April Meeting – ‘Western Cape Estuaries’

Members are reminded that Giselle Murison, Project Manager for the Western Cape Estuaries Conservation Project, will be addressing us on the 19th.  The meeting will start at 18h00 so as to allow extra time to discuss possible affiliation with BirdLife SA.

Western Cape Estuaries Conservation Project

South Africa’s estuaries are one of the country’s most productive habitats. Known for their biodiversity and the important functions they perform, such as providing nursery areas for fish, and feeding and staging areas for significant populations of migratory birds, estuaries constitute one of the country’s most valuable, but vulnerable ecosystems. Many are at risk from multiple threats, including unsustainable land use and unsound land management practices, in part due to their lack of formal protection.Photo 1. Riviera mudflat Berg River Estuary Velddrif

BirdLife South Africa’s Western Cape Estuaries Conservation Project looks to address this gap by seeking formal protection and sustained conservation action for this under-protected ecosystem. Funded by WWF South Africa’s Elizabeth Harding Bequest, the project is focused on the expansion and proclamation of protected areas at three high priority estuaries, identified as Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs) in the Western Cape, and on working with landowners to improve conservation action within these estuaries and their catchment areas to further enable their maintenance and management.

The sites, the Berg River Estuary IBA at Velddrif on the West Coast, and the Klein River and Bot-Kleinmond River Estuaries near Hermanus, which form part of the Cape Whale Coast IBA, are some of the most important estuaries in South Africa for conserving birds and biodiversity. Havens for several internationally and nationally important bird species populations, including African Black Oystercatcher Haematopus moquini, Cape Cormorant Phalacrocorax capensis, Greater Flamingo Phoenicopterus roseus, Caspian Tern Sterna caspia and Great White Pelican Pelecanus onocrotalus, as well as significant populations of congregatory waterbirds, such as Red-knobbed Coot Fulica cristata, these estuaries are some of the most valuable in the country for nature conservation, particularly with respect to their bird and fish fauna.

All three estuaries are IBAs; places of international significance for the conservation of birds and other biodiversity. The estuaries’ rich birdlife offers substantial tourism and recreational potential, as do their natural settings, if managed appropriately. They are vital as a nursery for juvenile fish, many species of which form the basis of employment for the local communities, as well as being fundamental to supplying the wider commercial fishing industry.

Under threat from encroaching development, and increasing human disturbance and exploitation, as well as the reduction and pollution of their freshwater inflows, amongst other pressures, these estuaries are highly vulnerable to further degradation and an accompanying loss of biodiversity.

The key objectives of the project are:

• To facilitate formal protected area expansion at these unprotected estuaries through biodiversity stewardship agreements, or similar management models focused on the environment.
• To improve conservation action within the estuaries and their catchment areas, to help landowners tackle the environmental issues they’re facing. By working closely with all relevant stakeholders, including conservation agencies such as Cape Nature, local, provincial and national government bodies, as well as existing forums, such as the Estuary Management Forums, any and all actions aimed at furthering or securing the conservation and protective status of these sites will be identified and progressed with the full cooperation of all parties.

Photo 2. Klein River Estuary Hermanus

It is hoped that future designations will provide benefits for the private landowners involved, while helping to safeguard the areas’ biodiversity and ecosystem services for a more productive and sustainable landscape in the future.

The project will run for three years, from July 2015 until July 2018.

For more information on the project, please contact Giselle Murison at giselle.murison@birdlife.org.za

Prince Edward Islands


News received via BirdLife South Africa: The Department of Environmental Affairs announced that South Africa’s subAntarctic territory, the Prince Edward Islands, has had an enormous Marine Protected Area declared.
The islands are internationally renowned for their important seabird colonies, including holding nearly half of the global population of Wandering Albatrosses (Diomedea exulans), 13% of the world’s King Penguins (Aptenodytes patagonicus), and one of the highest numbers of breeding seabird species (26) of any island in the world. BirdLife International lists the islands as an Important Bird Area in recognition of its irreplaceable biodiversity value. BirdLife is also working at identifying marine Important Bird Areas across the world’s oceans, and the new MPA overlaps with several proposed marine IBAs. The establishment of the multi-zoned MPA will afford protection for many of the breeding seabirds (and other marine life). For example, the establishment of a 12 nautical mile no-take zone around both islands will help to ensure that seabird species such as Gentoo Penguins (Pygoscelis papua) and Crozet Shag (Phalacrocorax melanogenis), which feed exclusively within this area and which have suffered large decreases in recent times, will not face additional pressures from new activities in their feeding ranges.
Dr Ross Wanless, Seabird Division Manager at BirdLife South Africa, commented “This declaration represents the culmination of a lot of work by many dedicated scientists and conservationists over many years. Marine Protected Areas have great potential to protect seabirds and other marine biodiversity, and the scale and nature of the Prince Edward Islands MPA is impressive. I do not doubt that it will benefit all marine life in the area, especially if the restrictions on fishing, which can cause significant seabird mortality, can be enforced.”