Minister Creecy, officially launches report on the State of Biological Invasive and their Management

 Kirstenbosch Gardens, Cape Town
28 May 2021


Chair of the SANBI Board, Mrs Beryl Ferguson
Acting CE of SANBI, Ms Carmel Mbizvo
DDG: Biodiversity and Conservation and incoming SANBI CEO, Mr Shonisani Munzhedzi
Representatives of other government departments
The Director of the Centre of Excellence for Invasion Biology, Prof Dave Richardson
Chief Director Biodiversity Research, Assessment & Monitoring at SANBI, Dr Theressa Frantz
Lead editors of the report: Dr Tsungai Zengeya and Prof John Wilson
Other authors and contributors to the report

It is my privilege to today launch this very important scientific report The Status of Biological Invasions and their Management in South Africa, a few days before the start of Environment Month, with the very appropriate theme of Restoring Our Ecosystems - Together - Society for the Environment. 

Science tells us that one of the key factors driving the accelerated decline of biodiversity is the invasion of alien species. Across the world invasive species are known to impact on all sectors of society.  In our own country, biological invasions impact biodiversity, the economy, human health and well-being, and sustainable development.

The scientific report we are launching today, makes a number of important points in this regard:

Firstly, the number of alien species that have been established in South Africa has increased by 15% from 1 637 to 1 880, about a third of which are invasive. Formal assessments of the impact of invasive species are underway using a new United Nations scheme that was developed in collaboration with SANBI and Centre of Excellence for Invasion Biology scientists.   

Current estimates suggest the ecological costs of invasive alien plants and animals to be more than R6,5 billion each year. The main costs associated with losses are a decline in ecosystem services such as water and grazing and agriculture crop loss as a result of invasive pests.

The second finding is that invasive trees use up 3–5% of South Africa’s surface water runoff each year, a serious problem in an already water scarce country which is increasingly prone to drought. Some scientists have calculated that Day Zero in Cape Town was brought forward by 60 days due to invasive trees sucking up water. The same impact occurs in other drought-stricken areas, such as the Eastern Cape.

The third finding is that invasive trees increase the risk and intensity of veld fires, with 15% more fuel burnt in invaded areas. Consequently, fires burn at a higher temperature and containment measures are more difficult.

Biological invasions are the third largest threat to South Africa’s biodiversity (after cultivation and land degradation), and are responsible for 25% of all biodiversity loss.

Biodiversity loss is closely linked to the collapse of ecosystem services such as the provision of fresh water and grazing. Current estimates are that if we do not control the impact of biological invasions on grazing land we could lose up to seventy percent of this valuable natural asset. This will reduce the capacity of natural rangelands to support livestock production, thereby threatening rural livelihoods and food production.

Most disturbingly, the report highlights that new alien species continue to arrive every year in South Africa. A notable new invasive species is the polyphagous shot hole borer beetle. The polyphagous shot hole borer and its associated fungus have already killed thousands of trees in South Africa and it looks set to be one of the most damaging and costly biological invasions faced by our country.

In answering the question as to what we are doing to address this enormous challenge, it’s important to stress at the outset that our country is recognised as global leader in invasion science.  

It is for this reason that research, which is the primary focus of the team leading this report, has been a foundation pillar of our work against biological invasions.

This pillar is led by SANBI, with key partners including the Department of Science and Innovation’s National Research Foundation’s Centre of Excellence for Invasion Biology, as well as the Centre for Biological Control at Rhodes University, which is funded by the Department’s Environmental Programmes branch.

Our country’s alien and invasive species regulations, first promulgated in 2014 and revised early in 2021, are comprehensive and innovative.

Through permitting and regulation, we ensure that people who import, grow and trade with invasive species that have commercial value are properly licenced to do so, provided that they reduce the risks of the species doing harm.

Compliance and enforcement action are to ensure that importers and landowners follow requirements to reduce the risk of introducing new species as well as the impacts of species already here. In 2019, as a result of enforcement action we secured our first successful prosecution.

New technologies have been developed to support actions to prevent the introduction of listed species. However, we recognise that accidental imports will continue to occur.

It is for this reason that the Environmental Programmes of the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment, is spending over a billion Rand a year on projects to control biological invasions and create jobs. Since its inception the Working for Water programme has cleared more than 3,6 million hectares of invasive alien plants with of average three follow up treatments.

To date more than R10 billion has been spent on clearing with more than R1 billion during 2020/21 alone. Over the years more than 2000 person years of employment has been created.  During 2020/21 alone it created more than 53 000 work opportunities, which includes retaining 23 000 opportunities that would have been lost if it was not for the Presidential Economic Stimulus programme.

Removals are of both plant and animal species.   A recent programme has   successfully removed bass from selected wetlands and stretches of river leading to rapid recovery of native fishes and biodiversity in general.

The use of biological control against invasive alien plants has also been shown to have very high positive returns on investment. This is a critical and well-regulated tool to manage biological invasions, with South Africa recognised as a global leader in the field.

Ladies and Gentlemen, we recognise that this is a multifaceted problem that needs a multi-faceted approach. We need to cut through red tape and the silos of different government departments so we have a common national approach.

Accordingly, our department is in the process of developing a policy on the management of biological invasions. Its implementation will be supported by a 10-year National Invasive Species Strategy and Action Plan

The main objective of the strategy is to facilitate a cohesive and collaborative approach by government, industry and the broader community in identifying and managing biosecurity risks.

I am pleased to inform you that the strategy and action plan will soon be published for public comment and input.

I am also delighted to announce that South Africa, through financial support from the Global Environmental Facility, under the biodiversity focal window, has secured funds for a project to enhance the efficient and effective management of high risk biological invasions. The financial commitment is $ 3 million over five years.

The project is aimed at directly mitigating the negative impacts of biological invasions on South Africa’s biodiversity, whilst contributing to the improvement of rural food security and livelihoods.

It is envisaged that the project will have a significant contribution towards the efforts to mitigate the impact of biological invasions on South Africa’s biodiversity.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am sure we will see exciting developments in terms of understanding and managing biological invasions.

Allow me to conclude by committing to ensure that the capacity to undertake research – as we have seen in the wonderful scientific team who have produced this report, is consistently supported.

The status of biological invasions and their management in South Africa has created an excellent foundation on which to build a comprehensive monitoring and reporting programme, which can guide research and implementation efforts.

Enhanced spatially explicit data on the extent and severity of invasions would greatly improve planning for interventions and reporting on the status of invasions.

Please welcome this second report, which I hereby release to the public – The Status of Biological Invasions and their Management in South Africa.

I thank you.