Rain relief for dry St Lucia

2008-12-12 00:00

Rain has brought some relief to iSimangaliso Wetland Park, which has been caught in a seven-year drought.

Spokesman Roland Vorwerk yesterday confirmed that the Mkuze camp has been re-opened and that Mkuze’s extremely popular hides are operating again. In past months, tourists became distressed while watching thirsty animals searching for water. Rains have also begun to fill many of the pans.

According to Vorwerk, infrastructure projects within Mkuze (valued at R20 million) are on schedule for completion by mid-2009. These include the upgrade of existing roads and the addition of a new loop. At this point, however, there is no indication when Charters Creek and Fanies Island on the western shores, which are popular with anglers and bird lovers, will be reopened.

Vorwerk said the most positive development of all is the re-opening of the Umfolozi channel, allowing fresh water to flow into Lake St Lucia. This was the joint achievement of both Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife and iSimangaliso.

“Between May and December, 15 million cubic metres of fresh water entered Lake St Lucia from the Umfolozi River, providing much- needed relief to the southern parts of the drought-stricken lake …

“This fresh water has helped stabilise the St Lucia system, which began to show signs of stress due to the continuing drought that began in 2001, and the ingress of sea water caused by Cyclone Gamede, which breached the estuary mouth in March 2007. On December 5, a rapid three-metre rise in the level of the Umfolozi River began to naturally breach the Umfolozi River into sea,” Vorwerk said.

He said, in the past, sediment- laden water from the Umfolozi was directed straight into the Indian Ocean as too much sediment increases the risk of St Lucia becoming a salt pan in the longer term. However, the relatively sediment-free water that is being directed into the lake at present has provided much-needed relief.

He said the drought saw salinity levels in the lake climb to double those of the ocean. Although fluctuating salt levels are a unique feature of Lake St Lucia, the decision to artificially open the Umfolozi mouth prevented the growing problem of hypersalinity in the north.

He added that ongoing good rains will allow the estuary mouth into the ocean to reopen naturally, allowing Lake St Lucia to again become a fully functioning estuary. In the past, the estuary mouth was dredged to keep it open. However, this was halted as, during droughts, sea water inundates the lake.

Andrew Zaloumis, head of iSimangaliso, confirmed that an agreement has been signed with the World Bank and an environmental impact assessment is under way to devise an environmentally-friendly means of bringing fresh, sediment-free water from the Umfolozi into Lake St Lucia on an ongoing basis.

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