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Water hyacinth seen floating and strewn on beachfront among Durban bathers left them wondering why they were swimming with sticks and stems

The water hyacinth is a free-floating plant that thrives in quiet sections of freshwater rivers, floodplains and dams throughout KwaZulu-Natal. Picture: Saambr

The water hyacinth is a free-floating plant that thrives in quiet sections of freshwater rivers, floodplains and dams throughout KwaZulu-Natal. Picture: Saambr

Published Jan 6, 2022

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DURBAN – The South African Association for Marine Biological Research (Saambr) said on Tuesday that when bathers were frolicking in the breakers, they were surrounded by a green plant known as water hyacinth.

Saambr’s Ann Kunz said the mass of aquatic floating plants had now washed ashore along much of the Durban beachfront. Many people were curious about the plants surrounding them as they enjoyed the waves.

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“These plants are known as water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes) which is a highly invasive, free-floating plant that thrives in quiet sections of freshwater rivers, floodplains and dams throughout KwaZulu-Natal,” Kunz said.

She said the plants are referred to as free-floating as their stems are filled with air and their roots don’t need to be in the ground in order for the plant to thrive.

The species naturally occurs in South America but has now spread to every continent, except Antarctica.

“It is thought that the recent heavy rains and the overflowing of a few KZN dams have allowed the water hyacinth to float down the Umgeni River and be washed out to sea.

“Unfortunately, although not a threat to beach-goers, these plants are highly invasive and a threat to our local indigenous plant species as they grow very fast and form dense mats at the water surface,” Kunz said.

The water hyacinth is a free-floating plant that thrives in quiet sections of freshwater rivers, floodplains and dams throughout KwaZulu-Natal. Picture: Facebook

Reacting to the news about the plants, Facebook user Jessica Schwartzman said : “Awful stuff. I swam at an open water event where the water hyacinth was very dense and myself and other swimmers got sick because of high E Coli levels caused by the hyacinth.”

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This was while Mohammed Zaheer Batwa-ismail said: “Have had success managing water Hyacinth via biological methods using a bug (weevil from South America) which eats away at the leaves and productive parts of the plants. These weevils solely eat water Hyacinth and do not impact our natural habitats, they eventually die once their food source, the Hyacinth dies. It's unfortunate that scientists who can use these methods to help control a serious issue with loss of biodiversity amongst many other negatives aren't given the chance or the budgets to carry out this work.”

And Wendy Cornell said: “In Thailand, they process the dried stems and make beautiful furniture from it. Would it not make good fertiliser or mulch?”

Greg Vogt said: “At Shongweni Dam and Reserve, we have used biological agents, we make a bio Char from it and we use it as an ingredient in the compost we make”

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