The Endangered Wildlife Trust’s (EWT’s) Source to Sea Programme recently visited Alexander Bay as part of their involvement on the project “A Water Secure Future for southern Africa: Applying the ecosystem approach in the Orange-Senqu basin”.
The project, which is funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and co-ordinated by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), aims to build governance capacity through mainstreaming the Ecosystem Approach into Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM) in the Orange‐Senqu River Basin.
The Orange River Mouth has been selected as the South African demonstration project as it is a site of international significance. This transboundary area of extensive saltmarshes, freshwater lagoons and marshes, sand banks, and reedbeds is shared by South Africa and Namibia, and also falls within the Richtervseld SKEP Geographic Priority Area.
The Orange River Mouth is home to up to 60 bird species, some of which are Red Listed including the Cape Cormorant, Damara Tern and Hartlaub’s Gull. It is an important site for resident birds and for staging locally migrant waterbirds. In recognition of this exceptional ecological significance, the Orange River Mouth was designated a Wetland of International Importance in 1991 under the terms of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands. When Namibia’s section of the Orange River Mouth was also designated a Ramsar site in 1995, it created the potential for this wetland to become the first jointly managed transfrontier Ramsar site in southern Africa.
As a result of severe and continued deterioration of the mouth’s general condition, however, the South African portion of the Orange River Mouth was placed on the Ramsar Convention’s Montreux Record, which lists wetlands in need of urgent conservation action. The Orange River Mouth Interim Management Committee (ORMIMC) is the driving force behind efforts currently underway to secure statutory protected status for the estuary and monitoring is being undertaken by the South African Environmental Observation Network (SAEON).
The EWT is in the process of setting up a project in this site to address key threats to the ecosystem. It is working in close partnership with other NGOs, the Northern Cape Department of Environmental Conservation (DENC) and Orange-Senqu River Commission (ORASECOM) to provide support and resources to implement identified conservation needs. These needs include ecological monitoring, invasive alien plant mapping and strategy development, removal of surface waste from the estuary, training of honorary rangers to ensure compliance with fishing regulations and engagement with local schools in the lower Orange River. EWT is assisting the ORMIMC with the proclamation of the Protected Area by providing a zonation plan for the estuary.