News in South Africa

News in South Africa

Sustainable development | Environmental diversity

Eastern Cape

Written by Andrew Muir

2010 is the year of the World Cup. Hardly a South African does not know this, but very few of us are aware that 2010 is also the United Nations International Year of Biodiversity.

Many will ask what is biodiversity and why does it matter? Biodiversity is the network of life.

Every living organism, the variety of life on earth, is collectively known as biodiversity. A colleague of mine describes biodiversity as our life support system. How true.

We are biodiversity, along with the 13 million other species on our planet, and the global cycles that allow all these organisms to exist – the water cycle, the nutrient cycle, the oxygen cycle, to name a few. Our lives depend on it.

If our country was measured on its biodiversity and natural wealth, we would be the third wealthiest nation in the world. As an example we have almost 8% of the world’s known plant, bird and fish species.

The main reason for our rich biodiversity is the combination of our wide range of climatic variation and landscapes which in turn give rise to broad vegetation zones (biomes). In South Africa we have eight biomes and a remarkable seven of these can be found in the Eastern Cape province.

This must make our region the wealthiest in the country, in terms of its natural capital.

It should come as no surprise that one of the main reasons why eco and nature based tourism has grown so strongly in our region over the past 15 years is the ecological base and habitats (essentially our region’s biodiversity). This in turn allows for the high and diverse range of flora and fauna (including the big seven) which tourists want to see.

More than seven big five private game reserves have been established within a 100km radius of Port Elizabeth alone. This includes well known names such as Shamwari, Blaauwbosch, Kwantu and Amakhala and then of course we also have the internationally renowned state protected areas of the Baviaanskloof Mega-reserve and Addo Elephant National Park.

We do not need to travel far to see for ourselves the rich biodiversity of our region, for at least four of our country’s eight biomes are found within this metro’s boundary. Port Elizabeth is the only city in South Africa that can make this claim.

If you visit the local nature reserves of Cape Recife, the Island and Van Stadens, you will find between them good examples of fynbos, grassland, forest and thicket biomes, and the various species of wildlife and plant life they support.

Unfortunately on a global scale experts estimate at least 34000 plant and 5200 animal species face extinction today and this will increase dramatically if current trends continue. Biodiversity is being lost at 100 times the rate of previous extinctions documented in fossil records.

Human beings are driving much of this.

In comparison the status of South Africa’s biodiversity is relatively good. However we cannot be complacent.

As one example, only 18% of our river systems are intact and 20 of our 25 key commercial marine fish species are over- fished.

The services and goods that nature provides and we take for granted such as the food we eat, the water we drink and the air that we breathe, will be lost if the current rate of global biodiversity loss continues. Loss of biodiversity will have a drastic impact on livelihoods, human health, economies and our way of life.

Biodiversity allows our planet to adapt to changes and so ensure our future survival. The less bio diverse the planet is, the more vulnerable we are and the less able we are to adapt.

So let’s celebrate and protect what we still have in this beautiful province. One small step many can take is to plant and support indigenous plants from our region in our gardens.

Perhaps our city should make full use of the international media opportunity of the World Cup to show off our region’s unique biodiversity and natural splendour.

As written by Andrew Muir, published in The Herald, 3 March 2010

News in South Africa

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