“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.