Happy New Year from Droplets

31 December 2013

Whatever you may be doing, Droplets wishes you all the very best for 2014!  Looks like its going to be a challenging year.  Thanks to all who have ensured that our readership continues to grow consistently – despite having lost our funding for the CyanoAlert service!

If you want to do something meaningful during 2014, please adopt a homeless dog!

If you want to do something meaningful during 2014, please adopt a homeless dog!

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2013 wettest year in 29 for Somerset West

30 December 2013

2013 rainfall by month for Somerset West, shown against average of all prior years.

2013 rainfall by month for Somerset West, shown against average of all prior years.


This post is obviously of local interest but here it is nonetheless:  2013, largely due to way above average rains in August and November (see graphic above), was the wettest of 29 consecutive years for the town of Somerset West, Western Province, South Africa, continuing a sustained wet cycle that started in 2004.  In addition to August and November, February and June recorded 40 mm above the long-term average. November was the month of the devastating flood that received much press attention (see earlier post). Read more »

Coastal wetlands at greater risk from man than from sea level rise

30 December 2013


Coastal wetlands can cope with sea-level rise, providing man allows them to (Photo: Bill Harding)

While man is deemed to be  the most intelligent life form on earth (debatable but there it is…), man also is responsible for wilfully destroying the environment of this sphere that we live on.  This assault on our natural capital is particularly, but not exclusively, relevant to the ecosystem services provided by coastal wetlands.

A recent article in Nature reveals that while coastal wetlands have in-built mechanisms to allow them to compensate for rising sea levels, they cannot attenuate the impacts of land-based and marine eutrophication (nutrient enrichment) and, obviously, physical impacts from development – the latter including the reduction in transport of sediments to wetlands.  Authors Kirwan and Megonigal observe that “…observations of wetland drowning are infrequent because of the fascinating interactions between plants and soil that allow wetlands to actively engineer their position within the intertidal zone in ways that enhance ecosystem persistence“. Read more »

Assume Everyone Else is an Idiot

27 December 2013

If road users were less impatient...

If road users were less impatient…

When are South Africans going to get their collective act together and not make our roads more dangerous than they need to be?  In May this year we learnt of another infamous first for our country, namely that we have the worst road safety statistics out of 36 countries surveyed, beaten into last place by Malaysia (M&G, May 23rd 2013).  This fact is being borne out by the annual festive season road carnage.

On a trip to collect my dog from the vet this afternoon, I encountered two instances of what has become a commonality in this country, people driving straight through 4-way Stop intersections.  In the second of these, the transgressor was a young woman, presumably a mother judging by the children in the vehicle – and, when hooted at, casually flipped her middle finger at me!  Wow, what a role model for her children.   Read more »

Be prepared for seasonal blue-green algal blooms

24 December 2013

Blue-green algal blooms are seasonally-common right now!  (Photo: Bill Harding)

Blue-green algal blooms are seasonally-common right now! (Photo: Bill Harding)

It’s that time of year in South Africa again – temperatures have warmed up and so have nutrient-enriched dams and ponds.  Many have developed algal blooms that could be toxic, so beware!

Droplets contains lots of useful information about blue-green algae and their toxins.  In the USA, the Centre for Disease Control has produced a very useful facts sheet that provides all the essential background.  South Africa does not have any resources focussed on algal blooms (!) or where to get help should one develop problems after being in contact with toxic algae.  DH Environmental Consulting can be approached for guidance and we have ability for rapid on-site toxin testing and algal identification.  Algal blooms pose a threat  to humans, pets and livestock.  They should not be underestimated.

We will shortly be releasing an App that will enable users to send us details of algal blooms they come across so that we can build a geographic database of bloom occurrence.  In the meantime you are welcome to email us information and photographs of what you saw, to info@dhec.co.za

Merry Xmas!


