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Stellenbosch University (2014)

Land degradation and settlement intensification in Umhlathuze Municipality

Xulu, Sifiso

Titre : Land degradation and settlement intensification in Umhlathuze Municipality

Auteur : Xulu, Sifiso

Université de soutenance : Stellenbosch University

Grade : Master of Science (MS) 2014

The multifaceted land degradation problem and its associated manifold impacts have attracted research from different disciplines, resulting in varying definitions of the concept. However, most researchers agree that human intervention that deteriorates the state of the environment is the central element. Among the anthropogenic activities that exacerbate land degradation, land cover has been singled out as the salient element. Rapid and unplanned land cover changes are primary manifestations of this problem. UMhlathuze Municipality, the study area which has superior biodiversity richness, is one of fastest growing municipalities in South Africa and is the locale of significant land modifications in recent decades because of a variety of industrial and residential developments. Using Landsat TM imagery acquired for 1984, 1996 and 2004, this study mapped and quantified land cover change and manifestations of land degradation in the uMhlathuze Municipality in conjunction with settlement intensification computed from orthophotographs acquired for 1984 and 2004. Census population statistics were analysed as a reflection of population dynamics and further to gauge related causes of land cover change. Geographical information technology (GIT) was applied as an analytical tool. The results revealed the anthropogenic influences that led to changes in land cover over the 20- year period between 1984 and 2004. The dominant natural cover classes in 1984 declined continuously and human-dominated land categories had increased sharply by 2004. Much of grasslands, forest and wetlands were converted to monotypical agroforestry (sugar cane and forestry plantations), built-up settlement and mining. These changes engendered complete loss of biodiversity (floral and migration of fauna). Bare ground, signifying land degradation, was noticeable although it exhibited a fluctuating trend which could be attributable to differences between the various imagery used. Along with population growth, the area of settlements increased over the study period and spatially sprawled from urban areas. Settlements showed a fairly stable spatial configuration over the 20-year period, but became magnified in medium- and high-density areas. Grassland and wetlands occurring around Richards Bay, as well as indigenous forest near Port Durnford, were identified as critically threatened ecosystems. The proposed industrial development zone and port expansion were recognized as having adverse ecological implications for wetlands. The study concluded that significant land cover changes occurred in the form of natural land cover giving way to monotypical agroforestry, built-up settlements and mining - all to the detriment of pristine natural habitat.


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