International Biological Diversity Day - why SA is the 3rd most biodiverse place on Earth

Cape Town - On Sunday, 22 May, South Africans, along with the rest of world celebrated International Day for Biological Diversity. 

Not only is this a reason to revel in nature, but it is also a reminder of what we as citizens should be doing to help conserve the biodiversity in South Africa.

SA is the third most biodiverse country in the world, according to the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI). It is also the only country in the world to contain an entire floral kingdom. 

The Cape Peninsula, for example, has more plant species within its 22 000 hectares than the whole British Isles or New Zealand. Some 18 000 species of vascular plant (plants with vessels for bearing sap) occur within South Africa's boundaries, of which 80% occur nowhere else.

Our incredible biodiversity is due to our unique physical topographical location - most of the country is situated on a high-lying plateau, between two very different oceans.

SA is also one of the 17 mega-diverse countries in the world - countries that harbor the majority of the Earth's species and high numbers of endemic species - as identified by Conservation International in 1998. 

In its simplest terms, biodiversity means variety of life.

This includes all life, from tiny plant and insect life to the biggest animals. The reason this is so important is that it plays a critical role in meeting human needs as well as maintaining the ecological processes, upon which our province, and ultimately, the planet’s survival depends.

The more species we lose, the less diverse life becomes and the more unhealthy our ecosystem becomes. On the other hand, if we conserve our unique biodiversity then human life, and the planet, will be able to thrive.

On 2016's International Day for Biological Diversity, biodiversity was placed high on the agenda in order to educate people on the natural heritage South Africans inherited.

Despite being biologically diverse, in Cape Town alone 13 plant species are classed as extinct, while a further 319 plant types are threatened with extinction.

SEE: PICS: Rare and endangered fynbos discovered in Cape Town 

How are we working to protect biodiversity in SA? 

The City of Cape Town aims to halt such regression, announcing on the International Day for Biological Diversity that during the months of May and June, the city will facilitate more than 1 500 learners from across the city to take part in the biodiversity awareness and education programmes.

According to Johan van der Merwe, for the City of Cape Town Energy, Environmental and Spatial Planning, "Learners from approximately 15 schools will participate in the interactive biodiversity awareness programmes held at the Tygerberg, Table Bay, Blaauwberg, Witzands, Edith Stephens, Bracken, Zandvlei, Helderberg and False Bay nature reserves where they will be educated about the importance of biodiversity and their responsibility in ensuring its protection and conservation."

To create further awareness and to enhance the educational programmes, exhibitions will be held at various libraries and shopping centres around Cape Town. Some of these include the Philippi East, Brackenfell and Kraaifontein libraries.

SANBI also launched the Karoo BioGaps Project in Matjiesfontein in the Western Cape in April this year, in a bid to protect the biodiversity of the Great Karoo.  

The Karoo BioGaps project is funded through the Department of Science and Technology’s Foundational Biodiversity Information Programme (FBIP), and it was developed because of the lack of information on biodiversity in the Karoo, and the need for such information for sound planning and decision-making.

The Karoo BioGaps Project aims to mobilise foundational biodiversity data in a part of the country that has historically been poorly surveyed for biodiversity, to support the Strategic Environmental Assessments for shale gas development and other potential infrastructure development projects in the Karoo basin.

Another Karoo-focused conservation project can be seen in CapeNature's plans to create a new protected Succulent Karoo corridor with the help of landowners across the Succulent Karoo biome - of which only 6% is currently protected. 

There are over 6000 plant species in the Succulent Karoo and 40% of these are found nowhere else on earth.

SEE: WWF and CapeNature peg plans for new protected Succulent Karoo corridor

A project similar to what CapeNature is aiming for in the Succulent Karoo has already been established in the Eastern Cape grasslands, where a protected corridor was declared by the Department of Environmental Affairs between the Camdeboo and Mountain Zebra National Parks earlier this year. 

While various projects and programmes run by official authorities and governmental power, South Africans from all walks of life can also aid in biodiversity conservation. 

The World Wide Fund For Nature in South Africa (WWF SA), for example, says communities hold the key to protecting biological assets. 

In SA's grasslands, WWF-SA has been building and strengthening relationships with communities from the Amajuba district in northern KwaZulu-Natal for the last decade, helping individuals make sustainable choices for the continued existence of our natural heritage.

"Although our daily lives can impact biodiversity such as overfishing, overgrazing, over harvesting and pollution, we have the power to make simple choices that can positively impact natural processes," WWF SA says.

The United Nations has also proclaimed on International Day for Biological Diversity (IDB) to increase understanding and awareness of biodiversity issues. When first created by the Second Committee of the UN General Assembly in late 1993, 29 December (the date of entry into force of the Convention of Biological Diversity), was designated The International Day for Biological Diversity. 

In December 2000, the UN General Assembly adopted 22 May as IDB, to commemorate the adoption of the text of the Convention on 22 May 1992 by the Nairobi Final Act of the Conference for the Adoption of the Agreed Text of the Convention on Biological Diversity.

South Africans across the country can also get involved by:

•         visiting SA's nature reserves throughout the year. Schools in the Western Cape can also book for environmental education programmes at their local nature reserve reserves

•         visiting the Smart Living Challenge Zone at the Two Oceans Aquarium in Cape Town, which includes a digital interactive installation on biodiversity

•         joining an environmental club or a nature reserve friends group

•         always planting non-invasive local (indigenous) water-wise plants in your garden

•         reporting non-indigenous invasive plants and animals. Visit the invasive species website, or email them

•         starting an organic food garden (which does not use pesticides) at your home, at your school or in your community 

•         avoiding the use of pesticides and harsh chemicals as these can harm the plants and animals

•         being aware that we share our city with many wild animals and always treating them with respect and care

All South Africans depend on biodiversity in ways that are not always obvious or appreciated. The availability of food, clean water and air depends upon ecosystem products and services. Biodiversity also provides areas for us to enjoy and creates jobs.  

A photo posted by Alex (@wolweaver) on

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