Department of Environment, Forestry & Fisheries commemorates International Day for the Conservation of the Mangrove Ecosystems
26 July 2019
The Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries (DEFF) today joins the rest of the world in commemorating the annual International Day for the Conservation of the Mangrove Ecosystem.
The Department, along with the management authorities and various stakeholders including academia and research institutions have all worked together to improve the status, importance, and management of mangroves in South Africa; and to safeguard the long-term restoration of these ecosystems.
Mangroves distribution range is limited to the eastern part of South Africa’s 3200 km coastline, from Kosi Bay estuary in the KwaZulu-Natal Province and reach their Southern distributional limit at Tyolomnqa Estuary near East London, Eastern Cape Province. Generally, mangroves occur in sheltered estuaries that have a permanent connection to the sea; and occur in 31 estuaries along the East coast of the country. Their absence in cool temperate regions (West coast of South Africa) could be attributed to the lower seawater temperatures and lack of sheltered open estuaries.
There’s a total of eight mangrove species occuring along the South African coastline. The three dominant species are the white mangrove (Avicennia marina), black mangrove (Bruguiera gymnorhiza) and the red mangrove (Rhizophora mucronata). With an additional three species (Ceriops tagal, Lumnitzera racemosa and Xylocarpus granatum) found in the Kosi Estuary that has recently been classified as occurring in the tropical biogeographic zone.
The area covered by mangroves in South Africa is small compared to other East African countries (total mangrove cover is currently estimated at 1 631 ha), and the largest mangrove forests are found in the subtropical areas (iSimangaliso Wetland Park and Richards Bay estuary).
Mangroves are incredibly important ecosystems that provide ecosystem services and we should care for and invest in their conservation. The ecosystem services include, but are not limited to:
- Serving as biodiversity hotspots, home to an incredible array of species, and provide nesting and breeding habitat for fish, shellfish, migratory birds, and sea turtles;
- Providing for livelihoods, healthy mangrove ecosystems mean healthy fisheries from which to fish by local communities, and the suroundings provides for sustainable farming;
- Maintaining water quality, with their dense network of roots and surrounding vegetation, they filter and trap sediments, heavy metals, and other pollutants;
- Serving as a buffer against erosion, storm surge, flooding, as they stabilise shorelines by slowing erosion and provide natural barriers protecting coastal communities;
- Serving as carbon storage, mangroves sequestrate carbon at a rate two to four times greater than mature tropical forests and store three to five times more carbon per equivalent area than tropical forests like the Amazon rainforest. Thus conserving and restoring mangroves is essential to South Africa’s fight against climate change;
- Serving for direct and indirect use, communities have historically used mangrove wood and other extracts for both building and medicinal purposes;
- Healthy mangrove forests have an untapped potential for sustainable revenue-generating initiatives including ecotourism, sport fishing, and other recreational activities.
Mangroves are also one of the few forest types that have been listed as threatened ecosystems under the National Environment Management: Biodiversity Act, and are protected under the National Forests Act of 1998. Since mangroves form part of the estuary, they are managed through the Estuary Management Plans, for example in the case of Durban Bay, uMnganzana, Ntafufu and Nahoon EMPs.
Through various studies, it has been recorded that the estuarine habitat has declined due to anthropogenic activities occurring within the Estuarine Functional Zone such as infrastructure development, overgrazing, agricultural activities and poor water quality. To advance the management of mangroves, South Africa, as a member state to Ramsar Convention, supported the implementation of the Ramsar COP13 resolution which seeks to promote conservation, restoration and sustainable management of these ecosystems.
The DEFF has embarked on a process to collect data (including from citizen science and indigenous knowledge), map these ecosystems, analyse the information, and make such information publicly accessible with a view to derive evidence-based management interventions to improve the status of mangroves in South Africa.
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