Water Research Commission on wetland plant taxonomy workshop

3 Feb 2017

World Wetlands Day – Wetlands for Disaster Risk Reduction

The Water Research Commission (WRC), in collaboration with the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA), Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS), Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF), and the City of Tshwane, held an interactive training workshop on wetland plant taxonomy as part of World Wetlands Day celebrations on 2 February 2017.

A lack of knowledge for wetland plant identification has been identified as one of the barriers to conserving wetlands. A capacity building intervention in this field is critical to researchers (especially young scientists) and managers alike for better management of our natural sponges.

World Wetlands Day is an annual event celebrated across the globe to mark the anniversary of the 1971 Convention on Wetlands (also known as the Ramsar Convention), to which South Africa (represented by DEA) is a signatory. South Africa has declared 22 wetlands as Ramsar sites (Wetlands of International Importance).

Various research projects, many of which are funded by the WRC, are currently involved in expanding and reviewing a national wetland inventory. More than 1400 wetlands have been identified to date; however, not all of these wetlands are in good ecological health. 

Over 50% of South Africa’s wetlands have been degraded or lost, an even greater proportion than is the case for our rivers. The WRC has published a manual to support the national wetland monitoring programme, in which DEA, DWS and DAFF monitor and report on the status and trends regarding these delicate ecological infrastructure resources.

The WRC and South African Environmental Observation Network (SAEON) are also developing indicators based on remote-sensing, which will enable the monitoring of wetlands using technology.

The realisation of the importance of wetlands in water purification, flood attenuation,  cultural values, tourism and biodiversity conservation has prompted the WRC to invest more than R60 million in research that supports informed policy decision making, understanding of wetland functional processes, ecological Reserve determinations, human capital development and community empowerment.

Rehabilitation methods are continuously being improved, and costing of the role played by intact wetlands as natural kidneys is proving the importance of these ecological infrastructures within landscapes. Given the effects of, among others, climate change, pressure is mounting on the use of wetlands for livelihood support, such as grazing livestock and harvesting reeds.

The focus of research is thus turning towards sustainable development methods within a green-economy context.

Expanding wetland research into sources of green job creation has seen projects such as wastewater management, cultivation of amadumbe, using Typha for insulation, harvesting of medicinal plants, and, moving further up the value chain, marketing.

While the route from discovery through to marketing takes time, it remains the best method to engage communities and demonstrate the benefits from sustainable use of wetlands, as an alternative to the current situation of resource over-exploitation. For as long as these benefits are being received, wetlands are being looked after by all stakeholders – a win-win situation!

Caption: Delegates analysing wetland plant species during an interactive training workshop on wetlands plant taxonomy as part of the World Wetlands Day celebrations on 2 February 2017 organised by Water Research Commission (WRC) in collaboration with the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA), Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS), Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF), and the City of Tshwane.

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