A Durban judge has ruled squarely in defence of nature in a landmark case that pitted the "selfish and outdated" interests of a small group of sugar farmers against the declining ecological health of Lake St Lucia. St Lucia — the country’s largest estuarine lake and first world heritage site — has been starved of water for decades because of a decision taken more than 60 years ago to divert the course of the Mfolozi River into the Indian Ocean. This was done partly to protect farmers who set up sugar-cane farms in the fertile soils of the floodplain, which is vulnerable to regular, natural floods. Before it was diverted in 1952, the river emptied into the mouth of Lake St Lucia, providing up to 60% of the lake’s fresh-water needs. The water crisis has been compounded by the recent drought, which led to nearly 90% of St Lucia’s surface area evaporating in 2016. This left the dry lake floor littered with the bones of thousands of fish and also jeopardised the health of hippos, crocodi...

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