Masakhane Primary Wetland Education

Members of the WCC schools education team hosted an outdoor wetlands education Programme in the Stanford Mill Stream for learners from Masakhane Primary School. Wetlands are areas where water either covers the surface or saturates the soil for all or part of the year. They include lakes, pans, seeps, marshes, swamps, reed beds, floodplains, ‘vleis’ and estuaries. Wetlands are so special because they provide a variety of ecosystem services such as habitat for both aquatic and terrestrial animals including frogs, fish and birds.

Wetlands play an important role in water purification and flood control. Forty-eight grade 4 and fifty grade 5 learners came to find out more about wetlands and the work that has been done by WCC on the Mill Stream. The learners broke into smaller groups and visited each of the five stations.

Kathie Buley started by explaining the fact that food, water and air are essential for all life on Earth. Sadly, with so many people our water resources are becoming scare and so we need to look after our water resources. One such resource is Wetlands or umhlabo omanzi. They looked at a peaceful pond (ichibi) and the biodiversity there.

They had a net, a bucket and magnifying glasses. They dipped the net in and put the creatures into a bucket and found a tiny frog which they thought may be a tiny clicking stream frog or a Caco. She then discussed the concept of metamorphosis. They also looked at spiders and insects with magnifying glasses and counted their legs. They made sure they returned the creatures to their home. 

Some of the learners were thrilled to look at the pollen loaded anthers on flowers. They then sat in the shade and listened to bird calls and identified these. The children were curious and seemed to have fun.

Shirley Mgoboza explained what the purpose of installing gabions at the storm water discharge points is. Biofilm grow on the surface of the stone inside the gabions. There are unicellular algae in the biofilm that absorb these chemical compounds. There is also algae growing on and in the gabions which do the same thing. In addition we created a lily pond and a combo lily and reed bed beyond the gabions. These plants also absorb phosphates and nitrates. We test for nitrates and phosphates at various points to see which treatment or combination of treatment is the most effect in reducing the levels of nitrate and phosphates in the water.

Shirley tested for nitrates at two points. The tests measured 0.5mg/l nitrates before the gabion and 0mg/l nitrates after.

Thembisile Mangali explained that they do reed cutting in the stream. He told them about the compost and animal feed that is made from the reeds that they cut.

He further explained that they cut the old reeds to stimulate new growth and to make the site look beautiful. He also talked about the birds and frogs that need clean water in the Stream and how important it is for them to constantly cut the reeds growing in the Mill Stream. He encouraged the learners to look after their environment so that future generations are also able to enjoy the ecosystem.

Sheraine van Wyk gave an overview of the Mill Stream Project to the group, where in a Page 3 of 3 very truncated way emphasising that the borrow pit captures the stream, collects and holds polluting chemicals and silt. She also mention that the project started because of a citizen science frog monitoring project with Okkie Smuts boarding house learners who was able to work with her at night and early in the morning before the sun came up. They found that there were no aquatic frogs in the main body of the stream or the borrow pit. The need to investigate what the problems with the system are and how to fix it was established through the work of those primary school learners.

She talked about the chemicals that we find in high concentrations in the water i.e. nitrates and phosphates. She then showed the overflow pipe and explained the Project Storm application there. They sampled water from the pipe outlet and also took a sample from below the fourth gabion. The test results showed a 50% reduction in the phosphate content between these two points. The experiment appears to be working!

Jo-Hann Plaatjies spoke to the learners about the alien invasive plants that grow around the Mill Stream.

He started explaining that alien invasive plants are plants which are not indigenous to South Africa. They are from other countries and pose a threat to our environment. He showed them examples such as Port Jackson and Rooikrans. He explained that they suck too much water from the stream and they out-crowd the indigenous plants. He explained that they need to take out the roots with tools like tree poppers so that they do not grow back again. If the tree is large, they cut it with a chainsaw and paint herbicide on the stump to kill it.

The morning ended off with cake and cool drink.

We are most grateful to the AVI Community Trust and BOCMA for sponsoring this outdoor education programme.