Guy Bate, Bruce Kelbe and Ricky Taylor
Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, Department of Botany, University of Zululand, Hydrology Department, Hydrological Research & Training Specialist cc, University of KwaZulu-Natal, School of Life Sciences



The Mgobezeleni Estuary and its catchment is one of the biologically richest areas in the province – but it is affected by high human impacts resulting from the Sodwana Bay Resort and associated activities. Freshwater feeding the estuary drains from a small (8 000 ha) sand catchment containing a variety of land uses (including commercial and small-scale forestry, holiday accommodation, rural homesteads and small-scale agriculture).About a third of the catchment, the portion within the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, is undeveloped.Hydrologically the catchment is dominated by groundwater which seeps into deeply incised water courses that feed two coastal lakes.From these lakes water flows through an extensive swamp forest and sedge wetland into the estuary.The catchment has a variety of vegetation types – each an expression of a specific hydrological regime. This presentation describes the Water Research Commission-funded ecosystem study which aims to understand hydrological responses (quantity and quality) to increasing numbers of people, changing land uses, and climate change. The study will give us the capability to predict impacts of altered hydrology on the ecological functioning of the catchment and estuary. It will estimate quantities of freshwater, nutrients, carbon and pollutants that are exported from the system which may influence the offshore coral reefs.As the area is representative of the Maputaland Coastal Plain ecosystem the findings can be extrapolated to the full area. A major thrust of the programme is to train hydrology and ecology students – by supporting postgraduate research projects as well as by running a lecture/fieldwork courses. We also encourage the incorporation of additional complementary research projects that can use the detailed hydrological modelling and other results from this study.This project was initiated in April 2013. Eight deep monitoring boreholes have been installed by the Department of Water Affairs.Currently it acts as the framework for 7 Honours, 2 MSc and one PhD projects.Data collected by these students and the main researchers on groundwater levels, stream flows and estuary flows are being used to develop a hydrological model, and data have been collected on peat depths and wetland vegetation.


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