11 July 2012

South Africa: Umfolozi River & Lake St Lucia reunited

update (10 Sept 2012): St Lucia Estuary, to which many scientists in South Africa have been paying very close attention over the past year, has today (07 Sept 2012) been the recipient of excess water from the flooding Umfolozi River. [more]

After 60 years of being separated, the Umfolozi River and Lake St Lucia in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park on KwaZulu-Natal's north coast finally got rejoined to restore the functioning of South Africa's biggest estuarine system.
The Umfolozi River is flowing in an easterly direction to the Indian Ocean at Maphelana (Mapelana), a coastal town located just south of the St Lucia River mouth. Before the two systems got separated, the Umfolozi River used to meander over the Monzi Flats, where it split into numerous slow-flowing channels before entering the St. Lucia Estuary.

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The St Lucia estuary mouth was closed to the sea or the better part of the past decade due to below average rainfall conditions between 2002 to 2010, so that Lake St Lucia could not function as an estuary*. To re-link the two waterbodies, a beach spillway between the two mouths was established as far west on the beach as possible along a route previously followed by the Umfolozi River.
The water levels in the system are a steady at 50cm on average in the north and south lakes, and at least 1m in the narrows. 

*An estuary is a partly enclosed coastal body of water with one or more rivers or streams flowing into it, and with a free connection to the open sea.

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