All about Park Island Arbor Day 2022

With the exception of a couple of drought years and a few for COVID, the Friends of Park Island have added to the rehabilitation of Park Island every June since 1999 by hosting a Park Island Arbor Day. Here’s a quick Q&A on plans for this year’s Arbor Day.

Why June and not the national Arbor Day in September?

In the Cape, we reside in a Mediterranean climate area that experiences wet winters and extremely hot, dry and windy summers. To enable our new plants to get established, we need to make the most of a season of winter rain.

What area of Park Island are you focusing on this year?

The new dog off-leash park. In order to soften the visual effect of this area, which is fenced out of necessity, we wish to ‘landscape’ the west and northern fence line with appropriate plants. 

What plants have you chosen and how will they be paid for?  

We are extremely fortunate to welcome Kathy Sutton to our team. She is creating/managing the planting plan this year and, hopefully, into the future.

Arbor Day offers a unique opportunity to you, the community, to purchase, plant and watch your investment grow on our special island. For as little as R30, you can make a contribution. We will be there on the day to assist you plant your investment.

We are looking forward to welcoming you all.  Bring family, friends and don’t forget your dogs. Also, bring cash, gardening gloves and a trowel. We will have dug/prepared all the holes beforehand. See you there.

A word of thanks

Friends of Park Island would like to take this opportunity to thank the outgoing MDGA ExCom members for their loyal support for our efforts during these difficult times. It has been greatly appreciated.

We should also like to thank all those who contribute financially to the Friends of Park Island /ZENR partnership. Without your generosity we could not do what we do.

Very important:a big thank you to Deep Blue for taking over the onerous but vital task of giving annual, daily access via the pedestrian gate to Park Island Nature Reserve as a community service.

Please note the new emergency telephone number displayed on the gate.

Meet the newest Friends of Park Island team member

Kathy Sutton is a long-time resident of Marina da Gama, having lived here since 1997. She works as a freelance editor. But in the early 2000s, she decided to follow her longtime passion for plants and obtained a National Diploma in Horticulture from the then Cape Technikon. Her main interest is in indigenous plants and she spent time working at Kirstenbosch and Dr Boomslang Nursery. Since she qualified, she has continued with her freelance editing work, but has always pursued her interest in plants and nature whenever possible.

What we plan to plant

The plants we have chosen are all staples of the Cape Flat Dune Strandveld, which is the natural vegetation type on Park Island. These hardy plants cover and stabilise the sandy coastal areas. They produce a colourful spring display and create habitat and shelter for many creatures, big and small, including insects and birds. It is an endangered vegetation type, with large tracts now lost to urbanisation and building.

Typical Cape Strandveld plants include tall, evergreen shrubs, interspersed with bulbs, grasses, succulents and annuals. At this stage we are concentrating on planting shrubs such as Chrysanthemoides monilifera (Bietou), Metalisia muricata (Blombos), Searsia (formerly Rhus) crenata (Dune Crowberry)and S. glauca (Blue Kuni-bush) and Eriocephalus africanus (Wild Rosemary) as well as the larger Tarchonanthus camphoratus (Cape Camphor tree) to create screening of the new fenced-in lead-free area for dogs near the entrance to the island. We will include a few smaller plants such as Salvia africana lutea (Beach Sage) and S. lanceolata (Rooisalie), Nylandtia spinosa (Tortoise berry), Agathosma glabrata (Sand Buchu), Otholobium bracteolatum (Skaapbostee), Pelargonium betulinum (Camphor-scented Pelargonium) and a few Podalyria sericea (Silver Sweet Pea Bush). We are also very pleased to have found a beautiful Sideroxylon inerme (Milkwood) which we hope will grow tall and strong to provide shade for the bench in the enclosed area.

Celebrating the Friends of Park Island

For many residents, one of the highlights of living in the Marina is the Park Island nature reserve. Responsibility for managing this priceless natural asset lies with the City of Cape Town (CoCT) via Kyran Wright and his team at the Zandvlei Estuary Nature Reserve (ZENR). But that’s only half the story.

In 1999, a group still known as the Friends of Park Island (FoPI) was set up to help facilitate the sanctuary’s rehabilitation in partnership with the CoCT and ZENR. Since then, FoPI has made a massive contribution to our community and its environment. For over two decades, Cherry Giljam, Pam Hepple and their support team have spent countless hours and endless energy helping to maintain, nurture and improve the island’s flora, fauna and infrastructure.

The least we could do in return is devote this edition of our newsletter to spotlighting the incredible work this unique community project does on behalf of visitors inside and outside the Marina.

The timing seems fitting. As Cherry Giljam explains, FoPI has ensured some tough challenges lately. “Between Christmas and New Year, our storeroom was broken into and our most valuable equipment stolen. Just this week, someone who clearly cannot read or disregards official signage tore down the security pedestrian gate leading onto the island!”

