SANBI’s Wetland Programme recently launched a user manual at the annual National Biodiversity Planning Forum to aid in the classification of wetlands. The publication of this manual represents a significant milestone for aquatic science in the country.
It is hoped that it will promote the development of a common language and facilitate a deeper understanding of our inland aquatic ecosystems amongst a broad range of people throughout the country.
The naming of things to create a common language lies at the heart of communication between people, and it provides a doorway to gaining a better understanding of the world around us. It is therefore not surprising that science in general, and natural science in particular, is founded upon the naming of things in a structured manner, otherwise known as "classification". When it comes to wetlands and other aquatic ecosystems, some sort of "classification system" is generally used to group similar aquatic ecosystems together under the same names and to separate different aquatic ecosystems from each other. The problem is that there is no globally accepted classification system for aquatic ecosystems, and different classification systems are used in different parts of the world, with more than one classification system often being used in the same region, either for different purposes or by different groups of people. This is true for South Africa too, where there has to date been no nationally accepted, comprehensive classification system for the naming and description of aquatic ecosystems, especially in the case of inland (non-marine/estuarine) systems.
Since the 1980's, there have been a number of initiatives to develop a nationally applicable classification system for the common naming of different types of wetlands and other inland aquatic ecosystems in South Africa. SANBI picked up the baton in 2005 and, together with the Water Research Commission, began a project to reconcile the outputs of multiple initiatives and build them further into a national classification system for wetlands and other aquatic ecosystems. This user manual and an accompanying scientific paper that has been written about the classification system represent the culmination of the project - at least for inland systems.
This manual aims to provide user-friendly guidance for application of the classification system to inland wetlands and aquatic ecosystems of South Africa. The manual has been produced in a format that can be used in the field and is designed to appeal to a wide range of user-groups, including both non-specialists and experts. The manual includes detailed descriptions of the different types of wetlands and aquatic ecosystems, explanations of how to differentiate between different types, guidance on how to deal with the classification of inland aquatic systems where the distinction between different units is not clear-cut, worked examples, drawings and photographs to complement the descriptions and explanations. These will help facilitate consistent classification of inland wetlands and other aquatic ecosystems throughout the country.