Umgeni Vlei gets Ramsar status

The effective conservation and management of SA’s scarce freshwater resources received a major boost recently when government designated KwaZulu-Natal’s 958ha Umgeni Vlei Nature Reserve as the country’s 21st Ramsar site.

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“It’s increasingly understood that wetlands of high biodiversity value and richness tend to be in better functional condition. Therefore, they’re better able to provide people with essential services, in particular clean water provisioning and flood prevention,” said Tanya Smith of the Endangered Wildlife Trust’s (EWT) African Crane Conservation Programme.

An added benefit of Umgeni Vlei being designated a Ramsar site is that the approximately 13 breeding pairs of critically endangered wattled cranes found in the area will receive added protection. Only about 80 breeding pairs of this species remain in the whole of SA.

Christine Colvin, senior manager of Freshwater Programmes with the World Wild Fund for Nature-SA (WWF-SA), said more than 4,5 million people live within the uMngeni River catchment and it was estimated that more than 10% of SA’s GDP was generated here. The ability of the catchment to continue to supply water to an ever-growing population will become increasingly difficult, especially in the face of climate change, said Colvin.

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“South Africa needs to think innovatively about new ways of reducing water demand, improving water quality and increasing water availability outside of traditional engineering solutions, if it wishes to sustain economic development for all,” said Colvin.
‘Ramsar status’ has its origins in Ramsar, Iran, in 1971, when governments met and agreed on the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance. The treaty provides a framework for national action and international co-operation for the conservation of wetlands and their resources.