This year International Biodiversity Day, celebrated on May 22, 2006 marked the launch of South Africa’s Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan, which is intended to help create the legal institution of a National Biodiversity Framework. Launching the strategy, environmental affairs minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk said that this framework would “ensure an integrated, coordinated and consistent approach to biodiversity management by organs of state in all spheres of government, non-governmental organisations, the private sector, local communities, other stakeholders and the public.”
The Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan has five primary strategic objectives, and five and fifteen year targets for each. One of the strategic objectives is the creation of a network of protected areas that represent a sample of all of South Africa’s biodiversity. Currently 80 percent of the country’s “significant biodiversity” lies outside of protected areas. Agriculture, forestry, mining and other commercial sectors are intended to include biodiversity priorities identified in the strategy into their industry best-practise codes to reduce negative impacts on biodiversity.
They are also encouraged to operate in an ecologically sustainable fashion. In his speech, the minister drew attention to the fact that the national spatial biodiversity assessment revealed that almost half of the country’s main rivers are critically endangered, and 82 percent of them are threatened; more than a third of the terrestrial ecosystems are threatened and five percent are critically endangered; and 12 percent of marine bio-zones are under serious threat.
The minister pointed out that South Africa “occupies only about two percent of the world’s land area, but is home to nearly 10 percent of the world’s plants and seven percent of the reptiles, birds and mammals on earth.” It also has three globally recognised biodiversity hotspots – the Cape floristic region, the succulent Karoo and the Maputoland-Pondoland hotspot.
He called on all South Africans to help turn the paper strategy into action on the ground. “We have the responsibility to ensure that our country becomes and remains a living ark. Our communities must stand as the custodians of conservation and the guarantors of biological diversity.”