THE PROJECT AND ITS ORIGINS
Knysna is a particularly beautiful area of the South African coast, midway between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth along the famous Garden Route. The Knysna lagoon is the largest on the south coast and possesses the highest plant and animal diversity of all South African estuaries. But urban and industrial development threatened the delicate environmental status of the lagoon. Since the 90s the Knysna Basin Project has literally turned the tide - the research continues.
Throughout the 90's there was an increasing realisation by the general public, or at least some of the non-governmental organisations (NGO's), that the rivers and estuaries of the coastal rimland of South Africa were threatened by poor land management, urban and industrial development and the effluents which they generate.
By 1990 many of the NGO's concerned over the fate of the Knysna ‘lagoon" as a consequence of rapid urbanisation within the "lagoon" basin argued that the system was fast approaching a critical environmental status or condition. Some went as far as to conclude that the "lagoon" was dying!
To assess the reality of this view, the Outeniqualand Trust (an NGO founded in 1974 to keep watch over the impact of development along the Garden Route, set up the Knysna Basin Project (KBP) at the instigation of Dr Brian Allanson, formerly Professor of Zoology and Director of the IWS at Rhodes University.
The seminal work by Professor John Day and his colleagues at the University of Cape Town, during the late 1940's and earlier research studies on the coastal lakes and estuaries of the south coast of the Western Cape during the 1970's by the Institute of Freshwater Studies (now the Institute for Water Research) at Rhodes University, Grahamstown, provided the basis upon which the project developed.
A notable feature of the Knysna estuarine complex is that it is the largest on the south coast and possesses the highest plant and animal diversity of all South African estuaries. The studies of John Day established the importance of quiet, wave reduced tidal flow and gently shelving intertidal shore, that support rich array of plant and substratum habitats, which together, give shelter, food and protection to a wide spectrum of animals, invertebrate and vertebrate. Of particular interest and concern is the famous and endangered Knysna seahorse, Hippocampus capensis, This is species is endemic to South Africa and its present population status in the Knysna estuary and adjacent systems needs re-evaluation, following the earlier assessments between 2001 and 2003, (see reports). The new studies by Richard Barnes of the community structure of the eelgrass beds adds significantly to the richness of the estuarine biodiversity.
Initially, the Project was planned as an holistic catchment study involving the river and its estuary which opened into a large marine embayment. And as the largest urban development was taking place within the littoral of the tidal areas of the ecosystem, and funds were limited our research effort was directed towards a description of the hydrographics, chemical and biological characteristics of the estuary, lagoon and marine embayment.
The emphasis was placed upon understanding the biophysical features of the tidal water column and intertidal sediments. Without this background the impact of increasing urbanisation upon the environmental status of the tidal areas would not be possible.