The Minister of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries, Barbara Creecy, has received a response from the iSimangaliso Wetland Park Authority on the opening of the estuary mouth on 6 January this year.
According to a media report, from 4 – 6 January, heavy machinery removed tons of beach sand to link the ocean with Lake St Lucia.
“The response also addressed concerns expressed by seven scientists in an open letter. The Minister notes that the opening of the estuary mouth arose from discussions at a multi-disciplinary symposium hosted by the Park Authority in October 2020,” the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries said on Wednesday.
According to the response received by the Minister, the symposium assessed progress on the implementation of the 2016/17 project, funded through the Global Environment Facility (known as the GEF 5 project) to facilitate the ecological restoration and effective functioning of the estuarine system.
“The symposium acknowledged that the St Lucia Lake system is a complex, dynamic socio-ecological system, the natural functioning of which is critically important for its natural assets, as well as to the many other ecosystem services it provides to the diverse stakeholders that depend on it,” the department said.
The department said the symposium further acknowledged that all participants have a strong interest in the restoration and effective management of the St Lucia system.
It also noted the ecological challenges with regard to the functioning of the estuary, and set up a multi-disciplinary task team to discuss the best adaptive management strategy for the estuarine system.
According to the response, it was in this context that a decision was taken to assist the Umfolozi River to fulfill its role as a driver of inlet dynamics by removing the unnaturally high beach berm, so as to allow the system to breach unimpeded.
“The Minister has noted widespread public interest in this matter, as well as differing scientific views on the most ideal management strategy for the conservation and preservation of this significant World Heritage Site,” the department said.
Accordingly, after consultation with the iSimangaliso Wetland Park Authority, the Minister has decided to appoint an independent scientific panel to advise on:
- The significance/impact of the opening of the estuary mouth and how this relates to the implementation of the GEF 5 project interventions and the St Lucia Estuary Management Plan;
- The exceptional circumstances, as defined in the Estuarine Management Plan, that led to the decision to open the mouth, including those of an environmental, social and economic nature;
- The impact of the mouth opening on 6 January on the functioning of the estuary system and the wetland system as a whole, as well as the associated environmental, social and economic implications; and
- Guidelines for the immediate and ongoing management of the system.
The names of the panellists will be made public once the appointment process has been concluded.