Deputy Minister Barbara Thomson’s speech at the World Wetlands Day Celebration

False Bay Nature Reserve, Western Cape, 02 February 2015


Program Director,
Officials from National,
Provincial and Local Government,
Members of the media,

Ladies and Gentlemen

It gives me great pleasure to celebrate with you the designation of the False Bay Nature Reserve as a Wetland of International Importance.  The designation of this wetland is testimony to our commitment as a country to pursue the RAMSAR Convention’s mission of “the conservation and wise use of all wetlands through local and national actions and international cooperation, as a contribution towards achieving sustainable development throughout the world”.

Why do we place so much emphasis on the protection of Wetlands?

Wetlands are complex and dynamic ecosystems thatare extremely important to society and provide significant economic, social and cultural benefits. Wetlands support our agricultural activities by providing a source of water for irrigation and livestock and for domestic consumption. Many coastal and inland wetlands are popular locations for tourism and recreational activities such as swimming, boating, fishing, camping and bird watching thus offering income opportunities for local communities.  Wetlands also act as natural sponges that store water in times of heavy rainfall and release it during dry periods. And in a dry country like South Africa, this is crucial. By regulating water flows during floods, wetlands reduce flood damage and help prevent soil erosion. Wetlands also purify water by acting as natural filters and trapping pollutants, which include heavy metals and disease-causing bacteria and viruses.

Despite the valuable services provided by Wetlands, it has been found that they are the most threatened ecosystems globally. It is estimated that in South Africa alone we havelost an estimated 50% of wetlands through unwise and poor land management.

In response to this, our department has since 2002 been profiling the long list of benefits which individuals, communities and the economy derive from the wetlands.  During the above same period, we have stepped up awareness campaigns, appealing for greater sensitivity and understanding about the vulnerable state of our wetlands due to degradation and unsustainable practices.  In instances when our hand was forced, we approached the courts to stop the clearing or tampering with wetlands for developments.

Today marks World Wetlands Day and I think it is appropriate that we use this occasion to re-affirm our collective commitment to preserve our wetlands and re-dedicate ourselves to bring all South Africans on board to contribute to this important task.

It is also fitting that we do so at the  False Bay Nature Reserve which  is an integral component of the Cape Town Biodiversity Network -a network of sites and corridors required to conserve an ecologically representative sample of the vegetation types found in the city, some of which are found nowhere else in the world.

The False Bay Ecology Park, which is at the core of the False Bay Nature Reserve and Ramsar Site, has great tourism economic opportunities, which, I am told, have already been recognized and targeted for deriving substantial economic benefits. It is important that we spread these opportunities equitably to empower historically disadvantaged communities residing in its proximity.

The designation of Ramsar status attests to the globally important status of the False Bay Nature reserve as a Wetland of International Significance and more than 100 000 people have been recorded visiting the reserve annually.  In the Zeekoevlei section, key recreational activities include fishing, sailing and rowing, braaiing (barbequing), picnicking, model aircraft flying and walking.  The Zeekoevlei Yacht Club immediately borders Zeekoevlei and provides sailing and other water based recreational facilities. This facility supports and participates in local and national sailing events.

I am pleased to note that the associated Zeekoevlei Sailing Centre is a public benefit organisation aimed at introducing disadvantaged youth from the local community to sailing, leadership life skills and boat maintenance careers.  Also that a development rowing programme is active at Zeekoevlei for disadvantaged youth from surrounding areas. These are commendable initiatives that give these young people a real chance to lift themselves out of poverty.

Ladies and gentlemen, we all know that partnerships and community involvement will be critical in sustaining the False Bay Nature reserve as a Wetland of International Significance. I am pleased therefore to note that environmental education constitutes an important focus area in False Bay Nature Reserve, with three environmental education programmes currently running, namely the Zeekoevlei Environmental Education, the False Bay Ecology Park Environmental Education Centre and the Rondevlei Environmental Education Centre.

Between 4 000 - 6 000 learners participate in these environmental education programmes annually, where they are educated through field trips, bush camps, hands-on environmental activities, displays and talks, as well as reptile and animal shows.

A number of key and strategic partnerships underpin activities in the area. These include formal partnerships, via Memorandum of Understandings with Cape Town Environmental Education Trust relating to Environmental Education and Skills Development and Capacity Building Programmes, and BirdLife South Africa and the Cape Bird Club.

The False Bay Ecology Park / False Bay Nature Reserve’s strong focus on environmental education, partnerships and linking with the surrounding communities (across the socio-economic spectrum) links directly with the 2015 World Wetland Day theme of Wetlands for the Future.

Ladies and gentlemen, for World Wetlands Day 2015, we are asking for your help in turning the tide and helping to create awareness of how essential wetlands are for our future.  Ignoring protection of the wetlands can only result in disasters, food insecurity and the destruction of biodiversity that would ultimately hasten the onset of the negative impacts of climate change.

Let’s work together to secure our Wetlands for them to provide for our future and the future generations.

In conclusion, I would like to congratulate the city of Cape Town for the good work done in putting in a proposal for the designation of this unique wetlands as a Ramsar site and I would like to do it by handing over to them the Ramsar certificate.  I would like to invite the Mayor and MEC to come forward and receive the certificates.

Thank you