On 6 May, concerned citizen Zoe Poulsen spotted an earth mover ripping up the shoreline vegetation and dumping the biomass on botanically sensitive areas - including a plot that was restored by the Forum last year as part of the community-led fynbos restoration project.
As Zoe had herself grown some of the plants for this restoration, she did not hesitate to stand in front of the machine until she could alert someone in authority to prevent further damage. Without her fortuitous presence and courage, the entire eastern shoreline and restoration area, including hundreds of plants put in by school learners, would have been destroyed.
However, the operator of the machine had already caused catastrophic ecological damage to the vlei (see area marked in red on the photograph below).
- Destroying a restored plant community of 38 species that has cost the Princess Vlei Forum around R110 000. This includes 110 established critically endangered Serruria foeniculacea and 14 established extinct in the wild Erica verticillata,
- Probable local extinction of the last Psoralea aphylla on site
- Destabilising 175 metres of shoreline near the outlet of the vlei by ripping up the reedbed and shoreline grass. This is likely to result in serious erosion and silting of the water body in the coming rains.
- Although the purpose of the operation was to clear water hyacinth, only 10% of the biomass removed was Hyacinth
The GPVCA forms part of the City of Cape Town’s biodiversity network, and the City is obliged to manage it as a biodiversity sensitive site, by agreement with Cape Nature. The area has also recently been declared a Provincial Heritage Site in recognition of its biodiversity and cultural value.
As a biodiversity sensitive site, it is vital that utmost care be taken with mechanical operations on site. This act demonstrates an extreme lack of care. While the ward councillor and some officials have supported the restoration and revitalisation of the area, this is not upheld by the overall management of the site. Princess Vlei has suffered from chronic neglect, going back several decades to the apartheid era. This neglect continues, as the level of care and attention given remains far short of that given to equivalent areas in wealthy, formerly white areas in Cape Town.
This incident highlights:
- The failure of the City to invest in and manage GPVCA as a biodiversity site.
- The failure to take the Forum seriously as a community partner, despite the millions of rands raised by the Forum, countless volunteer hours and pro bono professional advice, and goodwill generated by the internationally recognised community-led restoration project.
- Ensure that this incident is properly investigated
- Institute watertight protocols to ensure that this can never happen again
- Invest resources to ensure that the damaged area is fully restored;
- Commit to ensuing that the site is adequately managed as a biodiversity sensitive site.