World Wetlands Day is celebrated internationally on 2 February. The day is used to raise awareness about the vital importance of wetlands to people and the planet. The day also marks the adoption of the Convention on Wetlands in 1971. The Two Oceans Aquarium Foundation celebrates this day with a week of positive action and hands-on workshops in and around the beautiful wetland habitats of the Cape.
The aim of the "Wetlands Week" programme is to empower and encourage the younger generation to connect with and take care of their surrounding environment, especially those living in communities that border wetland ecosystems.
This year we invited Grade Six learners from five Khayelitsha schools to take part in our “Wetlands Week” celebration. Around 303 learners from Sivile Primary, Soyisile Primary, Sakumlandela Primary, Vuselela Primary, and Ikhwezi Lesizwe Primary participated. The workshops started at the learners’ schools where they received information about the environment and the importance of ecosystems and wetlands. From there the groups were taken to the Makhaza Wetland where they "adventured" around and identified plants and animals found in the area. The 45-hectare Khayelitsha Wetlands Park was established in 1998 after a study identified various appropriate and viable land-use zones within the greater Khayelitsha wetlands area. The rehabilitation of this once litter-strewn wetland has been a resounding success, and has an aesthetically pleasing and environmentally friendly landscape design.
The workshops also provided the learners with a chance to learn to identify the different components of the wetland habitat in real life - from the different types of soil, to the plants and animals inhabiting the water. The learners were also encouraged to equip themselves with binoculars and a field book, and to identify animals for themselves.
These are some of the birds the participants identified this year:
The learners had the opportunity to collect water samples and take them to the Aquarium for microscopic analysis. We did a mini-SASS (South African Scoring System) evaluation of the freshwater conditions. SASS is a rapid bioassessment technique that is based on one component of riverine biotas. In this case, it is based on the benthic macro-invertebrates. Some of the interesting invertebrates we found included rat-tailed maggots, true fly larvae, leeches and some water boatmen. According to our mini-SASS findings, the water quality was quite poor. This surprised the learners as some of them actually use the area for recreational activities, like swimming.
One of the highlights for me was hearing some of the children saying that they had never been to the Aquarium, and that they have never even been to the beach. When they saw the ocean while driving to the Aquarium, one girl said: "Teacher, I have never seen so much blue, it looks beautiful." Exposing the learners to the environment around them, and unlocking its secrets and wonders is vitally important for the future well-being of our planet. This course, and the love and respect that it instils in the learners is part of the bigger education process and their subsequent stewardship of this planet.
What are wetlands and why are they important?
Wetlands are areas of land that are either permanently flooded with water, or experience seasonal flooding. These areas include, marshes, ponds, lakes, fens, saltwater marshes, estuaries, mangroves, floodplains and swamps. Here in South Africa, we often also speak of “vleis”. Wetlands are important as they are natural water filters, removing pollutants and cleaning the water. These areas provide storm protection by shielding coastlines, and in the process, prevent erosion. Wetlands are spaces where high biodiversity can be found and where 40% of all species live or breed. They also directly contribute to the economy through tourism, recreational activities and food production.