With the population and unemployment rising rapidly and social services already strained, it is time for all of us in the Overstrand to look to our future. We must ask ourselves two fundamental questions:
– What natural resources does the Overstrand offer to help us to provide a better life for all?
– More important, how are we going to protect these resources so that we can still benefit from them in years to come? In other words, what do we need to do to develop sustainably?
The Overstrand Municipality recently launched an initiative to prepare the Overstrand Integrated Development Framework (IDF). It poses the question “What environment do we want to live in, in 30-40 years from now and how do we achieve this?” The document will ‘provide guidance to the private and public sectors on the agreed long term development direction for the Overstrand’.
The first step in the conservation of any resource is not to waste it. This means using the resource sparingly, monitoring its use and disposing of any surplus in a way that either reuses it or sores it responsibly. We, at Whale Coast Conservation, have therefore chosen “Waste Not, Save a Lot” as the central theme for our activities for 2013. This theme is integral to the project funded by the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund to promote sustainable living and development in the Overberg.
The planet has ecological limits to growth or, put more simply, we only have one planet and it has finite resources. If we consume these resources faster than nature can produce more, we will soon run out of the essentials for life on earth provided to us – free of charge – by nature. These are the so-called ecosystem services. These services include clean air, fresh water, healthy soil and oceans, and the biodiversity of all the animals and plants on earth.
Similarly, we have only one Overstrand, a region that is blessed, not only with natural beauty, but with valuable ecosystem services. These are our most precious resources. But what are they? How do they benefit us?
The beauty of the natural and urban environment of the Overstrand is evident. It features in all our promotional material to attract visitors to our area – visitors who contribute hugely to our economy and potential employment opportunities. Yet are we doing enough to protect these priceless vistas of mountains, fynbos and seas?
Fynbos is synonymous with the Western Cape and the Overstrand in particular. The Kogelberg is the heart of the world’s smallest, but most bio-diverse, floral kingdom. We are all familiar with the value of wild flowers in terms of tourism, flower exports and habitat for bees. But what other hidden services does fynbos provide and how much is this floral kingdom worth to us? In a study of the value of mountain fynbos ecosystems services, Higgens et.al. concluded that “The total mountain fynbos ecosystem is estimated to be worth up to R300 million p.a. Water production and genetic storage are the most valuable.”
Water provision is one of the most important eco-system services provided by fynbos. The fibrous roots of the many fynbos species act like a giant sponge soaking up the rain – an adaptation to drought that evolved over millions of years. This retention of water not only helps fynbos survive, but also prevents wasteful loss of rain water in the form of flash floods that cause soil erosion and other damage. Instead, the water is released gradually to provide a steady and controlled flow of water into rivers, wetlands and ground water. This service provided by fynbos is seldom recognised and certainly not given a monetary value when land use decisions are taken. Do we really know what the cost is to us all when even a small patch of fynbos is irrevocably transformed by development? Let us be cautious of our use of land and cherish every piece of land that provides a habitat for fynbos.
The Mountains of the Overberg are a visual inspiration and a hiker’s delight, and provide us with the most critical ecosystem service of all – fresh water. Surface water from mountain streams is used for agriculture and stored in dams for human use. Water percolates into the ground and accumulates in aquifers from where it can be pumped out through boreholes. But how sustainable is our water supply and how are we managing it? Global Climate Change predicts 20% less rainfall in the Western Cape over the next couple of decades; this translates into 40% less run-off into rivers, dams and groundwater. Hermanus is already abstracting about 50% of its water from ground-water. No-one knows exactly how much water there is and what the long-term effects of abstracting it in large volumes will be on the environment. There are monitoring boreholes in place, but once adverse effects are noted it might be too late to stop extracting. Wasting this precious water asset can have wide-spread ecological impacts. And it costs a lot of money to get pure water to us all. There is a lot of truth in the old saying “Kinders moenie (in) die water mors nie”.
The southern ocean’s value to the Overstrand cannot be underestimated. Visualise Walker Bay as a fisherman’s paradise once more. What would this mean for tourism and the many fishing communities who live along this coastline? What would it take to restore the marine life in our Bay and do we have the will to do it?
We can protect the sea and all its creatures by not littering – everything we carelessly throw away eventually lands up in our rivers and in the sea where it harms dolphins, turtles and a host of other sea creatures. Marine litter is also a big turn-off for tourists.
Few of us understand just how important estuaries and wetlands are to us, both ecologically and economically. What services do they provide and how can we ensure their future health?
In addition to providing economic, cultural and ecological benefits to communities, estuaries deliver invaluable ecosystem services like fish breeding nurseries, water filtration and purification, and habitat protection.
Habitats associated with estuaries act like enormous filters, filtering pollutants such as herbicides, pesticides, and heavy metals out of the water, as well as excess sediments and nutrients. One reason that estuaries are such productive ecosystems is that the water filtering through them brings in nutrients from the surrounding watershed. In addition to nutrients, that same water often brings with it all of the pollutants that were applied to the lands in the watershed. For this reason, estuaries are some of the most fertile ecosystems on Earth, yet they may also be some of the most polluted.
Estuaries and their surrounding wetlands are also buffer zones. They stabilize shorelines and protect coastal areas, inland habitats and human communities from floods and storm surges. When flooding does occur, estuaries often act like huge sponges, soaking up the excess water. Estuarine habitats also protect streams, river channels and coastal shores from excessive erosion caused by wind and water.
Unlike economic services, ecosystem services are difficult to put a value on, but we cannot do without them, and thus they are essentially priceless. We cannot afford to waste these resources by neglect and ineffective management.
How can we conserve these important ecosystem services?
We all know what is required. We need to live within the capacity of the planet, extracting only what can be replenished and caring for the natural areas that provide the services we all need. Every patch of natural vegetation that is transformed to another use – be it for agriculture or for housing – reduces the capacity of the earth to provide for our needs. Every item we throw away is a potential pollutant of these eco-systems. “Don’t throw anything away – there is no away”.
We take pride in Hermanus being the “Greenest Town” and we want to defend that title for the next 30-40 years.