What we do
The Nuwejaars Wetland Special Management Area (SMA) is found within a biodiversity hotspot - the
Agulhas Plain, at the southernmost tip of Africa. What makes the Nuwejaars Wetland Ecosystem so
important? The region is the largest storehouse of lowland fynbos in the world, while the endangered
Renosterveld is also found here. Lowland fynbos - while biologically rich - is also perhaps the most
threatened vegetation type. Fynbos plant species like the Protea Pudens and Erica Regia are endemic
to the region, and are under threat.
At the same time, wetlands in the region have remained unprotected with devastating effects - until
now. Nearly a quarter of wetlands on the Agulhas Plain have already been lost. A crucial wetland site
in the heart of the Special Management Area, (which is fed by the Nuwejaars River), constitutes the
largest natural freshwater lake in South Africa, known as Soetendalsvlei. It leads to the De Mond
Estuary, a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance. The Cape Action for People and the
Environment (C.A.P.E.) describes the Nuwejaars Wetland Ecosystem as 'highly irreplaceable'.
The rivers and streams that feed into the Nuwejaars River are vital habitats for endangered species
such as the Nuwejaars redfin.
Despite the biodiversity value of the Nuwejaars Wetland Ecosystem, this heritage has come under
threat. Invasive alien plants have spread rapidly throughout the Agulhas Plain. Uncontrolled fires have
increased in frequency (largely due to the increase in alien plants, which burn easily). Large floods
have damaged wetlands, and resulted in the loss of carbon-storing peat. And all of this has been
exacerbated by climate change.
That's why the Nuwejaars Wetland Special Management Area made it a top priority to rehabilitate
core conservation areas and cultural features throughout the region. Through funding received from
the German government, more than 3000 hectares of land was cleared of alien plants. Cut aliens
were then chipped, and used in Eco-Log structures in wetland rehabilitation (decomposed chips over
time form the basis of peat). Indigenous trees were planted along riverbanks, to prevent alien
Game that became extinct on the Agulhas Plain in previous centuries have also now been
reintroduced. Buffalo, hippo (both last seen here between 150 and 200 years ago) and hartebeest now
roam the land within the Special Management Area (SMA). Eland, 'quagga' and bontebok were also
released on the Nuwejaars land.
The reintroduction of game forms part of the fight against climate change on the Agulhas Plain. Wild
animals are much less destructive than livestock to the sensitive natural habitat. Hippos, too,
facilitate wetland rehabilitation by spreading the water and unblocking channels as they walk.
At the same time, the game offers nature-based tourism opportunities within the Special
Management Area (SMA). Breeding and marketing of the game will furthermore allow the Nuwejaars
Wetland Special Management Area to utilise them as biodiversity products - a key economic driver,
and an integral part in becoming sustainable.
Many natural systems suffered at the hands of man’s expanding influence on the Agulhas Plain during
previous centuries – with habitats and species reaching the point of extinction or near-extinction.
The Nuwejaars Wetland SMA is now re-establishing these ecosystems.
The Nuwejaars Wetland SMA is rehabilitating its
key areas and cultural features. More
Enhancing the wellbeing of all who live here is an
imperative for the SMA. More
Our tourism venture will include training for
operators and entrepreneurs. More
Production and food security is enhanced through
sustainable use of land. More
Sustainably-utilised products will prove a key
economic driver for communities here. More
By developing the SMA's infrastructure, we can
unlock the area's sustainable capital. More