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Garden Route Environmental Forum

04 April 2024 Media Release: Future prospects of Garden Route Fynbos uncertain

Media Release: Future prospects of Garden Route Fynbos uncertain

For immediate release
04 April 2024

Conservationists and environmental management entities in the Garden Route share concern on the dual effect of climate change, expanding agricultural practices and rapid development on what remains of the region’s Fynbos species which are on the Red List of Terrestrial Ecosystems (Government Notice 2747).  “These species are critically endangered and unlikely to survive, given their limited prospects in isolation and all present threats,” says Cobus Meiring of the Garden Route Environmental Forum (GREF).

The 2017 Knysna wild-fire disaster was a wake-up call for conservationists and land-owners alike with fears that complete critically endangered eco-systems potentially could have been obliterated by the inferno, combined with the ever-present threat posed by fast-growing invasive alien plants.  Substantial seed bases are sprouting rapidly and completely taking over areas previously covered by Fynbos after the fire.

Despite the odds, there is still hope for the survival of Fynbos species in the Garden Route with the cooperation of state and private landowners, and dedicated conservationists and botanists from state and non-state entities e.g. SANParks, Cape Nature, Botanical Societies, private conservancies and entities such as CREW (Custodians of Rare and Endangered Wildflowers) and George-based Outramps who regularly undertake efforts to find and document the presence of Fynbos LTRE systems in the Garden Route.

The natural wonders of the Garden Route is exactly what makes the region so special in global terms of its beauty and biodiversity. It is imperative that all those living in the region do their utmost in efforts to create more space for natural assets and all life it sustains to be able to survive and prosper well into the future.

Landowners are encouraged to make an effort to take note of and appreciate what kind of Red List and all other Fynbos species are present on their land and, where at all possible, protect them and possibly enlarge their footprint by removing invasive alien plant growth. Landowners are also encouraged to take proactive measures to prevent a repeat of the 2017 and 2018 regional wildfire disasters, because failure to do so can only accelerate the demise of one of the world’s most precious natural assets.

GREF and SCLI are public platforms for conservation and environmental management entities in Garden Route

Feature Image: Christine Ridge- Schnaufer (Outramps)

13 March 2024 Media Release: Southern Cape Water Resources in the Spotlight

Media Release: Southern Cape water resources in the spotlight

For immediate release
13 March 2024

“The Southern Cape’s present and future water resources will be in the spotlight as stakeholders meet in George today (13 March 2024) to look at Strategic Water Source Areas (SWSAs). These identified areas  are crucial for their importance in providing water resources to downstream regions of which the Outeniqua and Tsitsikamma mountains form part of,” says Cobus Meiring of the Garden Route Environmental Forum (GREF).

The event is sponsored by the World Wide Fund for Nature South Africa (WWF SA) in collaboration with the Provincial Department of Environmental Affairs and Development Planning (DEADP), and spearheaded by the Garden Route Biosphere Reserve (GRBR).

  1. SWSAs are areas of high biodiversity, high water yield, and high levels of ecosystem services. Protecting these areas is essential for ensuring water security for both human and ecological needs. The Garden Route is one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots and contains important water catchment areas for several rivers.

The workshop is aimed to inform policy makers, water resource managers, and conservation practitioners in order to be able to make informed decisions to safeguard the integrity of Strategic Water Source Areas in the Southern Cape and ensure the sustainable management of water resources for future generations.

The Garden Route is growing at a rate of just above four percent per annum, which is significant given the fact that the region is relatively resource- poor, including the availability of water in dry areas such as the Klein Karoo. As pressure mounts on available water sources due to development and demands posed by an increasing population, agriculture, forestry and industry alike there are several other impacts to consider, including climate change, drought, changes in rainfall patterns and a marked increase in extreme weather events leading to flooding and damage caused to both natural infrastructure such as rivers and streams and damage to man-made infrastructure such as property, roads and bridges and putting communities in harm’s way.

Over the years, a number of studies have been done focusing on understanding the water balance, hydrological processes, and water availability in SWSAs. This research will assist decision makers in managing water resources sustainably and predicting the impacts of climate change on water availability, identifying land management practices that minimize negative impacts on water quality and quantity and finding ways to mitigate their impact to be able to adapt in accordance.

Feature Image: The Garden Route is a home to one of only a few of South Africa’s Strategic Water Source Areas (SWSAs) – Photo: George Herald.

