SA Bass - - Contents - >> Jo Dreyer

“The Hy­acinth on Hart­beespoort Dam – Friend or Foe?” I thought that with the hy­acinth block­ing the edges of the dam that the birds would be neg­a­tively im­pacted, but this wasn’t the case .... – Jo Dreyer

On the 22nd of July, Birdlife Har­ties split up into our usual teams for the 9th Win­ter CWAC (Co­or­di­nated Wa­ter Aquatic Count). I have men­tioned in a pre­vi­ous ar­ti­cle that Birdlife South Africa does an­nual bird counts to keep track of which birds are liv­ing and breed­ing in the area and which birds have num­bers that have de­clined; just to name a few rea­sons for the count. On this bit­terly cold Satur­day morn­ing, An­dries and I headed off, on foot this time, to count all the wa­ter fowl we could find in the Swart­spruit and Meer­hof ar­eas. We usu­ally do our area with a boat, which is re­ferred to as the blue team’s area, but with the hy­acinth as an ob­sta­cle at the launch ramp, this was not pos­si­ble.

I thought that with the hy­acinth block­ing the edges of the dam that the birds would be neg­a­tively im­pacted, but this wasn’t the case. Some birds came out more of­ten and pre­sented them­selves as they didn’t seem as threat­ened with the pre­vi­ously “open wa­ters” sur­round­ing their nest­ing ar­eas. How­ever, it does make it a bit eas­ier for preda­tors to hide away and get closer to their tar­gets.

We of­ten only look at how things im­pact us as hu­mans and fail to look at what it does to nature as well. In this case, hy­acinth is a bit of both when it comes to friend or foe for the birdlife on Har­ties.

While do­ing the CWAC it got me think­ing as to why and what is hy­acinth, where did it come from, why is it here and what can it be used for?

With the ever grow­ing den­sity of the hy­acinth on Hart­beespoort Dam, many ques­tions are raised about whether it is good or bad for the dam.

The hy­acinth is in­deed a very big prob­lem be­cause if it cov­ers the dam com­pletely, it might de­prive the wa­ter of oxy­gen; how­ever, so far it hasn’t had enough time to

com­pletely cover the dam as the cold win­ter months brought with it a bit of frost, hy­acinth’s great­est en­emy.

Luck­ily the frost killed off a large quan­tity of the plants, as hy­acinth has a large wa­ter con­tent and since the main body of the plant is above the wa­ter, it froze; and the plant suf­fered as a re­sult. The cur­rent sit­u­a­tion, as at the end of Septem­ber, is that at least 80% of the hy­acinth had wilted be­cause of the cold, but, with the large hy­acinth “is­land” and some of the plants man­ag­ing to over­come the cold be­ing pro­tected by its mass, the plants are start­ing to re­plen­ish due to the sud­den tem­per­a­ture change.

The un­for­tu­nate thing is that the hy­acinth is now ex­pe­ri­enc­ing it’s ideal con­di­tions, a warm sum­mer cli­mate.

It is a good thing that a great amount of the plant died, but the only pity is that if the dy­ing plants aren’t re­moved, they might sink to the bot­tom of the dam re­leas­ing all the phos­phates and ni­trates that it had ab­sorbed back into the wa­ter.

If the hy­acinth is con­trolled prop­erly, it can be used for many pur­poses. For ex­am­ple, an­i­mal feed, fuel, com­post; just to name a few.

Recre­ation has taken a knock on the dam due to the hy­acinth block­ing the launch ramps to the dam and not giv­ing ad­e­quate move­ment ar­eas, but has also given the dam a break in hind sight. With less ac­tiv­ity on the wa­ter from hu­mans, the ex­ist­ing in­dige­nous plants as well as birdlife got a break from the speed boats and jet skis that dam­age the wa­ter’s edges and veg­e­ta­tion along the shore­line with the un­nat­u­ral waves that they cre­ate. How­ever, Har­ties needs tourism to sur­vive.

If the hy­acinth was tem­po­rary it wouldn’t be a prob­lem, but with the Metsi a Me (mean­ing My Wa­ter) project that is no longer ac­tive, the dam is tak­ing strain. Since this project is no longer funded or in ac­tion, my the­ory is that if ev­ery re­sort, wa­ter ac­cess home and pic­nic spot etc, hire just one or two peo­ple or use pos­si­bly their gar­den­ers to re­move what moves into their area, it will help stunt the ex­cess growth.

Hughs Con­struc­tion owned by the Grot­tis fam­ily, brought in their own earth mov­ing equip­ment and de­signed a rake that scooped up the hy­acinth from the shores of the Schoe­mansville Aquatic Club and with the help of mem­bers of the com­mu­nity tons and tons of it was and is still be­ing re­moved. If we con­tinue to re­move the plant, the dam stands a guar­an­teed chance against it. As long as we as a com­mu­nity keep work­ing to­gether, this en­emy can quickly be­come a friend that we can use to our own gain.

Hy­acinth was in­tro­duced many years ago ac­cord­ing to my un­der­stand­ing to help clear the phos­phates and ni­trates in the wa­ter and to pro­mote clean healthy wa­ter but mis­man­age­ment got in the way and now we have the re­sult of a good idea gone wrong.

It’s def­i­nitely not too late. We as a com­mu­nity can sal­vage the dam very eas­ily as long as we work to­gether and not al­ways wait for some­one else to do it. It is not such a big chal­lenge as long as enough peo­ple be­lieve it is pos­si­ble to solve.

The hy­acinth is a big busi­ness op­por­tu­nity that grows on Har­ties and rather than see­ing it only as a neg­a­tive im­pact; see it’s po­ten­tial. The tons of hy­acinth on Har­ties are a like gold mine wait­ing to be re­sourced. Imag­ine the pos­si­bil­i­ties; com­post, fuel, feed for an­i­mals, the list can go on and on.

The sur­vival of Har­ties just needs the right peo­ple to see it or read this ar­ti­cle, then this dam will be­come not only a de­sired des­ti­na­tion, but with the right at­ti­tude it could be­come some­thing that can cre­ate jobs and en­rich lives. Hy­acinth is not an en­emy, if we treat it the cor­rect way. This is not a birding ar­ti­cle, but a plea to each and ev­ery one reading it, to help pre­serve one of South Africa’s great­est trea­sures for recre­ation, fish­ing, hol­i­days, farm ir­ri­ga­tion, the list goes on and on.

The longer we wait, the more it takes over. Let’s act now, make Hy­acinth our friend, not foe.

Happy Har­ties

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