Features » Relinkage of the Mfolozi River to the St Lucia estuarine system – An urgent imperative for the long term management of a Ramsar and World Heritage Site


The St Lucia Estuary in KwaZulu-Natal was separated from the Mfolozi River in the early 1950s following canalisation of the Mfolozi floodplain swamp to facilitate sugar cane farming of the drained land. Since then large amounts of sediment have built up in the St Lucia Estuary and Narrows. Professor Alan Whitfield led a Water Research Commission (WRC) funded project which was initially intended to summarise information on the Mfolozi and Msunduze rivers. The brief was extended to look at the significance of this river complex to the entire estuarine lake system. The ruinous consequences in terms of freshwater supply to the St Lucia system since the canalisation have become fully apparent, especially following the latest drought. The environmental ‘pendulum’ which governs salinities and the amount of water in the lake has swung to new extremes and is threatening the very existence of this valuable ecosystem. Fish and penaeid prawn stocks in Lake St Lucia have collapsed and the loss of this major southern African estuarine nursery area for these marine organisms has had a significant impact on fish and prawn catches in adjacent coastal waters.The recommendation that the Mfolozi should be rejoined to the St Lucia estuary was initially itemised in the Rapid Reserve determination of 2004. At a WRC workshop in 2010 major findings from the WRC project were reviewed. Scientists were requested to place particular emphasis on documenting available information or information gaps associated with the need and potential implications of reconnecting the Mfolozi River to the St Lucia system and make some preliminary suggestions towards the achievement of that goal to produce a final report.


Photos courtesy iSimangaliso Wetland Park Newsflash 14 October 2012


Research Team:

Professor Alan Whitfield of SAIAB - Principal Investigator

Professor Guy C. Bate: Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, Port Elizabeth - Associate Researcher

Dr Ricky Taylor: Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, St Lucia Estuary and University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg- Associate Researcher

Dr Ticky Forbes: Marine and Estuarine Research and University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban - Associate Researcher



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