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THE AGULHAS NATIONAL PARK WETLANDS

Posted on the 3rd February 2014

(These articles appeared in the February Edition of the Agulhas National Park E-Bul. - Editor)
Agulhas Plains wetlands
The Nuwejaars Wetland system is an area of immense diversity and conservation value. It consists of rare and endemic natural fynbos and wetlands, which are all interlinked by the streams and rivers of the Nuwejaars wetland ecosystem. This system drains the Southern Agulhas Plain forming a number of annual and permanent water bodies or vleis, the most noteable of which are Soetendalsvlei and Voëlvlei and is inhabited by a large variety of avian and aquatic species, some of them extremely rare and endangered and some endemic to the area alone. The conservation value of the system is further enhanced as it ultimately feeds into the Heuningnesrivier on which is situated the De Mond Estuary, already listed as a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance. The very low gradients in the south-eastern plain result in significant wetland development, and create the second largest lacustrine wetland in South Africa, Soetendalsvlei. The Agulhas region is unique in terms of the wide variety of wetlands (freshwater springs, rivers, estuaries, lakes, vleis and endorheic pans) that occur within a relatively small area.

The Nuwejaarsrivier
The headwaters of the Nuwejaarsrivier are in the south-facing slopes of the Bredasdorp Mountains, the Koueberge to the west, the hills to the south of Elim and the north-facing slopes of the Soetanysberg. The five tributaries of the Nuwejaarsrivier are the Koue, Wolwegatskloof, Jan Swartskraal, Boskloof and Uintjieskuil. The length of the Nuwejaarsrivier from its western most source, through Soetendalsvlei to the confluence of the vlei’s overflow channel with the Kars River is 55km. From this confluence it flows as the Heuningnesrivier for 15 km to De Mond and into the sea.

Wetlands research and surveys on the Agulhas Plain
Ruth-Mary Fisher of the SANParks Cape Research Centre, with SANBI/Working for Wetlands/CapeNature/and Regional Department of Water Affairs, is conducting a wetlands survey on the Agulhas Plain. The purpose is to classify the types of wetlands (and wetland vegetation), of the Agulhas Plain (and beyond). Amphibian monitoring is conducted on ad hoc bases by CapeNature (Atherton de Villiers and Andrew Turner). Species of interest for CapeNature and SANParks are the threatened species: Western Leopard Toad (Endangered) and the Micro Frog (Critically Endangered), Cape Platanna (Endangered). An official research project, regarding amphibians, is registered with SANParks/CRC is by John Measey of NMMU, with Krystal Tolley (SANBI). The project title is: Investigating the biodiversity, gene flow and dispersal capabilities of reptiles and amphibians in Table Mountain National Park and Agulhas National Park. 

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