Impacts of climate change on SA

2010-07-09 13:48

South Africa is not immune to climate change. South Africa has a coastline, made of rocky, sandy and mixed beaches. The coastline is more than 3 000 km long and runs from Namibia’s border in the west to Mozambique in the east. The Indian Ocean (east), Atlantic Ocean (west) and the Southern Ocean (south) contribute to the difference in climates experienced in these regions.

Because this country’s coastal areas are so beautiful and have a high level of biodiversity, they are home to around 30% of the population.

The coastal areas are one of the biggest attractions for both local and international tourists. In fact, the coastal zone and oceans play a big role in the socio-economic well being of this country.

Experts predict that the impact of climate change to South Africa’s oceans and coasts will be:
•    a rise in the sea level;
•    increased frequency and intensity of storms and floods;
•    an increase in droughts;
•    ocean acidification;
•    ecosystem changes which will affect various species;
•    impacts on industry and areas where people live; and
•    an increase in diseases.

These impacts have far-reaching consequences for South Africa’s coastal regions.

Extreme storms on the South African coast are becoming more frequent and more intense. An example of this is the devastating storm that hit the Kwa-Zulu Natal coast in March 2007. The damage to coastal services and infrastruc¬ture cost more than R1 bil¬lion.
Impacts on living marine resources

Changes in water masses (oceans and seas) around South Africa can affect both numbers of living marine resources and their availability to the offshore fishing industry of the country.

An eastward shift in the distribution of inshore resources, such as rock lobsters, and in open sea supplies of sardines and anchovy has been noticed in the past ten years.

Impacts on marine biodiversity

The influence of climate on South Africa’s marine biodiversity may be direct or indirect. Direct influences on marine biodiversity include:
•    storms washing over islands where seabirds breed, and recently this was seen at Lambert’s Bay and Bird Island in Algoa Bay;
•    temperature (how hot or cold it is) in areas where nests are can influence the sex of hatchling turtles or the breeding success of penguins; and
•    temperature can also influence the distribution of organisms.

Indirect influences of climate on marine diversity takes place through the effect climate has on the food web. Impacts on marine ecosystems could include:
•    large shifts in the distribution of organisms; and
•    noticable changes in the condition of organisms such as the Cape gannets that moved from Namibia to South Africa.
•    The eastward shift in the distribution of anchovy and sardines, have resulted in a severe mismatch in:
the distributions of areas where breeding takes place; and
•    large decreases in predator numbers.

As another example, between 2004 and 2008 numbers of African penguins breeding off western South Africa decreased by almost 70%.

Cormorants (large seabirds) off South Africa’s Western Bank, decreased at northern colonies and increased in the south, because of changes in the distribution of rock lobsters, their main food in this region.

Impacts on coastal communities

Coastal zones, with their increasing populations and improper development, are especially vulnerable to the impacts of a rise in sea level and increases in the intensity of storms.

Ecosystems and natural resources are vulnerable to climate change impacts, which are made worse by human settlement in the following ways:
•    habitats being broken up;
•    a severe decrease in resources;
•    blocked migra¬tion routes and;
•    pollution which results in the extinction of many species.

These effects, on top of the social and economic impacts such as the loss to property and live¬lihoods and businesses affected by infrastructure loss and tourism, have both short-term and long-term consequences.

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