Is it Saveable?
This was an article in response to various articles placed in the Midrand Reporter. Unfortunately no response was received in this regard. Given this we posted this on our site and must be noted that it is a personal opinion and was written with the view point of “Devils Advocate”.
I am most definitely for the protection of the Giant African Bullfrog, Grass Owl and other indigenous or endangered animals or fauna. I however must have a quite chuckle as to the publicity that is being given to the Witpoort Pump Station. A huge amount of hype has been generated over a small structure of less than a thousand square meters of structure and land combined. There are other issues that should perhaps have been considered well in advance of this.
I find it amazing that people are publicly objecting after the structure has been completed and not whilst the building was being constructed. Now they are going on about the risk of sewerage spillage despite various precautions being brought into account by Johannesburg Water, including “Auto Start generators” in the event of a power failure and notifications to the depot in the event of any failure in the system.
We do need to PROTECT our wetlands, grasslands and environment, but it should have been considered far earlier on. It should have been something that was objected to before this point. In fact, back to the point of residential development (Somerset, Montecello and Carlswald North) starting in the area. Where was it expected that the sewer and stormwater from these developments was going to go? Council have merely put in a service that is essential for the 10 000 odd people that are planned for the region. This service can unfortunately only be placed at the lower points of valleys, as it is a gravity service. Thus there is little to no choice regarding pump station positioning. It is unfortunate though, that the lower point of valley is also where the wetland occurs and where stormwater gets discharged. It must be noted that a wetland can be wider than the 1:50 or 1:100 flood line due to underlying geological features that cause ground water to come to the surface.
Surely it must be realised that these residential and commercial developments are posing a far greater threat to the wildlife that still exists in the area? Electric fences around properties will kill Flap-Neck Chameleons and boundary walls will stop the natural migration routes of the frogs. Short cut grass in well-manicured gardens will take away the habitat the grass owl uses to hunt. These developments have wiped out thousands of square meters, which makes the pump station look quite small in the grand scheme of things. If one looks at the photo printed in the “Midrand Reporter – Vol 27, Number 22, Week Ending 3 June, 2005” it would be clear to see the lack of wetland in the photo and the presence of large scale development on the right of the photo. This is a few thousand square meters of the environment lost.
The old “Midranders” will probably remember dodging Bullfrogs on our roads during the rainy season, huge numbers of snakes, chameleons, bird life and even duiker. This is going back to the days of ‘Peri-urban’ and a few plot in the middle of nowhere. Development in itself has destroyed this, not the odd municipal service that has been provided by law. The numerous housing schemes that have been erected have destroyed most of the nature we were once privileged to have in our “town”.
A threat that is far greater to the Bullfrog than the chance of a sewer overflow is that of stormwater. Bullfrogs prefer grassland pans of still water that fill up during the rainy season. They have adapted to this temporary water existence by having rapid growth from tadpoles into frogs, literally as short as a couple of weeks. These grassland pans are being destroyed with development and those that are still in existence are often getting polluted stormwater discharge off the roads. The chemicals and oil in the stormwater (from transport vehicles), is extremely toxic to frogs as they have permeable skins. Now nothing has been said about that, nor to stop development in and around the areas of our protected species. “Nature’s Bio-filters” will be clogged up and destroyed with great ease by the increased traffic into the area after the first few rains, when chemicals and oil are discharged into them. These bio-filters can only handle so many chemicals.
It also needs to be noted there are a couple of slight misconceptions as to the animals that occur in this wetland. The Grass Owl occurs predominantly in grasslands, not exclusively in wetlands. The Giant African Bullfrog does not live in streams, thus it would not be a highly viable place for the species to live or breed. The odd male may be found in the area whilst they are migrating in search of other breeding colonies, but they would not be found breeding in a flowing stream.
The questions I have for the activists & residents in the area are:
- Why is large-scale development bringing in hundreds to thousands of people acceptable? It is actually these developments that are posing a far greater threat to the environment, especially when compared to the scale of the pump station. This impact is in terms of land destruction (development) and chemical pollution via roads & stormwater.
- Why is everyone moaning about one small structure that is only removing the effluent created by the thousands of new incomers? These developments have been advertised in the papers, gone through town planning regulations etc…, which includes comments and objections by residents in the area. Obviously there was either not enough or no objection given so they were permitted to continue. Johannesburg Water was only fulfilling their legal obligation to supply essential services for these developments.
- Why is little to nothing being said about the discharge of stormwater systems into our waterways that will destroy the wetlands in the very near future, and has already destroyed populations of Bullfrogs in the past?
- Can proof of Giant African Bullfrog releases and the quantity of specimens be provided by Mr. Fairall? As he witnessed the release, surely it would be easy to prove. Certainly a lot easier than digging up a huge expanse of land, destroying it in the hope of maybe finding a specimen.
- Is the “Catastrophe” the building of the pump station for the 10 000 new people, or is it rather not objecting to the new residential developments in the ‘environmentally sensitive area’ that requires the pump station?
Unfortunately I have a very pessimistic view, that the struggle for the survival of the Bullfrog in the wild is a fruitless one in Midrand. There has been / is far too much development being permitted and too high levels of pollution and traffic for the species to flourish. Roads and huge boundary walls leave little chance of survival as they close off natural migratory routes. This is further reinforced by an extract from the STAR newspaper, “The bullfrog project has been launched in developing areas to save the species which faces extinction because of massive construction work.”
A few isolated colonies may be lucky enough to survive, but unfortunately only time will tell. As opposed to the pathetic bickering over a small pump station, this energy could be better focussed in the setting up of Registered Bullfrog breeding projects or the protection of wetlands and surrounding grassland away from the encroaching concrete jungle and stormwater systems.
It boils down to the reader to decide as to what is the greater threat to our environment. Development itself, or the provision of essential services by local authorities for these new developments? This is not restricted to the Witpoort region, but throughout Midrand, Johannesburg, Gauteng etc… Huge tracts of land are being destroyed nation wide to cope with rapid growing populations.