The Garden Route area in South Africa, from George to the Port Elizabeth municipal boundary, was granted formal recognition as a Biosphere Reserve by The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, (UNESCO) MAB (UNESCO’S Man & Biosphere Programme) on 14 June.
The Garden Route, one of South Africa’s prime tourism regions, is an area rich in terrestrial, coastal and marine ecosystems.
Biosphere reserves are given international recognition due to their unique natural, historic and cultural attributes, and the Garden Route Biosphere Reserve (GRBR) is the ninth such reserve to be declared in South Africa.
The GRBR is located within the Cape Floristic biodiversity region along the southern coast of South Africa, with a total area of 698,363 ha (212,375 ha core, 288,032 ha buffer, 197,956 ha transition) and a population of 450,624 people.
The area includes the Tsitsikamma, Goukamma and Robberg Marine protected areas, Wilderness Lake Ramsar site, Garden Route National Park and two components of the Cape Floral Region Protected Areas World Heritage site: the Nelson Bay Cave and the Langkloof Valley.
Linked to the conservation related activities, the development objectives of the GRBR are to promote growth in small business development, employment, training and entrepreneurial endeavors, contribute to poverty alleviation and to encourage sustainable biodiversity-based businesses and their contribution to the green economy on the Garden Route.
The clearing of alien vegetation has substantial socio-economic benefits for the region in the form of several government-sponsored and endorsed initiatives such as Working for Water, Working for Wetlands and Working on Fire. These initiatives provide employment and facilitate skills development and the exchange of ideas between the different stakeholder groups.
A key objective linked to community development is to develop small business opportunities linked to the use of by-products from alien plant management initiatives. For example, the vegetation cleared can be used to make furniture and crafts, charcoal, or sold as fire wood.