As part of ICLEI’s LAB Wetlands SA Project, the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) is partnering with ICLEI in Ilembe District Municipality on the KwaZulu-Natal north coast to implement a small scale project which will contribute towards meeting the objectives of the ILembe Wetland Strategy and Action Plan.

This project aims to improve the understanding of the value of selected wetland systems across three areas within ILembe District Municipality to feed into the ILembe Wetland Biodiversity and Ecological Goods and Services (EGS) knowledge bank, through development of local citizen science capacity. In addition, the project aims to develop an Alien Invasive Plant Eradication (AIP) plan for these areas. The project is being implemented by EWT’s Threatened Amphibian Programme.

This work is in line with the objective of implementing the Biodiversity Management Plan for the Endangered Pickersgill’s Reed Frog, which was gazetted in June 2017. This species occurs only along the KwaZulu-Natal coast and is representative of coastal wetlands. Currently, the species exists at just 25 sites, which receive very little protection or management. The species has been prioritised for conservation action due to its Endangered status, its endemism and the ongoing deterioration in, and loss of, its habitat.

Alien invasive plant infestations pose a threat to water and biodiversity by causing sedimentation and drying that changes wetland structure and function. The costs of recapturing wetlands is high and it is imperative that local community members are capacitated to provide solutions. Through this project, local community members contracted as citizen scientists will monitor and report on the ecological integrity of wetlands, thus providing a significant saving for the municipality, as well as helping to address poverty within these communities. Finally, development of an alien invasive plant eradication plan that facilitates local employment and capacity development will promote economic efficiency.

The overall outcome of this project, in alignment with the LAB Wetlands SA Project, is for ecologically important wetlands to be prioritised by the municipality and incorporated into the municipal spatial and conservation planning strategies. Using an Endangered species as a flagship for wetland conservation will contribute to overall wetland management objectives, as well as contribute to the fulfilment of a government-recognised conservation plan for this species, and the important coastal habitat that it represents.

On 1 December 2017, with the help of ILembe District Municipality Environmental Department, EWT interviewed 30 candidates from the KwaDukuza, Nyoni and Groutville communities for the position of Biodiversity Officers to carry out the work required for these wetland assessments. The interview comprised of a three-step process, including an interactive wetland game, a hands-on practical assessment and one-on-one interviews. In total, 18 candidates were selected and commenced training at the respective sites on 4 December.

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