Our biodiversity is our heritage
To highlight the crucial role nature’s rich diversity plays in our lives, the United Nations (UN) has declared 2010 the International Year of Biodiversity (IYB-2010). In celebration of this, the Water Research Commission (WRC), South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), Ditsong Museums of South Africa, and the Departments of Water and Environmental Affairs are hosting a seminar during September (Heritage Month) with the theme ‘Biodiversity is life – Biodiversity is our Life’.
According to the UN Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity, biodiversity (the variety of life on Earth), is essential to sustaining the living networks and systems that provide us with health, wealth, food, fuel and the vital services our lives depend upon. The Convention, of which South Africa is a signatory, covers all ecosystems, species and genetic resources, linking traditional conservation efforts to economic goal of using biological resources sustainably, setting principles for the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits from use of genetic resources, notably for commercial use and covering rapidly expanding field of biotechnology, and addressing technology development and transfer, benefit- sharing and biosafety.
South Africa has much to celebrate, as it is considered among the top five most mega-diverse countries in the world, boasting almost 10% of the world’s known bird, fish and plant species and over 6% of the world’s mammal and reptile species contained on a land surface of only 1,1 million square kilometres (1% of the Earth’s total land area).
Unfortunately, increased population growth, habitat destruction, overexploitation, pollution and the introduction of invasive alien species are all placing increasing pressure on our natural systems. This holds particularly true for South Africa’s freshwater ecosystems, with the 2006 South Africa Environment Outlook indicating that 82% of the country’s main river ecosystems are threatened. Water management areas in the south of the country (i.e. Berg, Breede and Gouritz) and those associated with the middle and upper Vaal River have been identified as being most in need of protection, that is, these rivers risk irreversibly losing their ability to support their biodiversity components. Of South Africa’s estimated 220 freshwater fish species, at least 21 are threatened.
The biodiversity seminar forms part of year-long celebrations which was launched by the Departments of Water & Environmental Affairs in February. It will provide the platform for important discussions around creating and sustaining awareness around the importance of biodiversity; soliciting stakeholder involvement in reversing the threats to biodiversity and biodiversity and policy. The latter will outline how government policies are consolidated to provide for conservation and sustainable use of our biodiversity.
The seminar was held on 17 September at the Tswaing Crater, one of South Africa’s foremost natural heritage sites. One of four known impact craters in South Africa, Tswaing is considered one of the best preserved meteorite craters in the world. The crater boasts an extraordinary rich fauna and flora, and is particularly known for its variety of bird species.
During the seminar tribute was paid to heritage of another kind in the form of the official launch of the WRC publication, The Journey of Mma Tshepo Khumbane. The publication reflects on the life lessons taught by social activist Mma Tshepo Khumbane, who has dedicated her life to emancipating communities from the struggles of hunger and poverty. Mma Tshepo, who trained as a social worker, has been teaching especially rural women for decades how to apply rainwater harvesting techniques to grow their own food.
Presentations can be obtained from the links below .