From the 20th to the 21st of February, The Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism Agency (ECPTA) Biodiversity Stewardship Programme hosted a two day national learning exchange in Port Elizabeth.
The event was organised by Tracey Potts who is the manager of ECPTA’s Biodiversity Stewardship Programme and was attended by various conservation agencies, researchers, students and institutional partners who represented the Northern Cape Department of Environment & Nature Conservation (DENC), the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT), WWF South Africa, the South African National Parks, Conservation South Africa (CSA), Eden to Addo, Living Lands, CapeNature, Zwartkops Conservancy, and Nelson Mandela Bay Metro.
On the first day, presentations delivered focused on the role of Protected Environments (PE’s) in corridors, research, the law, and exploring the possibility of establishing a landowner’s forum. Throughout the session participants shared their case study lessons learnt such as an NGO declaring PE’s, experiences of engaging with the mining sector in the context of PE’s, analysed comparative assessments regarding the benefits and limitations of different stewardship and PE mechanisms and the role of identity on the successes of large-scale biodiversity stewardship initiatives.
On the morning of the 21st, a field trip to the Swartkops Estuary was conducted. The ECPTA, Nelson Mandela Bay Metro and the Zwartkops Conservancy have been working together to declare the area a PE and to make an application for RAMSAR status. The field trip, hosted by Jenny Rump from the Zwartkops Conservancy and Leandri Gerber from the ECPTA and Lukhanyo Makaka from the Nelson Mandela Bay Metro, kick-started at the Mouth of the estuary.
The Swartkops Estuary is the third largest area of salt marsh in South Africa and provides habitat to 200 birds. The estuary has Important Bird Area (IBA) status. This means that it is a globally important bird area. Eighteen South African Red Data species occur of which ten are present on a daily basis. There are a large number and variety of invertebrates (bait species) found in the estuary. Of these the mud prawn Upogebia africana makes up over 90% of the prey biomass of birds feeding in the estuary. These also provide food for the large number of fish species that feed on the inter-tidal mud banks.
Several permanent and ephemeral freshwater pans are also found in the area. These are also highly attractive to water birds and taken together with the intertidal mudflats the total number of water birds is likely to exceed 20 000 in some years. The site also makes a considerable contribution to vegetation targets.
The declaration of a PE within a Metro as well as the establishment of a RAMSAR Site, particularly where there is such a high level of both subsistence and recreational use, is going to be a challenging process and this was highlighted and demonstrated throughout the field trip.
For more information on Zwartkops Conservancy go to http://www.zwartkopsconservancy.org/what-we-do/conservation/