South Africa’s Minister of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries, Barbara Creecy, is to appoint an independent panel of scientists to evaluate the state of interventions carried out at the St Lucia estuary in KwaZulu Natal last month.
This follows a decision in January to remove the embankment at the mouth of the estuary as part of a management plan to facilitate restoration and functioning of the estuarine system.
Tourism Update received several comments highlighting that this was not an environmentally sound decision and that there were greater considerations, including the livelihoods of local sugar cane farmers, and the larger ecological impact on the area.
One reader said: “The estuary should be allowed to follow natural processes. Not drained to suit the whim of sugar farmers and ratepayer association members!”
Another highlighted that ecologists who had been working on the project had argued against the intervention and officials had assured them no digging would occur at the estuary. “R70 million (€3.9m) in conservation and restoration funds sucked down the drain and years of progress,” read the comment.
Creecy acknowledged widespread interest on the matter and the differing scientific views on the best management strategy for the conservation and preservation of the site, noting that she had received an open letter from scientists about it and had thus been compelled to investigate this further.
The panel is to evaluate and advise on the following:
- The exceptional circumstances, as defined in the Estuarine Management Plan, that led to the decision to open the mouth, including those of an environmental, social and economic nature.
- The impact of the mouth opening on the functioning of the estuary system and the wetland system as a whole, and the associated environmental, social and economic implications.
- Guidelines for the immediate and ongoing management of the system.
Creecy said the names of the panellists would be published once the appointment process had been concluded.