Coast KZN

25 Nov 2016

Lake St Lucia well on the mend

Tony Carnie (The Mercury)


THERE is some very good news this morning about Lake St Lucia, Africa’s largest estuarine lake and South Africa’s first World Heritage site.

Earlier this year, the lake floor was covered with the bleached skeletons of thousands of fish and other dead creatures after the drought sucked away all but 10% of the water surface.

It was so dry that tourists could walk across several sections of the 70km-long lake bed without getting their feet wet.

But today the life-giving water is back, covering most of the lake again.

The other good news is that most of the 40 hippos photographed barely a month ago, caked in dry mud and no water in sight, have survived, after water began to fill up the biggest water pan in the Mkhuze game reserve.

Andrew Zaloumis, chief executive of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, said almost 90% of the surface area of Lake St Lucia was now covered in water.

The return of the water was partly due to the recent heavy rains that soaked the KwaZulu-Natal coastal belt, and partly due to a new lake restoration project financed through the World Bank.

Though most of the lake’s water used to come in via the Mfolozi River, the mouth of this river has been separated artificially from St Lucia to reduce silt loads and back-flooding of sugar cane farms along the Mfolozi Flats.

Last year, however, thanks to international funding, work began on restoring the old link with the Mfolozi by dredging a new water path through millions of tons of accumulated sand and silt.

Zaloumis said this project, due to continue for another year, was already bearing fruit as more water from the Mfolozi started to enter the lake.

The current water surface coverage of 90% was in stark contrast to the situation in February, when water covered barely 10% of the lake surface.

The water levels in the Narrows section closest to St Lucia village is now around 1.2m deep – the highest seen in a long time.

Salt water levels had also dropped sharply as fresh water diluted the high salinity caused by water evaporation.

“While this is excellent news for the lake system we are still not out of the woods and more rain is needed especially in the inland catchments,” Zaloumis said.


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