World Wetlands Day 2012
The global theme for 2012 is Wetlands and Tourism. This theme is linked to the broader theme for the Convention's 11th Conference of the Parties (COP 11), which is Wetlands, Tourism and Recreation. COP 11 will take place in June 2012 in Romania.
We have witnessed how wetland tourism benefits people and wildlife in this country. Wetland tourism has not only created a stronger economy for our country, but this has led to sustainable livelihoods, healthy people and thriving ecosystems. Such tourism also needs to be managed carefully in order to ensure that impacts from tourism do not jeopardise the very resources that tourists are coming to see. To date, the Ramsar Convention has not placed any specific focus on wetlands and tourism and, with the upcoming 2012 WWD and COP 11, the time is right to turn our attention to this important issue.
The national WWD organising committee met recently to initiate preparations for this annual event. Through extensive discussions it was decided that the Makuleke region, formerly known as the Pafuri Triangle, in Limpopo would be the best place to showcase this theme. Makuleke is situated in the northernmost corner of the Kruger National Park (KNP), with Zimbabwe just a stone's throw away across the Limpopo River. The Luvuvhu River in the south, Mutale River in the west and Limpopo River in the north border this area. In total, Makuleke is home to about 33 pans, rivers, streams and associated features, and contains rich biodiversity, some of which is not found anywhere else in the Park or the country. The land is elevated in the west, narrowing in width and decreasing in height towards the junction of the two flanking rivers, i.e. the Luvuvhu and Limpopo. At the confluence of these two rivers, the area culminates in extensive floodplains.
The area is strategically placed at the heart of the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park, comprising South Africa's Kruger National Park, Zimbabwe's Gonarezhou National Park and Mozambique's Limpopo National Park.
This region has a rich history. In the 1960s the community was dispossessed of their land, when it was incorporated into Kruger National Park. In 1998 the Makuleke community regained the title to their land through a land restitution process. For the purpose of conservation and related economic development, the community decided to retain the land as part of the Kruger National Park and manage it jointly with the South African National Parks through a Joint Management Board (JMB). Title to the land now rests with a Communal Property Association (CPA) established in 1999 and consisting of about 11 000 previously dispossessed residents as members.
Recognising the ecological value of the site and its tourism potential, Makuleke was declared as South Africa's 18th Ramsar site on 22 June 2007. Even more significantly, it was the first community-owned Ramsar Wetland of International Importance in South Africa. The proposal for designation received much publicity during the celebration of World Wetlands Day 2002 at Makuleke. At this event, the Deputy Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, Rejoice Mabudafhasi, highlighted the fact that, should this site be designated to the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance, it would represent a new approach to wetland management in South Africa. By designating these unique wetlands, South Africa was commended for the good work during COP 10 at Changwon, Republic of Korea, where the certificate for Makuleke Wetlands was awarded to the Deputy Minister. The Convention acknowledges that other countries could learn from South Africa.
The wetland system, together with the diverse landscape features in the vicinity, form the foundation for Makuleke's high biodiversity, which is characteristic of the Limpopo/Luvuvhu floodplain and pan system. The landscape in which the wetland system occurs is the meeting place of the older continental land surface and the younger coastal plain. The Ramsar site forms a continuous section from the Banyini Pan along the Limpopo River to the border of Mozambique, and from there on along the Luvuvhu River to the Lanner Gorge in the form of a skewed 'J'.
This is a very important habitat for a large variety of biota dependent on the riparian zone in this dry landscape. Riparian floodplain woodlands occur on the waterlogged clays. In addition, floodplain grassland communities occur on both the Limpopo and Luvuvhu floodplains. Thirty-one seasonally flooded pans are found in the floodplain. They provide important breeding and feeding habitats for a variety of animals and birds. The pans of the Limpopo River floodplain hold water well into the dry season, thereby creating important refuge areas for wildlife during the drier winter months. They also provide an important waterbird habitat during both summer and winter months in wet years and serve as a stopover for many migratory waterbirds.
The Luvuvhu/Limpopo region represents one of the major biodiversity 'hotspots' in South Africa, and forms the southernmost extreme of the ranges of many animal species, which are found nowhere else in the country. More than 256 plant species as well as 38 fish and 33 amphibian species have been recorded. Given the arid nature of the region, the low potential for agricultural yield and animal husbandry, together with the fact that anthrax is endemic in the area, the most suited land-uses are nature conservation and ecotourism. Ecotourism currently represents the only viable option for sustainable, long-term use of this area, with a good potential for generating revenue without impacting on the unique biodiversity present at the site.
Makuleke Wetlands and Tourism
The unique value of the Makuleke wetlands for ecotourism is the primary reason why the community decided to retain the conservation status of the area subsequent to its successful land claim. Ecotourism is now the major revenue-generating activity for the community. There are currently three tourism concessionaires in the Makuleke region, permanently employing 75 people from the community. Revenue generation to Makuleke community is in the form of employment and tourism revenues.
How is Makuleke managed?
The JMB, comprising members of Makuleke Communal Property Association and South African National Parks, is managing the land as a contractual park. The Makuleke Communal Property Association (CPA) has full rights on the land and the JMB is responsible for conservation and management of the area in a manner that benefits its members. This partnership ensures that the Makuleke property and its natural resources are properly managed, and encourages economic self-reliance through ecotourism development, among other business ventures that will be compatible with the conservation of biodiversity in the region.
Below is the list of criteria that was used to declare the Makuleke region a Ramsar site:
Criterion 1 A rare or unique example of a wetland type.
Criterion 2 Support of vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered species or ecologically threatened communities.
Criterion 3 Support of species that are important for maintaining biodiversity in the bio-geographic region.
Criterion 4 Support of species at a critical stage in their life cycles, or provides refuge during adverse conditions.
Criterion 5 Regular support of 20 000 or more waterbirds.
Criterion 6 Regular support of 1% of a waterbird population.
Criterion 7 Regular support of a significant proportion of species (e.g. fish) that are representative of wetland benefits.
Criterion 8 Depended on by fish for food, spawning ground, nursery or migration.
Criterion 9 Support of 1% of a population of non-avian fauna.
Below are some of the messages that will be focused on during WWD 2012 celebrations countrywide:
• How can we optimise our network of Ramsar sites as tourism assets?
• Opportunities and threats that wetland tourism brings.
• Land-use and wetland policy makers, local governments, tourism developers, wetland site managers and others.
• How to help those considering the development of tourism in and around their wetlands or struggling to deal with issues from ongoing unsustainable tourism practices. This will hopefully open up a forum where we can make the best use of what has been done to partner with those experienced in managing tourism.
• Looking at the value of wetlands for sustainable tourism and the benefits this can bring, or perhaps to focus on how tourists themselves can contribute to sustainable tourism in their choices and behaviour.
Celebration and site visit
It is planned that the 2012 WWD site visit will take place in the morning with delegates visiting the Reedbuck and Mapimbi pans within the Kruger National Park. This region will showcase what has been happening since it was designated a Ramsar site and how wetland tourism has benefitted the communities of this area. The actual event will take place within the Makuleke community after the early morning site visit.
The next national WWD organising committee meeting will be on 28 October 2011 in Polokwane at a venue that will be announced at a later stage. By then the Ramsar concept of the WWD 2012 poster and other promotional materials will be available for adaptation to South African wetland and tourism conditions. Do watch this space for more updates!