Who would have thought a suburban swimming pool could save lives? William and Lisa Macdonald, of Sun Valley, Fish Hoek, may have found a way to help save the endangered western leopard toad (Schlerophrys pantherinus) from extinction in their area.
“We settled here eight years ago and found the greenery of the dune belt, nestled at the foot of Table Mountain range, a refreshing change from the arid region we had left behind. We’ve always been an outdoorsy family and, consequently, were appreciative of our first appointment with nature. A western leopard toad arrived to claim our fish pond. What excitement that first year was when we had tens of thousands of tadpoles who turned into toadlets right on our doorstep!
Inspired by this charming species, the next two years were a busy time for us. Not only did we set about renovating and restoring a rather old and tired house, but we bravely committed to turning our 1950’s style swimming pool into a bio-pool. What happened next, is best described by the famous naturalist, John Muir: ‘I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found was really going in.’ Little did we know that we had unwittingly opened our home to a deeper relationship with the environment around us.
Two years down the line, and still far from finished, we are well on the way to being an established wetland ecosystem. Initially, our time was spent adapting conventional pool filtering, installing a UV filter and finding the right balance in the addition of borehole water. Lately, however, we’ve been doing more of the crazy things that keep water loving residents happy. The water spiders needed something solid to attach their webs, migrating toads needed passages to and from the outside world, and smaller birds needed to be able to drink from the safety of the middle of the pond. Our labours have been amply rewarded in watching the teeming life that feeds into and out of the water.
On most evenings, the water surface is alive with insect activity. It is a simple pleasure to sit in the evenings and watch the spiders hard at work on their webs or to see a swallow or bat swoop in for a quick snack. The grey heron or river cormorant are frequent visitors too, each a critical link in the continuous circle of life.”
Every year at around springtime, western leopard toads migrate from dry ‘burrows’ in gardens and grasslands to ponds where they form amplexus pairs and lay their eggs. The eggs hatch and toadlets emerge from the water after 10-12 weeks, to find their way to nearby gardens. Toad enthusiasts have been recording this in the Far South Peninsula for 12 years, where possible saving them from being run over on roads.
“And then this year (2018), the cherry on top, we had no fewer than five leopard toad females, and many males, visiting our waters to breed! This feeling of elation at a job well done, is short-lived however. We feel saddened by the knowledge that a few years ago the toads were breeding out in the wild, in the natural wetland ponds surrounding Sun Valley. What has changed since then? What appointments have we overlooked or failed to keep that the toads are preferring to stay in our back yards to breed?”
Could bio-pools be part of the answer to saving this endangered species? As nature is swallowed up by urban development should we not be including as much nature as we can in our back yards, creating havens for all our creatures: large and beautiful, or small and not-so-beautiful?
With courtesy from Lisa Macdonald & Karen Gray-Kilfoil, Sun Valley Eco Watch
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