio-economic challenge than COVID-19,” says Cobus Meiring of the Garden Route Environmental Forum (GREF).  (Photo: Cobus Meiring)

MEDIA ENQUIRIES

Cobus Meiring: Garden Route Environmental Forum (GREF) Secretariat

Cell: 083 626 7619

Email: cobus@naturalbridge.co.za

MEDIA RELEASE: Southern Cape community to reflect on environmental management during December 2020 event

MEDIA RELEASE: Southern Cape community to reflect on environmental management during December 2020 event

17 November 2020

“Worldwide there is a general perception that COVID-19 and the resultant lockdown measures implemented globally have had a positive impact on nature and the environment we share and depend upon for survival,” says Cobus Meiring of the Garden Route Environmental Forum (GREF).

“From crystal clear waterways in Venice to dolphins frolicking in places they were never to be found in modern times, clear and unpolluted skies in places like China and India, a dramatic drop in illicit animal trade, including reduced rhino poaching and the closure of wet markets in Asia, there is general consensus that the impact of humans on natural ecosystems is vast, and more importantly, that much of it can be addressed proactively by the collective if the will to do so can be generated.”

Says Meiring, “Closer to home, natural systems got a short break from constant and increasing human pressure, ranging from reduced emissions from the absence of thousands of vehicles on our roads during lockdown, zero activity on beaches, and a temporary pause on habitat destruction to make way for new houses and infrastructure.”

“Unfortunately, the effects of a changing climate and the calamities it causes globally were ever-present throughout 2020, as the Philippines was hit by ten typhoons and two super typhoons, and California suffered from the worst wildfire disaster of all times, leading to untold destruction, human displacement, and environmental damage and loss of biodiversity.”

According to Meiring environmental and conservation management actions in the Southern Cape will take centre stage on Wednesday 9 December as key regional stakeholders will reflect on actions they undertook during 2020, the challenges they faced, showcase their projects and make projections as to what they plan for 2021 at the annual GREF year-end report-back seminar.

The GREF event will be held virtually via Microsoft Teams. For more information, visit the website at

https://www.scli.org.za/gref-stakeholder-event-via-microsoft-teams-9-december-2020/

Photo: Touw River

Southern Cape river systems, such as the Touw River, are vital to regional biodiversity conservation connecting the Outeniqua mountains with the Indian Ocean. (Photo: Cobus Meiring)

 ** The Garden Route Environmental Forum (GREF) is a regional forum for collaboration in conservation, environmental adaptation and community interaction. The forum aims to coordinate regional conservation efforts, serves as a catalyst to drive climate adaptation practices in the Southern Cape and strives to establish a better-coordinated approach to environmental management.

Website: www.scli.org.za/gref

MEDIA ENQUIRIES

Cobus Meiring: Chair of the Garden Route Environmental Forum (GREF)

Cell: 083 626 7619

Email: cobus@naturalbridge.co.za

Garden Routers join efforts to remove nurdles from Mossel Bay and Hessequa coastline

News Release
For immediate release
13 November 2020

Garden Routers join efforts to remove nurdles from Mossel Bay and Hessequa coastline

On Wednesday, 4 November and Friday, 6 November 2020, a team representing various organisations removed tens of thousands of nurdles from two beaches in Mossel Bay and Hessequa respectively. The clean-up operation took place after the nurdles were spilled along the Garden Route District Coastline during October this year.

Nurdles spilled at beaches on the Garden Route coastline.

The remnants of the spill is still a cause of concern because it poses a threat to marine life, coastal ecosystems and estuaries. According to Martina MacDonald, Disaster Management Officer at Garden Route District Municipality (GRDM), nurdles have been washing up along the Garden Route coastline, even in Cape Town and Port Elizabeth. She said:  “The source of the spill is unknown and under investigation by the South African Maritime Safety Authority, and although the identified source will be instructed to clean up, we needed to start removing the plastics from our beaches. Requests from residents from the area were also received to remove the nurdles, which indicated that communities have also been extremely concerned,” she added.

The remnants of the spill is still a cause of concern because it poses a threat to marine life, coastal ecosystems and estuaries.

