The overarching vision of the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism is a prosperous and equitable society living in harmony with its natural resources.
Government leads protection of the environment by example. At regional level, the provincial conservation agencies are major role-players, and independent statutory organisations such as South African National Parks (SANParks) and the South African National Biodiversity Institute (Sanbi) are valuable partners in the country’s total conservation effort. South Africa has taken several concrete steps to implement the United Nations (UN) Agenda 21 on Sustainable Development. These include reforming environmental policies, ratifying international agreements and participating in many global and regional sustainable-development initiatives.
South Africa enjoys the third-highest level of biodiversity in the world. It has between 250 000 and a million species of organisms, many of which occur nowhere else in the world. While South Africa occupies about 2% of the worlds land area, it is estimated that the country is home to 10% of the world’s plants and 7% of the reptiles, birds and mammals. The southern African coast is home to almost 15% of known coastal marine species, providing a rich source of nutrition and supporting livelihoods of coastal communities.
The National Spatial Biodiversity Assessment by the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism and Sanbi revealed that 34% of South Africa’s ecosystems were threatened, with 5% critically endangered; while 82% of the 120 main rivers were threatened and 44% critically endangered. Of the 13 groups of estuarine biodiversity, three were in critical danger and 12% of marine biozones were under serious threat. South Africa’s National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan aims to guide conservation and the management of biodiversity to ensure sustainable and equitable benefits for all communities. The country’s three globally recognised biodiversity hotspots are the Cape Floral Region, which falls entirely within South African boundaries; the Succulent Karoo, which South Africa shares with Namibia; and Maputaland-Pondoland, which South Africa shares with Mozambique and Swaziland. The coastline meets the Atlantic, Indian and Southern oceans, which provide exceptional habitats ranging from cool water kelp forests to tropical coral reefs. The Cape Floral Kingdom has the highest recorded species diversity for any similar-sized temperate or tropical region in the world. It is a world heritage site.
Biodiversity is protected and promoted through institutions and initiatives such as the:
- South African Biodiversity Facility
- South African Biosystematics Initiative
- South African Environmental Observation Network
- Biobank South Africa
There are eight major terrestrial biomes, or habitat types, in South Africa. These biomes can, in turn, be divided into 70 veld types. The biomes are the Savanna, Nama-Karoo, Succulent Karoo, Grassland, Fynbos, Forest, Thicket and Desert. The Fynbos Biome is one of only six oral kingdoms worldwide.
The Convention on Biological Diversity, to which South Africa is a signatory, requires that 10% of terrestrial and 20% of marine biodiversity be conserved by 2010. There are a number of management categories of protected areas in South Africa, which conform to the accepted categories of the International Union for Conservation of Nature. By May 2008, about 5.9% of South Africa’s land surface area was under formal conservation through the system of national and provincial protected areas.
These are sensitive, undisturbed areas managed for research, monitoring and maintenance of genetic sources. Access is limited. Examples are Marion Island and the Prince Edward islands near Antarctica.
These areas are extensive in size, uninhabited, and underdeveloped, and access to them is strictly controlled. Examples are the Cederberg Wilderness Area and Dassen Island in the Western Cape.
National parks and equivalent reserves
SANParks manages several national parks throughout South Africa, excluding in Gauteng, North West and KwaZulu-Natal. The system of national parks is representative of the country’s important ecosystems and unique natural features. Commercial and tourism-conservation development and the involvement of local communities are regarded as performance indicators. These areas include national parks, provincial parks, nature reserves and indigenous state forests proclaimed in terms of the National Environment Management: Protected Areas Act, 2003. South Africa is in the process of establishing transfrontier conservation areas (TFCAs) in co-operation with its neighbouring countries.
