The iSimangaliso Wetland Park Project

Previously named the Greater St. Lucia Wetlands Park, the iSimangaliso Wetland Park is known for its diversity. It is located in South Africa’s sunniest province KwaZulu Natal and comprises of vast internationally relevant wetlands areas, extensive coastal sand dunes, fresh water and estuarine lakes, woodlands, dry savannahs inland, coral reefs and beaches. iSimangaliso Wetland Park stretches across nearly 240,000 hectares and provides a critical habitat for wetland, savannah and ocean species. A fantastic range of animals make the iSimangaliso Wetland Park their home including elephants, black and white rhinoceros, leopards and buffalos. The area of the Indian Ocean adjacent to the park is teeming with dolphins, whales and turtles.

An Ecological Paradise under Threat

In 1999 the iSimangaliso Wetland Park was declared as a World Heritage Site, similarly to its neighbor to the north in Botswana, in recognition of its conservation history, natural beauty and biological diversity. It also contains several Ramsar sites – which are wetlands that are internationally important. One of the Ramsar sites in iSimangaliso Wetland Park is the Lake St Lucia system – the biggest estuarine coastal lake system in South Africa and one of the most important estuaries in the country. Over 80% of the southern African sub-tropical estuarine area is represented by this ecosystem and this makes it a vital nursery for young marine fish and other aquatic animals like prawns.

iSimangaliso Wetland Park (Photo: Edge of Africa)

iSimangaliso Wetland Park (Photo: Edge of Africa)

Hydrological Problems

Unfortunately Lake St. Lucia has suffered through several years of drought which has caused severe hydrological problems. This had a devastating effect on the biodiversity of the area’s ecosystem. For decades dredge spoils were deposited artificially. Changes in the catchments of the rivers affected the quality and amount of water that enters the lake which led to environmental issues. This in turn led to further human intervention. In later years it was established that the artificial deposits had a negative effect on the environment and initiatives to remove the dredge spoil were launched. A multi-disciplinary team of researchers were contracted to establish practical solutions to the hydrological issues.

The Dark Side of Agriculture

Another serious threat to the iSimangaliso Wetland Park is agricultural development. The water supply of the area has been under constant threat since the start of the century. Land reclamation, river diversions and drainage canals have all caused the lake to be silted. For several years salinity levels increased to such an extent that it was twice as salty as ocean water. This resulted in fish, crocodiles and plants dying off. The massive pine plantations that were built in the 1950s consumed massive quantities of water, far too much for the supply.

Restoring the iSimangaliso Wetland Park

Removal of pine tracts was implemented so that indigenous trees may once again prosper and attract wildlife. The issues arising from the drought were addressed with several costly initiatives. After signing two contracts each worth over ZAR23 million with the World Bank for moving and disposing of sand from the dredge soil island in the mouth of the Lake St Lucia Estuary plans to initialise the project were launched with the aim of being completed by June 2017. It was expected that around 1.2 cubic metres would be removed by this date.