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A rocky road or a bed of roses…

The Southern Gouritz Bio-Diversity Corridor

Private Conservation in Practice

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THE Southern Corridor of the Gouritz Initiative is one the most threatened and difficult to conserve areas within the Gouritz Initiative. The coastal lowlands have always been prime agricultural land and as such much transformation has taken place in the landscape. Habitat fragmentation, poor water quality, low annual average rainfall, alien vegetation infestation and looming developments are all placing the unique environmental characteristics of the area at risk. The coastal portion of the corridor is arguably the most threatened habitat type within the Gouritz corridor. The coastal vegetation is under threat from alien invasive plants, and indiscriminate developments on the last remaining patches of pristine coastal vegetation.

Gourits river estuary

The Gourits river estuary which is a permanently open estuary is at the receiving end of all the environmental degradation that takes place in the catchment of more than 43 000 km². Over abstraction of water from the river, siltation of the river from poor agricultural practices and infestation by alien plants in the catchment areas are some of the threats to the estuary. Estuaries are the breeding grounds for many marine fish species, the fish are dependant on these breeding nurseries to replenish already dwindling fish stocks. The survival of the commercial fishing industry is inextricably linked to these severely threatened estuarine environments.

Threats

The degradation of the physical habitat of the estuary and associated marine environment is threatening its survival.

Incorrect placement of coastal developments, the indiscriminate building of houses, the driving of vehicles into the salt marshes, destruction of salt marsh from trampling by people accessing the estuary to fish, the landing of boats on the banks of the salt marshes damages the substrate and destroys the vegetation on the banks.

The grazing of livestock right up to the banks of the estuary is causing severe bank collapse, the wakes of speeding boats on the estuary leave small fish stranded on the estuarine banks and increase bank erosion, the placement of fences and other obstructions into the estuary impacts on flow dynamics and creates sediment traps in the wrong places. These are but a few of the threats. Almost overwhelming!

Corridors

It is widely accepted that the river corridor itself is not sufficient to ensure that plants and animals can migrate in response to climatic changes into the future. Plants and animals have many different criteria which must be met before they can/will migrate. Some birds require cover and will not cross open spaces such as ploughed fields, certain small mammals have the same problems. Some animals rely on regular water sources before they can move. Aquatic animals require continuous flowing water before they can migrate etc.

Plants on the other hand require physical space and time to migrate. This requires continuous vegetation corridors down/up which plants can move in response to environmental changes. Without this corridor many plant species will simply cease to exist!!

Extinction may be a natural process, but not at the rate at which humans have caused it to accelerate!

Challenges

The current social environment throughout our country is faced with many challenges. High unemployment, escalating crime and slow delivery of government relief is placing even more pressure on the natural resources of the country as a whole. The environment bares the brunt of all of this! The unsustainable utilisation of the natural resources of the country is escalating.

Yet Mother Nature has the capacity to provide, but she also requires time to rest and recuperate and ultimately regenerate in order to provide for another day.

GI

The Gouritz Initiative has been developed through the understanding of the critical importance of this part of the Cape Floristic Kingdom and its contribution to the bio-diversity of the country and world at large. Aimed at private landowners, and the rest of civil society, it aims to promote the responsible and sustainable use of the natural environment. The establishment of a natural corridor, focused on the Gourits River, from the Karoo to the sea is an ambitious goal, but an essential one.

The Gouritz Initiative has fostered good working relationships amongst the various local Departments and local government. This will ensure a focused allocation of resources and co-operation between departments, ultimately increasing productivity and effectivity.

Implementation

Turning planning and strategising into implementation will become a reality through cooperation and teamwork amongst alf the role-players, i.e. society at large.

The future is full of opportunities and hope. The buy-in of private landowners is essential to ensure that we conserve our natural heritage for future generations. The path to success is through implementing clear, achievable objectives. The immediate threats are alien invasive plants, indiscriminate destruction of the remaining natural habitats, over abstraction of water and private developments.

Starting own conservation projects

Several initiatives in the area have gone a long way to conserving and protecting their environments. The Fransmanshoek conservancy, together with Kanon Private Nature Reserve, Kanon Valley Estates and other private landowners along the coastline east of the Gourits river estuary have started a privately funded initiative to employ persons from previously disadvantaged communities to work within the area. The focus being marine compliance and law enforcement, alien plant control, visitor control and biological monitoring. This, together with their own conservation projects, has greatly increased the conservation status of the area.

Kanon Private Nature Reserve, together with Marine and Coastal Management and the WCNCB has focused on introducing local schools to marine conservation. Several beach cleanups have been organized and through generous donations from Kanon, the kids were able to enjoy an educational day along the coast.

Dedicated Gourits river conservation Trust

West of the river, the Gourits river Conservation Trust, which is run by a group of dedicated individuals from

Gouritsmond is at the forefront of ensuring the conservation and protection of the Gourits river Estuary. They were instrumental in having regulations promulgated for the use of the Estuary by members of the public.

Supported, by both the Langeberg and Mossel bay Municipalities, the Trust has successfully implemented important conservation projects in the area. The clearing of alien vegetation from within the municipal commonage has been ongoing and has provided employment to residents of Bietouville. The control and maintenance of the slipway and parking area as well as the control of recreational fishing on the estuary has been an ongoing project. The Trust has also been instrumental in initiating the development of an Environmental Management Plan for Gouritsmond and the estuary, which is in the process of being developed.

Unique fresh water springs

Further west, private landowners are striving for conservation goals. The farm Borrelfontein has unique coastal vegetation associated with the fresh water springs that emanate there. At present the farm is a potential site for being included into the WCNCB Stewardship programme.

Reins cares

Reins Private Nature Reserve, continues to focus on the sustainable use of its resources. This unique nature reserve is a fine example of the responsible management of private land for the benefit of the environment. Its eco-tourism facilities are amongst some of the best along this coastline and the visitor is treated to the magnificence of what this area has to offer.

Get involved

There are many more private initiatives in the area, and many concerned individuals who are willing to make the sacrifices necessary to protect and conserve the last remaining vestiges of natural habitats in this unique area. To all these individuals we say thank you and to everyone else we ask that you support and get involved with the projects in your area.

View Map of GI Sectors

Source: Arne Purves


  Article Date: 23 December 2004

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