A year of planetary overshoot for South Africa

Locally, temperatures in Africa are rising faster than compared to the global average, and South Africa has reached its planetary overshoot sooner than many other countries . To listen to the full interview with Dr Jako Volschenk, Senior lecturer in Strategy and Sustainability at the University of Stellenbosch Business School go here: http://www.capetalk.co.za/podcasts/294/upfront-with-refilwe-moloto/232280/earth-overshoot-day. Although this sounds discouraging, we need to reflect on our marine biodiversity in South Africa. 

Our exceptional marine biodiversity

Written by Dr. Robert Anderson

Few countries have a coast like ours, which stretches some 3000 km from the tropical edge of one ocean into the cool waters of another. Because the geographical distributions of marine species are controlled by their genetically determined temperature tolerances (nothing can live in water too cold or too hot for it to survive and/or reproduce in), we are endowed with a remarkable diversity of marine life.


We have a west coast that is bathed by water from the cold Benguela current – a cool-temperate coast, in biogeographic jargon. Like similar coasts (e.g. Chile and southern Peru), the cold water is rich in nutrients that sustain a high biomass of plankton which ultimately, through the food-chain, supports rich fisheries: it is a highly productive environment. Moving eastward, our south coast (between Cape Agulhas and the mid-Transkei) is warmer (warm-temperate, in biogeographic terms), as it is bathed by the warm Agulhas Current, but less productive. Further east, the influence of the Agulhas Current is stronger, and the coast of KwaZulu-Natal is subtropical, becoming tropical as one approaches Mozambique. These waters are nutrient-poor, and productivity is low.


Although productivity is generally lower where water temperatures are higher, biodiversity shows the opposite pattern: it is (generally) highest in the tropics. Along our coast, the trend in the total number of species of seaweeds, fish and invertebrates (snails, limpets, small crustaceans, etc.) tells this story. The west coast is home to a total of fewer than 1000 species, the south coast has some 2000 species, and Durban more than 2500 species. Anyone who has snorkeled at, say, Port Nolloth and Sodwana Bay could testify to a huge difference in fish diversity. In fact, there is a total of a few hundred species on the west coast, more than 500 on the south coast, and more than 1000 in KwaZulu-Natal.


Why should diversity be so much lower on our west coast? The reasons are debated but remain uncertain. Most likely, conditions there are simply harsher, with rapid temperature changes that would eliminate many species. However, the relationship between cold, productive, low diversity waters and warm, less productive, high-diversity waters is almost universal, and the usual explanation is that productive waters allow a few species to proliferate at the expense of many others, reducing diversity.

Southern Africa has more endemic marine species of invertebrates and seaweeds (those that occur nowhere else in the world) than anywhere except Australia and New Zealand, and most of them occur on our south coast. This coast has been climatically and geologically stable for a very long time, allowing many species to evolve there by genetically “separating off” from their warmer- or colder-water ancestors. As well as having exceptional levels of endemism, the south coast is fairly productive, making it a biologically valuable stretch of coastline.


Fortunately, our endemism-rich south coast has more than a dozen “Marine Protected Areas” (MPAs) on it, from De Hoop in the south to Mkambati in Transkei, with Tsitsikamma the jewel in the centre – and the second-oldest MPA in the world. While these protect habitats and species in the inshore zone (shallow water along the coast), there are no effective offshore reserves to protect against overfishing and the damage caused by activities such as bottom-trawling. Furthermore, despite the scientifically demonstrated benefits of protecting inshore reef-fish in MPAs, political interference and vote-mongering has seen several of these recently opened to fishing, which is a blow not just to conservation but also to sensible and effective use of the resources.  


Those of us who live on the Cape Peninsula are exceptionally lucky when it comes to marine life, because we have, within reach, almost two types of coast. One side of the Peninsula is typical west coast and the other lies in False Bay, a relatively calm enclave with many warmer-water, south coast elements. When species-richness is graphed, the Cape Peninsula emerges as a spike in biodiversity. South and west coast species appear in False Bay, and on a few rare occasions, patches of warm Agulhas Current water can bring even tropical fish, such as dorado, into the bay. Diving off Buffelsbay near Cape Point, I have seen a mini-sardine run, with massive shoals of sardines streaming out of the bay in warm, blue water, accompanied by hammerhead sharks, bronze whaler sharks, yellowtail, skipjack and bonito. There can’t be many places so close to a major city where one can enjoy a marine environment such as this!


