Professor Alan Whitfield, Chief Scientist at the South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity (SAIAB), is a leading estuarine ecologist with a particular interest in the biology and ecology of fishes within these environments. Click here to go to the SAIAB website. It was a privilege to listen to his thought provoking presentation titled Can Conservation of Eastern Cape Estuaries Counteract Collapsed Coastal Fisheries
The evening, hosted by the Sustainable Seas Trust began with an introduction to Ndlambe’s nine estuaries by Fanie Fouche, the Deputy Director of Community Protection Services for the Municipality. He mentioned the challenges of managing the coastal area and estuaries stretching from the Fish River south to the Sundays River Valley. He said that circumstances might change after the municipal elections later this year but he emphasised the need for all of us to work together.
Professor Whitfield began his presentation by discussing the importance of estuaries in the life cycles of many fish species. With the use of slides he illustrated that a total of 155 species are associated with South African estuaries; 42 species (27%) can breed in estuaries; 61 species (39%) use estuaries as nurseries and 103 species (66%) are completely or partially depend on estuaries.
He then highlighted threats arising from, for example, habitat destruction, fish exploitation, alien invasives, climate change and human impact (coastal developments and pollution). He said that the health of estuaries is also dependent on the wise management of catchment areas, particularly the provision of fresh water to estuaries. Professor Whitfield mentioned that South Africa has good environmental legislation, however problems arise because of a lack of implementation of environmental and fisheries legislation at all levels of governance.
The presentation concluded with two possible scenarios moving forward for South African estuarine fisheries. The ‘high catch road’ would be 1) fisheries regulations rigorously enforced by dedicated staff, 2) environmental legislation fully implemented by authorities, 3) expansion of the network of protected areas for fishes and associated aquatic resources and 4) catch and release angling spreading to all recreational sectors. The ‘low catch road’ would be 1) lack of fisheries regulations enforcement and increase in gill net poaching in estuaries, 2) poor implementation of environmental legislation by provincial and national authorities, 3) ineffective protected areas and no new estuarine reserves declared, and 4) catch and release angling confined to an absolutely minimum
It is up to us to play our part in contributing to the conservation of our estuaries.
Below:Photo courtesy Professor Alan Whitfield