KZN rehab project praised

2014-10-06 00:00

A KZN project has been hailed as a rare hope for life on Earth, in one of the most shocking reports ever produced on the state of the planet.

Researched by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the Zoological Society of London, the Living Planet Report has dramatically revised earlier numbers to find that the Earth has lost half of its wildlife in 40 years.

Following its launch last week, parents around the world were left to explain to their children how, thanks to humans, the total number of all wild vertebrates — from elephants and fish to plovers and salamanders — have been cut in half in their lifetimes.

The report blamed “habitat loss, [pollution] and degradation, and exploitation through hunting and fishing” as the primary causes for the 52% decrease in the number of individual animals ●— and said that life in the world’s rivers had been slashed by an astonishing 76%.

South Africa was ranked worse than China for the “ecological footprint” of each citizen, with researchers concluding that “a typical resident of South Africa would need 1,4 planets” to survive, if all humans lived like South Africans. Based on the report’s tables which include carbon footprint and land use — one WWF expert said the lifestyle of middle class South Africans would require four Earths, if all humans used resources the way local suburbanites do. Palestine and poorer African countries, like Mozambique and Rwanda, had the smallest negative impact on nature, while the footprints of Kuwaitis and Americans were said to pose the greatest threat to wild creatures.

However, the report pointed to four “planet solution” models to slow the trend, including a low-impact farming approach in Australia, a wind energy project in Denmark, and a wetlands rehabilitation project in KwaZulu-Natal.

The authors praised the rehabilitation of wetlands around Lake St Lucia and other ecosystems in the broader iSimangaliso Wetland Park, in a project led by packaging giant Mondi.

The report found that the company had sacrificed five percent of its potential forestry land — including 23 000 hectares around St Lucia — to “restore ecosystems”, restart fresh water flows, and promote a community ownership model.

It states: “As well as benefiting Lake St Lucia’s many birds and freshwater species, [there are] elephants, rhinos, giraffes and cheetahs in areas which, just a few years ago, were dense pine forest.”

Christine Colvin, a South African freshwater expert for the WWF, told The Witness: “This is real kudos for South Africa and KZN, and for good reason the Mondi Wetlands model is being imported to plantation areas in the Danube basin in Eastern Europe, and elsewhere,” she said.

However, Colvin said that, overall, half of South Africa’s wetlands had been damaged in recent decades — and that the country’s wild populations had been decimated in line with global trends.

Colvin said she was personally “shocked” by the revised findings, and said human survival would be threatened if the trend continued.

“For starters, we won’t be able to feed ourselves without living rivers,” she said.

David Lindley, manager of Wetlands project, said: “Mondi has led the way, but actually all forestry plantation companies and government have got stuck in to rehabilitate our wetlands. But there’s a long way to go.”

Lindley described the WWF findings as representing “an environmental catastrophe”.

The report mentions decimated populations in species from carbou and the forest elephant to fish species and the curlew sandpiper.

Ironically, white rhino — currently under siege by poachers — are one species which have shown massive growth in these 40 years, increasing from around 500 in the 1960s to over 20 000 today.

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