Kwelera River Rats will be fighting to preserve the Kwelera Estuary for future generations

Posted on: February 26, 2018, in Adventure & Fun, News




Compiled by John L M Brown

ESTUARIES are the meeting places of the rivers and the sea, and are characterised by the interaction between the two. Conditions in an estuary are always changing, and this instability or variability is one of the most important features of estuaries.

The salinity of estuarine water varies depending on the tide and the strength of the inflowing river. In addition, a river also brings silt and nutrients to the estuary in varying quantities, depending on conditions in the catchment (drainage basin) of the river concerned.


Conditions in estuaries are very different form those in the sea. Estuaries are usually calm, sheltered and shallow, and vary greatly in temperature, salinity and turbidity (murkiness). As a result they are specialised environments.

A nursery for marine species: Over 100 species of fishes, prawns and crabs in South African off-shore waters use estuaries as nurseries and/or feeding grounds. The life cycle of most of these species involves egg production at sea; often close inshore and near an estuary mouth. Eggs and larvae develop at sea, but the larvae and juveniles migrate to estuaries in great numbers. In fish, this migration takes place mainly during late winter, spring and early summer when millions of juveniles swim into estuaries.

Estuaries are good nurseries because they offer protection from most marine predators, and their high temperature and rich food supplies favour rapid growth of the juveniles. The source of this food supply is estuarine plants growing in the water, as well as the plants of the neighbouring wetlands, e.g. mangroves and reeds. These plants supply most of the detritus (fragmented remains of dead plants and animals) which, together with bacteria responsible for decomposing detritus, forms the basis of the estuarine food web.

Most juvenile fish migrate back to sea at an age of about one-year. These sub-adults tend to live close to the shore, where they join adult spawning populations once they become mature.


Estuaries are favourite sites to human settlement, urban development and recreation (boating, fishing etc.). Many cities and towns along the coast depend on estuaries for harbour facilities, tourism and recreation, e.g. Durban, Richard’s Bay, East London and Knysna.

Estuaries are particularly popular with anglers when adult fish enter seasonally to feed. At these times fish are easier to catch and are important as a source of both food and recreation. An example of this is the famous spotted grunter “run” into KwaZulu Natal and East Cape estuaries. Of the 81 fish species which depend on estuaries in South Africa, 29 are sport-angling species and an additional 21 species are used for human food.


Anything that happens to a river in its catchment can have an impact on the estuary. A river flowing through farmlands can become polluted by pesticides, herbicides and nutrients form fertiliser. Soil eroded from badly farmed or overgrazed lands will also be washed into estuaries after heavy rains.

This excessive silt load has the effect of filling up the estuary and in some cases resulting in the estuary mouth closing. Silt smothers animals and reduces light penetration so that plants are unable to grow except in very shallow water.

Damming of rivers and the use of water for irrigation or industry can lead to freshwater starvation of an estuary. This upsets the ratio of freshwater to seawater in the estuary, which in turn affects the plants and animals living there. Housing development creates further problems that come with urbanisation.


  • Get to know the estuaries in your area by walking along their shoreline or canoeing throughout their length. Report signs of damage to the local authority.
  • List the plants and animals living in these estuaries. Photograph the upper, middle and lower reaches of the estuary from fixed vantage points and monitor change between seasons and from year to year
  • Find out what the estuary is used for, which local authority is responsible for its management and what strategies have been prepared to control development alongside it.
  • Read “The Biology and Conservation of South Africa’s Vanishing Waters” which has a very useful chapter entitled “What you can do”.


  • Bad catchment management is the major cause of estuarine damage in Southern Africa.
  • The numbers of many important commercial (e.g. prawns) and angling species (e.g. kob, grunter, perch) which rely upon estuaries are dwindling as a result of disturbed estuarine environments

Fishing an estuary needs knowledge and a strong conservation ethic to preserve the natural resource.

In following articles we try to assist with information on the best areas to catch fish. What to look for, and above all conserve.


Areena Resort, Kwelera River, Kwelera, East London, South Africa

EMAIL: Ph 0732727851

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