The KZN Department of Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs (EDTEA) should be contacted as your first point of contact if there is any emergency situation where an illegal breaching has occurred or is being considered.
Not all estuaries are permanently open to the sea. In a natural state, some are open for varying periods depending on complex, individual system relationships with size and morphology of system and the nature of the water courses entering it. In a closed state, the estuary is separated from the sea by a sand barrier (berm) across the estuary mouth.
An estuary breaches when water from behind the berm breaks through and scours the berm to reach the sea. About 70% of South Africa’s estuaries are temporarily open to the sea (Temporarily Open/Closed Estuaries).
Although estuaries provide valuable ecological, environmental and economic services, they are easily degraded through mismanagement and interference. Along the KZN coast, estuaries have been diverted, artificially breached through dredging and manual digging. Estuaries may be manipulated through timed releases from dams upstream, loss of natural timing, and volume of flows. Major port structures have altered and interfered with the natural estuary function of two large and important estuarine bays. About 75% of KZN estuaries are considered to be in poor condition, with most of these located along the south coast.
A dearth of information shows that artificial mouth manipulation, leading to breaching causes ecological degradation and is detrimental to the function of these ecosystems. Accommodating human recreation, housing and economic requirements must not be at the (long-term) expense of the ecological integrity of the estuary. The Integrated Coastal Management Act (ICM Act), 24 of 2008, recognises the ecological functions of estuaries and the benefit it brings to people.
Without specific approval and a dedicated, system-specific implementation plan, a mouth breach will be an unlawful listed activity in terms of the National Environmental Management Act (NEMA), Act 107 of 1998. Further, according to EIA Regulations (2014), the movement of more than 5 cubic metres of material is a Listed Activity (Listing Notice 1, Activity No.19), unless it is undertaken in accordance with a maintenance management plan.
In line with conservation objectives and our enlightenment of the effects of breaching, decision-making about artificial estuarine breaching or manipulation cannot continue as it has done in the past. We need to move on from ad hoc approval to formal Estuarine Management Plans (EMP's), addressing the breaching needs for each estuary, in accordance with the National Estuarine Management Protocol.