Eden to Addo believes that eco-tourism (in its truest sense) activities and projects should be established as a key attraction of Plettenberg Bay. Plettenberg Bay’s “gold” is its environment and, as such, needs to be sensitively developed and utilized to link communities, provide training, establish small businesses and involve people in realizing the value of its “gold” and the absolute necessity to care for this resource.
The Bitou Wetland Project has the potential to be the ‘blue print’ to demonstrate the vast possibilities and social and environmental benefits to be derived from such projects.
A Blue Print for linking environment and people
Without the wetland, the world would fall apart. The wetland feeds and holds together the skeleton of the body of nature. Without the wetland there would be nothing to replenish the skeletal system of the dry land, the backbones of mountain ranges, the ribs of ridges, the limbs of peninsulas and capes, and the fingers of land reaching into the sea all of which (including the marrow of the wetlands) supply and make possible the fertile plains, prairies and steppes on which agriculture takes place, on which industry depends, on which cities “live,” or more precisely which they parasitically suck dry.
Henry Thoreau – A ‘Patron Saint’ of Swamps
The Bitou River falls within the Cape Floristic Kingdom (a World Heritage Site) and is recognized as a high biodiversity priority in the region. The wetland has been described as 1”the most valuable ecological resource of the entire catchment, the Bitou marsh, 654ha in entirety and currently under severe threat of development on its perimeter ….” The Eden to Addo Corridor Initiative, in partnership with the Garden Route Initiative, has identified this area as a priority biodiversity area.
The Bitou River (23km long) and Wetland lies in a ‘north-south’ valley just east of the coastal town of Plettenberg Bay on the southern coast of South Africa. Its catchment is 237km² in extent.
The Bitou system links to the Keurbooms and feeds the Keurbooms Estuary which is ranked as the 18th most important system in South Africa (in terms of conservation importance) out of 256 functional estuaries (Turpie, 2004). The Bitou River and wetland area is thus part of the greater Keurbooms Estuary. Activities in the Bitou system which affect the normal flow of the river will impact on the Keurbooms and its associated fauna and flora.
The Bitou wetland is a popular site for bird watchers and CWACs (Coordinated Waterbird Counts) have been conducted annually since 1995. 2”The wetland is a vital area from an ornithological point of view and is in critical need of protection”. According to local birders the marsh bird population has declined drastically since 1995. A well-known birder in the area, has stated that the marsh used to be visited by flocks of flamingoes, ducks and Spurwing geese in the appropriate season. This was confirmed during interviews undertaken as part of the Bitou Wetland Project: Flamingoes have disappears over the past 14 years. Used to be about 20 lesser and greater flamingoes at a time. Disappeared probably because of pollution and diminished salt water penetration. A local property owner whose family have owned property in the Valley for over 100 years reports seeing the sky go dark every evening as the Spurwing geese flew in to settle for the night (pers comm. HD van Huysteen 2009). These species are either no longer seen or have been much reduced.
An initial investigation into the issues and possibilities of the Bitou Wetland and Corridor was undertaken by Eden to Addo through funding from the Table Mountain Fund. The projects identified through this investigation demonstrate the exciting possibilities and potential benefits which could be derived through implementation of all or some of these projects/activities for the people, wildlife and environment associated with the Bitou system.
To take these projects forward, funding will need to be acquired to appoint a Project Coordinator to drive and manage the various steps required for implementation. This process is currently underway. It is clear, from the investigation undertaken, that there is an urgent and vital need to protect and manage the Bitou system. It is a resource for the people of the Bitou Valley, has enormous potential to benefit the people of the Bitou Valley through tourism initiatives, and misuse of the system could have dire consequences for the people of the Valley as well as the Keurbooms Estuary.
The way forward:
- An ecological reserve determination needs to be established urgently;
- Water use needs to be monitored;
- A wetland rehabilitation programme needs to be implemented;·
- Involvement of and/through benefits to the people of the Bitou Valley needs to be established;
- An alien vegetation removal and management programme for the Bitou Catchment and the entire system needs to be established with the involvement of property owners;
- The value of the system functioning as a healthy, viable resource needs to be highlighted;
- Stakeholder involvement (including relevant government and non government organizations, communities and private individuals) will be key to the success of the system being managed to the benefit of property owners and the ecological integrity of the Bitou system and Keurbooms Estuary.