Does South Africa have a microplastic problem? Our research says yes.

Posted by on September 17, 2018 in Our Environment | 0 comments

Does South Africa have a microplastic problem? Our research says yes.

Author Henk Bouwman Research Professor Ecotoxicology , North-West University Disclosure statement Henk Bouwman receives funding from the Water Research Commission. Partners The Conversation is funded by the National Research Foundation, eight universities, including the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, Rhodes University, Stellenbosch University and the Universities of Cape Town, Johannesburg, Kwa-Zulu Natal, Pretoria, and South Africa. It is hosted by the Universities of the Witwatersrand and Western Cape, the African Population and Health Research Centre and the Nigerian Academy of Science. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is a Strategic Partner. more Republish this articleRepublish our articles for free, online or in print, under Creative Commons licence. Surface water from the Vaal River is highly polluted with fragments of microplastics. Flickr/Paul Saad  Email  Twitter15  Facebook100  LinkedIn  Print The dangers of plastics, and more specifically microplastics, is increasingly grabbing the world’s attention. A growing body of research shows that plastics and microplastics in the marine environment are having a devastating effect on life in the sea. The impact has been tracked particularly closely in laboratory setups where conditions can be managed and effects monitored. At any size, plastics pose a threat to living organisms. In the sea they can block whales’ digestive tracts, entangle sea turtles and affect the photosynthesis of algae. They’re also a problem in rivers and fresh water lakes. Microplastics are generally understood to be pieces, particles, or fibres less than 5 mm long. They have three major sources. The first is when large bits of plastic break down into tiny pieces not clear to the eye. The second is when fibres are shed from fabrics during use and washing. And the third is microbeads. These are also tiny and are manufactured to be used in products ranging from tooth paste to facial scrubs, and sandblasting. The use of plastics has become ubiquitous over the past 50 years. Most consist of stable polymers that have lots of useful properties. They are light in weight, strong, pliable and can be made into many different forms. And by combining plastics with a range of additives, products can be dramatically changed. This extends from colour to hardness and pliability. This means that they can be used in a host of innovative ways including affordable food protection and packaging, piping, ropes and netting, construction materials and windows. But, in most cases, products made out of plastic have a long durability and often outlasting their utility. They eventually become waste and enter the environment. A great deal of research has been done on the effect of microplastics on marine life as well as fresh water in developed countries. But the knowledge gaps in developing countries such as South Africa are huge. At the request of South Africa’s Water Research Commission – South Africa’s premier water knowledge hub – we recently undertook a scoping study of microplastics in freshwaters in the country’s economic powerhouse Gauteng and an area to the south of the region. We found that surface water from the Vaal River – the largest tributary of the South Africa’s longest river, the Orange River – was highly polluted with fragments. This is most likely due to water draining into the river from industries in the area. We also found that fibres were more abundant in rural rivers, possibly due to untreated laundry water entering these rivers. The problem Because plastics are relatively new in...

read more

ALIEN INVASIVE PINES FUELLED KNYSNA FIRES

Posted by on September 13, 2018 in Our Environment | 0 comments

ALIEN INVASIVE PINES FUELLED KNYSNA FIRES

KnysnaPlett Herald Thursday, 13 September 2018, 13:02 Orderly plantations of pine trees in the background, and invasion by escaped pines on the Garcia Pass in the Southern Cape. These invasions can substantially increase fuel loads, leading to more intense and damaging wildfires. Photo: Brian van Wilgen KNYSNA NEWS – The replacement of natural fynbos vegetation with pine plantations in the Southern Cape, and the subsequent invasion of surrounding land by pine trees significantly increased the severity of the 2017 Knysna wildfires. This is one of the findings of a study published in the journal Fire Ecology by a research team from the DST-NRF Centre of Excellence for Invasion Biology (CIB) at Stellenbosch University, Nelson Mandela University, Sanparks, and the CSIR. The aim of the study was to assess the climatic, weather and fuel factors that contributed to one of the region’s worst fires ever recorded. Satellite imagery used Over four days in June 2017, the Knysna fires burnt 15 000 hectares, claiming the lives of seven people and destroying more than 5 000 hectares of commercial pine plantations and over 800 buildings. The researchers used satellite imagery to compare the landscape before and after the fire, including the type of vegetation covering the different areas. This information enabled them to estimate the amount of biomass consumed by the 2017 fire. One of the main findings is that the severity of the fire was significantly higher in plantations of invasive alien trees and in fynbos invaded by alien trees than in “uninvaded” fynbos. And while the weather conditions were extreme, they were not unprecedented, as similar conditions occurred in the past at a rate of about one day every three years. The severity of the 18 to 24 months of drought that preceded the fires, on the other hand, was higher than ever recorded in the historical weather record, and this contributed significantly to the impact of the fire. Increased fuel loads Professor Brian van Wilgen, a fire ecologist with the CIB and one of the co-authors, says large tracts of natural vegetation in the Southern Cape have been systematically replaced with plantations of Pinus and Eucalyptus species, increasing above-ground biomass from about four to 20 tonnes per hectare: “Given that more than two-thirds of the area that burned was in one of these altered conditions, our findings demonstrate clearly that fuel loads have substantially increased compared to earlier situations when the landscape would have been dominated by regularly burned ‘uninvaded’ natural vegetation.” A burned-out plantation near Harkerville, shortly after the 2017 wildfire. Photo: Johan Baard It is estimated that pine trees have invaded more than 90% of the Garden Route National Park’s fynbos vegetation at various densities. Additional invasions by Australian Acacia and Eucalyptus species cover a further 29% and 14% respectively. “By increasing the amount of fuel available to burn, the fires become more intense and more difficult to control,” he explains. Van Wilgen warns, however, that events of this nature can become more frequent as the climate of the Southern Cape becomes more hot and dry, and as the extent of invasions increases. “The conditions that exacerbated the severity of the 2017 Knysna fires will occur again. People need to stay vigilant and implement fire-wise practices and, more importantly, steer away from placing developments in high-risk areas...

