Steven Segang, Highveld Community Projects Officer, African Crane Conservation Programme
World Wetlands Day, marked annually on 2 February, is an opportunity to celebrate a natural resource that is critical for people, the environment, and biodiversity. Wetlands come in all shapes and forms, from estuaries along our beautiful coastlines and high altitude inland wetlands within the grasslands of Mpumalanga, to the hard working wetlands within our urban landscapes. A great deal of our work at the EWT involves the protection, restoration, and management of wetlands and the catchments that feed them, and we celebrate World Wetlands Day accordingly.
The African Crane Conservation Programme (ACCP) is very active in the wetlands of Mpumalanga, which is a province with an abundance of grasslands. Mpumalanga’s grasslands are bisected by thousands of wetlands and the ecosystem services they provide include their ability to improve water quality and contribute to the maintenance of base flows in rivers. They also provide critical habitats to a number of threatened species of animals and plants in the province, including our three species of cranes.
Mpumalanga is the first province in the country (and second in the world) to officially declare a Provincial Grassland Week to be held annually during the last week of February. As most of Mpumalanga’s wetlands occur in its grasslands, and because of the fact that grasslands and wetlands share certain characteristics and dependencies, it was decided that Mpumalanga will celebrate Grassland Week annually in combination with Wetlands Day, branded as Mpumalanga’s Twin Treasures (MTT). Grasslands and wetlands are two of the province’s greatest treasures. When healthy grasslands and wetlands join forces, they are responsible for essential biodiversity and some of the most important ecosystem services, such as drought and flood mitigation, contributing to climate stability, groundwater replenishment, and water purification. These are vital for the environment, man and economic development.
The first MTT was commemorated in 2014 and each year there is a theme attached to the celebration. This year’s theme is “Ecosystems for Life,” which focuses on grasslands and wetlands and the services they provide to humankind and living organisms. It was also emphasised that as this year is dedicated to the late Nelson Mandela, the messages should be aligned with his commitment to improving human life. The celebrations will be held at Delmas this year, on 8 February and the EWT looks forward to participating. Plans for school Wetlands Day celebrations are also in place, and an excursion will be undertaken with Kwachibikulu Primary in February. In line with the theme, activities will include MiniSASS and food chain examples, to demonstrate to learners how we are all connected in life and the importance of having a balance in an ecosystem.
In KwaZulu-Natal, the Threatened Amphibian Programme will join the ACCP in hosting a stand focused on biodiversity and wetlands at the Greater Edendale Mall World Wetlands Day event on 2 February.
Thanks to Liberty NPO, SAEON, the KZN Wetlands Forum, the Department of Agriculture, Rural Development, Land and Environmental Affairs, and the International Crane Foundation for making this work possible.