Issued: The Garden Route Environmental Forum (GREF)

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The Garden Route Environmental Forum (GREF) is a public platform for entities involved in environmental management and conservation.(ww.scligref.co.za)

25 January 2024 Media Release: Climate innovation catches the eye of corporate finance

Media Release: Climate innovation catches the eye of corporate finance

For Immediate Release
25 January 2024

Changes in rainfall patterns, floods, and droughts brought on by climate change coupled with unreliable energy supply leave citizens with little choice but to independently adjust and look for technology options to ensure sustainability,” says Cobus Meiring of the Garden Route Environmental Forum (GREF).

As technology options bring much-needed relief in terms of water and energy supply, they become part of general asset registers and are increasingly attracting the attention of finance institutions like Nedbank, Hortfin and others who are willing to finance green energy, water conservation and circular economy initiatives.

The use of alternative energy sources, such as solar and wind, has become a permanent fixture in South Africa in recent years. Not necessarily because of a changing climate and a move away from fossil fuels, but because of the erratic and unreliable power supply caused by mismanagement, a lack of skills and planning and timeous implementation of energy alternatives by central government and SOE’s.

Over time, water resource management in South Africa also had to adapt to compensate for crumbling infrastructure and erratic supply.  Consequently, urban water harvesting, covering swimming pools, and a general reduction in water use following the dreaded Day Zero crisis in the Western Cape and Eastern Cape, as well as the current challenges in Gauteng, have become common practices.

Through modern technology, South Africa has developed evaporation prevention measures for stored water reservoirs and storage dams. It will soon become more popular as global temperatures rise and evaporation rates take their toll on stored waters, and will follow the same trajectory as energy alternatives in terms of implementation.

As a result of a lack of suitable sites and catchments, timelines to build, and exorbitant construction costs, the construction of new dams for agricultural, mining, and rural and urban water development is complicated. Considering the downstream impacts of free-flowing rivers on ecosystems and river health, all measures aimed at maintaining and conserving existing water sources are critical.

Dams supplying fast-developing towns such as George and Riversdale are rapidly approaching a point where it can no longer provide adequate supply to the increased demand and alternatives must be found. Oudsthoorn on the other side, is already extracting water from an underground aquafer to augment water security.

Agricultural practitioners need to continue taking measures to significantly reduce water use to ensure that groundwater supplies do not become depleted as a result of overexploitation and consider crops that are less dependent on constant watering to maintain sustainability over time.

GREF is a public platform for conservation and environmental management entities in the Southern Cape.

Featured image caption: Pivot irrigation – Water security in South Africa pose a bigger threat to South African communities than the energy crises.

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18 January 2024 Media Release: Touw River remains a lifeline for the Garden Route

Media Release: Touw River remains a lifeline for the Garden Route

For immediate release
18 January 2024

“All river systems in the Garden Route are important in terms of water security and the sustainability of terrestrial and aquatic life and the preservation of biodiversity in the region, and the Touw river flowing through Wilderness is a prime example”, says Cobus Meiring of the Garden Route Environmental Forum (GREF).

The Touw River, with its headwaters high up in the Outeniqua mountains, is a vital freshwater resource to Wilderness and surrounding areas, and its estuary and river mouth is very a popular attraction to holidaymakers, recreational activities and form a significant part of the Greater Wilderness Lakes system. The Kingfisher Hiking Trail following the Touw river up the waterfall is one of the most scenic and frequently used regional destinations with literally thousands of visitors per annum.

SANParks, the Garden Route and George Municipalities along with a number of Wilderness conservancies such as the Touw River Conservancy, play a vital role in protecting the ecological integrity of the Touw River, and it truly represents the full bouquet of natural beauty offered by the Garden Route, to those visiting and residing in Wilderness.

As population growth in Wilderness and surrounding areas dramatically increases pressure on the availability of making the Touw River an essential part of natural infrastructure to those dependent on its well-being. As most river systems in the Garden Route, development, agriculture, land degradation and invasive alien plants in the upper catchment of the Touw River all impact negatively on the environmental integrity and well-being of the Touw River.

Risks associated with climate change, including changes in rainfall patterns, drought and floods play havoc with river systems, contributors and wetlands, which in turn affect all life dependent on them. It is for this reason that private landowners in the Garden Route increasingly have to play a role in protecting and conserving the environment to ensure that they retain a high quality of life and environment if the Garden Route is increasingly under threat of losing much of its splendour and biodiversity.

GREF will be placing focus on water security in the Garden Route in the build-up to its Annual Climate Change and Environmental Seminar to be hosted in June 2024 in partnership with NMU and the Garden Route and Gouritz Cluster Biosphere Reserves.

GREF is a public platform for conservation and environmental management entities in the Southern Cape.