read more

SPRING SHOWS POSITIVE SIGNS OF RECOVERY IN KNYSNA

Posted by on September 13, 2018 in Our Environment | 0 comments

SPRING SHOWS POSITIVE SIGNS OF RECOVERY IN KNYSNA

Thursday, 13 September 2018, 07:25 Spectacular regrowth of Fynbos was found on the slopes above Brenton-on- Lake and elsewhere in the Knysna burn scar. KNYSNA NEWS – “A recent survey throughout the Knysna burn scar showed that there is very positive indigenous plant regrowth to be found throughout the landscape. With favourable rains in the Knysna area, coupled with an early spring and longer daylight hours, Fynbos is making a strong comeback. Known to be dependent on cycles of wildfire for regeneration, the Fynbos in the area no doubt benefitted from the 2017 Knysna fire disaster,” says Cobus Meiring of the Southern Cape Landowners Initiative (SCLI). Conservationists across the country shared concern on the damage caused by the intense wildfires that ravaged the Knysna countryside in June 2017. Chased by extremely strong winds and fuelled by dense stands of invasive alien biomass littering the countryside, the wildfire that swept through areas such as Buffels Bay, Brenton and Rheenendal was intensely hot, reaching several thousand degrees centigrade. In most places, all that remained in terms of vegetation, was barren sand. There were serious concerns expressed that, because of the intense heat which was generated, the Fynbos seed bank, hidden in the topsoil, might have been completely destroyed, along with vital nutrients and insect life. According to Meiring, a further concern was that denuded landscapes would be completely covered by a wave of invasive alien plants, which are known to outcompete indigenous plants, such as Low-land Fynbos. A recent survey throughout the burn scar, however, showed that there is very positive indigenous regrowth to found throughout the landscape. A recent survey throughout the burn scar, however, showed that there is very positive indigenous regrowth to found throughout the landscape. With favourable rains in the Knysna area, coupled with an early spring and longer daylight hours, Fynbos is making a strong comeback. Suppressing invasive alien growth yields positive results around Knysna “The herbicide assistance programme rolled out on selected properties by the Southern Cape Fire Protection Association (SCFPA), and sponsored through Nedbank and WWF SA, provided assistance to the respective landowners to very effectively stemmed the growth of invasive alien plants, allowing indigenous plants to flourish,” says Meiring. In addition, the fire gave landowners a clean slate in terms of vegetation types on their land, and an opportunity to gain the upper-hand in dealing with invasive alien plants such as wattle, blackwood and Rooikrans. With favourable rains in the Knysna area, coupled with an early spring and longer daylight hours, Fynbos is making a strong comeback. The Southern Cape Landowners Initiative (SCLI) is a public platform and think tank for landowners and land managers with an interest in invasive alien plant management, water stewardship and land management. SCLI is supported by the Table Mountain Fund (TMF), a subsidiary of WWF SA Share this:Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on Reddit (Opens in new...

read more

Wildfire risk to your home and your community

Posted by on September 2, 2018 in Our Environment | 0 comments

Wildfire risk to your home and your community

We would like to invite you to an information sharing session 18:00 on Friday, 7 Sept 2018 and a FREE training session 9h30-15h30, 8 Sept 2018 at the Brenton Hall LANDWORKS™has been appointed to run a public awareness campaign in the greater Knysna area, due to the devastating wildfires of 2017. Much of the landscape remains unburnt and poses a risk of further wildfires. The purpose of the meeting is to help you understand the risk that you and your neighbours face from wildfire and to provide life-saving information that you and your community will find useful to protect yourself, your family and your home from wildfire. The FREE training session on the Saturday will be a step by step risk assessment and reduction course that you can use for your property and community in order to practically analyse and reduce your risk. Please share this open invitation with your neighbours, colleagues, friends, and members of your community. Everyone is welcome to attend. Please contact me on Whatsapp, SMS or email (details below) so that I can estimate the number of people attending as we would like to serve everyone who attends with refreshments. Remember: “Fire is everyone’s fight.” Issued by: Tessa Oliver, Project Manager for Risk Reduction – LANDWORKS™ Tel: 021 712 5223 | Whatsapp: 087 3110452 | tessa.oliver@landworksnpc.com www.facebook.com/LANDWORKSNPC/ Share this:Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on Reddit (Opens in new...

read more