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By comparison, the Umdloti mussel beds have a much higher cover than other nearby exploited reefs, and interestingly the only other protected mussel beds in KZN are found further North, in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park. The mussel numbers within the Umdloti conservation area have grown so prolific that and as a result these beds now serve as a nursery for reseeding other depleted mussel beds along our coast, and also a marker against which other exploited populations are measured.

Over and above providing a sumptuous meal, mussel beds are an integral part of the marine ecosystem. They are filter feeders which means they remove food particles from the water column which improves water clarity and cleanliness, regulates the phytoplankton population and helps to aid the growth of certain types of algae-all of these factors are needed to keep an ecosystem in balance. Mussel beds also provide protection and habitat for many marine animals like lobster, octopus and fish. Overall, they are a crucial factor in helping to increase the biodiversity of an area, as well as the biomass of fish too.

With this in mind, it is therefore obvious that the presence of healthy, prolific mussel beds means greater fishing opportunities for sport fishermen, recreational fishermen and those who fish as a means of sustenance. We cannot take it for granted that seafood is, and will always be, available. Any ecosystem whether terrestrial or aquatic is constantly striving for balance- if one element is jeopardised, the entire system is out of kilter and sets off a chain reaction of negative consequences.

Life at Balize would not be what it is without our rich ocean and beautiful coastline and so it is up to us to do what we can to protect our valuable marine assets, either by way of active participation in marine conservation programs, or simply by being mindful of how we treat our oceans, as they are after all, where much life begins.

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