Wetlands project at tip of Africa shows the way to ecological recovery

Wetlands project at tip of Africa shows the way to ecological recovery

A wetlands project close to the southern tip of Africa is a shining example of environmental recovery that needs to be replicated the world over if we are to turn the tide on wetland loss.

The Nuwejaars Wetlands Special Management Area (NWSMA), close to Cape Agulhas, is a unique conservation venture made up of 25 landowners who have signed title deed restrictions to protect the area. With the Elim community, they are working to restore these wetlands to ecological health for the benefit of people and nature.

The work at Nuwejaars is exactly what is being advocated for this year’s World Wetlands Day (2 February) with its focus on the restoration of wetlands and their importance as a source of freshwater. Through the restoration work taking place at Nuwejaars, including invasive alien clearing and rehabilitation along a 5km stretch of the river, a team of six now also enjoys secure, full-time employment.


These wetlands play a key role in securing regional groundwater flow for downstream communities and towns. They are also internationally important from a conservation perspective, feeding the Heuningnes Estuary at the CapeNature De Mond Reserve, a Ramsar site (one of South Africa’s 26 wetlands of international importance) and an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area, and with examples of critically endangered fynbos types.

A vital part of the work at Nuwejaars is the restoration of palmiet, a unique indigenous plant that helps to purify water and sequester carbon. Thousands of years ago, dense stands of palmiet dominated these wetlands and over the centuries, they likely formed the basis of the peat-like soils found here. Peat wetlands are vital in the fight against climate change, storing carbon for as long as it remains waterlogged, while helping to reduce the impact of floods.

By the late 1990s, many of these special wetlands faced increasing threats. In many places, they were overrun by invasive alien plants, which reduced water flows by up to 10%, and they became increasingly degraded. This was one of the reasons a group of founding landowners decided in the early 2000s to create this conservation venture. WWF South Africa has been supporting the work since 2018.The full article is for subscribed members only. To view the full article please subscribe. It’s FREE!Log In Register

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