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South Africa: Project Vazi

Ecohydrological analysis of Vazi-wetlands, South Africa

The Vazi-wetlands are situated in the province of KwaZulu-Natal in South-Africa at of 600-700 meters above sea level. They occur in inter-dunal depressions close to the eastern coastline (see maps). Some of the Vazi-wetlands have thick peat layers of up to 8 meters. Peat lands are rare in South-Africa. Around 60% of them are situated in the eastern part of the country, called Maputaland, where annual rainfall is relatively high. The Water Research Commission (WRC) in South Africa has many projects related to the rehabilitation of peatlands. One of such projects (WRC K5/2346) deals with the best preserved peatland (Vazi-North), which is threatened by expansion of pine (Pinus) and blue gum (Eucalyptus) state-plantations on the surrounding dunes. These plantations use a lot of groundwater from the dune systems that supply the Vazi-wetlands with water. As a consequence the Vazi wetlands are drying out. Already in 1998 severe burning of the peat in Vazi-wetlands has been reported (Grundling & Blackmore, 1998). We are trying to investigate, which dune systems are most important for supplying the wetlands with groundwater. If that is known, it will be possible to target areas where pine and blue gum plantations should be banned in order to restore the flow of groundwater to the wetlands. Increased knowledge on the functioning of the hydrological system is urgent, because some peatlands have started to burn again in 2015 and this has led to an increased loss of peat and to almost the total destruction of the vegetation (see photographs of March and May 2015).