Assisting the GRDM in making the clean-ups possible was the Hessequa and Mossel Bay Local Municipalities, Incident Working Group Africa and Provincial Department Environmental Affairs and Development Planning (DEA&DP).

The clean-up took place at Gouritsmond Beach on November, the 4th and Kanon Beach on November, the 6th.

Role-players involved in removing the marine debris, were:

  • GRDM Disaster Management
  • GRDM Fire and Rescue Services
  • Working on Fire (WoF)
  • Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP)
  • Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries (DEFF)
  • Cape Nature
  • Hessequa Municipality
  • Southern Cape Fire Protection Association (SCFPA)
  • Incident Working Group Africa
  • Gouritsmond Conservancy Trust
  • Fransmanhoek Conservancy

Representatives from GRDM, Hessequa and Mossel Bay Local Municipalities, the Incident Working Group Africa and Provincial Department of Environmental Affairs and Development Planning (DEA&DP) during the clean-up operation.

Although the clean-up operation was carried out, not all the nurdles could be removed due to the large scale of the spill. However, every bit that was cleaned up forms an integral piece of contribution to the overall solution of the problem. For this reason, the GRDM Disaster Management Centre encourages all members of the public and residents to continue collecting nurdles and also to spread the message of the threat that it poses to marine life and the eco-system.

Dr Nina Viljoen, Disaster Risk Reduction & Climate Change Adaptation Practitioner at GRDM who drafted the initial action plan, said:  “In the raw stage (pre-moulded and packaged) new nurdles are not toxic to touch. Once released into the marine environment they will, over time, attract harmful substances from land-based pesticides, herbicides and other organic pollutants that end up in the ocean. They never go away, but they break down into tiny pieces that then get eaten by small marine organisms, and then eventually can become part of the human food chain”.

She mentioned that, “while the investigation into the source of the nurdles is being undertaken, SpillTech has been appointed to assist and conduct clean-up efforts along the affected sections of the coastline. SpillTech will also be storing the nurdles collected through clean-up efforts and are working with authorities, Non-Governmental Organisations and volunteer groups to identify collection points and arrange the pick-up of nurdles.”

Dr Viljoen called on community members to assist to remove as many nurdles from affected beaches as possible. The GRDM requested that any private individuals who collects nurdles, to make note of information listed below. This data needs to be shared with Dr Viljoen via e-mail, nina@gardenroute.gov.za, as this information is required to assist us with important research data.

Responses needed to plan additional short and long-term solutions:

  • Where nurdles have been seen?
  • Where nurdles have been collected?
  • If you have collected it, how many, i.e. black bags, etc. (nurdles collected to be weighed if possible)
  • Where have you dropped it off?
  • Have you encountered any bird or animal carcasses?

Dr Viljoen indicated that “it is important to note that nurdles should not end up in our landfill sites, as it can be ingested by animals or birds. Any collected nurdles should therefore not be disposed of in the general waste, but should be placed in a sealed bag and taken to the nearest drop-off points.” For more information regarding your nearest drop-off points, SpillTech can be contacted on 063 404 2128.

ENDS

NEWS RELEASE: Resource management is key to Eastern Cape survival

Caption: Cover image – A noticeable influx of people from destitute Eastern Cape communities is contributing to socio-economic sustainability concerns in the Gamtoos Valley. (Photo: Cobus Meiring)

News Release
For Immediate Release
29 September 2020

Resource management is key to Eastern Cape survival

“The inevitable advent of Day Zero, combined with renewed load shedding, COVID-19 impacts and political and policy uncertainty, will no doubt impact upon regional socio-economic prospects. An urgent effort is required to collectively plan around resource management and water security, in particular, for the Gamtoos Valley and the Eastern Cape as a whole,” says Rienette Colesky, Chief Executive Officer of the Gamtoos Irrigation Board (GIB) in an interview with Cobus Meiring of the Garden Route Environmental Forum (GREF).

The interview is part of an ongoing climate change debate and interview series, facilitated by the Forum to examine the correlation between some of the nett-effects experienced during COVID-19 and those enforced by climate change. In the interview,  Meiring asked Colesky about the relevance and sustainability of resource management in the Eastern Cape.

