South Africa’s wetlands are highly protected ecosystems, particularly if your business is mining. The same however cannot be said for the country’s vast pan ecosystems, which if neglected and polluted will have devastating impacts on local biodiversity in the long-term, Jeffares & Green’s senior aquatic scientist Dr Martin Ferreira tells Laura Cornish.
According to Ferreira, pans are classified as wetlands in South Africa, but have been neglected in terms of research and monitoring when compared to other wetland ecosystems. By definition they are isolated, ephemeral shallow depressions, drawing water from rainfall and subsurface flows as they have no connection with a water inlet or outlet system. Their lifespans are cyclical, losing their water (over varying periods of time) through evaporation. Because of these characteristics, pans are often restricted to arid regions with complete desiccation occurring seasonally.
Although generally restricted to the drier western parts of South Africa, pans are also present in the eastern Highveld region where rainfall often exceeds 750 mm a year. This has seen a large volume of pans emerge over centuries in Mpumalanga – South Africa’s largest coal mining region.