Peatlands cover only around 3% of the earth’s land surface. And you’ll find some peat-like soils in the Nuwejaars Wetlands Special Management Area.
Why is this important? Because peat is considered vital in the fight against a changing climate. It stores carbon – and if it remains waterlogged, stores carbon forever.
So what is peat? It’s essentially dead plant material that accumulates faster than it can decay. This often happens in waterlogged wetlands – when oxygen can’t reach the material, and therefore it doesn’t decompose like it normally would. During this process, the carbon contained in the living plants becomes trapped.
Peatlands are crucial for
a number of reasons:
1. They help to store and purify water. In dry periods this water seeps out and keeps life giving waterholes full.
2. They help reduce the impacts of floods (through water filtration).
3. They provide a home to our unique wildlife.
4. And they allow for storage and sequestration of carbon as organic matter.
What about at Africa’s southernmost tip?
In our case, it’s believed the peat here formed a long time ago – certainly before agriculture was introduced. (Given that it takes about a year to form 1mm of peat, it would take 1000 years for 1m of peat to form – and it’s believed some of our peat formations are deeper than 1m.)
At that time, dense stands of Palmiet (Prionium serratum) dominated the wetlands. This Palmiet likely formed the basis of our peatlands. The experts reckon there’s even more peat buried beneath the sand deposited here by floodwaters.
There are threats to peat – such as invasive species, which consume water much needed by peat, and which can cause erosion during floods.
Our work with WWF South Africa
That’s why in the Nuwejaars Wetlands Special Management Area, the aim is to ensure our wetlands work – in order to fulfill their carbon-storing function. Our work with WWF South Africa is vital – to rehabilitate and expand a Palmiet and Berzilia riparian wetland.
A major outcome of this project is peat conservation, and the associated carbon storage. Activities include invasive alien clearing, ecological burns in non-peat areas, planting indigenous wetland and fynbos species on eroded banks, and transforming the area into a tourist attraction (a bird hide).
HINT: And that’s why we introduced hippos to our wetlands and lakes. When they walk through the wetlands, they open up channels of water. This rehydrates the peat.