Farming activities in the Gamtoos Valley: Gamtoos farmers are adapting to the “new normal” exerted by a changing climate. (Photo: Cobus Meiring)

Says Meiring: “The geographical borders of the Garden Route District Municipality (GRDM) extend close to where the regional footprint of the GIB and the Sarah Baartman District Municipality starts. There are many shared similarities that the respective regions have in common in terms of environmental management, including climate change, in particular, drought and changes in rainfall patterns.”

Meiring wanted to know from Colesky what the GIB’s main concerns about climate change and resource management are in going forward.

Says Colesky: “The Gamtoos River community and its socio-economic survival is almost exclusively agro-centric and dependent on what the natural environment gives us. Resource management – water resource management in particular – is vital, not only for the Gamtoos and Kouga region, but it is essential for the Eastern Cape economy and the communities it supports. Water (management) is also a forex generator – it is a critical component of the entire agricultural produce export value chain and forex markets and therefore contributes to the South African economy as a whole.”

Asks Meiring: “The Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality has now reached Day Zero. Given the extremely vulnerable status of the Kouga dam level, what are your sentiments on the immediate future of the regional water security situation, and the prospects for the farming community that is almost exclusively dependent on water from the Kouga dam, catchment and supply system?”

Says Colesky: “We are basically in uncharted waters with regards to water security and the impact thereof will have a harsh and tangible influence on both the short, medium and long-term prospects of agricultural productivity in the Gamtoos Valley.”

“Compounding the socio-economic situation, over the past few decades we have seen a significant influx of people from destitute Eastern Cape communities into the Gamtoos region in search of work. The influx generates ever-increasing demands on sparse resources, and, as COVID-19 highlighted, poses new economic and social challenges, impacting both directly and indirectly on our mandate and management resources.”

“Over and above our mandated environmental management issues, GIB has taken on a significant number of state-subsidised relief efforts aimed at poverty relief, mostly centralised around environmental rehabilitation work in wetland systems, invasive alien plant management and infrastructure maintenance and improvement.”

Continues Colesky: “We know that the interior and western parts of the GRDM also suffer from almost perpetual drought, and the Gamtoos farming community most certainly is feeling the same pressure, having to resort to adaptive measures to reduce water use, whilst maintaining as high as possible quality production levels.”

“Despite the restrictions imposed on us by nature in the form of a changing climate, especially in terms of severely reduced rainfall in our vital catchments, our farmers’ ability to adapt to the new normal in order to survive has been remarkable thus far.”

Concludes Colesky: “We are deeply concerned about the water security situation in the region as well as what is happening in the Nelson Mandela Bay Metro, as we are socially and economically closely interlinked and co-dependent on the same resources.”

“An urgent and  collective effort in terms of planning around resource management, and water security in particular, from regional, provincial and national levels are required, without which a prosperous future for the Eastern Cape, as a whole, will not be sustainable.”

ENDS

MEDIA ENQUIRIES
1. Rienette Colesky, CEO of the Gamtoos Irrigation Board (GIB)
Tel: 042 007 0382; Cell: 083 703 0428
Email: rienette.c@gamtooswater.co.za; info@gamtooswater.co.za

2. Cobus Meiring: Chair of the Garden Route Environmental Forum Secretariat
Cell: 083 626 7619
Email: cobus@naturalbridge.co.za

Garden Route District Municipality and stakeholders bump up efforts to extinguish peat-wetland fires

News Release

26 August 2020

For immediate release

Garden Route District Municipality and stakeholders bump up efforts to extinguish peat-wetland fires

On 26 June 2020, the Garden Route District Municipality (GRDM) Fire & Rescue Services commenced with efforts to finally extinguish peat fires in the Garden Route district. One at the Kamma River in Bonniedale, Mossel Bay and the other at Weyers River in Bergfontein, Albertinia. Peat-wetland fires pose a threat to ecosystems by releasing smoke and heat through soil and vegetation, compromise wetlands.

Mr Deon Stoffels, Station Officer: Fire Safety and Training from GRDM at the peat fire in Bonniedale.