Marine diversity has helped to sustain humans for at least 200 000 years, but we are still learning to protect and use it sensibly. In our next newsletter I will explore the idea that the South African south coast may have been crucial to the evolution and survival of our ancestors, early Homo sapiens.

Were there fewer toads this year? Alison Faraday reports on this season for ToadNUTS

That is a question which we have been asked several times this season by concerned residents. ToadNUTs (Noordhoek’s Unpaid Toad Savers) headed by Suzie J’Kul and Alison Faraday, has been diligently patrolling our Noordhoek roads during winter since 2007 to rescue migrating toads off our roads. We have 10 years of solid data from which to provide context to this question.


The 2019 breeding season saw the lowest number of toads dead and alive on our roads= 240 in total which is lower than the previous low – 266 toads observed in 2018. In other words, the past two breeding seasons have recorded the lowest number of toads in the last 10 years.


Does this mean the toads are on the decline?

This is an easy one to answer: it is too soon to tell. The first 8 years of our records (2010 – 2017) reflected an average number of toad observations as 558 per year. The past two years have an average of 253 observations per year – less than half the previous number of toads.

However, there are many variables which may influence how many toads are seen during a season: number of patrollers; hours patrolled; the time of night at which the toads may move (our patrols generally end between 10pm-midnight).

With a few more years of breeding season data we will have a clearer understanding if the past two seasons constitute a trend or are a delayed result of the drought.


Threats to our Leopard Toad Population:

The past few years have seen a deluge of building proposals in our area including housing, a road and a school. All of these pose significant threats for the toads. The biggest threat is the Generations School proposal for the old De Villiers Farm land opposite Cape Point Vineyards. Should this school for 650 learners be accepted, our concern is that this may be the tipping point for the leopard toad population in our area as several breeding ponds exist on or near this land. Please email moniquesham@gmail.com for more information on this project and to voice your objections by 13 December 2019.


Highlights and Thanks:

ToadNUTs was fortunate enough to be featured on the Good News, and with 50 000+ views, this was an excellent opportunity to showcase our work https://www.beautifulnews.co.za/stories/suzie-jkul


The 2019 season had 30 nights of patrols by 15 patrollers. We are so grateful to these residents who actively participated in creating a community the cares (even about the small things). Please contact alison@leopardstone.co.za if you are interested in assisting us next season, or would like to donate to our work.

Nature is the mastermind behind our well-being: How will you include more nature in 2020?

Nature improves your health

Contact with nature reduces stress, obesity and improves concentration.

Nature makes you happy

Taking nature walks makes you feel more in touch with the outside world. Research has shown a reduction in work absence if employees are able to look at green space rather than a wall.

Nature makes you more active

People with easy access to nature are three times as likely to be active as those without access.

Green neighbourhoods cut depression

Natural areas near houses reduce mental illness. Work with your neighbours to create wildflower borders and bird feeding stations.

LISTEN TO AN INTERVIEW WITH ANDREA (FROM NEAG) ON RADIO 702 WHERE SHE TALKS ABOUT NATURE AND WELL-BEING: http://www.702.co.za/articles/366001/listen-how-your-relationship-with-nature-affects-your-psychology

NEAG nature stories for kids- Episode 1

'Gaia meets Ant'

A HOT Topic in Noordhoek this year: Climate Change

Noordhoek hosted two climate strike events this year with both adults and kids coming to stand up for the planet. Please make a note to join us in 2020 for more climate strikes on our beach. Our house is on fire so let us start acting like it!
Survey completed after watching the documentary

Cafe Roux hosted the documentary ‘Climate Change – the Facts’ on behalf of NEAG and KEAG. We had a huge turn-out showing that Noordhoek cares about the planet. Being informed is the first step to making a difference.  

Noordhoek gets a reptile rescue centre Written by Steve Meighan

Reptiles play a vital role in our ecosystem and are much more important to humans than many people realise. Many of us fear snakes especially, largely because of the myths and untruths that surround them and that are passed down as scare-stories. My aim at Deep South Reptile Rescue sanctuary is to provide education through conservation.

Reptiles play a vital role in maintaining a healthy ecosystem. They control populations of other small to medium sized animals like birds, rodents and other reptiles. They are also a main food source for larger animals who depend on them for survival. While we might think that this role doesn’t affect us much, I can assure you that it does.

