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Environmental time-bomb kills thousands! December 28, 2006

Posted by Andreas in Cape Town, Environment, South Africa.

This morning’s edition of the Cape Times led with a very disturbing story about a major fish die-off in Rietvlei, one of only two remaining functioning estuaries in Cape Town.

Well done to them and their environmental writer Melanie Gosling – news about how our culture destroys its natural habitat is seldom considered worthy of an above the fold front-page story with big pic in the corporate media, even if it is big news.


This picture of Rietvlei by Kirsten Frost was taken from the Friends of Rietvlei website.

Unfortunately, unless you’re a subscriber, you won’t be able to read the story on-line (boo for that, Cape Times!), so here are a couple of excerpts from the article:

More than 20 tons of fish have turned belly-up in Table View’s Rietvlei Wetland Reserve where the ecosystem has become so polluted from the surrounding urban area that it has reached crisis point.

City conservation officials say they expect the quantity of dead fish to reach 40 tons over the next few days, as they battle to collect the thousands of fish carcasses lying thick along the shore of the internationally important feeding ground for migratory birds.

“Rietvlei’s whole fish population is toast,” said Dalton Gibbs, head of nature conservation with the City of Cape Town.

The enormous die-off will have a significant impact on fish stocks in the ocean, as Rietvlei provides a nursery for thousands of ocean fish. It will also have an impact on seabirds, which are already severely stressed by the disappearance of sardine stocks from the West Coast.

“Rietvlei has been absorbing organic pollutants from the urban area for over 30 years. Everything from garden fertilisers to dog turds, from litter to the soap suds from washing your car, flows down the stormwater drains and into the vlei.

For Decades the vlei has been filtering this high load of organic pollutants by trapping it in the sediments of the reed beds. But it reaches a point where it can absorb no more. The next step is blue-green algae blooms…” Gibbs said.

Gibbs said the calm weather and warm temperatures had resulted in “high bacterial action” in breaking down the organic pollutants. The bacteria used up oxygen from the surrounding water during this process, and the fish died from lack of oxygen.


Although this story is, of course, plenty sobering and tragic in its own right, it is really just a small scale analogy of what industrial civilisation is doing to the planet as a whole. We keep on dumping our shit (literally!) into the rivers, lakes, air, soil and oceans. Being immense but not infinite, these natural reservoirs will at some stage reach their capacity for absorbing our refuse and then the whole system will come crushing down all around us.

We’ve turned the earth into a massive environmental time-bomb, primed and ticking. It may not explode in our own lifetime or in that of our children, but explode it will and we will all bear part of the responsibility for the resulting ecocide.



1. The forest for the trees « The Antidote - March 15, 2007

[…] long will it take for the Knysna lagoon (estuary, actually) to collapse as an ecosystem? If our experience with Rietvlei in Cape Town is anything to go by, I fear it won’t take very long. But we won’t learn […]

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