There are approximately 250 functional estuaries in South Africa, together making up about 70 000 ha of one of the
country’s most productive habitats. Estuaries are well-known for their biodiversity, productive fish and invertebrate fisheries and forthe important functions that they perform, such as providing nursery areas for marine fish, conduits for species which move
between ocean and rivers and feeding and staging sites for significant populations of migratory birds. They also support a number of endemic species, many of which depend on estuaries for their survival. However, estuaries constitute one of the most threatened habitats in the country. In the past few decades there has been a plethora of marina and resort developments, reclamation and increasing human disturbance and exploitation. In many cases, freshwater inflows, vital to the maintenance of salinity profiles, sediment scouring and nutrient supply, have been siphoned off or polluted. As a result of all of these pressures, many South African estuaries have become functionally degraded, and this has frequently been accompanied by a loss of species or a reduction in populations. The future health of South Africa’s estuaries is dependent on two main factors: their direct management and the quantity and quality of freshwater inputs. Very little consideration has been given to either in the past, but both of these aspects are currently under review in South Africa. Their management has now been entrusted to Marine & Coastal Management, Department of Environment Affairs & Tourism by the Marine Living Resources Act, and their water allocation is now being considered under the new National Water Act. Through the resource-directed measures process, the latter will ensure a freshwater supply or ‘reserve’ for estuaries to maintain their ecological functioning, but the level of the reserve may vary, depending on socio-economic goals, to maintain estuaries in anything from a near-pristine state to a satisfactorily-functioning, but altered state.
By using less water/recycle water we can help resore our estuaries.