Making the Leap towards Sustainable Change

By Cherise Acker, Field Operations Officer: EWT Threatened Amphibian Programme

The EWT’s Threatened Amphibian Programme (TAP) envisions pristine wetlands filled with leaping frogs as a result of effective habitat and species conservation efforts.. Saving wetlands involves working with their wetland neighbours, people. Wetland neighbours that can talk back and often even fight back! Threatening our precious vision of a picturesque wetland chorused with a string of chirping Pickersgill’s Reed Frogs surrounded by urban settlements. So, can people and nature live in harmony?

Societies themselves are like living systems. They are dynamic, changing to the beat of the political, economic and environmental tones which dictate their survival. The TAP realises that understanding how society interacts with its environment is central to the success of urban wetland conservation.

TAP Intern, Jiba Magwaza, facilitating social surveys with one of the alien clearing teams in Durban

TAP Intern, Jiba Magwaza, facilitating social surveys with one of the alien clearing teams in Durban

The TAP adopts employment strategies that are creating green economies through alien plant clearing programmes and green skill capacity development within the greater Durban area. Through this, bridges (both figurative and literal) are gradually being built between frogs, their habitats and their human neighbours, highlighting the benefits of urban conservation. To appreciate the strength of this economic and environmental relationship, a socio-economic study has been initiated to understand how green economies contribute to social change within a community. The study uses a questionnaire approach to collect information from our six Natural Resource Management teams (approximately 60 people), which is collected on a bimonthly basis. Data will be compared to observe work satisfaction change patterns over time.

Furthermore, we are looking at how individual team members’ attitudes towards and knowledge about the natural environment change over time through exposure to working within wetland systems and basic environmental education. This study is based on a rating scale questionnaire and is redone on a six month basis.
However, individual change does not translate to permanent societal change within a community. The conditions required for that change depend on economic and political stability that is conducive towards sustainable change. The TAP’s NRM project is facing many challenges on this front, from budget limitations to wetland loss and degradation by land invasions fuelled by protests in the run up to upcoming municipal elections and political agendas.

Wetland plant stock for Isipingo rehabilitation

Wetland plant stock for Isipingo rehabilitation

It is for this reason that we are working with various local and national government structures, including eThekwini Municipality and the Department of Environmental Affairs, as well as traditional community stakeholders to build strong partnerships based on healthy and mutually beneficial relationships to affect sustainable change. Some of these relationships include working with community gardeners towards sustainable livelihoods that do not promote habitat loss and we hope to initiate community recycling systems in the near future.
Lastly, we are working with the teams on alternative livelihoods (firewood, wood chipping and recycling initiatives) to ensure that even once the TAP’s NRM Project comes to an end, the green economy is entrenched within the community. Through these strategies, we hope that these wetland neighbours overlook picturesque and functional wetlands and look forward to hearing the chirp of the Pickersgill’s Reed Frogs as the evening sets.

We would like to take the opportunity to thank the Department of Environmental Affairs, Rand Merchant Bank and the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund for their support as well as project partners, eThekwini Municipality and the KZN Conservancies.

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