Coast KZN

20 Jan 2016

St Lucia revival deal signed

Barbara Cole (Daily News)


A R10 million deal that was struck on Tuesday has gone down as one of the most important events in the history of the Unesco World Heritage Site, Lake St Lucia.

And another R20m has been allocated to continuing the work once the initial contract has been completed.

It will remove and dispose of 100 000m2 of “dredge spoil”, a large island of sand which has become vegetated over time, that was placed at the mouth of the Lake St Lucia estuary to prevent silt being carried into it from the Mfolozi River.

The lake desperately needs fresh water from the river – and is fast drying up because of the drought, with current rainfall levels the lowest in 65 years.

Only 30% of the lake’s surface area has water at the moment.

Dredging took place at the mouth for about 40 years. Efforts to maintain the separation were discontinued in 2006.

New scientific investigations debunked the myth that siltation and sediments were a problem for the lake system.

Studies have recommended nature should be left to its own devices and that the Mfolozi River should be allowed to pursue its natural path.

On Tuesday the iSimangaliso Wetland Park Authority signed a contract with Cyclone Engineering Projects to remove the dredge spoil.

“Fresh water from the Mfolozi River – the largest contributor of water to Lake St Lucia – is critical. Today marks the beginning of nature’s renewal and a return to wholeness for the Lake St Lucia system,” said Andrew Zaloumis, iSimangaliso chief executive.

Signing the contract was the culmination of five years’ work by iSimangaliso and Ezemvelo staff, he said.

Man would be removing something that man had put in place and the current intervention would speed up the natural functions, he said.

The funding did not come from the South African government, he said, but from the Global Environment Facility via the World Bank.

Further funding would eventually have to be obtained to finish the entire area containing the dredge spoil.

Gerrit van Ryssen, general manager of Cyclone Engineering Projects, said he would be ordering the specialised equipment needed for the job today.

The contractor would be on the site in about two months.

The initial contract was due to be completed by the end of June.

Van Ryssen said removing the dredge spoil would work like the pressure equipment used to wash a family car, but would be “just a bit more elaborate”.

It would break down the pile of sand, pumping it to a discharge point and then into the sea.

Nicolette Forbes, an estuarine ecologist and consultant to iSimangaliso Wetland Authority, said the project, which would restore the hydrological functioning of the lake, was the biggest restoration project of its kind in the country.

Earlier, the party of journalists who descended on Lake St Lucia for the historic signing of the contract, walked on what should have been water.

With the lake drying up, they walked on dry land where once water had flowed, stopping to photograph some of the dead fish.

The lake is an important nursery for juvenile marine fish and prawns with 71 species using it as a nursery and 24 of them being important in marine line fisheries.

The health of the St Lucia ecosystem is also directly linked to the livelihoods of people in the area and 80 000 people living in 15 000 households within 15km of the lake use the system extensively.

Harvesting of estuarine plants is worth about R7.5m a year.

As to the other historic milestones, Zaloumis said the first was when Nelson Mandela and his cabinet saved Lake St Lucia from dune mining.

The other was when the lake was named as South Africa’s first World Heritage Site in 1999.