Respect the River: Inspiring healthy rivers in the Garden Route
APR 16, 2021 | Written AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY Ruan Siebert, Zoë Prinsloo & Branden Hair.
Above: Respect the River Volunteers after a morning of clearing inorganic waste from the river.
The Garden Route Botanical Society branch has an ongoing monthly event called ‘The Respect the River Project’. This event has been running for more than 10 months now, and so far it has been a transformational project.
The event is attended by local volunteers from the Eden district along with community members of Blanco. The children of Blanco are our most consistent and enthusiastic attendees. Without the support and efforts of these local heroes, the event would not be possible.
Above: A local volunteer from Blanco, assisting with clearing litter.
Our current river of focus is the Malgas River which flows along the historical Montagu pass and meanders through the Blanco community where the event takes place monthly. From the Blanco bridge in George Street, the river flows between Heather Park & Fancourt, past the George dumpsite until it reaches the Gwaing River mouth where it spools into the sea.
From the Montagu pass onwards, where the Malgas River comes into contact with humans the river ecology changes from pristine indigenous forest to an ecosystem of Eucalyptus woodland with an under canopy of bugweed, black wattle, lantana and blackwood.
Above: Local volunteers from the Eden district along with community members of Blanco.
With our Respect the River events, we intend to environmentally educate and inspire individuals that live along our rivers to care for these beautiful ecosystems. We need youth to realise the true value of these rivers in order for them to become custodians of our riverine ecosystems into the future. We believe this can be achieved by sharing the valuable information about the local fauna and flora. In the long term, we aim to inspire the rehabilitation of all the rivers within George and the Garden Route district as these are the region’s life force.
We need citizens of the city to really look at the ecosystems that surround us and ask some poignant questions. For example, are they healthy or are they sick? How do our rivers look that flow out into the ocean or local drinking water dams? Are there plastics? Does it smell clean or not? Once we have asked these questions, we need to act upon them and either restore health to, or preserve the health of these ecosystems. Both are vitally important. Healthy ecosystems host healthy humans.
Holistic river restoration
We diversify activities that take place at these events in order to make it fun, interesting and exciting.
Waste management has been an important part of this project, in particular educating people on more efficient ways of dealing with non-organic waste materials so that it does not end up in our precious ecosystems. We deal with the inorganic waste along the river to make those involved aware of the health risks associated with pollution in our river systems. We have separate buckets and bags for collecting goods, such as reusables, compostables, recyclables, single use plastics for eco bricks and glass and plastic materials that cannot be reused.
Single-use plastics are used to make eco bricks which in turn are used for building chairs, crafts and structures. A passionate local young environmentalist, Benjamin Engelbrecht, introduced us to a bottle cutter which can produce up to 29m of durable rope from one 2L bottle. These creative ideas inspire members of the community to look at plastic materials or “trash” with a new perspective.
Above: Eco-brick chair crafting from eco-bricks made with 2L bottles and waste from River.
The area along the riverbank has undergone a radical transformation, and today inorganic materials are almost not visible to the eye when one walks down to the river. We can now focus on our next goal: to plant indigenous trees, highlighting the valuable local flora and enhancing the ecosystem along the riverbank.
We have focused on clearing exotic species and ringbarking exotic trees to make space for the indigenous species. There are encouraging signs, such as prolific sprouting of Cape Rattle-pod (Crotalaria capensis) and other indigenous trees growing underneath the eucalyptus.
On the west side of the river where we have focused our clearing efforts, we have seen the return of up to 12 indigenous trees species, with Common spikethorn (Gymnosporia buxifolia) being the most prolific pioneer.
Above: Photo depicts the most consistent local children signing in before getting started with the event. They all love seeing and analysing one another’s hand writing.
And coming up next…
And on 24 April we will host our biggest event yet, as we receive a sponsorship of 100 trees from One Tree Planted, an American organisation, in a donation facilitated by our local org Food and Trees for Africa.
There is an online registration you will have to complete to attend the event.
(There is a limit of 30 volunteers.)
Above: Volunteers on a walk about investigating the state of the river after months of effort.
Organisations currently supporting the
Respect the River Project
BotSoc Support from National (Toni, Rupert, Brad)
BotSoc Garden Route Committee (Ruan Siebert, Zoë Prinsloo, Branden Hair)
Garden Route Botanical Gardens (Corne Brink)
George Municipality (Erika Brown, Heather Park Ward Councilor)
Kos en Fynbos (Eve Stoffels)
Landmark Foundation (Monica Vaccaro)
Food & Trees for Africa, One Tree Planted, Saffron Tree Nursery, Garden Roots
Above: Children from Blanco sharing knowledge, Blackwood leaves are used locally as a natural soap by simply crushing the leaves with some water.
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