Without the control that snakes exert on rodent, bird and other small-animal populations, we would be overrun by these creatures and our crops would be damaged or even devastated. The rodents would also spread decease to livestock and to humans. Other reptiles control insects that would also impact heavily on farming and crops. So, it’s safe to say that reptiles help to keep the ecosystem healthy as well as keep us healthy and able to farm and provide food and jobs for our people.

There have been many studies on reptiles which have yielded medical benefits to humans. Treatments (and in some cases cures) have been found for various ailments, including cancer, diabetes, haemophilia and many more, through studying reptiles’ unique features like regeneration of limbs in geckos. Snake venom is made up of saliva, proteins and peptides, and we can now isolate various elements from this powerful substance and use them to make valuable medicine to save lives.

Of course there is the downside that many people die from snakebites. In Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and South America the annual death toll is much higher than in SA, where most of us can get help. However, many unnecessary deaths still arise from lack of education, lack of access to medical care and lack of funding for antivenom. I believe that we who live in a country that has a fair number of venomous snakes should all have access to education on them. This should start at primary school and there should be more facilities to nurture those who want to take it further and learn more about reptiles. I also believe that our management system for antivenom can be much improved, and if someone needs antivenom to save life or limb they shouldn’t be denied it because they don’t have money.


Deep South Reptile Rescue aims to become such a facility. I would like to open an antivenom bank: a storage facility where I can keep antivenom and distribute it to where it is required. In many cases now, antivenom is either unavailable or expensive, but with a professionally run antivenom bank a patient can be taken to the closest emergency hospital and the antivenom rushed to them if needed. The staff at the hospital would also then have access to professional snakebite experts who could assist in the management of the bite. I would like to create a funding program to help send antivenom to those who need it but can’t afford it. If it saves lives and limbs it’s well worth doing. My main goal is to provide information about animals that are potentially very dangerous but also undeniably important to us. I hope we will be able to educate and conserve our indigenous reptiles for generations to come.


Project Noordhoeked has had a successful few months. We were very excited to be told by the Farm Village that we were the chosen recipients of their Charity Golf Day, held in October. We received a much needed injection of R20 000, which will go towards paying our team’s wages and keep the supply of compostable bags going.


In the same month, we were told that our application for a small grant from the CTEET/TMF had been successful! We will soon be signing a year long contract with them, to the tune of R27 000, with some specific objectives and ideas for new projects.


Kakapo the whale was made by the super talented wire worker, Innocent from Masi. He excels in making smaller wire/beaded animal heads and other trinkets for tourists – so this was a big challenge for him, but he met our brief exactly! He also made the lovely whale hanging in the Red Herring centre (who is being fed EcoBricks).


The objective of “Project Kakapo” is essentially to generate awareness around the severity of the ocean plastic crisis. Just after one week she was already one third full of ocean-borne plastic. It is lovely to see so many people who visit the beach getting involved and engaging with her (feeding her!), and even surfers have been spotted carrying plastic up from the beach. The plan is to soon install a small honesty box next to Kakapo (photo attached), where we will store about 20 parachute fabric reusable bags. The public will be encouraged to help themselves to one of these and fill it with rubbish on their walks, empty these out into Kakapo and return the bag into the box. This way, we hopefully discourage people from bringing plastic bags to collect rubbish.


The PN team will empty her every two or three weeks.


The project has been temporarily put on hold due to a snag with one of our local authorities. We hope that Kakapo will return very soon to take up the ocean plastic challenge with gusto…


The dog poo worm composting bins are working well still. We still have some people who fail to read the signs and dump bottles, takeaway cups or cigarettes into the bins. New  and very simply worded signage is hopefully going to change this.


The guys Edgar and Paul continue to work hard – keeping the beach spotless, free of plastic and dog poo and also occasionally tackling Main and Silvermine Roads. On the 9th November, they teamed up with two employees of a local business (under the guidance of Revamp the Valley) to clean up Ou Kaapse Weg. They removed 20 bags of rubbish from the lower section of this very busy road.


We continue to encourage the community to become regular contributors to the project, and to set up debit orders to help keep it going. Any amount helps!

Looking for some holiday reading?

DISCLAIMER: Views expressed in our newsletter articles are those of the contributors and where applicable, those of the authors of the original source material
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