The response from the GRDM Fire & Rescue Service officials was first to assess and demarcate the exact extent of the peat fires. According to Mr Deon Stoffels, GRDM Fire Station Officer for Fire Safety and Training, smoke was evident on arrival – in small pockets appearing from underground”. This necessitated follow-up site visits on 29 June and 02 July 2020 whereby thermal images were captured with the municipality’s Thermal Imaging Drone to map and confirm the underground fire activity.

The immediate role-players involved in the response and planning were GRDM Fire & Rescue Services, Department Environmental Forestry and Fisheries (DEFF), Working for Wetlands, Cape Nature and the respective landowners.

Mr Johan Brand, Station Officer from GRDM Fire and Rescue Services holding one of the tools utilised in the testing and assessment of the sub-surface layers.

The above-mentioned site visits were followed up in middle July for the purpose to capture more thermal imagery to estimate the extent of the spread after two periods of moderate to heavy rainfall. Following the assessment, it was confirmed that the spread of the fire continued.

On the 28 and 29 July 2020, all role-players engaged in on-site visits and the peatland specialist from DEFF, with the assistance of representatives of GRDM Fire & Rescue and Cape Nature, performed assessments and tests. “These were done to determine the full extent of the peat fires, e.g. depth of underground fire activity, condition of the wetland, as well as the environmental and ecological impact of the fire and if continues, the fire activity,” Mr Stoffels, said.  After assessments and tests were completed it was jointly agreed that an Offensive Strategy would be the most practicable approach to deal with the underground and/or peat fires which include;

  • preventing the spread of fire;
  • fighting and extinguishing the fire; and
  • protection of life and property against the fire or other threatening danger:
  • In this case also, the protection of the environment against the fire and other threats.

The strategy will assist in mitigating adverse impacts on the environment, as well as aid in protecting and sustaining the biodiversity of wetlands. Role-players such as GRDM Fire & Rescue, the landowners, Cape Nature, Working for Wetlands, Southern Cape Fire Protection Association and Working on Fire were involved from beginning of the process, however the GRDM Fire and Rescue Services and the landowners started with their operations on 19 August 2020 and Cape Nature on 21 August 2020.

According to Dr Nina Viljoen, Manager for Environmental Management as GRDM, peatlands are present in a third of wetlands worldwide, which contribute a range of ecosystem services. The most pronounced services are biodiversity conservation, water quality and climate regulation. The addition of peat to a wetland allows these wetlands to have additional ecosystem services. She added: “The unique properties of peat allow for a variation in the dynamics of the ecosystem services provided.  This makes peatlands a major contributor to wetlands’ increased capacity for climate, water quality and quantity regulation, biodiversity conservation and waste assimilation”.

Areas in the Garden Route district affected by the wildfire. Thermal images captured with the Thermal Imaging Drone of Garden Route District Municipality.

Dr Viljoen further explained: “The destruction of peatlands by means of fires causes a visible and immediate degradation in the integrity of the aquatic ecosystems downstream of peatlands. This causes major changes to change the hydrology of the peatland system, as well as rivers and associated ecosystem health. Compared to global abundance, she said: “Peatlands are an extremely scarce ecosystem type in South Africa, with only 1% of total wetland area being peatlands. It provides water quality (water purification and waste assimilation) function which causes peatlands to demonstrate a very significant ecosystem services value”.

What is peat?

Peat, also known as turf is an accumulation of partially decayed vegetation or organic matter. Peat forms in wetland conditions, where flooding or stagnant water obstructs the flow of oxygen from the atmosphere, slowing the rate of decomposition.

Peatlands cover approximately 3% of the earth’s surface. The global carbon stored in peat is estimated to be about 500 billion tonnes, which is approximately 30% of the world’s soil carbon. Furthermore, peat stores 10% of the world’s fresh water”.

Peatlands are more valuable than normal wetlands due to the presence of peat stocks within them. Based on the services evaluated and the available data, the value of the cumulative services provided by South African peatlands was estimated to be as high as R174 billion, expressed as an ecological infrastructure value. It is therefore of the utmost importance to protect these type of wetlands against destruction, and to assess the causes of these two identified peat fires in the Garden Route district.

