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Friday May 24, 2013

Coast under great pressure from development - report

We are "paving" our shores and nearly 20 percent of the coastline is under some form of development, a report has revealed.

The development, within 100m of the shoreline, means that natural buffers against storms and rising seas have been paved over in some areas, putting people and property at risk, particularly as the effects of changing climate intensify.

The report, "Life: The State of South Africa's Biodiversity 2012", pulls together years of scientific data to give a snapshot of the state of the country's natural world, or biodiversity, on which all life and the economy depend.

The purpose of the report, released by Environment Minister Edna Molewa this week, is to guide policymakers and managers.

Our coastline accounts for nearly 4 percent of GDP from fishing, tourism and harbours. The coast and marine ecosystem is under severe pressure from overfishing, poaching, and bad fishing practices - such as trawling the seabed, which the report says is "as damaging and irreversible as ploughing up grasslands".

Other pressures on the coastal areas are mining offshore for heavy metals, diamonds, phosphates, oil and gas, dune mining for heavy metals, shipping, oil pollution, and extracting too much water from rivers, which harms estuaries.

At a glance, the report reveals that:

  • Over half of our wetlands - which purify water, support agriculture and are a buffer against floods - are critically endangered. This excludes the vast number that have been destroyed because they have been dammed, drained or bulldozed for agriculture, urban development and mining.

  • Two out of three of our rivers are in a poor condition and 40 percent of rivers in the lowland areas are critically endangered.

  • Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and North West have lost the most natural habitat. If the current rate of destruction by agriculture, forestry, mining and urban sprawl continues, there will be little or no natural vegetation left in these provinces by 2050.

  • Hake stocks are slowly recovering, but of the 40 commercial marine species that have been assessed, 25 are overexploited or threatened or have collapsed.

  • One in five land mammals and freshwater fish species is threatened with extinction, as are one in seven frog and bird species, one in eight plant species and one in 12 reptile and butterfly species.

  • In the Western Cape the Berg and Breede Rivers are under "extremely high levels of threat" and need urgent efforts to restore them.

  • To help protect our rivers, the report urges decision-makers to include river catchments in protected areas and not to put developments on or near rivers.

  • Most of the critically endangered rivers are found around big cities, in agricultural areas or around mines.

    This is where water demand is greatest and where most of the natural water catchment has been lost.

    The report says crucial interventions to stop the degradation include action to stem the loss and throwing the protected areas net wider.

    Cape Times

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