Palmiet Peatlands: Hidden Treasures
Palmiet peatland wetlands, comprising mostly palmiet (Prionium serratum) vegetation, are confined to the coastal provinces of South Africa. Peatlands are wetlands in which the soil is rich in carbon and is made up of partially decomposed, compressed organic material such as palmiet, reeds and sedges. Peat forms in waterlogged environments as there is not enough oxygen for decomposition to occur. The peat’s carbon acts as a natural purifier of water and plays an important role in mitigating climate change by storing carbon. South African peat wetlands are globally significant as biodiversity hotspots, as well as carbon and water stores.
Peatlands cover just 3% of our world, and less than 5% of peatlands occur in Africa, yet they store nearly a third of all land-based carbon. This is twice as much as all the world’s forests. The danger is that once degraded, methane is released back into the atmosphere.
Ruiterbosch Peatlands Discovery
Three palmiet peatlands were recently discovered near Ruiterbosch in the Kamma River and at Bergfontein in the Weyers River by Ms Heidi Muller, Working for Wetlands, Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries (DEFF) and Dr Donovan Kotze (a wetland specialist working for the GCBR) when doing wetland rehabilitation planning for the region.
The importance of wetlands
Wetlands play an important role in ensuring a steady supply of clean water. Acting like sponges, wetlands slow down flood waters and store water when it rains, while releasing the water slowly during the dry season, helping to ensure river flow for longer periods in the dry season. Wetlands are uniquely designed to purify water. They slow down water flow allowing sediments to be deposited. Wetlands stabilise and store many pollutants including excess nutrients and toxins from agricultural chemicals and fertilisers.
Understanding the current condition of wetland systems in the Gouritz Corridor Project area is crucial in developing management plans and assisting with the implementation of practical and co-operative solutions to sustaining the value of these landscape assets.
The field evaluation team assessing the Kamma wetland system near Ruiterbos.
Compiled by Halcyone Muller, Herbertsdale Corridor Co-ordinator and member of the Gouritz Ecological Corridors Project team.
Photos courtesy of Halcyone Muller