How do peat fires occur?

Peat fires can occur sporadically in smaller peatland systems due to system dehydration and desiccation brought on by either drought (the presence of a heat source), localised draining or flow interruption by roads – it smoulders. These smouldering fires can burn undetected for very long periods of time (months, years, and even centuries) propagating in a creeping fashion through the underground peat layer.

The current drought in the region and associated peat fires bear testimony to the vulnerability of these ecosystems to the variability in our climate patterns which can result in drought-induced peat fires in the Western Cape.

ENDS

MEDIA RELEASE/ARTICLE: Recovery of indigenous vegetation following the 2017 wildfire disaster remarkable, but regrowth of invasive alien plants on a large scale a reason for concern

5 June 2020

On the eve of the commemoration of the 2017 wildfire disaster which ripped through Knysna and Plettenberg Bay like a blow torch, Cobus Meiring, on behalf of the Southern Cape Landowners Initiative (SCLI) and the Garden Route Environmental Forum (GREF), asked Knysna Municipality’s Environmental Manager, Pam Booth, about her thoughts on the environmental recovery of the natural environment of the surrounding towns.

Says Booth, “The natural surrounds of both Knysna and Plettenberg Bay reflect what is true of most of the Southern Cape landscape, and that is the sad fact that it is severely affected by invasive alien plants.”

“It is common knowledge that the prevalence of impressive densities of invasive alien plants provided the biofuel that turned the wildfire into the inferno it became, generating heat so incomprehensible that everything in the path of the fires was obliterated.”

Continues Booth, “At the time, there were justified fears that, given the intense heat which the wildfire exerted on the landscape, that the indigenous seed bank in the ground, which would allow Fynbos species such as Proteas and Ericas to recover, was so badly affected that they will never recover, allowing even more of the beautiful landscape to become infested with invasive alien plants over time.”

“One such example was the invaluable terrain that is harbouring the unique set of plants sustaining the world-famous and endemic Brenton Blue butterfly. As confirmed now, the Brenton Blue is safe and sound, and much is being done by Brenton locals to ensure that invasive alien plants do not encroach on the town, giving indigenous vegetation a chance to recover, whilst reducing fire risk and creating jobs at the same time.”

“Fortunately, the plant species counted in the Southern Cape and Garden Route Fynbos Biome is a hardy species, which by nature are dependent on fire for survival and rejuvenation. Even as conservationists feared for the worst, the Fynbos came back, and after two seasons of favourable rainfall, the hills around Knysna and Brenton are alive with wildflowers of all kinds already standing two meters tall in places,” says Booth.

Regrowth of invasive alien plants poses a threat

According to Booth, the regrowth of invasive alien plants is a matter of great concern.

“It is true that in a great many places where invasive alien plants were present in numbers before the fire, they also grew back with a vengeance. This is a matter of great concern to all, as that may well set the scene for a repeat of the 2017 disaster in the coming years. Government is coming down hard on landowners who defies the laws governing the prevalence of invasive alien plants on their land, and already a number of landowners have received pre-directives and directives to either clear their land or face the court and the penalties associated.”

“Efforts by entities such as the Table Mountain Fund, WWF SA and the Southern Cape Landowners Initiative (SCLI) to empower and assist landowners to deal with the regrowth of invasive alien plants did make an impact, and private land bordering river systems such as the Knysna and Goukamma today is in a better state of invasive alien plant infestation than before the wildfire disaster.”

The Garden Route, including Knysna and Plettenberg Bay, is a jewel in South Africa’s crown of scenic tourist destinations. Thousands of jobs and the socio-economic survival of the area are dependent on its natural surrounds.

“Not only is it based on this premise that we implore landowners to manage invasive plants on their land, but also for the sake of biodiversity conservation which is also facing the impact of a changing climate and an ever-increasing human and development footprint,” says Booth.

*Sunday 7 June marks the commemoration of the 2017 Knysna wildfire disaster.

