Wetlands Park Getaways

With the long weekend coming up soon, its time to head out and do some exploring in Zululand and the KZN North Coast, our amazing back yard. With Lake St Lucia and the iSimangaliso Wetlands Park on our doorstep, why not visit this world heritage site with all its amazing sights and sounds.

Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999, the area is the largest estuarine system in Africa, and has the greatest number of crocodiles and hippos in South Africa.

For nature lovers this is truly a paradise, and amongst the hippos and crocs you are bound to see 526 bird species, over 110 different butterflies if you are lucky, and almost 80 dragonflies. If you really want a treat, you might even spot all 36 snake species, but this is not for the squeamish!

Of course underwater is a totally different world. As we arguably start seeing some of the best weather in the country, make the most of snorkeling, and for the more adventurous a scuba diving trip is ideal. With over 220km of coastline and beaches, of which 190km is marine reserve, there is sure to be space aplenty for a day in the sun, just remember the sunscreen.

There are about 100 different corals to discover, and apart from being of the most southern reefs in the world, are considered of the best in the world too. The coral is a vital part of the whole eco-system and play host to over 1 200 different fish species, ensuring their safety and nourishment. This marine reserve is also falling within the greater protection of iSimangaliso and is part of an existing network of marine reserves stretching across our 3 000km coastline. This “participatory” method of preserving these systems were pioneered in California and Australia with the goal of protecting diversity. In our case this diversity stretches from the warm Indian Ocean in the northern parts of KZN and Zululand, to the cold Southern Atlantic in the Cape.

In a recent letter written by Dr Ricky Taylor, Regional Ecologist for Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, he brings some insight to the efforts going in to conserving our heritage:

St Lucia, like most of our protected environments, is affected by what happens beyond the boundaries of the protected area. The main rivers flowing into the estuarine system nowadays carry about 25% less water than when the catchments were undeveloped. This water is lost to irrigation, transpiration losses from plantations and evaporation from farm dams.

In addition, the Mfolozi Floodplain was canalized and drained in the 1930s for the planting of sugar. The main canal carries the Mfolozi River and its sediments through what was a swampland that had formerly trapped much of the sediment. As a result of this alteration to the natural system, the combined St Lucia–Mfolozi Mouth closed in 1951.

To counter this, the Mfolozi River was separated from St Lucia in 1952. This separation of the Mfolozi from St Lucia means that St Lucia is deprived of the Mfolozi water during times of drought. This has had a profound impact on St Lucia and there is currently a World Bank funded initiative to restore (fully or partially) the link between St Lucia and the Mfolozi River.

It must be appreciated that the management of St Lucia is complex and is based on the understanding of how the estuary functions that has been gained from 50 years of scientific research and on the advice given by some of the leading estuarine scientists in the country. St Lucia has been subjected to a very severe drought since early in 2001 and has been pushed to extreme limits during this period.

A full and more detailed account can be read at Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife with loads of other interesting information and places to stay. Enjoy the short holidays, and take lots of photos! Why not send them to us and we might even put them in our online album for everyone to see!



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