South Africa marks the 25th anniversary of the International Day for Biological Diversity

22 May 2018


South Africa today joins the world in celebrating 25 years of action for biodiversity during the International Day for Biological Diversity (IBD).

The IBD is celebrated annually in recognition of the importance of biodiversity, while also heightening awareness on the need to conserve and sustainably use natural resources.

“As one of the most biologically diverse countries,  South Africa strives to conserve its biological diversity, promote sustainable use of its components, and ensure fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising from the commercial utilisation of genetic resources,” said Environmental Affairs Minister, Dr Edna Molewa.

Mega-diverse countries are a group of states that contain the majority of the Earth’s species and are, therefore, considered extremely biologically diverse.  This group of countries represents less than 10% of the Earth’s surface, but supports more than 70% of the biological diversity in the world.  South Africa covers only 2% of the world’s surface, but is home to 10% of the world's plants, 7% of the reptiles, birds and mammals 15% of known coastal marine species.  South Africa is also the only country to entirely house one of the world’s six floral kingdoms -- the smallest, richest and most threatened Cape Floral Kingdom.

In addition, South Africa shares two globally recognised biodiversity hotspots with its neighbours.  These are the Succulent Karoo, which is shared with Namibia, and the Maputaland-Pondoland-Albany hotspot, shared with Mozambique and Swaziland.

Since 1993 South Africa has made major strides in its efforts to conserve the country’s rich biodiversity footprint. The past 25 years have seen a shift from the preservationist and segregationist approach under apartheid to a focus on sound environmental management, integrating human rights issues with access to resources, equity and sustainability. This has resulted in biodiversity and conservation policy being successfully repositioned within a new democratic dispensation.

South Africa has an extensive system of protected areas, with mature legislative and policy frameworks in place for biodiversity and conservation, supported by well-functioning statutory bodies at the national level. This is supported by a world-class system of scientific biodiversity reporting and information gathering. The expansion of the terrestrial, freshwater and marine areas under conservation is a significant achievement of the democratic government, yet a number of challenges remain.

The country’s natural heritage which encompasses six Transfrontier Conservation Areas, nine  World Heritage Sites, 21 national parks, two special nature reserves, 51 forest nature reserves, 12 forest wilderness areas, 25 marine protected areas, and 1 258 nature reserves, has catapulted South Africa as a tourist destination of choice, underpinning a thriving and vibrant tourism industry for the country.

South Africa remains the only country in the Africa Region, and one of the few in the world, to have translated the World Heritage Convention into domestic law through the World Heritage Convention Act (Act No. 49 of 1999).  The iSimangaliso Wetland Park was the first World Heritage site declared in South Africa in 1999.

With approximately 1 433 land-based protected areas totalling 9 004 869ha, South Africa’s biodiversity has significant potential to boost the country’s economy. It is for this reason that, in 2015, government adopted the National Biodiversity Economy Strategy, which maps out a number of ways to maximise the economic benefits of the country’s biodiversity, specifically in the wildlife and bio-prospecting sectors.

During the recent tabling of the Budget Vote policy statement in Parliament, Minister Molewa emphasised that Operation Phakisa: Biodiversity Economy is the most important multi-faceted approach to the management of the country’s rich natural heritage.

“It is an approach that focuses on an inclusive value chain approach to the development of the biodiversity economy,” Dr Molewa said.

In this regard, the Department of Environmental Affairs plans to increase the supply of indigenous species by adding at least 500ha of land to be cultivated with high value species during the current financial year.

“This will be complemented by ongoing implementation of a game donation and custodianship policy framework,” said the Minister.

Minister Molewa had also announced that the government will be launching the Biodiversity Economy Investment Catalogue that profiles investment-ready economy projects.

During the course of 2018, South Africa will participate in various international engagements aimed at enhancing policies and strategies that promote biodiversity conservation. These include the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), and the 9th Meeting of the Parties to the Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefit Sharing.

Minister Molewa reiterates that “by preventing the loss of our biodiversity, we are investing in people, their lives and well-being.”

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