GEORGE NEWS – The world’s population will have to become more active in protecting the freshwater resources of the planet, Prof Dirk Roux, NMMU research associate and freshwater conservation scientist for SANParks told a public lecture at the NMMU George Campus earlier this month.
Roux said that freshwater is most threatened natural resource and that the situation is critical. Yet it is so difficult to protect – of the earth’s 1,4 billion km³ of water, only about 0,01% occurs as surface freshwater in lakes, wetlands and rivers.
The wellbeing of humanity is highly dependent on the distribution, quality and availability of this tiny fraction of water. Freshwater ecosystems must be the most precious natural resource on earth. Roux cited the example of the city of New York that purchased the Catskill Mountains for $1-billion. Through strict access control the authorities have minimised pollution, which it estimates has saved the city in the region of $6-billion on elaborate water filtration plants. “George is in a similar position to New York. This is why we are continually calling on the authorities to clear the catchment area of George’s water supply of alien vegetation as this impedes the run-off of surface water that falls on the the seaward slopes of the Outeniqua Mountains.
“Unfortunately, freshwater ecosystems have already deteriorated to critical levels and are regarded as more endangered than land-based and marine ecosystems, worldwide and in South Africa,” said Roux.
He added that while the world’s protected areas are the cornerstones for conserving biodiversity and keeping our planet healthy, their historical land and marine-based bias has not served freshwater ecosystems well. “For example, rivers are not easily contained in protected areas, either flowing through such areas or forming their boundaries,” said Roux.
To address the freshwater conservation deficit in South Africa, scientists, government agencies and stakeholders have worked together to identify strategic areas for conserving freshwater ecosystems. “These areas, known as Freshwater Ecosystem Priority Areas (FEPAs), comprise 22% of South Africa’s river length, 38% of wetland area and 44% of estuaries and if properly managed, have the potential to contribute meaningfully to water security, human wellbeing as well as environmental conservation.”
This lecture forms part of the Sustainable Futures Leadership Series that NMMU presents to cement the healthy relationship that exists between the university and the city of George.
Prof Dirk Roux, NMMU research associate and freshwater conservation scientist for SANParks
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