Circle of destruction grinds on as we pulverise our mudbanks

BACK in the days when national service was compulsory I was hitchhiking back to camp and was picked up by an old pastor.

As we drove north past Kroonstad the conversation became quite serious and he said to me: “You know, it is the very simple that confounds the wise. Man can go to the moon but he cannot cure the common cold.”

This applies to most of the world’s problems. People complicate matters as a result of resistance to change or just plain procrastination. I have heard, many times, while speaking to specialists in the field, that we must not halt natural processes.

Things like shifting sand dunes and silting river mouths are a few examples of these natural processes. Firstly man interrupts the natural flow of water in our rivers as we need dams for water. Bridges are built over rivers as we need to move around and shorten distances.

These alter the natural flow of the rivers, and thus more problems occur. However, we can reflect back and see our mistakes, and so the natural process argument holds some water.

Hindsight is the perfect science of life. However, man must progress forward in a way that the environment will not suffer drastic consequences as a result.

River mouths that close periodically often become very toxic with the pollution that collects there and as a result threaten the biodiversity that cohabit in these systems.

I see notices placed all over Swartkops Estuary that warn that the water quality is not safe. This is an open system and I shudder to think what will happen should it close. The daily flush of ocean fresh water is the secret to its survival, without which the situation would be catastrophic.

Rivers that flow through major cities like London, New York and San Francisco have all needed huge rehabilitation which have cost billions as people woke up when it was nearly too late. At Swartkops, this fight is already 45 years old, and little progress has been made.

The authorities budget little for upkeep and rather allow it to be used as a dumping ground for pollution. Aged infrastructure and poorly planned new developments contribute immensely to the problem. The harsh reality is the earth has a shrinking surface area and a growing population that will simply create its own self destruction. We are really in the middle of that transition. It only seems a matter of time.

The mud prawn that dwells in the Swartkops estuary is the most widely used bait amongst river anglers. It is traded aggressively by the subsistence fishers. In the past, this bait resource was restricted to use only in the estuary where it was extracted. Today, the Swartkops River provides bait for fishing as far afield as Port St Johns and Knysna.

Mud prawn filter micro-organisms and nutrients (including the polluted fresh water that enters the system) out of the water column.

The use of garden forks on the Swartkops was an experimental project that has simply not been monitored properly. Some seven years later the results speak for themselves. Areas on the bank where forks are regularly used (legally on Fridays only by subsistence permit holders) the mud has compacted, and the mud prawn no longer live there.

In 2009, it was determined by Dr Fielding that the mud prawn had declined by 40% in number since Hanekom did the same study in 1980.

With no regard to this information, no restrictions were put in place to protect this dwindling resource.

The use of forks should be reduced as was decided when this programme of subsistence harvesting was implemented back in around 2005.

It was minuted that this was an experimental project and that the numbers of forks in use would be systematically reduced in time. This has not happened to date. The impact of these forks has already proven to be destructive and detrimental to the existence and sustainable use of this natural resource.

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