Update on Environmental Management Plan for Swartkops Estuary

We’re delighted to report that plans are underway to implement an Environmental Management Plan (EMP) for the Swartkops Estuary – one of the most important estuaries in the country for its salt and freshwater pans, its 200 bird species and its fish breeding grounds.

SST was one of several stakeholders invited to attend a recent stakeholder engagement meeting to introduce the approved plan, organised by the provincial Department of Economic Development, Environmental Affairs and Tourism (DEDEAT) and the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality. DEDEAT recognised the need for Government to include and collaborate with stakeholders, including non-profit  organisations like SST, community groups and researchers from Nelson Mandela University, as much of the work of conserving the estuary is currently being done by them.

SST welcomes the new plan, which should go a long way to preserving this formerly pristine area, with its vital wetlands and vast number and diversity of birds, fish and invertebrates (the last being an important food source for birds and fish). The Swartkops Estuary has become degraded over time, and forms one of the main focus areas of our work.

Due to its size, habitats, and varied plant and animal life, the Swartkops Estuary is ranked as the 11th most important estuary of over 280 estuaries nationwide. As the largest permanently open estuary in the Eastern Cape, it is also listed as a high biodiversity priority estuary (as per the National Biodiversity Act of 2018).

The estuary is largely urbanised, surrounded by residential and industrial activities. Anthropogenic impacts (those resulting from human activity), particularly pollution, have been problematic since the 1950s and have increased over time, which means the estuary is currently in a highly degraded state and in desperate need of management and restoration.

On top of local human-caused degradation, the area has been subject to increased flooding arising from climate change, which has reduced the numbers in certain macrobenthic species (large organisms living at the bottom of a body water), such as starfish, mussels, and clams. Possible reasons for this could be a combination of animals abandoning their burrows and being swept out to sea, low salt levels leading to hypo-osmotic stress, and fine silt deposits smothering habitats.

SST is optimistic that the new Environmental Management Plan will help restore Swartkops Estuary to its full biodiversity potential. We are especially pleased that the plan will include environmental education and awareness, which we are already involved in, and will make use of data from our on-going research and monitoring projects in the area, including beach and street litter surveys. One of our sampling sites for long-term monitoring of plastic-related pollutants in mussels is situated at the mouth of the Estuary, so we are directly invested in the implementation of the EMP.

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