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A gabion was built at Dorothy Nyembe Environmental Education Centre when the City marked World Wetlands Day.


THE long-term benefits of wetlands to humanity were MEC Nandi Mayathula-Khoza helps put up a gabionMEC Nandi Mayathula-Khoza helps put up a gabionhighlighted at the celebration of World Wetlands Day at Dorothy Nyembe Environmental Education Centre in Dobsonville, Soweto.

The activities, held on 23 February, were organised by the City in partnership with the Gauteng department of agriculture and rural development and were aimed at sharing information about the role of wetlands. They have many benefits, such as helping to filter water.

World Wetlands Day takes place each year on 2 February. It marks the date of the adoption of the Convention on Wetlands in 1971 in the Iranian city of Ramsar, known as the Ramsar Convention, making this year its 41st anniversary.

The theme was “Responsible tourism supports wetlands and people”, which sought to highlight the importance of well-preserved wetlands, as well their natural beauty and biodiversity. In her keynote address, the Gauteng MEC of agricultural and rural development, Nandi Mayathula-Khoza, emphasised the importance of protecting the biodiversity of the wetlands.

“We must endeavour to protect the wetlands from all activities that might negatively affect them [and] rehabilitate those that need some restoration.”

She noted with concern the threats to the wetlands of South Africa, giving as an example the Klip River system, which was polluted. There was also a loss of peatlands caused by erosion. “The environment will no longer be equipped with mechanisms to deal with the impact of climate change,” said Mayathula-Khoza. “It is likely that much of the heavy metal pollution that has been stored in the peat for the past century will be released back into the water, with severe implications for downstream users and the Vaal Barrage.”

She explained that wetlands played a vital role in sustaining healthy watercourses. “Our wetlands are vital [for] filtering pollutants and thus purifying water. They also regulate water flow, thus acting as sponges that store water and release it slowly. The results are the severity of the impact of droughts and floods are greatly reduced.”

Filter

Wetlands help to purify water by trapping pollutants and micro-organisms such as viruses and bacteria that causes diseases like diarrhoea and dysentery. They function like living filters because they remove pollutant nutrients and sediments from surface and groundwater.

Chris Vondo, Joburg’s portfolio head of community development, stressed the importance of creating a sustainable environment for the future. “Protecting and conserving the city’s natural resources is a priority for all.”

Thomani Manungufala, the provincial co-ordinator of the South African National Biodiversity Institute, said wetlands were an essential part of the environment. There were about 27 000 wetlands in Gauteng, which could attract tourists. “If we look after our wetlands there is a lot to gain.”

Ward 47’s councillor, Majori Tsobane, said the aim of the celebration was to build public awareness of and involvement in protecting water resources around the city. “Apart from being beautiful places that enhance the living of people, wetlands can also benefit the economy of the country by providing ecotourism jobs.”

He appealed to the public to support and conserve the few remaining wetlands. “Wetland tourism benefits both people and wildlife by creating sustainable livelihoods and thriving ecosystems.”

Entertainment on the day was provided by two local schools, Makhoarane and Dr Mary Malahela primary schools.

After the speeches, a gabion structure was erected on one of the streams inside the park. It is expected to lower the velocity of water and raise the water table.