Despite these setbacks, work continues. In 2021, Ward 64 Councillor Aimee Kuhl dedicated her entire ward budget to ZENR. Among other items, this enabled the ZENR management to produce the much-needed new signage for the entire Zandvlei Estuary reserve, including Park Island. The FoPI had been waiting 15 years for this.

In addition, Park Island scored a contribution towards constructing the very necessary west shore boardwalk, which is still to be completed; and enclosing the designated free dog running area, which is ZENR’s solution to maintaining boundaries between the island’s indigenous wildlife and domestic animals.

Looking ahead, FoPI’s workload is only going to increase. As the CoCT’s resources become increasingly limited, the group has inherited many more commitments involving ongoing maintenance and project development These include employing its own labour with its own equipment/resources.

The steps between concept and completion are complex and FoPI must keep fundraising to complete its work. But as Cherry adds: “We will make it happen. Maybe not within the predicted timeframes, but we know we can count on your support, encouragement, comments and advice. Thanking you.”

How much is Park Island worth to you?

FoPI is appealing to you to contribute towards Park Island’s maintenance. Any contribution you make qualifies you to become a Friends of Park Island Insider. As such, you will receive a beautifully produced and written seasonal electronic newsletter, with updates on FoPI’s current activities and regular features on the plants and animals that inhabit the island.

You can make your donations using the following bank details:

Account name The Friends of Park Island
Bank Capitec
Branch code 470 010
Account number 1467 475 988
Reference Your name

Meanwhile, you can also find regular updates on the Friends of Park Island Facebook pages.

What exactly does FoPI do?

Different seasons involve different activities, but all year round the FoPI is undertakes the following tasks:

  • Designing and enhancing specific areas, such as the labyrinth, bird garden and entrance garden by adding appropriate plants each year
  • Maintaining the island’s variable garden/tree areas
  • Planting out new areas, introducing new species
  • Pruning, trimming dead wood and weed
  • Hand-watering vulnerable plants until they are established
  • Eradicating alien vegetation
  • Maintaining pathways by strimming and cutting back encroaching vegetation while covering pathways with protective vegetative material to deter mole activity and retain a stable walking surface. Chipping is the group’s preferred surface, but it is expensive and difficult to obtain.
  • Buying and maintaining necessary equipment, including protective clothing and food/drink for the maintenance team
  • Maintaining built infrastructure such as the storeroom, benches, boardwalks, pedestrian bridges, bird hide etc., with occasional assistance from ZENR
  • Maintaining the noticeboard and Facebook page, creating and managing seasonal content
  • Picking up litter by hand and bagging it before asking ZENR to remove the bags
  • Additional litter clearing, including organising an annual community clean-up event.

FoPI also Initiates projects designed to enhance the island. This work involves assessing what new vegetation/infrastructure would benefit the island’s users, drawing up proposals/quotes and then applying for the necessary funding. If FoPI is fortunate enough to be awarded the finance, it then manages the project with the knowledge, agreement and some assistance from ZENR.

To date, the Rowland and Leta Hill Trust has financed all FoPI’s infrastructure projects, including the pedestrian bridges, the bird hide, the boardwalks and, in 2013, the erosion hardening project along the western shore.

Since 1999, most of the plants we enjoy on Park Island have been purchased and, very often, personally planted by a member of our community. Says Cherry: “I think you will agree that there can be few better investments that will hopefully be respected and enjoyed for generations to come. A lasting legacy!”

Water, water everywhere…

The very hot, dry weather we are currently experiencing has raised an important question: Without fresh water, how do animals survive on Park Island?

Animals commonly found on Park Island include Cape Grysbok, Cape Porcupine, Cape Mole-rat, Grey Mongoose, Water Mongoose and the Angulate Tortoise. All these prefer the type of Strandveld vegetation FoPI has planted on the island, close to the coast where plant communities are more palatable and less likely to burn than mountain fynbos.

Eggs or young are born underground or in dense brush cover. The vegetation, including a wide selection of bulbs, contain sufficient moisture to sustain them, although they will enjoy the occasional rain shower or coastal misty morning.

Tortoises will seldom drink from a stream and will only dispose of bodily fluids when they can be certain of replacing them. However, their survival strategy of urinating when picked up could lead to their death if they are unable to replenish that lost fluid. Many animals also rely on fish, carrion, eggs and so on, which also contain moisture. The first rain of the season is also welcomed by most animals.

Please note: many bird species and the Grey Mongoose do enjoy fresh water, so please keep your garden bird bath filled up.

Help! There’s an otter at the end of the jetty

The Cape Clawless Otter (Aonyx capensi)has long been a Zandvlei resident.

In the days of the Boardsail Inn, the family who managed and lived at the venue reported that an otter family had set up a coven in the densely vegetated spit of land that separated their pool of water from the estuary mouth.