The conservation status of the areas within these TFCAs varies from national parks, private game reserves and communal natural-resource management areas to hunting concession areas. Though fences, highways, railway lines or other barriers separate the constituent areas, they are managed jointly for long-term sustainable use of natural resources. TFCAs aim to facilitate and promote regional peace, co-operation and socio-economic development. The success of TFCAs depends on community involvement. In turn, TFCAs are likely to provide local communities with opportunities to generate revenue. TFCAs allow tourists easy movement across international boundaries into adjoining conservation areas. The six identified TFCAs are the:
- Ais-Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Conservation Park
- Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
- Limpopo-Shashe TFCA
- Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park
- Lubombo Transfrontier Conservation and Resource Area
- Maloti-Drakensburg Transfrontier Conservation and Development Area.
The National Environmental Management: Protected Areas Amendment Act, 2004 protects South Africa’s biosphere reserves, which are generally formed around existing core conservation areas. Biosphere reserves include outstanding natural beauty and biological diversity, exist in partnership with a range of interested landowners and can incorporate development, as long as it is sustainable, while still protecting terrestrial or coastal ecosystems.
National and cultural monuments
These are natural or cultural features, or both, and may include botanical gardens, zoological gardens, natural heritage sites and sites of conservation significance. In December 1999, Robben Island, the iSimangaliso Wetlands Park (formerly the Greater St Lucia Wetlands Park) and the Cradle of Humankind were proclaimed world heritage sites by the United Nations Educational, Science and Cultural Organisation (Unesco). The Ukhahlamba-Drakensberg Park was nominated as a mixed site. In July 2003, the site of the Mapungubwe civilisation became the fifth heritage site. The Cape Floral Region also became a world heritage site at the end of June 2004. The Vredefort Dome in the Free State was declared South Africa’s seventh world heritage site at the 29th session of the Unesco World Heritage Conference held in Durban in July 2005, when the body met in sub-Saharan Africa for the first time. Makapan Valley in Limpopo and the Taung Cave in North West were declared extensions of the Cradle of Humankind. The Richtersveld Cultural and Botanical Landscape was declared a world heritage site in 2007 and covers an area of 160 000 hectares (ha) of dramatic mountainous desert in the north-western part of South Africa.
Habitat and wildlife management areas
These areas include conservancies; provincial, regional or private reserves created for the conservation of species, habitats or biotic communities; marshes; lakes; and nesting and feeding areas.
These areas emphasise the sustainable use of products in protected areas such as the Kosi Bay Lake System in KwaZulu-Natal.
Wetlands include a wide range of inland and coastal habitats – from mountain bogs, fens and midland marshes to swamp forests and estuaries, linked by green corridors of streambank wetlands. The Working for Wetlands Programme focuses on wetland restoration, while maximising employment creation, support for small, medium and micro-enterprises and skills transfer. Through the National Wetland Inventory, South Africa has identified 120 000 wetlands, which cover 7% of the country’s surface area. Many wetland plants have great medicinal value. In South Africa, traditional medicine is the preferred primary healthcare choice for about 70% of people. Wetlands provide some of the 19 500 tons of medicinal plant material, which are used by some 28 million South Africans every year.
Sanbi manages eight national botanical gardens in five of South Africa’s nine provinces. The gardens collectively attract over 1.25 million visitors a year, are signatories to the International Agenda for Botanic Gardens in Conservation and are founding members of the African Botanic Gardens Network. The largest garden is Kirstenbosch, situated on the eastern slopes of Table Mountain in Cape Town. It displays 5 300 indigenous plant species, and was voted one of the top seven botanical gardens in the world at the International Botanical Congress held in Missouri, United States of America, in 1999. The other gardens in the national network are the Karoo Desert in Worcester, Harold Porter in Bettys Bay, Free State in Bloemfontein, KwaZulu-Natal in Pietermaritzburg, Lowveld in Nelspruit, Walter Sisulu in Roodepoort/Mogale City, the Pretoria National Botanical Garden and Hantam in the Northern Cape. The Pretoria National Botanical Garden houses the National Herbarium of South Africa, the largest in the southern hemisphere.
