Hessequa welcomes world’s newest Biosphere Reserve

Hessequa has reason to celebrate today! 

UNESCO recognised both the Gouritz Cluster Biosphere Reserve and the Magaliesberg Biosphere following their nomination for biosphere reserve status by the Government of South Africa. 

The decision was made during the 27th annual session of the International Coordinating Council of the Man and the Biosphere Programme, which is under way at UNESCO’s headquarters in France this week (8 – 12 June, 2015). The Council comprises 34 UNESCO member states. 

South Africa now has eight recognised biosphere reserves: Kogelberg (proclaimed in 1998), Cape West Coast Extension (2003), Waterberg (2001), Kruger to Canyons (2001), Cape Winelands (2007), Vhembe (2009). It is hoped that the Garden Route Biosphere Reserve will be declared in the near future, too.

Willem Botha, chairperson of the Gouritz Cluster Biosphere Reserve (GCBR), said that biosphere reserves exist to promote sustainable development through combining local community efforts with sound science.

“The Gouritz Cluster includes the coastal region from the Breede River to the Great Brak River, and inland from Montagu in the west to Prince Albert in the north and Uniondale in the east,” he said. 

“This is an area of great cultural and biological diversity, and it’s becoming more and more important as a tourism destination – so it fits perfectly with the Man and the Biosphere Programme. 

“Our aim as the GCBR is to ensure the sustainable utilisation of the unique biodiversity of the area through creating partnerships and encouraging responsible decision-making. It’s important to include the socio-economic component to the benefit of all the people living within the biosphere reserve.”

Mr. Botha said that South Africa’s biosphere reserves have memorandums of understanding in place with national and provincial governments, and added that the board of the GCBR aims to enter into similar agreements with local municipalities in the region – which is why it recently made a presentation to MINMAYTECH (the forum of municipal managers in the Western Cape Province).

“We’re in a position to help the municipalities implement their strategies for – amongst others – job creation, poverty alleviation, and tourism,” he said.

Projects

Mr. Botha cited three of the GCBR’s current projects as examples.

“Our Jobs for Carbon Project – which involves planting spekboom (Portulacaria afra, a plant that removes large quantities of carbon dioxide from the air, and that converts it to oxygen, and adds carbon to the soil) – has attracted the attention of organisations like Cambridge University, which is paying us to plant spekboom to offset the carbon footprint of one of its large conferences. 

“We are also investigating a new tourism project that was proposed by Wendy Crane – who manages several projects on behalf of the GCBR -that will hopefully see the creation of a hiking trail along the banks of the Gouritz River. 

“This trail will stretch from the river mouth to Calitzdorp in the Klein Karoo, and will trace the route that the Khoi people of old would have followed on their journeys inland. 

“Thirdly we’re working on a long-term project that will both eradicate alien plants in the region, and turn them into commodities with economic value. (This project has attracted the attention of several interest groups and government departments, as well as a Netherlands-based biofuels company.)

“Projects like these illustrate how we’ve applied scientific principles to local economic development, and they can – and have – created sustainable jobs and even small business opportunities for people on the farms and in other rural areas of the region,” said Mr. Botha.

Visit the Gouritz Cluster Biosphere Reserve website here.