The United National Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) has approved the designation of the Gouritz cluster and Magaliesberg ecosystems as Biosphere Reserves.
The two biosphere reserves add to the existing portfolio of six biosphere reserves in South Africa, bringing the total of these important protected ecosystems to eight.
The Department of Environmental Affairs confirmed that the designation of the Biosphere Reserves was approved at the 27th session of the UNESCO Man and Biosphere (MAB) International Coordinating Council in Paris, France, on the 9th of June 2015. The Council was being held from the 8th to the 12th of June.
Welcoming the announcement, Minister of Environmental Affairs, Edna Molewa said “South Africa is proud about the additional sites that have just been listed, as the designation of these areas supports national efforts of expansion of the conservation estate, in addition to supporting the achievement of government’s development objectives”.
The Gouritz Cluster Biosphere Reserve (GCBR) area covers an area of more than three million hectares and straddles the Eastern and Western Cape provinces. The area is globally unique as it is an area where three recognised biodiversity hotspots converge, namely the Cape Floristic Kingdom, Succulent Karoo and Maputoland-Pondoland-Albany hotspots. The Gouritz Reserve is home to high levels of endemic plant species, threatened invertebrates and butterfly species. It also provides a migratory route for large mammals and serves as a nursery for marine species. Due to its immense significance, the biosphere reserve includes three components of the internationally renowned Cape Floral Region Protected Areas World Heritage Site.
“The government will continue to manage its growing portfolio of biosphere reserves in collaboration with land owners, communities and other partners to ensure that we meet UNESCO standards and our own national goals of sustainable development,” Molewa said in a statement.
Molewa added that the designation of the Gouritz Cluster Biosphere Reserve, which was South Africa’s biggest biosphere reserve, “will enhance South Africa’s status as the third most biodiverse country in the world and enhance our effort to conserve the world renowned Cape Floral region”.
The existing Biosphere Reserves in South Africa are:
1. Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve (Western Cape Province, designated 1998)
2. Cape West Coast Biosphere Reserve (Western Cape Province, designated 2000) 3. Waterberg Biosphere Reserve (Limpopo Province, designated 2001)
4. Kruger-to-Canyons Biosphere Reserve (Limpopo Province and Mpumalanga, designated 2001)
5. Cape Winelands Biosphere Reserve (Western Cape Province, designated 2007)
6. Vhembe Biosphere Reserve (Limpopo Province, designated May 2009).
Launched in 1970 by the UNESCO General Conference, the Intergovernmental Man and Biosphere Programme aims to improve human environments and preserve natural ecosystems. The Programme promotes research and capacity building with the main objective of reducing the loss of biodiversity and addressing the ecological, social and economic aspects. The UNESCO network of biosphere reserves connects people around the world who were pioneering a positive future for people and nature.