There are a number of zoological gardens in South Africa. The 85-ha National Zoological Gardens (NZG) of South Africa in Pretoria is one of the worlds 10 best. It attracts more than 600 000 visitors annually. The national zoo is responsible for the biodiversity conservation centres in Lichtenburg and Mokopane, and the satellite zoo and animal park at the Emerald Animal World complex in Vanderbijlpark. The NZG is a national research facility, which presents an opportunity for the zoo to reposition itself as one of the world leaders in breeding and researching endangered species. The NZG houses 3 117 specimens of 209 mammal species, 1 358 specimens of 202 bird species, 3 871 specimens of 190 fish species, 388 specimens of four invertebrate species, 309 specimens of 93 reptile species and 44 specimens of seven amphibian species. These figures comprise the animals housed at the zoo in Pretoria as well as at the two biodiversity conservation centres and the Emerald Animal World complex.
Marine protected areas (MPAs)
The MPAs are modelled on the success of the iSimangaliso Wetlands Park with strict zoning of both marine and coastal protected areas. The four MPAs are Aliwal Shoal on the south coast of KwaZulu-Natal, the coastal and marine environment next to Pondoland in the Eastern Cape, Bird Island at Algoa Bay and the Cape Peninsula in the Western Cape. Some of the protection measures to be implemented in the MPAs are restrictions for people who want to fish, as well as restrictions for stowing fishing gear when fishing from a vessel.
The sustainable exploitation of marine resources, on the one hand, and the demand for fish products from local and foreign consumers, on the other, pose a growing challenge globally, and South Africa, with its 3 000 km-long coastline, is no exception. The Marine Living Resources Act, 1998 sets out the broad objectives of fishery management and access rights. It also sets empowerment and broad transformation objectives for the fishing industry. South Africa’s fisheries are among the best-managed in the world.
The Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism has completed the allocation of long-term commercial fishing rights of eight to 15 years in 20 fishing sectors. Out of more than 8 000 applicants for fishing rights, 2 480 were granted long-term fishing rights, with 59% of these being Black Economic Empowerment-compliant. By mid-2008, a performance review process of the commercial fishery rights allocation was underway and draft policies on the transfer of commercial fishing rights and allocation of large pelagics had been published. To complete the allocation process, the department is working on a revised Policy on Subsistence/Small-Scale Fisheries.
South Africa has four environmental-protection vessels, namely the Victoria Mxenge, Lilian Ngoyi, Sarah Baartman and Ruth First. The patrol vessels – all named after women who showed courage, dedication and commitment to the struggle for freedom – are used in assisting with high-speed disaster relief, search and rescue, evacuations, firefighting, pollution control, towing and other emergency operations. The Florence Mkhize speed vessel assists in combating poaching. South African beaches participate in the Blue Flag Campaign, which works towards sustainable development at beaches and marinas. This includes environmental education and information for the public, decision-makers and tourism operators. South Africa’s coastal-management policy is one of the best in the world, with the country being the first outside Europe to gain Blue Flag status for coastal management.
South Africa’s Blue Flag beaches 2008/09
- Dolphin Beach, Jeffreys Bay
- Hobie Beach, Port Elizabeth
- Humewood Beach, Port Elizabeth
- Kellys Beach, Port Alfred
- Kings Beach, Port Elizabeth
- Wells Estate, north of Port Elizabeth
- Hibberdene Beach, south coast
- Margate Beach, south coast
- Marina/San Lameer Beach, south coast
- Ramsgate Beach, south coast
- Bikini Beach, Gordons Bay
- Camps Bay Beach, Cape Town
- Clifton 4th Beach, Cape Town
- Grotto Beach, Hermanus
- Hawston Beach, near Hermanus
- Lappiesbaai Beach, Stilbaai
- Mnandi Beach, Cape Town
- Muizenberg Beach, Cape Town
- Strandfontein Beach, Cape Town