22 December 2013

Here’s a really nice initiative that Droplets hopes road users will take the time to support:

The Endangered Wildlife Trust’s Wildlife and Transport Programme (EWT-WTP) needs your help recording roadkill data this festive season and has launched the Roadwatch South Africa app to make your participation in their Roadkill Research and Mitigation Project easier. To take part simply type this link into the Safari browser on your Android platform phone [Droplets comment: Safari browser on Android operating systems??? – must be a typo]:


The app will be available on the Apple platform shortly. If, during your travels, you spot any roadkill on our roads please record your sighting via the app and the EWT-WTP will use the data you share in their work to reduce the impacts of transport infrastructure on our wildlife. Read more »

Global levels of water stress mapped by country and watershed

18 December 2013

Screen Shot 2013-12-18 at 19.23.48The Water Resources Institute’s (WRI) Aqueduct programme has a website that provides details of the level of water stress by country, as well as by within-country sector, in a useful interactive map format. Droplets has reported on this resource before – but its so informative that we decided to do so again!  South Africa’s overall ratings are shown below:

South Africa's water stress levels (Source: Aqueduct, WRI)

South Africa’s water stress levels (Source: Aqueduct, WRI)

Eutrophication seen as ‘wicked’: a fresh approach to analysing an old problem

17 December 2013

Finding solutions to eutrophication requires their evaluation as 'wicked', not tame problems (Photo: Bill Harding)

Finding solutions to eutrophication requires their evaluation as ‘wicked’, rather than ‘tame’ problems (Photo: Bill Harding)

Published today in the journal of the International Lake Environment Committee (ILEC), Lakes and Reservoirs: Research and Management (Volume 18) (Wiley Science) is a refreshing new approach to eutrophication (= nutrient enrichment) assessment. The paper considers eutrophication as a ‘wicked problem‘, i.e. a problem that evades simplistic interpretation and/or management by virtue of its multi-layered complexity.  All too often, frighteningly often in fact, attempts to manage eutrophication do not consider the multi-layered nature of aquatic ecosystems and, by focussing on single issues, achieve little and create more problems. It is believed that the application of wicked problem theory to eutrophication will unlock a new approach to and thinking about the problem that will demonstrably augment the formulation of eutrophication management approaches.

The international group of authors, including three from South Africa, summarised their work as follows: Read more »

Some crocodiles hunt with lures…

11 December 2013

A well-camouflaged mugger crocodile (Crocodylus palustris) in stick-displaying behavior. Madras Crocodile Bank, Tamil Nadu, India. Source: Dinets et al, 2013.

“&%$#** birds!, took me six hours to get these sticks balanced and not even a peck…”     A well-camouflaged mugger crocodile (Crocodylus palustris) in stick-displaying behavior. Madras Crocodile Bank, Tamil Nadu, India. Source: Dinets et al, 2013.

In a research paper entitled “Crocodilians use lures for hunting“, Vladimir Dinets and co-authors report that two species of crocodilians, a crocodile and an alligator, make use of twigs and sticks to hunt birds.  Truly amazing for so dinosaurial a beast but going to show just how much there is out there in the world of natural science that we have still to discover!  And quite a balancing act as well!

Citation: V. Dinets, J.C. Brueggen & J.D. Brueggen , Ethology Ecology & Evolution (2013): Crocodilians use tools for hunting. 

UK study finds that 74% of planners only have a basic understanding of the mitigation hierarchy

11 December 2013

A just-published report by the UK’s Association of Local Government Ecologists (ALGE) has concluded that the strategic conservation of biodiversity may be compromised by a lower than acceptable level of professional and technical competency within local planning authorities.  This lack of ecological competency by officials is not limited to the UK and is something many ecologists are frustrated by on a daily basis.  It places the issue of maintaining biodiversity and natural capital, in the long term, at some considerable risk.  On the dark side, it can provide a loophole by which conservation-critical land may be fragmented by or lost to development.

In the UK there is a “duty is to embed consideration of biodiversity as an integral part of policy and decision making throughout the public sector, which should be seeking to make a significant contribution to the achievement of the commitments made by Government in its Biodiversity 2020 strategy” .

The ALGE report summarised its findings as follows: Read more »