Residents and contractors are closely monitoring the progress of the Lake St. Lucia mouth breach. (Photo: Supplied)
Following the controversial bulldozer at the mouth of Lake Saint Lucia, Environment, Forests and Fisheries Minister Barbara Creecy took action, announcing that an independent scientific panel will be appointed to investigate this happened – and also advise on what should be done to guide future policy decisions.
Many saltwater anglers, local tourism operators and sugar producers cheered triumphantly as heavy earthmovers tore the blocked mouth of South Africa’s largest estuarine lake last month.
By reopening the lake to the sea after a prolonged blockage of the sand bars, large volumes of salt water began to re-enter the lake, while large volumes of fresh water flowed into the sea.
But several estuarine and hydrology experts and environmental groups reacted with dismay to this artificial manipulation of ecological processes, demanding responses from Environment, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Barbara Creecy on what they considered. as a major mistake and an inexplicable policy. about-face by the iSimangaliso Wetlands Park Authority, statutory custodian of the World Heritage site.
While estuarine river mouths are dynamic systems that are alternately blocked or open to the sea according to natural water cycles, the Saint Lucia system has been managed artificially for nearly six decades from 1952 – in largely for the benefit of nearby sugar producers, fishermen and holidaymakers visiting the village of Saint Lucia.
The manipulation consisted in permanently diverting the course of the giant river uMfolozi, in regularly digging the mouth with a bulldozer and in dredging a channel for ski-boats and other watercraft.
But that all changed about 10 years ago when a team of hydrologists, ecologists and estuarine experts advised iSimangaliso to stop interfering with natural processes, while warning that the lake was drying up. regularly because the diversion of the uMfolozi deprived the lake of more than 50% of its previous freshwater flows.
iSimangaliso commissioned a series of ecological, social and economic studies to examine the impacts of the new ‘hands off’ approach on the future management of the system, and defeated two major legal challenges by sugar producers who feared that the new approach will only lead to the inundation of established cane fields in the floodplain of one of South Africa’s largest rivers.
The end result was that millions of Rand of funding came from the World Bank’s Global Environment Facility (GEF) and other sources to reconnect uMfolozi to Lake Saint Lucia and remove millions of tonnes of sand. and silt that had settled near the mouth of the estuary. by decades of artificial dredging.
But on January 6, 2021, that all changed again when iSimangaliso introduced several large ‘yellow machines’ to open the mouth – apparently in direct contradiction to the new no-intervention management policy where the mouth would be allowed to pierce naturally once Sufficient levels of fresh lake water and feeding rivers pushed the sandbar.
Top Water Scientists Fulminate After ‘God’s Yellow Machines’ Open Mouth Of Lake St. Lucia
Now, in response to a series of reports in Daily Maverick And one open letter by seven expert scientists and other groups, Creecy decided to resolve the controversy by appointing an independent scientific group.
“The minister noted wide public interest in this issue, as well as divergent scientific opinions on the most ideal management strategy for the conservation and preservation of this important World Heritage site,” her department said on Tuesday in a statement. communicated.
“Consequently, after consultation with the iSimangaliso Wetlands Park Authority, the Minister decided to appoint an independent scientific group to give its opinion on:
- The importance / impact of the opening of the mouth of the estuary and its link with the implementation of GEF 5 project interventions and the Saint Lucia estuary management plan;
- The exceptional circumstances, as defined in the Estuarine Management Plan, which led to the decision to open one’s mouth, including those of an environmental, social and economic nature;
- The impact of the opening of the mouth of January 6 on the functioning of the estuarine system and the wetland system as a whole, as well as the associated environmental, social and economic implications; and
- Guidelines for the immediate and ongoing management of the system.
The ministry said the names of the panelists would be made public once the nomination process is complete.
In her statement, Creecy also confirmed that in response to her request, she received a formal response from the park authority last week that the decision to reopen her mouth followed discussions at a multidisciplinary symposium held. by iSimangaliso last October.
The symposium recognized that the Lake St. Lucia system was a complex and dynamic socio-ecological system, and that its natural functioning was of critical importance – but that it had also been necessary to put in place a team of multidisciplinary work to discuss the “best adaptive management strategy for the estuarine system” and to remove “the abnormally high beach berm to allow the system to infiltrate unhindered”. DM