An emergency application is due to be submitted to the Department of Economic Development, Environmental Affairs and Tourism (DEDEAT) this week for the breaching of the Seekoei estuary mouth at Paradise Beach, Jeffreys Bay.

Unlike previous occasions, however, the emergency is not high water levels endangering the lives of motorists crossing the causeway. Instead, the water level of the estuary has dropped to such an extent that fish have been dying in numbers.

“The water in the estuary has been evaporating rapidly because of the hot temperatures and strong winds,” Kouga Municipality’s Community Services Portfolio Councillor Daniel Benson said.

“Combined with this, there has been almost no inflow of fresh water because of the drought and numerous farm dams that trap water in the catchment area.  This has caused the salinity of the water to shoot up alarmingly.”

He said tests conducted last week indicated that the salt content was more than twice that of sea water.

“Estuarine life simply cannot survive under those circumstances.”

He said the situation had been reported to DEDEAT and that an emergency application for the breaching of the mouth was being finalised for submission to them in line with section 30 of the National Environmental Management Act.

“It may sound strange to want to add sea water to the estuary to decrease the salt content of the latter. The salinity of the estuary is, however, so much higher than that of the ocean at the moment that the sea water will actually help to lower the salt content of the lagoon,” he explained. 

“Ideally, what we need, is strong rains to boost the inflow of fresh water from upstream, but that is beyond our control. “While the inflow of sea water will not solve the problem completely, it will help to decrease the salinity levels.”

Benson said the Seekoei Estuary Management Plan, that was developed by the municipality and is currently awaiting final approval by the East Cape Environmental Affairs MEC, would help to address this dilemma in the long-term. 

“We have been a bit frustrated by the delays in obtaining final approval for the implementation of the plan but expect to meet with the DEDEAT in this regard before the end of the month.”

He said a further frustration was the failure by the national Department of Water and Sanitation to address the many illegal dams in the catchment area.

“The Department recently indicated that they were aware of more than 100 illegal farm dams in the Kouga region, but they have been slow to take action. Once these illegal dams have been removed, there will be more fresh water flowing into the system.”

In the meantime, he cautioned residents against eating the fish.