Feature Image: The Touw River is a lifeline to the Garden Route
Photo: Pieter du Preez

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12 December 2023: Media Release: GREF event programme: 13 December, Fairy Knowe Hotel

Media Release: GREF event programme: 13 December, Fairy Knowe Hotel

For Immediate Release
12 December 2023

Following a year of significant natural disasters including floods and storm surges, the Garden Route Environmental Forum (GREF) celebrates the region’s most prized asset, namely its unique biodiversity and natural beauty.

The Garden Route is abundant with world-class conservation entities at all levels in the region. Environmental management by regional and local authorities is well-managed and sustainable. At the same time, because of the very same reason, the region is attracting substantial population influx domestically and from abroad, resulting in more pressure on natural resources such as water and available space for development.

As the GREF celebrates its fifteenth year of existence, it acknowledges and pays tribute to the important work done in terms of conserving environmental management. This is often at a great cost to local ratepayers and individuals, but at the same time, it highlights the many present and future threats to the quality and sustainable use of regional natural resources, including the threats posed by a changing climate.

Below find a copy of the programme and please feel free to attend or to request more information if need be (www.grefscli.co.za).

Official Programme – 13 December 2023

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6 December 2023 Media Release: GREF to reflect on COP28

Media Release: GREF to reflect on COP28

For immediate release
6 December 2023

The COP28 Climate Change Conference is hosted by the United Nations running from 30 November to 12 December in Dubai and is intended for governments to agree on policies to limit global temperature rises and adapt to impacts associated with climate change, says Cobus Meiring of the Garden Route Environmental Forum (GREF) on the eve of its Key Stake- holder event taking place on 13 December in Wilderness.

Reducing the drivers of climate change is easier said than done as the global dependence on fossil fuels is universal and the transition to alternative sources of energy is extremely slow and complex in their implementation as the South African effort towards the Just energy Transition (JET) is a case in point.

COP28 is already finding itself in a highly politicised milieu as major role players, including the United Arab Emirates which is hosting the event in Dubai is questioning the very essence of the global drive towards the reduction of emissions contributing to the global rise in temperature, with 2023 already described as the warmest year in recorded history and 2024 predicted to be worse according to the latest UN report on the matter.

The fact that South Africa is already experiencing an increase in climate related disasters including severe flooding, fire and drought is concerning, and it comes at a time where the country is suffering from the effects of retarded economic growth and environmental mismanagement at all levels manifesting in unbridled development, poverty, joblessness and social unrest as expectations in terms of service delivery are not met by the powers that be.

In the face of the challenges South Africa has to face as the climate changes irreversibly, there is much the country can do to be better prepared for environmental changes, including changes in rainfall patterns which will no doubt impact on the quality of life and future prospects of a fast- growing population facing food, energy and water security uncertainty.

Past and present failure by government at all levels to plan ahead and develop policies that will contribute to better environmental management and the safeguarding of natural resources, especially water and the infrastructure required to ensure that future generations don’t suffer as a result of a lack of responding to early warnings must serve as a wake- up call to all.

The state of South Africa rivers and effluent from defunct sewerage plants, water resource management as well as the failure to address the spread of invasive alien plants and the resultant destruction of bio- diversity will prove detrimental to the country’s ability to cope with the challenges a change in climate will impose upon the nation with its limited resources.

GREF will revisit the outcomes of COP28 during its Annual Climate Change and Environmental Management Indaba to be co- hosted with the Nelson Mandela University in June 2024.

GREF is the premier public platform for regional environmental and conservation managers in the Southern Cape.

For more information and enquiries, send an e-mail to louisamare@gmail.com.

Visit www.grefscli.co.za for more information on the GREF

9 November 2023 Media Release: Natural splendour awaits tourists to the Garden Route

Media Release: Natural splendour awaits tourists to the Garden Route

For immediate release
9 November 2023

“Following an extremely wet winter the Southern Cape is showcasing is natural beauty, and tourists planning to visit the region during the festive season, will not be disappointed,” says Cobus Meiring of the Garden Route Environmental Forum (GREF).

Following many years of drought and hardship the Klein Karoo environment is also finally recovering and with summer in full swing, the region is flourishing with vegetation, ample grazing and dams filled to the brim. The Outeniqua mountains and the regional coastline still bear the scars of relentless rain and storms during the winter months, but nature is resilient and bound to recover.

The Southern Cape biodiversity is flourishing following favourable rains during the winter months.

The Garden Route is blessed with several custodians of its natural splendour, and with large areas protected and under mandated and private conservation management, the region will always retain much of its marine and terrestrial biodiversity.

