Change the world

Faculty of Science

09/06/2015

Close on a hundred guests attended a lunchtime public lecture presented by Prof Dirk Roux on the critical matter of freshwater resources and the protection thereof at the NMMU George Campus on 7 April. Afterwards some of the attendees pursued the discussions over a cup of tea, and joined NMMU and Prof Roux for a group photograph at the entrance to the lecture theatre.

People worldwide will have to become more active in protecting the planet’s freshwater resources – a matter which is particularly relevant in the context of the scarcity of surface freshwater.

At a public lecture presented at the NMMU George Campus on Tuesday 7 April 2015, Prof Dirk Roux, NMMU Research Associate and Freshwater Conservation Scientist for SANParks emphasised that freshwater ecosystems “must be the most precious natural resource on earth”, since only about 0.01% of the earth’s 1.4 billion km3 of water occurs as surface freshwater in lakes, wetlands and rivers. He also pointed out that the well-being of humanity is highly dependent on the distribution, quality and availability of this tiny fraction of freshwater, which is critically threatened, yet extremely difficult to protect.

Prof Roux told the audience that “unfortunately, freshwater ecosystems have already deteriorated to critical levels and are regarded as more endangered than land-based and marine ecosystems, worldwide and in South Africa”.  He added that while the world’s protected areas are the cornerstones for conserving biodiversity and keeping our planet healthy, their historical land and marine-based bias has not served freshwater ecosystems well. “For example, rivers are not easily contained in protected areas, either flowing through such areas or forming their boundaries,” he said.

To address the freshwater conservation deficit in South Africa, scientists, government agencies and stakeholders have been working together to identify strategic areas for conserving freshwater ecosystems. “These areas, known as Freshwater Ecosystem Priority Areas (FEPAs), comprise 22% of South Africa’s river length, 38% of wetland area and 44% of estuaries and if properly managed, have the potential to contribute meaningfully to water security, human well-being as well as environmental conservation,” Prof Roux said.

This lecture formed part of the Sustainable Futures Leadership Series that NMMU presents in George to promote healthy debate on matters of broad public interest and to strengthen the good relationship that exists between the university and the City of George.