Many Marina residents also have their own otter tales to tell. “When we had dogs, we were repeatedly visited by an otter family comprising mum, dad, two teenagers and two pups, who would taunt our dogs before marking their territory on our lawn,” recalls Cherry. “When teenage otters are expelled to go and fend for themselves, they are often seen in and around the Marina in the daylight, clearly looking for new territory and possibly a mate! Their territory can range from the beach 5km upstream to estuaries, rivers and streams.”

In 2012, Nicola Okes, a PhD student at UCT, studied the spatial ecology and pollution burden of Cape Clawless Otters in the Cape Peninsula. After three years, she published and presented her incredible research. Her findings are too long to relate here, but these beautiful creatures have learned to adapt to live in an increasingly urban environment although pollution and dwindling food sources compromise their existence. As Cherry says: “Their main meal is crab, and if you check the vast number of juvenile crabs being scooped up in the algae by the Kingfisher right now, you have to wonder what their diet will now comprise of.”

Out of interest, all Nicola’s evidence showed that otters see dogs – especially dark-coloured dogs that are the same size as them – as competition for territory. They either harass the dogs and/or leave their ‘calling card’ in the form of a midden. Otters have also been known to attack dogs, but only when provoked.

They usually traverse our waterways in the early hours of the morning but are seldom seen during the day, so a daylight otter sighting is a rare treat.

  • Please report any otter sightings to Kyran Wright at the ZENR.

All about the wild dagga plant and its various uses

Leonotis leonurus Wilde dagga/Wild dagga /Umfincafincane: Standing 2-5 metre high, this shrub has a thick woody base and all parts of the plant have a strong smell. The leaves grow opposite each other on the stems, long and narrow, toothed in the upper half and distinctly hairy. Bright orange tubular flowers are borne in characteristic rounded groups, neatly arranged on the branch ends. The hairy flowers resemble lions’ ears, hence the name ‘leonurus’.


Look out for these beautiful plants in the entrance garden on Park Island and try growing them in your own garden. The flowers/nectar are very attractive to birds, especially sunbirds and bees. They do well in the sandy soil of the Marina and there is also a white flowering variety.

Medicinal uses: Numerous traditional uses have been recorded. The leaves or roots are widely used as a remedy for snake bites and also to treat other bites and stings. Externally, decoctions have been applied to treat boils, eczema, skin diseases, itching and muscular cramps. Internally, decoctions are used for coughs, colds, influenza, bronchitis and also high blood pressure and headaches. Leaf infusions have been used for asthma and viral hepatitis.

It is said that the Nama people smoked the leaves and used the powdered leaf to make small cakes, which were chewed or eaten.

Active ingredients: leonotis species contain a volatile oil and marrubin, an unusual diterpenoid.

Photos: Cherry Giljam

Owl update: glad news, sad news

It’s been a mixed bag for the Marina’s owls and owl lovers in recent weeks.

On the bright side, local resident Ursula Korber spotted this charming owlet while walking her dogs in Mullet Close, Uitsig, earlier this month. Her picture attracted a wave of upbeat emojis and comments when she posted it on the MDGA’s community Facebook page. It also inspired another resident, Joy Skene, to post a picture of an adult owl that she spotted in the same area, possibly one of the owlet’s parents.

burgee bend owls marina

At the other end of the Marina, however, there was no happy ending for two other adult owls after their chances of raising a family were shattered ‒ for the time being, at least. The breeding pair became a fixed feature of life in Burgee Bend during the winter. Perched imperiously in the high trees, they attracted a steady stream of admirers from across the Marina over several months. When Burgee Bend resident, Carole Fallows, reported that the female had laid two eggs in a palm tree in her garden, expectations among the pair’s fan base steadily rose. That was until Carole found both eggs shattered beyond rescue on the ground under her palm tree.

burgee bend owl eggs marina da gama

As one neighbour commented: “For better or for worse, it’s stories like these that make us realise how privileged we are to live this close to nature.” Unfortunately, Burgee Bend residents are no longer close to the bereaved owls, who appear to have moved on following their loss.

Interested in knowing more about night counts?

It was a cold and windy night when the Zandvlei Estuary Nature Reserves (ZENR) held its last quarterly night count on 20 September. Despite the conditions, however, it still turned out to be time well spent.

Among other discoveries, the conservation team counted three porcupines and a spotted eagle. They also saw three grysbok on Park Island and the resident population appears to be in good health.

Many residents have asked to join ZENR’s regular night counts.  This sounds like a wonderful idea and, in fact, it has been tried before. However, the counting team discovered that residents were particularly keen to ask questions about the night life they were seeing. Understandable, of course. But their curiosity made it difficult for team members to move quietly.

Even so, Kyran Wright, who manages ZENR, is open to the idea of holding an informal community event that would give residents a chance to ask questions and learn more about why ZENR’s night counts are so important. The feeling is that we should wait until the weather gets a bit warmer. So, if you’re interested, watch this space for more details.