The Garden Route has been approved as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. It stretches from George to Jeffreys Bay.
A biosphere reserve is an ecosystem with plants and animals of unusual scientific and natural interest.
It is a label given by UNESCO to help protect the sites.
The plan is to promote management, research and education in ecosystem conservation. This includes the ‘sustainable use of natural resources’.
The Garden Route Biosphere Reserve is located within the Cape Floristic biodiversity hotspot region along the southern coast of part of the country.
With a total area of 698,363ha (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.
The municipalities included in the Biosphere Reserve are George, Knysna, Bitou, Kouga, and Koukamma.
Linked to the conservation related activities, the development objectives of the Reserve are to promote growth in employment, training and entrepreneurial endeavours, contribute to poverty alleviation and the development of sustainable livelihood options for disadvantaged communities, 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, all of which are involved in alien vegetation eradication and fire management in the GRBR.
“These initiatives provide employment and facilitate skills development and the exchange of ideas between the different stakeholder groups.
For example, the vegetation cleared can be made available to small businesses or entrepreneurs for making furniture, crafting, making charcoal, sold as fire wood,” the department said.
The official launch of the Garden Route Biosphere Reserve will take place later in the year.