Govt sets mutants on alien invaders

OWN CORRESPONDENT, Johannesburg | Thursday

GOVERNMENT has created three home-grown mutant superheroes as the stars of a campaign to raise awareness of the effects of alien vegetation, which drain billions of litres of water from South Africa’s reserves each year.

Bionic Bug, Mechanical Man and Chemical Can will be the heroes of AlienBuster Week, which runs from October 8 to 15, and are the light-hearted face of what Tourism Minister Valli Moosa says is a hard economic reality.

“Invasive plants in South Africa… are hitting at the economy where it hurts most,” he said. “They contribute to land erosion, increase fire risks and use up precious water resources.”

South Africa loses an estimated three billion litres of fresh water each year - about seven percent of the annual run-off to rivers - to invasive alien plant species.

The interdepartmental campaign, involving water affairs, environment and agriculture, aims to stop this loss of a scarce resource by promoting public awareness of new legislation to control the invaders.

Initially aimed at nursery and plant companies, the campaign will be extended over the next few months to include the country’s schoolchildren.

And it is among this target group, the departments hope, that the alien-busting mutants’ message will have the most appeal.

Their mission: “To seek and destroy alien invader plants wherever they find them.” But Bionic Bug, part woman, part bug; Mechanical Man, part muscle man, part machine; and Chemical Can, part human, part herbicide, can’t do this alone, the comic says.

Moosa warned that soon-to-be-introduced regulations would allow the government to act more effectively to combat alien plant invaders.

The regulations will include a prohibition on the sale, transfer, rezoning or subdivision of land without a clearance certificate.

They will also allow the relevant departments to clear land of invader plants and charge the owner for the cost of the clean-up.

Alien plants are spreading at an average rate of five percent a year, and at this rate will double the land area they cover - 10m ha - within 14 years.

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