An investigation into the pollution status of the Durban Harbour river catchments, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.
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River pollution as a consequence of urbanization and industrialization has tremendously increased over the past few decades with rapid population growth, and often with profound negative effects on ecosystem health and functioning. The river systems of the Durban Harbour catchments are no exception. The uMhlatuzana, uMbilo and aManzimnyama river catchments of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, comprise three freshwater systems which are predominantly urbanized and industrialized rivers ultimately flowing into the Bayhead Canal of the Durban Harbour as corresponding canals at the confluence. This study explores the pollution status of these river catchments in relation to seasonality and surrounding land use in an attempt to identify principal contributors influencing pollution. To examine the impacts of land use on pollution levels, samples collected from predetermined locations were analyzed for several physico-chemical parameters in the water and sediment column. Additionally, benthic diatoms from these predetermined locations were studied in assessing diatom responses to physico-chemical water gradients and to establish overall aquatic habitat quality. This allowed for the appraisal of the suitability of diatoms as potential biological indicators of river health in the study area. The impacts of each river system on the Bayhead Canal of the Durban Harbour into which they flow were assessed following further sampling that was conducted in the Bayhead Canal and the data presented as interpolated images using ArcGIS 9®. All data was analyzed using relevant statistical analyses techniques. Results indicated that an intensification of anthropogenic activities and processes operating in the catchments of the Durban Harbour, in particular industry, have caused general deteriorations in certain water and sediment parameters on the basis of variables that were analyzed. This has resulted in substantial spatio-temporal variability across all sample sites. This was further substantiated by low counts of diatom taxa found across all sites and seasons which represented deteriorations in water quality and necessitated the need for drastic remedial measures for restoration of the catchment river systems. The study was useful in identifying zones and contaminants of concern so as to enable water managers and planners to correctly prioritize stressed zones for rehabilitation and for ongoing monitoring in the attempt to restore the ecological state of the systems, whilst saving on monitoring time and costs.
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