Category: <span>Environmental Management</span>

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.

Garden Route Environmental Forum Logo

Garden Route Environmental Forum launches extensive landowner assistance programme

Landowners in the Garden Route District, as well as the environment they live in, has over the past three years suffered tremendously, as a result of a series of severe wildfire disasters which basically burnt over 200 000 hectares to a tinder.

In a joint effort to assist landowners, the Garden Route Environmental Forum (GREF), a collaborative forum established by the Garden Route District Municipality, launched an extensive landowner assistance programme, aimed at assisting landowners in gathering spatial data on the extent of re-growth of invasive alien plants (IAPs) on their land, and provide technical and herbicide assistance to landowners indicating a willingness to eradicate and control invasive alien plants on their land. The programme is spearheaded by the Southern Cape Landowners Initiative (SCLI) which is the implementing agent for the programme.

According to Cobus Meiring, manager of the GREF Secretariat, and chairperson of SCLI, further objectives of the programme include generating opportunities for regional invasive alien plant control and clearing contractor teams, and empowering landowners in complying with Department of Environmental Affairs’ (DEA) regulations pertaining to the management of IAPs on private land.

In many areas of the western and northern parts of the Garden Route, the crippling drought compounded the effects of the wildfire disasters. In places south of Riversdale, which burnt back in early 2017, the environment only now starts showing signs of vegetation cover.

“As if that is not enough, the vegetation type that makes its appearance first is of the wrong kind, and more often than not consists of dense stands of invasive alien plants, including (and there are many more) Rooikrans, Black Wattle, Blackwood, Long-leaved Wattle, pines of all shape and sizes, Stink Bean, Sesbania, Bluegum and a host of less known varieties such as Pampas Grass and Madeira Vine,” said Meiring.

Government is taking a tough stand on land management, especially invasive alien plant control and eradication.

Following the out-of-control wildfires, authorities are clamping down on landowners allowing their land to become overrun by invasive alien trees and biomass which, if not better managed and controlled, will set the scene for a repeat of the intense 2017 fires.

“However, landowners are in a difficult situation as combating invasive alien plants can be a costly exercise, with relentless and fast re-growth patterns, requiring never-ending commitment and resources from landowners. More often than not, land affected by IAPs are on parcels of land that are not viable from a farming perspective, clustered in areas that are difficult to access on either steep slopes or nestled in deep ravines,” explains Meiring.

“As a first step to better land management and compliance with environmental legislation, governmental officials insist that landowners develop Invasive Alien Plant Control Plans. Complicating matters even further, is that all landowners and estate agents have to make mention of the extent of IAPs on a saleable land as an addendum to a sales agreement.”

GREF will assist participating and qualifying landowners with the compilation of standardised Invasive Alien Plant (IAP) Control Plans, and where applicable, issue herbicide volumes in accordance.

Use of herbicide not ideal, but a crucial tool in managing IAPs on a landscape scale.

Landowners in the Garden Route are serious about living in an environment that is as uncontaminated as possible, and many are against the use of herbicides.

Meiring says the safe use and application of herbicide is imperative to the roll-out of the landowner assistance programme, and participating landowners will be expected to abide by health and safety regulations, and apply herbicide strictly as prescribed by the labels, depending on which type is best suited for the plants they have to treat.

Landowners interested in participating in and registering for the landowner assistance programme can write to: cobus@naturalbridge.co.za or p.buchholz@outlook.com.

** 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

Cobus Meiring: Manager of the GREF Secretariat and Chairperson of SCLI

Cell: 083 626 7619

Email: cobus@naturalbridge.co.za

Garden Route District Municipality’s Nina Viljoen now “Dr Nina Viljoen”

Nina Viljoen, Disaster Risk Reduction & Climate Change Adaptation Practitioner at the Garden Route District Municipality (GRDM), was on 12 July 2019, conferred a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) qualification at the University of Cape Town’s Department of Environmental and Geographical Sciences.

Talking passionately to the Communication and Graphic Design Unit of GRDM regarding the progress of her education over the years, she said: “I progressed from having a Grade 7 (previous standard 5) school qualification at the age of 19, to achieving my Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), with specialisation in Water Resources Management”.

Her thesis is titled: “Participative water demand management as an adaptive response within complex socio-institutional systems: A City of Cape Town case study, South Africa’.  However, she admitted that it could not have been done without will power, commitment and true dedication.

Referring back to her Master of Science (MSc) Degree, she explained: “I also focused on water resources management, more specifically alternative water resources, with my dissertation entitled: “The feasibility of rainwater and stormwater harvesting within a winter rainfall climate context: A Commercial Building Focus,” for which I received a Cum Laude recognition”.

Touching on how she persevered with so much at hand, she said:  “At times I had to isolate myself from family issues and had to work over weekends and on public holidays on my thesis. I also participated in Garden Route Environmental Management related initiatives, and attended forums and workshops that took my mind off the strict routine of the PhD studies”, she added. At times when she felt despondent and felt like giving up, these initiatives helped her to get re-energised and motivated again.

Sharing briefly about her childhood years, she said she grew up in a single-parent household.  “I attended 14 primary schools as my family was mostly homeless and moved around a lot. Sadly, due to the psychological and physical impacts of these hardships we faced, I lost my only sibling to suicide”.

Dr Viljoen is adamant that education saved her life and has given her independence. She would like to be a role model to the youth as an example of the importance of education in breaking the vicious cycle of poverty and hardship. With regard to her immediate future plans, she concluded:  “With my expertise and experience gained through my PhD studies, I will continue to help the Garden Route district with water resource planning and drought awareness initiatives”.