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Spring breaks – positive news from iSimangaliso

29 November 2012

In 2011 iSimangaliso publicised its strategy to let the uMfolozi River and Lake St Lucia rejoin in a bid to restore the functioning of South Africa’s largest estuarine system. Since 1952 the uMfolozi River has been deliberately kept separate from the St Lucia system, which has reduced freshwater inflow to the system and interfered with natural mouth dynamics. The July 2012 relinking of the uMfolozi River back to the St Lucia estuarine lake system was an important first step towards the restoration of estuarine function, one of the primary aims of the GEF project.

The iSimangaliso Wetland Park has been blessed by excellent rains since the onset of spring, bringing new life to the world heritage site. The spring rainfall received by St Lucia and surrounds during the past three months has been substantially more than previous years. This is clearly evident in the table below that shows that the rainfall recorded at three stations around the park during September and October 2012 has exceeded rainfall received in the same months during the past 15 years.

The recent rains and freshwater flows from the various river catchments have significantly raised water levels in the St Lucia system. Salinities have continued to decline and approach more typical estuarine conditions with all sites recorded below the sea water value of 35 (see graph below). The higher salinities are still found in the more northern parts of the system i.e. a reversed salinity gradient but as water levels rise and the mouth re-establishes a more natural dynamic this is anticipated to change with stronger marine influences at the mouth. According to Estuarine Ecologist Nicky Forbes, Project Manager of Component 1 of the Global Environment Fund (GEF) project aimed at restoring natural estuarine functioning of Lake St Luca, “this is exactly what we had hoped and expected to see and is a big step forward”.

Graph 2: Salinity levels in Lake St Lucia Estuary Phase 2 of GEF project underway If you go down to the beach today … for the first time ever, a detailed, highly accurate topographical survey of the mouth area of Lake St Lucia system is being conducted. As part of the GEF project, iSimangaliso has appointed a survey and mapping company to undertake a bathymetric survey of the lower St Lucia Estuary and a land-based Lidar survey of the beach across the sand barrier that runs along the coast from St. Lucia to Maphelane. This survey will assist the iSimangaliso Authority with its conservation partner Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife to assess the efficacy of the mouth management strategy for the rehabilitation of the Lake St Lucia system. In particular, it will help assess the change in the beach bar and estuary bottom levels brought about by river flow, wave action, sediment erosion, deposition and estuary mouth movements

The team is using a quad bike fitted with survey equipment for the beach barrier survey and a small 4.5 m duck also fitted with survey equipment for the lower uMfolozi River and Lake St Lucia Narrows

The team of specialists undertaking the analysis of the possible management options that will promote restoration of the system will begin their work in January. This process will take ecological, social, financial, political and economic considerations into account, and will include environmental authorisation. The specialists will take one year to complete the work. Thereafter implementation of the selected management interventions will occur

And now for something completely different… Anti-poaching success stories!

Against the backdrop of a growing national crisis in rhino poaching statistics, iSimangaliso and crime fighting partners are hitting back at poachers with a couple of notable recent successes

Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife Conservation Manager for iSimangaliso’s Ozabeni Section, Karl Bentley, setting up an observation point to intercept poachers in the Ozabeni section of iSimangaliso

Acting swiftly on information, a combined operation between iSimangaliso’s contracted Nyathi AntiPoaching and Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife set up an interception point in the Ozabeni section of the Park where two rhino were poached earlier this year. Two armed suspects walked into the interception point at 23h45 and were instructed to drop their rifles. One suspect took his rifle off his shoulder and prepared to fire at the law enforcement staff. A ranger fired at him and he was wounded in the arm, dropping his rifle. He was then secured and given first aid, while the SAPS and the ambulance service were called. The other suspect fled into the night. Upon inspection, the rifle was identified as a heavy calibre .458 Mag hunting rifle, with a live round loaded in the chamber. This calibre rifle is not commonly used for poaching, other than rhino and elephant poaching

In a second operation earlier this month a suspect was arrested in the uMkhuze section of iSimangaliso. This arrest was the result of a sting operation jointly carried out by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, Durban Organised Crime Unit, the SAP National Intervention Unit and Durban South Dog Unit, with helicopter assistance provided through Project Rhino. The interception occurred before a rhino was shot, and one suspect was arrested while others managed to escape unhurt. A .375 rifle with a silencer was recovered. The arrested suspect has also been implicated in several other rhino poaching incidents including one at Charters Creek in 2008/9 and there are unconfirmed links to others

Investigations are ongoing and Warrant Officer JP Roux of Organised Crime, a stalwart in the fight against rhino poaching, said there was reason to believe that the accused and firearms will be linked to a large number of the rhino poaching incidents in Zululand over the last year.

iSimangaliso is delighted about the recovery of these rifles, this will go a long way to reducing the immediate threat on the rhino population in the area. Says iSimangaliso CEO Andrew Zaloumis “Two more shooters and their firearms are out of circulation, and illegal hunts were thwarted before any rhino were murdered”. He thanked the teams for their dedication and the continuous support given to iSimangaliso through the pooling of resources and intelligence to offer stronger resistance against poaching.

This year, iSimangaliso has suffered the loss of eight rhino to poaching. Two of these were in the Ozabeni section, two on the Eastern Shores, three on the Western Shores and one in uMkhuze.

If members of the public have any information, or see anything suspicious please report this to iSimangaliso’s 24-hour emergency no. 082-7977944.

-End- Statement issued by iSimangaliso Wetland Park Authority Media enquires: MLO: Mr. Bheki Manzini  Call/WhatsApp: 060 533 2082 Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.