SA’s national flower under threat
South Africa’s national flower is under threat from climate change, upping the ante for thousands of people working in the protea industry.
If global warming trends continue as they are doing, the country’s famous fynbos plant kingdom, including the flagship protea, will be pincered between advancing grassland and Karoo vegetation, NMU botanist Professor Richard Cowling said.
“Only fynbos in high mountain refuges will survive and many species including proteas will be wiped out.”
On another front, in the Sneeuberg around Nieu Bethesda, winter snowfall is declining, causing grave concern to farmers who rely on snowmelt to replenish valuable groundwater resources.
On the coast, Urban Raptor founder Arnold Slabbert said, kudu were ranging beyond their arid Karoo habitat into increasingly dry areas around Nelson Mandela Bay.
And in the metro itself, the flamingo-covered pans previously dotted across Parson’s Vlei have not contained water for years.
Perhaps most obviously of all, the water supply in the western region of the Eastern Cape is being squeezed ever tighter, Stellenbosch University climate change specialist Prof Guy Midgley pointed out.
Before the rains eventually came at the beginning of September the combined level of Nelson Mandela Bay’s dams had dipped to just 17.4%.
This week the figure stood at 54% but amid more dry weather and howling winds levels are dwindling again.
Once hard to pinpoint, now clearly just the tip of the iceberg in a world under siege, local examples of climate change illuminate the new 1.5C° Report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Cowling said that as the climate warmed tropical grassland would spread from east of Port Elizabeth westward into the fynbos belt, and the invasion would mean more fires.
Combined with the grassland’s westward march, the arid succulent Karoo would be pushing from the hinterland towards the coast, he said.
“So except for those species that survive in refuges on high slopes of the Kouga Mountains, for example – it’s not looking good for fynbos or our national flower.”
Stern said winter temperatures were getting warmer in the Sneeuberg and there were fewer falls of snow.
“The snow settles and sinks in to replenish our underground water, a crucial re- source for us. There being less snow the water table is dropping and farmers are regularly having to extend their pipes to draw out of their boreholes. Clearly it’s climate change and it’s a huge concern.”
Slabbert said as coastal veld dried and opened up, kudu and warthog were ranging out of the Karoo and pushing out bushbuck and bushpig.
“Kudu never occurred in Port Elizabeth but now they’re on the edge of Bluewater Bay.”
He said he used to have to wear gumboots to cross the saturated Parson’s Vlei flats north of Bridgemeade but now the whole area, including five pans formed centuries ago by wal- lowing buffalo or elephant, was dry.
“I visited the biggest pan 23 years ago and there were about 300 flamingos on it. When I went back it was dry and it has been ever since.”
Midgley said the fire and drought pattern in the Eastern Cape reflected the essence of climate change.
“Climate change is a process and in this case declining humidity and rainfall and higher winds and temperatures are ensuring more frequent and intense droughts and fires.”
INCREASED PRESENCE: Open country species such as kudu are expanding into coastal areas as vegetation dries up
PINCERED: The protea will be forced with other fynbos species into small high- altitude refuges if climate change trends continue