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11 June 2015 - Paris

The South African Embassy to France and Permanent Delegation to UNESCO is pleased to announce that the International Coordinating Council of UNESCO’s Man and Biosphere (MAB) designated Gouritz Cluster Biosphere Reserve and Magaliesberg Biosphere Reserve to the World Network of Biosphere Reserves at its 27th Session held from 8 to 12 June 2015.

The two South African sites were amongst the 20 new sites added to the World Network of Biosphere Reserves, bringing their total number to 651 sites, including 15 trans-boundary sites, in 120 countries. New reserves are designated each year by the International Coordinating Council of the Programme. The Council brings together representatives of 34 UNESCO Member States and South Africa serves in the Council until 2017.

What is the Man and the Biosphere (MAB) Programme, you may ask?

MAB is an intergovernmental scientific programme set up by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in the early 1970s with the aim of improving the interaction between people and their natural environment, on a global scale.  

About the sites:

The Gouritz Cluster Biosphere Reserve in the southern part of South Africa covers an area of 3 187 892 hectares. The reserve is divided into four connected sectors ranging from sea level to 2 240 m. It is the only place in the world where three recognised biodiversity hotspots (Fynbos, Succulent Karoo and Maputoland-Tongoland-Albany) converge.

There are a great many endemic plant species. The site is on the migratory route of large mammals such as the leopard and serves as a nursery for marine species. The area is critical for water resources. With over 200 000 inhabitants, the area is facing socio-economic challenges. One promising solution envisaged to reduce youth unemployment consists of establishing local business models in the biosphere reserve and developing jobs linked to the biodiversity economy.

The Magaliesberg Biosphere Reserve covers an area of 357 870 hectares, between the cities of Pretoria and Johannesburg.

The site lies at the interface of two great African biomes: the Central Grassland Plateaux and the sub-Saharan Savannah. Its rich biodiversity includes 443 bird species, constituting 46,6% of total bird species in the southern African sub-region. In addition, the area is exeptionally beautiful, with unique natural features, rich cultural heritage, and archaeological interest with the Cradle of Humankind, which is part of the World Heritage site with for million years of history.

Over 260 000 people live in this region, adjacent to a major urban infrastructure impacting an economy that is dominated by agriculture, mining, urban development and tourism. The biosphere management plan aims to stimulate conservation and promote, among other things, tourism, farming and sustainable practices (such as solar power and water saving).

Biosphere reserves are places for learning about sustainable development aiming to reconcile the conservation of biodiversity with the sustainable use of natural resources.

Welcoming the announcement, Minister Edna Molewa of the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) said: “South Africa is proud about the additional sites that have just been listed and the government, 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 existing Biosphere Reserves in South Africa are: Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve (Western Cape Province, designated 1998), Cape West Coast Biosphere Reserve (Western Cape, 2000), Waterberg Biosphere Reserve (Limpopo, 2001), Kruger-to-Canyons Biosphere Reserve (Limpopo and Mpumalanga, 2001), Cape Winelands Biosphere Reserve (Western Cape, 2007) and Vhembe Biosphere Reserve (Limpopo, May 2009).

The South African delegation was led by the Acting Deputy Director-General for Biodiversity and Conservation at the DEA, Ms Skumsa Mancotywa, supported by the Heads of Departments for Gauteng Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (ARD), Ms Thandeka Mbasa and North-West Department of Rural, Environment and Agricultural Development (READ), Dr Poncho Mokaila and the UNESCO team at the Embassy/Permanent Delegation.

Go Team South Africa! Allez l’equipe Afrique du sud!

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