Photo: Fynbos in Brenton

Despite fears that the intensity of the 2017 wildfire disaster destroyed the underground seed bank of indigenous vegetation, Fynbos has made a remarkable recovery in the Garden Route. (Photo: SCLI)

** The Southern Cape Landowners Initiative (SCLI) is a public platform and think tank for landowners and land managers with an interest in invasive alien plant management, water stewardship and land management. SCLI is supported by the Table Mountain Fund (TMF), a subsidiary of WWF SA. SCLI also manages the Secretariat of the Garden Route Environmental Forum (GREF).

** The Garden Route Environmental Forum (GREF) is a regional forum for collaboration in conservation, environmental adaptation and community interaction. The forum aims to coordinate regional conservation efforts, serve as a catalyst to drive climate adaption practices in the Southern Cape and strive to establish a better-coordinated approach to environmental management.

 MEDIA ENQUIRIES

  1. Pam Booth:Manager, Environmental Manager, Knysna Municipality

Cell: 082 875 0342 / 079 208 7855

Email: pbooth@knysna.gov.za

  1. Cobus Meiring:Chairperson of the Southern Cape Landowners Initiative (SCLI) and Chair of the Garden Route Environmental Forum

Cell: 083 626 7619 / Email: cobus@naturalbridge.co.za

News Release: Ecological grief sets in as the lockdown highlights the looming plight of greater humanity – the destruction of our environment

News Release
For Immediate Release
26 May 2020

Ecological grief sets in as the lockdown highlights the looming plight of greater humanity – the destruction of our environment

“In an ongoing series of debates with experts in various fields, the Garden Route Environmental Forum (GREF) seeks to highlight aspects related to COVID-19 demands on humanity, and that which is unfolding as climate change steadily brings about corresponding and irreversible changes with daunting challenges,” says Cobus Meiring of the GREF Secretariat.

The matter of the fairly new concept of ecological grief and human behaviour, which was instigated by COVID-19, highlights the looming plight of greater humanity: the destruction of our environment.

According to Hanna Kotze, an organisational culture consultant and clinical social worker, climate change brings an unknown threat to normality in terms of how humans will experience the environment, and it will do so in many respects that are more often than not difficult to comprehend or even believe. In as much as the Coronavirus (COVID-19) is invisible, but the threat is very real and present, so is climate change, and humanity sense the danger, which in turn brings about a constant anxiety.

Says Kotze, “Ecological grief is a relatively new term for the subconscious but the concept embraces the collective grief humanity experiences when witnessing and experiencing loss of biodiversity and the destruction of the natural environment.”

“Natural disasters with their roots in climate change, such as the recent Knysna wildfire disaster, catastrophic drought in South Africa, Hurricane Katrina in the USA, wildfires in Australia and Europe, and the Idai tropical cyclone in Mozambique are all examples where humanity suffers from ecological grief, which no doubt impacts on the emotional well-being of nations affected,” explains Kotze.

“Many of us may feel paralysed by panic over climate change and overwhelmed by the pace and scale of ecological losses. Mourning nature does a great service by giving a name to this grief, setting us all within a community of others who mourn alongside us, and by guiding us to respond not with despair but with hope and courage”.

“Hopefully, the advent of COVID-19 will have the right kind of response in how we ensure a more sustainable future in South Africa and the world, and planning for what is to come will go a long way in ensuring just that,” concludes Kotze.

Humanity feels overwhelmed by the sheer destruction of our environment brought about by increasingly devastating natural disasters with their roots in a changing climate. (Photo: SCLI)

The Garden Route Environmental Forum (GREF) is a public platform for environmental management entities in the Southern Cape, and a regional think tank on climate change mitigation and adaption.

MEDIA ENQUIRIES

Cobus Meiring: Chair of the Garden Route Environmental Forum Secretariat

Cell: 083 626 7619

Email: cobus@naturalbridge.co.za

 

Hanna Kotze: Organisational Culture Consultant, Clinical Social Worker and Trauma Counselling

Mobile Number: 084 341 0059

Email Address: hanna@hannakotze.co.za

Annual Garden Route Environmental Forum (GREF) hosted in George

The annual Garden Route Environmental Forum’s (GREF) key stakeholder event took place in George on 11 December 2019 under the theme: “Reflecting on regional environmental initiatives and planning ahead for 2020”. Mandated by the Garden Route District Municipality (GRDM), the GREF is the premier environmental platform in the Garden Route during which stakeholders collaborate about topics for conservation, environmental adaption and community interaction.

