2010 World Wetlands Day
2 February 2010
The Deputy Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs Ms Rejoice Mabudafhasi, officially kick-started the World Wetlands Day 2010 Celebrations, under the global theme of ‘Wetlands, Biodiversity and Climate Change’. This year’s event which took place at the South African Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) in Pretoria included a site visit to the diverse wetland system situated upstream of the Rietvlei Dam within the 4,000 hectare Reitvlei Nature Reserve. Working for Wetlands, the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA), the Departments of Water Affairs (DWA), the department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF), the Water Research Commission and Working for Water formed a successful partnership which ensured circulating the messages to a wider audience.
The Rietvlei dam has been used by the city of Tshwane since 1934 producing about 41 million litres per day, or 3% of the metro’s current drinking water requirements. Until recently, the Rietvlei wetlands were heavily degraded, due to erosion channels that drained and dried out the wetlands as the land on which the Rietvlei Nature Reserve is situated was previously privately farmed land. In recent years the dam became severely overloaded with nutrients and other pollutants, as its highly urbanized catchment received increasing volumes of treated domestic sewage and industrial effluent.
In 2000 plans to rehabilitate wetlands upstream of the dam began with the primary objective of improving the ability of the peat soils to purify the water flowing into the dam. Research concluded in 2006 provides quantitative evidence of system’s water purification abilities.
This illustrates clearly that protecting the wetland ecosystem and its biodiversity is important - and in most cases essential - for the survival of the species that they support and the communities that depend on the ecosystem services that they provide.
“Wetlands also play a complex yet significant role in contributing towards the mitigation of Climate Change. Peatlands – which are essentially Wetlands characterised by the accumulation of organic matter (peat) derived from dead and decaying plant material under conditions of permanent water saturation - are unique in that they store carbon for thousands of years and as a result are commonly referred to as ‘carbon sinks’, said the Deputy Minister of Environmental Affairs, Ms Rejoice Mabudafhasi.
It was with this in mind that the Reitvlei Nature Reserve - a prime example of a peatland that has been successfully rehabilitated – was selected as the location for this year’s event.” The rehabilitation of peatlands like Reitvlei has become more important than ever. Through the years, peatlands have come under severe pressure from various human activities such as subsistence farming, grazing, biomass collection and medicinal uses and water collection.
The degradation of these important ‘carbon sinks’ is a major and growing source of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG). Of grave concern is the fact that emissions from peatland drainage, fires and exploitation across the globe is estimated at 3 billion tons per annum, equivalent to more than 10% of global fossil fuel emissions.
In the past, natural peatlands were resilient to climate changes, however, the rate and magnitude of predicted future climate changes and extreme events may push many peatlands over their threshold for adaptation.
The consequences of this are serious as peatlands influence the global balance of three main GHG (greenhouse gases), CO2, methane and nitrous oxide, and so play a complex role with respect to climate regulation Small changes in the ecology and hydrology of peatlands can lead to big changes in GHG fluxes through influence on peatland biogeochemistry.
Dr Tanya Abrahamse, CEO of SANBI says, “In addition to highlighting the importance of peatlands, this year’s World Wetlands Day also pays homage to the biodiversity that Wetlands support. Given that 2010 has been declared International Year of Biodiversity, by the United National General Assembly, it is appropriate that we take stock of the part that the Wetlands ecosystem plays in supporting one of South Africa’s most precious resources – our incredible biological diversity.”
There are about 114 000 wetlands that have been mapped in South Africa and they perform many essential functions such as the enhancement of water quality, erosion control, water storage, streamflow regulation, flood attenuation, and maintenance of biodiversity. They also provide food, plant, water, medicinal and livelihood resources to rural communities, and play an important role in tourism, subsistence farming, grazing and environmental education and awareness, and therefore have significant social and economic value. However 50% of our Wetlands are damaged or destroyed by human impact.
For a country like South Africa in which water challenge is natural supply scarcity the importance of healthy Wetlands cannot be underestimated. Looking ahead, it is evident that protecting, defending and rehabilitating our Wetlands will require a concerted multi partner approach which includes government, programmes, and institutes. It is these partners who come together each year on Word Wetlands Day to acknowledge the importance of South Africa’s Wetlands - to share concerns and challenges and to celebrate our triumphs and success stories.
For further details contact:
Pontso Pakkies - Communications Coordinator - SANBI (Working for Wetlands Programme) 082 0896331 P.Pakkies@sanbi.org.za
Moses Rannditsheni – Deputy Director: External Communications – Department of Environmental Affairs
(Moses please include your details)