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Assessment of the conservation priority status of South African estuaries for use in management and water allocation

JK Turpie, JB Adams, A Joubert, TD Harrison, BM Colloty, RC Maree, AK Whitfield, TH Wooldridge, SJ Lamberth, S Taljaard, L Van Niekerk


The future health and productivity of South Africa's approximately 250 estuaries is dependent on two main factors: management and freshwater inputs. Both management and water allocation decisions involve trade-offs between conservation and various types of utilisation. In order to facilitate decision-making in both of these spheres, it is necessary to understand the relative conservation importance of different estuaries. This study devises a method for prioritising South African estuaries on the basis of conservation importance, and presents the results of a ranking based on the collation of existing data for all South African estuaries. Estuaries are scored in terms of their size, type and biogeographical zone, habitats and biota (plants, invertebrates, fish and birds). Thirtythree estuaries are currently under formal protection, but they are not representative of all estuarine biodiversity. We performed a complementarity analysis, incorporating data on abundance where available, to determine the minimum set of estuaries that includes all known species of plants, invertebrates, fishes and birds. In total, 32 estuaries were identified as 'required protected areas', including 10 which are already protected. An estuary's importance status (including 'required protected area' status) will influence the choice of management class and hence freshwater allocation under the country's new Water Act, and can be used to assist the development of a new management strategy for estuaries, which is currently underway.

WaterSA Vol.28(2) 2002: 191-206
AJOL African Journals Online