'SA conservation under threat'

2010-10-13 14:00

Cape Town - South Africa's world renowned reputation in conservation circles is now under severe threat, the Democratic Alliance said on Wednesday.

"South Africa faces unique development challenges, and there is, as there are in most countries, steep competition for scarce resources," DA spokesperson Gareth Morgan said.

But, protected areas had intrinsic value, and, if used correctly, could be used to drive job creation through eco-tourism.

All spheres of government needed to defend, most notably led by the national government, the integrity of protected areas, he said.

Reported rumours in the scientific and conservation community that the environmental affairs department might soon announce that recreational and subsistence fishing would be permitted in the Tsitsikamma Marine Protected Area (MPA) were very worrying.

Deputy Water and Environmental Affairs Minister Rejoice Mabudafhasi, attempted to permit fishing in this MPA in 2007, but did not succeed.
"She is due to visit the area this week, and there are expectations from some quarters that she will make an announcement that fishing will be sanctioned in the MPA," he said.

Threatened fish species

The Tsitsikamma MPA is the breeding ground for 11 of South Africa' 17 threatened fish species.

The MPA's promulgation was intended to, among other things, allow fish populations to increase.

The department would be on a slippery slope if they permitted fishing there, Morgan said.

"It could very well lead to similar pressure from communities to allow fishing in other MPAs; 2010 may very well go down as an annus horribilis for conservation in South Africa."

Among other things, over 220 rhino had thus far been killed by poachers this year.

Even though abalone poaching remained rampant, the department made the decision to request that abalone be removed from appendix III of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, thus making it easier to export illegally harvested abalone.

In KwaZulu-Natal the Ndumo Game Reserve, home to an internationally recognised Ramsar wetland site, had been invaded by members of the surrounding community, thus threatening the very existence of this park.

Mining operations

A similar fate had befallen the Songimvelo Game Reserve in Mpumalanga, where 13 000ha of the park had been illegally claimed by members of a local community for grazing cattle.

Most recently, SANParks decided to withdraw from a joint application with the City of Cape Town to seek an interdict to demolish illegal structures in the Table Mountain National Park alongside the Hangberg community.

"To make matters worse, there are several mining operations that threaten critically sensitive areas," he said.

There was a strong need for the ANC government to defend conservation more vigorously in South Africa.

"Its deficiencies in service delivery and in stimulating an economy that creates jobs is resulting in increased pressure by groups of people who want to access resources in protected areas.

"Indeed solutions need to be found, but undermining conservation for short term populist purposes is not the answer," Morgan said.