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A sea of sand surrounds the jetty at Catalina Bay at Lake St Lucia in iSimangaliso Wetland Park during a media tour that revealed the impact of the drought there. Photo Credit: Ian Carbutt
On Tuesday, iSimangaliso Wetland Park director Andrew Zaloumis signed a R10 million contract that would see the lake returned to its natural state before the dredging of the 1950s began.
In 1952, the uMfolozi River, which provides up to 60% of Lake St Lucia’s water, was partially separated from the thriving estuary. However, the effect on the estuary and its wildlife of keeping the uMfolozi’s natural path from running into upper Lake St Lucia has become a major concern.
Between 2002 and 2012, the estuary saw sand banks build up at the mouth of the sea, closing it off to the ocean, and the water level sat at 10%.
“We are coming very close to seeing this again, as only 30% of St Lucia is covered in water,” said Zaloumis.
With the area in the grips of an eight-year drought, he said there could be “no quick fix”.
Funds had been raised through the Global Environment Facility to restore the natural state of the wetlands.
The partial separation of the uMfolozi River from Lake St Lucia created vegetation that resulted in the destruction of a large part of the estuary.
“Estuaries are the nurseries for many marine wildlife species and with the partial separation of the lake and the uMfolozi River, we saw sand banks cutting off the marine life from the estuary and vice versa,” said Zaloumis.
“Marine wildlife breed at sea and the juvenile wildlife spend their nursery years in the estuary where there is food and no predators. Those animals that do not get to the estuary die,” he said.
Zaloumis said adult marine life could be seen, but there was a lack of juvenile and baby wildlife.
“Grunter and stumpnose fish need to come to the estuary to grow up, so when the cycle is broken, they are some of the types of wildlife that are affected,” he said.
“Until uMfolozi is back to normal, there can be no variation in the estuary, which any estuary needs to thrive.
“What we are looking at now is a result of a very high evaporation rate, which causes us to lose a lot of fresh water and a concentration in the salinity of the water.”
The R10 million tender to naturalise the estuary was awarded to Cyclone Engineering Projects yesterday.
The plan is to rejoin the separated section of the uMfolozi River to the estuary by removing the artificial barrier created during the dredging years.
The project would see 96 0000 cubic metres of dredge spoil removed. If the project goes according to plan, a further R20 million would be used to remove the rest of the barrier.
Zaloumis said the estuary would return to its full glory once the project was completed.