The theme for World Water Day on 22 March 2018 couldn’t be more apt: Nature for Water. The mountain catchments, rivers, lakes and wetlands protected by our parks and reserves are responsible for much of our freshwater. Conservation photographer Peter Chadwick ventured to Garden Route National Park to discover how SANParks is keeping this watery wonderland healthy.

Yearly, visitors in their hundreds of thousands flock to the Garden Route National Park for tourism activities such as canoeing, hiking, fishing, photography and birding. But looking after the health of this national park’s waterways is a complex endeavour.

For Wild magazine’s autumn 2018 issue, Peter joined Jonathan Britten, senior ranger of the Wilderness Section, and SANParks marine ecologist Kyle Smith for a look behind the scenes. His goal? To gain greater understanding of the challenges facing aquatic systems.

Peter writes:

“A more perfect scene of plentiful water was hard to imagine and yet, not too far away, Cape Town had started the countdown to Day Zero when the entire metropole of a few million people could potentially run out of freshwater. Forests are like lungs that pass oxygen into the system and allow everything to breathe. Freshwater lakes and channels are like kidneys that filter out all impurities. Estuary mouths enable the system to become flushed and stay healthy.

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Water watchdogs Jonathan Britten and Kyle Smith. SANParks monitors the fish species within the lakes and estuaries of Garden Route National Park. Pictures by Peter Chadwick

SANParks is responsible for the management of the Wilderness Lakes System that includes Island, Langvlei and Rondevlei lakes and their interconnecting channels. These areas collectively enjoy Ramsar status and monitoring of the water quality and aquatic plant distribution and fish communities has been undertaken since the early 1990s.”

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Alien invasive plants pose a tremendous threat. SANParks ensures that alien plant-clearing teams work both within and outside park boundaries to remove these plants and improve water flow.

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Flooding rivers in the Garden Route flow into the sea, bringing vital nutrients into the ocean. These floods stimulate the breeding of many marine fish species.

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Tidal flow through the Groot Estuary enables the mixing of fresh and salt waters, creating a suitable habitat for juvenile marine fish species that use the estuary as a nursery area.

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A juvenile white Steenbras is carefully released after being measured and tagged. Its individual number can aid in future monitoring if it is again captured.

Our waterways in numbers

  • 23 designated Ramsar sites covering 500,000+ hectares
  • 47 fish species are estuarine dependent in the Southern and Eastern Cape
  • 84% of aquatic ecosystems in South Africa are vulnerable or endangered
  • 1% of the water on Earth is usable to humans

Do your bit

  • Reduce water consumption.
  • Reduce waste and pollution.
  • Remove alien invasive species.
  • Support proper land-management practices. Future development plans must be guided by the ecological carrying capacity of a region.
  • Do not build within the floodplain of rivers and estuaries. Insurance companies are starting to come on board and some no longer provide cover to developers that build within flood plains and sensitive areas.
  • Establish buffer zones, where proper land management is in place, outside current reserve boundaries.

Make sure to get you hands on Wild 42 for the full article.