Cape Town - Minister of Environmental Affairs Dr Edna Molewa, has welcomed the approval of the Garden Route as a Unesco Biosphere Reserve.
The news of Unesco members voting in favour of the inclusion of the Garden Route as a Biosphere reserve comes after a meeting in Paris, France, on 14 June 2017.
But more significantly as the area is desperately recovering from fires that displaced thousands and caused extensive infrastructure and natural heritage damage - estimated to exceed R4bn.
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“The positive response to the application to declare the Garden Route a biosphere reserve is most encouraging, not just for us, as a country, but also for the people of the region,” says Minister Molewa.
“The Garden Route, one of South Africa’s prime tourism regions, is an area rich in terrestrial, coastal and marine ecosystems where conservation of the rich biodiverse region is ably reconciled with sustainable use practices."
The area includes the Tsitsikamma, Goukamma and Robberg Marine protected areas, Wilderness Lake Ramsar site, Garden Route National Park and two components of the Cape Floral Region Protected Areas World Heritage site: the Nelson Bay Cave and the Langkloof Valley, this latter being critically endangered.
The municipalities included in the Biosphere Reserve are Eden and Sarah Baartman District municipalities as well as George, Knysna, Bitou, Kouga, and Koukamma, local municipalities.
A number of these regions are currently in the recover state, following the devastating fires - with key role players across the tourism sector bandying together to promote the valuable role tourism will play in regenerating this iconic tourist attraction of South Africa.
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National governments nominated the region for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) recognition and this internationally recognised status of the Garden Route Biosphere Reserve is the 9th reserve to be declared in South Africa.
Located within the Cape Floristic biodiversity hotspot region along the southern coast of part of the country, it covers a total area of 698 363ha (212 375 ha core, 288 032 ha buffer, 197 956 ha transition) and a population of 450 624 people.
Biosphere protection to be integrated into Development plans
All of these municipalities have been consulted in the establishment process and engagements are underway to include the Biosphere Reserve initiative in their Integrated Development Plans.
Added to this growing the areas Green economy is also an imperative, over and above the conservation related activities.
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Molewa says several development opportunities have arisen from the desire to conserve the natural environment within the GRBR. This includes the formation of several government-sponsored and endorsed initiatives with substantial socio-economic benefits for the region - such as "Working for Water, Working for Wetlands, and Working on Fire, all of which are involved in alien vegetation eradication and fire management in the GRBR".
The official launch of the Garden Route Biosphere Reserve will take place later in the year, the DEA says.
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