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21 Mar 2017

National Water Week: iSimangaliso Wetland park one of 22 Ramsar sites

Judi Davis (South Coast Herald)

Soggy scene: Healthy wetlands and swampy grasslands abound in iSimangaliso Wetland Park.

The respect for our valualbe wetlands goes back to ancient times.

An Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife poster in a hide in uMkhuze Game Reserve tells a story that illustrates how respect for our wetlands harks back to ancient times.

According to legend, a many-headed snake called Nkanyamba guards the the Mbongolwane wetland near Eshowe and if this valuable ecosystem is not accorded due respect, Nkanyamba will become angry and stir up a severe storms.
Yet another myth, which tells how the Zulu people emerged from a bed of reeds, underlines the importance of wetlands as part of South Africa’s cultural heritage.

They are seen as magical meeting places between land and water and, therefore, the physical and spiritual world. Many cultural beliefs surround these sacred places and they are much appreciated as valuable sources of medicinal plants.
They are, of course, vital components of a healthy environment, too, great big sponges that soak up rainfall, preventing erosion, controlling run-off, stopping flooding and slowly releasing precious water during drier periods. According to Ezemvelo, they also purify water and support species diversity.

Today, they are increasingly valued for the food, raw materials and tourism opportunities they provide. Spend just a short while at a healthy wetland and you will be surprised by the huge diversity of bird, animal and plant life it attracts and supports.
Of course, uMkhuze is part of our wonderful 332 000ha iSimangaliso Wetland Park, a Unesco World Heritage site that incorporates the Lake St Lucia, the world’s oldest protected estuary and Africa’s largest estuarine system, complete with all those soggy grasslands and wetlands that make up the lake’s flood plane.

The park is a wonderful illustration of the incredible value of our wetlands and other watery places, supporting as it does an amazingly high levels of biodiversity and viable populations of threatened species. According to the park authorities, more than 50 percent of all water birds in KwaZulu-Natal feed, roost and nest there.

Of the 155 fish species that have been recorded in the Lake St Lucia estuarine system, 71 species use St Lucia as a nursery area and at least 24 of these are important in marine line fisheries. Some 800 hippos and 1 200 crocodiles call the park their home.
The health of the estuarine system and surrounding wetlands is directly linked to the livelihoods of people in the area. Harvests of raw materials, particularly sedges, are estimated to be worth around R7,5 million a year. The contribution of the estuarine floodplain areas to livestock grazing is estimated at R3,6 million per year.

 

Online Article