iSimangaliso Wetland Park
In December 1999 the iSimangaliso Wetland Park was inscribed as South Africa’s first world heritage site as an area of exceptional and outstanding universal heritage significance. The natural values in terms of which the iSimangaliso Wetland Park was inscribed on the World Heritage List include outstanding examples of ecological processes, superlative natural phenomena and scenic beauty, and exceptional biodiversity and threatened species. The iSimangaliso Wetland Park has thus received recognition under three of four natural criteria recognised by the World Heritage Convention.
iSimangaliso’s most recent achievements include the consolidation of 16 parcels of land under one management plan, the replacement of incompatible land-uses such as forestry by conservation (15 000 ha), the completion of 230 km of big five fencing and the introduction of game, including tsessebe, oribi, elephant, wild dog, cheetah, and white and black rhino.
There has also been a major improvement of road networks and water reticulation systems, and an increase in revenue from commercial sources by over 200% since the inception of the authority and the settlement of land claims spanning 75% of the area of the park (co-management agreements were signed).
In contributing towards economic growth and food security, the authority has established 39 food gardens, as well as an SMME support programme, which saw 48 local business owners participating and establishing a craft programme in which 20 groups were involved. These groups managed to sell their merchandise to retailers such as Mr Price. Furthermore, the establishment of a culture and arts programme created 3 500 jobs.
iSimangaliso’s strategy contemplates a conservation management regime based on its end goal, which is to turn the iSimangaliso Wetland Park into one open ecological area. A key focus area of the park that underpins conservation and tourism is community development and ensuring that community beneficiation take place effectively.
iSimangaliso’s strategy is to put in place co-management agreements that contemplate a package of interventions within the framework of the integrated management plan. These interventions aim to create economic benefits for claimants through conservation management and initiatives and tourism development.
It is a key objective of iSimangaliso to grant access to many people living on its boundaries who have never had the opportunity to visit the park for purposes of relaxation and education. The programme enables all South Africans to experience the wonders of this world heritage site and, through environmental education, contributes to its conservation.
The park implemented a land care programme, in which 74 SMMEs were subcontracted to perform environmental rehabilitation work and the control of alien vegetation. The SMMEs comprise members of the neighbouring communities, including those communities who have submitted land claims against the park.
The fencing of the Ozabeni section of the park represents an important component of establishing a single ecological area that supports migration, breeding, nutrition and the habitat requirements of animals. The open ecological area of iSimangaliso encompasses six major ecosystems, stretching from the Lubombo mountains in the north-west to the coast in the east. A consolidated area that includes an additional 66 000 hectares of grassland that supports animals such as eland, elephant, black rhino, white rhino and wild dog would contribute to their conservation.