Balancing the marine ecosystem through the protection of estuaries
Estuaries are highly productive types of ecosystems worldwide and of considerable value, yet are some of the most degraded systems on earth. South African estuaries are widely distributed across the State and cover a diversity of geomorphological types. In South Africa, a number of studies have shown that estuaries contribute significantly to the local and national economy. International law has put measures and principles in place to protect estuaries; and South Africa has adopted those measures and principles. The country already has legal instruments to protect estuaries, which include the National Environmental Management Integrated Coastal Management Act. Several challenges pertaining to estuary management in South Africa remain as degradation continues. Few estuaries are regarded as near pristine and the vast majority are vulnerable to a range of threats influencing terrestrial, freshwater and marine systems. The greatest threat facing estuaries globally is human behaviour. There is less planning done to protect estuaries; the focus is on economic development opportunities and approval procedures, such as, port and related facilities, public facilities, mariculture and aquaculture, tourism, leisure and recreation, and lastly, mining among them. Emphasis in this priority area is on local economic development. However, co-operative governance is required to assist in estuarine management and protection to promote sustainable coastal development.