14 December, 2018
Reviving the Tsitsikamma Wetlands
A century-old decision to drain
the Tsitsikamma wetlands has resulted in grave
damage. But an MTO project is bringing nature
back to this eco gem.
Tsitsikamma region was once home to impressive
wetlands. Those days are returning thanks to an
ambitious project restoring the natural order to
this area, conserving water and helping local
is a colloquialism for ‘clear water' and the
region stands up to that claim. But roll back the
clock for just over a century and it was even more
impressive with wetlands spanning alongside the
local mountains. Wetlands are not a common sight
in South Africa, taking up less than 3 percent of
its surface area. Yet they are crucially important
in maintaining the natural ecosystem and without
them, serious problems, including loss of water,
start to occur.
was not known in 1917 when a planting project was
started to meet the country's timber needs. The
intention was good - doing so safeguarded hectares
of indigenous forests. But large areas of wetlands
were drained to make space for the trees. Such
destructive activities have taken their toll,
halving SA's percentage of wetlands.
degradation also creates other problems,"
explained Jan Huyser, Environmental Manager at the
MTO Group. "The wetlands functioned as a
floodplain for the water captured by the
mountains. Once they were drained, that flow
narrowed, eventually creating a donga that is
clawing its way upstream."
are essentially transition areas between dry land
and bodies of water. They include high water
tables, fertile soils, aquatic plants and plenty
of wildlife. As such, they act as water filters,
feed underground aquifers and reduce erosion.
Despite their scarcity, wetlands are crucial for
sustaining water. They are also highly valuable to
local communities for water access, livestock
grazing and recreational uses.
implications of wetland draining eventually
resulted in the 1975 RAMSAR Wetland Convention.
But the damage had been done. Then when MTO took
over the Tsitsikamma lease in 2005, it decided to
launch a rehabilitation project. This has two
prongs to attack the problem: the removal of alien
plants and addressing historical damage, such as
plugging drainage ditches and reducing erosion
of the project involves impressive engineering
endeavours, such as gabions (mesh cages filled
with rocks) and weirs (low-level dams to encourage
water retention), as well as eco logs to block
human-made drainage channels.
date, excluding training, logistics and certain
infrastructure, MTO has spent over R11.5 million
on the restoration. It also recognised that some
wetland problems originate further upstream and
has for the past few years been rehabilitating a
Tsitsikamma tributary river, located on Fingo
tribal land belonging to the Mfengu community. In
total, the project has laid down 1818m3 of
gabion structures and 349m3 of concrete
structures, installed over 75 eco logs and cleared
145.5 hectares of invasive species. Overall 2,882m2 of
wetland banks have already been restored.
is very important to us, particularly in a country
with so few water resources," said Lawrence
Polkinghorne, CEO of the MTO Group. "Water is a
very precious resource and we all have a role to
play in its conservation. MTO is committed to
environmental sustainability, we see it as a
ticket to the game"
Source: MTO Group