Pro-active actions and initiatives by regional conservation entities such as the Garden Route Biosphere Reserve (GRBR), the Gouritz Cluster Biosphere Reserve (GCBR), the Table Mountain Fund (TMF), SANParks, WWF and Cape Nature collectively recognize the importance of conserving the global significance of the Southern Cape biodiversity. In addition to these recognized conservation entities there are numerous conservancies, governmental and environmental management forums and private and public nature reserves present and active in all parts of the region.

A changing climate will bring new challenges to the Southern Cape environment, and with almost unpredictable rainfall patterns new challenges are looming for the environment and the communities dependent on its resilience.

In addition, invasive alien plants dominate large parts of the Southern Cape’s environmentally sensitive mountain catchments, rivers and wetlands, and landowners are fighting an uphill battle in eradication and control of fast- spreading wattles, pine, Rooikrans and a myriad of lesser known invasive species which all pose a significant threat in terms of the destruction of biodiversity, water security and the ever-present danger of wild fire disaster as the summer heat is bound to dry out vegetation in the coming months.

In celebration of regional conservation efforts, GREF is hosting its annual Key-Stakeholder Report-back Event on 13 December in Wilderness, allowing regional environmental and conservation entities to showcase their programmes and initiatives.

The Garden Route Environmental Forum (GREF) is a public platform for environmental and conservation management entities in the Southern Cape.

Enquiries: louisamare@gmail.com

Picture/ caption: The Robinson Pass, South Africa, alive with beautiful yellow, orange, red and pink proteas. The mountains seem endless and misty in the distance. -GRDM

Issued: Cobus Meiring, Garden Route Environmental Forum (GREF)

26 October 2023 Media Release: Collapse of natural infrastructure proves costly in Kaaimans

Media Release: Collapse of natural infrastructure proves costly in Kaaimans

For Immediate Release
26 October 2023

“Following heavy and consistent rain on Saturday, 21 October 2023, the collapse of a seep-line on the western slope of the Kaaimans gorge caused a landslide leading to the temporary closure of the N2 highway. This left the mountainside scarred with severe loss of indigenous vegetation,” says Cobus Meiring of the Garden Route Environmental Forum (GREF).

Streams, seep-lines and wetlands on mountain slopes play an important role in ensuring the geological integrity of mountain slopes and their ability to direct and absorb water flow. Sand dunes, rivers, streams, mountain catchments, forests and many other examples are referred to as natural infrastructure, and collectively they play an irreplaceable role in ensuring the well-being of nature and the human population it supports.

Hard infrastructure, such as the N2 highway is constructed on a sensitive and geologically unstable mountain slope through Wilderness and the Kaaimans gorge. This type of area is prone to landslides and will always be at risk of mountainside collapse (or partial collaps) under certain circumstances such as torrential rain. The impact of invasive alien plants on the landscape and upper catchments affecting river function and health, also has negative snowball effects on rivers and streams to cope with large volumes of water flow during floods. This is because it strips river banks of natural vegetation binding river banks and protecting soils.

Indigenous vegetation plays a vital and irreplaceable role in ensuring soil stability on steep slopes, and unfortunately, the forests on the western slope of Kaaimans gorge, have in recent years been badly affected by a creeper plant overgrowing forest vegetation. This type of vegetation causes the collapse of the forest canopy under its weight with trees dying off. It then leaves the seep-line and rivulet’s shallow soil structure susceptible to collapse once it becomes waterlogged. Sufficient surface vegetation would have kept it firmly in place and prevented it from sliding downward.

Rehabilitating the damaged water course in Kaaimans will pose a challenge as all the vegetation and topsoil slid down the slope and washed away. It should be considered to investigate the stability of the remainder of the western slope to determine if is stable or posing further risks to the N2 highway.

“Invasive alien plants are very likely to claim the scar left by the landslide as they outcompete indigenous vegetation in terms of new growth,” says Meiring.

Given the changing climate and rainfall patterns, which increase the probability of episodic rain storms along the Garden Route, the region is likely to experience repeated damage to its road and rail infrastructure in the near future.

The Garden Route Environmental Forum (GREF) is a public platform for landowners and environmental managers in the Southern Cape.

Photo: Landslide scar in Kaaimans gorge

Caption: Collapse of indigenous forest poses a further potential threat of landslides

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19 October 2023 Media Release: Celebrating conservation and bio- diversity in the Garden Route vital to its future

Media Release: Celebrating conservation and bio- diversity in the Garden Route vital to its future

For Immediate Release
19 October 2023 

The Garden Route district is blessed with numerous conservation organisations such as SANParks and Cape Nature as well as privately managed conservancies and nature reserves. Also, government and non-government agencies and citizens, have a collective responsibility to preserve the biodiversity that remains along the coastal and inland areas, says Cobus Meiring of the Garden Route Environmental Forum (GREF).