GRDM Executive Mayor, Cllr Memory Booysen, during the welcoming address during which he urged attendees to take hands, ‘speak one language’ and determine the way forward

At the Forum, GRDM Executive Mayor, Cllr Memory Booysen officially welcomed  stakeholders and guest from around the Western Cape and reminded them of the four major challenges the district faced, namely, “Invasive alien plants, water scarcity, electrical shortages, and unemployment’’.  Cllr Booysen highlighted the importance to link ‘Invasive Alien Plants Eradication to Renewable Energy and Water Security, in an essence to address unemployment in the Garden Route District.

Western Cape Government (WCG) Provincial Minister of Local Government, Environmental Affairs and Development Planning, Mr Anton Bredell, presented the keynote address and stated that the Garden Route is the crown jewel of the Western Cape, and that stakeholders need to understand the science of planning for the future.  Mr Bredell announced that the Western Cape faced 17 000 wildfires during 2017, including the devastating Knysna and Plettenberg Bay fires the same year. He continued by saying that the current drought situation causes havoc and a major concern for our future sustainability, as it is predicted that by the year 2030, the demand for fresh water will exceed 40% of supply.

Mr Bredell acknowledged and brought it to the attention of Councillors that the correct decisions may not always be the popular ones or the ones communities or councillors would prefer. In conclusion he emphasised that Government cannot address the environmental challenges on its own, “It is our responsibility to take action for our future generations – we have to take hands and be more proactive. As a collective we would have to work with landowners so that they can be held accountable for their legally mandated responsibilities.”

During his speech, Western Cape Provincial Minister of Local Government, Environmental Affairs and Development Planning, Anton Bredell, captivated attendees with an insightful speech.

Speakers from various specialised fields of environmental management, for example, Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries (DEFF), Biodiversity and Coastal Management, SANParks and Agriculture, to name just a few, followed.

Delegates eagerly participated in discussions to find lasting solutions for prevailing regional problems, and a myriad of new challenges were identified and discussed. Discussions also took place on what the agricultural production scenario will reflect in two decades from now, what are the vulnerabilities of our coastline given the slight rise in ocean levels, stronger storm surges and floods, as well as to look at the fire risk to ever-expanding communities and the rural/urban interface.

For decades authorities and private landowners have dealt with the same problems, including non-sustainable land-use and land management best practice, increased fire risks and water security issues, a rapid decrease in natural habitat and biodiversity conservation, and compliance with environmental and agricultural legislation.

FLTR: Mr Cobus Meiring – GREF Secretariat, Cllr Memory Booysen – GRDM Executive Mayor, Mr Gerhard Otto – GRDM Manager: Disaster Manager, Ms Nina Viljoen – GRDM Disaster Risk Reduction & Climate Change Adaptation Practitioner, Mr Clive Africa – GRDM Executive Manager: Community Services, Cllr Rosina Ruiters – GRDM Deputy Executive Mayor and Mr Anton Bredell – Western Cape Government Provincial Minister of Local Government, Environmental Affairs and Development Planning.

An all-out effort to ensure a climate-ready future, and a mind shift in the way we adapt and manage our environment, is urgent and should dominate the social and political narrative if the region aims to develop sustainably. An environment free of invasive alien plants and cleared waterways and catchments, will take the region a leap forward in risk reduction, and all authorities, landowners and land managers must heed the call.

With climate change, the spread of invasive alien plants and the intricate and long-term effects these environmental threats bring to the region, regional and local authorities, land managers and conservationists will have little choice but to plan around what nature will impose upon the region in years to come.

Editor’s Note:

GRDM and partners established the overarching Garden Route Environmental Forum, with the aim to coordinate regional conservation efforts, to serve as a catalyst to drive climate adaption practices in the Southern Cape, and to establish a better-coordinated approach to environmental management in the district. The Garden Route Environmental Forum aims to play a leading role in taking on environmental challenges, and to develop partnerships, in order to ensure and encourage a cohesive approach to find sustainable solutions.