“Celebrating Conservation in the Garden Route” is the theme of the GREF annual key stakeholder report- back event planned for 13 December 2023 in Wilderness, and vital recognition is given to the sustained collective effort of the resourceful, positive and conservation minded communities and authorities of the Garden Route.

Following a century of farming and development of the Southern Cape, with exponential growth recorded during the past thirty years and with much more projected as a fast- growing population demands ever more infrastructure and resources, the Garden Route has lost a staggering amount of bio- diversity and natural beauty with many jokingly referring to the area as the “Concrete Route” as the developed coastal belt and N2 highway now presents an almost solid barrier between the mountains and the ocean with only islands of bio- diversity remaining where fynbos and the eco- systems it represents and sustained once flourished.

In addition, increased demand for fresh water necessitating damming, water transfers and extraction of ground water all have an impact on the health of Garden Route river systems and estuaries, which in turn impacts negatively on the ability to survive of marine and aquatic life.

Despite these challenges, conservation is not taking a back seat in the Garden Route as there is general consensus that the region will lose much of its allure as world class tourist destination and a region renowned for offering a high quality of life for its communities if natural ecosystems and bio- diversity disappears into oblivion in the face of development.

GREF is a public platform for conservation and environmental management entities in the Garden Route

Enquiries: louisamare@gmail.com

02 October 2023 Media Release: Coastal degradation and flooding will require substantial funding  

Media Release: Coastal degradation and flooding will require substantial funding  

For immediate release
02 October 2023

“Degradation along the Western Cape coastline is well documented and is increasingly a cause for concern as valuable properties and infrastructure ends up either damaged or destroyed, and even lives are lost due to severe storm surges surprising the unsuspecting unable to move to higher ground and swept away by powerful waves. But what would be the long term effect of coastal degradation?”, asks Cobus Meiring of the Garden Route Environmental Forum (GREF).

Ironically, Marlene Laros heading up the Biodiversity and Coastal Management Division of the Western Cape Environmental Affairs and Development Planning (DEADP), in June 2023, did a  presentation on coastal vulnerability at the Annual GREF Climate Change and Environmental Management Indaba explaining the indicators used to determine where the future high water mark would be and how drastic the implication to land owners and authorities would be in terms of climate change and sea level rise, and the most recent climate induced disasters causing billions of Rand to mend is a stark warning that the change is real.

The Southern Cape and Garden Route economy and tourism sector is highly dependent on its coastline, scenic rivers and lakes, forests and mountains, and degradation of these assets over time can negatively affect the allure of the region as a world class destination, and planning for change is paramount.

Regional authorities, including the Garden Route District Municipality (GRDM) and all the coastal municipalities are acutely aware of where their respective vulnerable infrastructure is in terms of exposure to storm surges and flooding, and where possible are already planning to move assets away from potential exposure, and not rebuilding where history no doubt will repeat itself.

Regular and severe flooding did hit the Western Cape badly throughout 2023, and the damage to infrastructure, agriculture and the economy at large, is substantial. Coupled with damage inflicted by storm surges and regular power outages caused by load shedding is not helping the regional economy as even the most resilient is affected one way or the other. Addressing coastal degradation requires substantial investments in mitigation and adaptation measures and may include beach nourishment, seawalls, and other engineering solutions to protect coastal areas. The long-term costs of these measures can be significant, and does not bode well for cash strapped municipalities.

Governments globally lack the funds to assist coastal communities exposed to sea level rise and the destruction of storm surges, and South Africa is certainly no exception. Fixing bridges, hard infrastructure and roads after severe flooding are extremely expensive with significant knock- on socio- economic impacts as products cannot reach markets and power and water security is compromised for prolonged periods of time.

From an environmental point of view, coastal degradation often leads to the destruction of valuable coastal habitats, including wetlands, dunes, and estuaries. These ecosystems provide essential breeding grounds and shelter for many marine species.

In summary, coastal degradation in the Western Cape, as in other coastal regions, has far-reaching and potentially devastating long-term consequences for the environment, economies, and communities. Addressing these issues typically involves a combination of strategies, including sustainable coastal management, land-use planning, climate change adaptation measures, and conservation efforts to mitigate the impacts and preserve coastal ecosystems.

Feature Image: Plettenberg Bay main beach after storm surge – coastal degradation and washed-away beaches caused by the 16 September 2023 storm surge leaves coastal economies dependent on tourism in dire straits.

Issued: Garden Route Environmental Forum (GREF)

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