Biodiversity status

Gondwana Alive (GA) focuses its attention globally on areas with unique and threatened natural and cultural
diversity. We strive to understand the status and threats to biodiversity in the areas in which we work, in
order to provide strategic direction to our local efforts. South Africa is one of our focus areas - in particular the
Western Cape Province and City of Cape Town. This paper is divided into two sections - Section A looks at the
status of Biodiversity in the focus area, and Section B looks at Impact Assessment as a tool for balancing
development and biodiversity conservation. A separate paper looks in more detail at Environmental Impact
Assessment and a third paper looks at another major threat to biodiversity – Climate Change.
1. Overview of Biodiversity in South Africa
South Africa is one of the most biologically diverse countries in the world. The country is surrounded by three
oceans and home to about 15% of known coastal marine species, 2% of the world’s plants and 7% of the
reptiles, birds and mammals. The country includes several biomes, three of which have been declared global
biodiversity hotspots. Alien invasive species are one of biggest threats to South Africa’s biodiversity especially
to indigenous vegetation.
2. Biodiversity in the Western Cape Province of South Africa
2.1 Flora
The Western Cape is home to the Cape Floristic Region (CFR) or Fynbos as it is referred to locally. The CFR is
the World’s smallest and richest plant kingdom and a recognized World Heritage Site. Approximately 9000
species of vascular plants are found in the CFR of which about 70% are endemic and of these1406 are Red
Data Book species (endangered) – the highest known concentration of threatened and rare species in the
world. About 25.9% of the CFR is currently transformed by agriculture, 1.6% by urbanization and 1.6% by alien
plant invasion. Remaining natural vegetation is found in small fragments, mostly along river course, steep
slopes and road reserves and on less productive land. Most of the species are resprouters and have winddispersed seed. Remaining fragments of natural vegetation (remnants) are crucial to the survival of indigenous
vegetation. For example, many of the 1500 species of geophytes found in the CFR are found in remnants,
although some species have become extremely rare.
The role of remnants in supporting animal life is less well documented. However, a study on the insect
pollinators showed that while the overall species richness of bees, flies and butterflies did not vary
significantly between small and large fragments of renosterveld shrublands, the abundance of a particular
species of bee and monkey beetle was significantly affected by fragment size.
2.2 Fauna
The study on the state of biodiversity in the Western Cape found the following:
Status of Mammals 2002
The Western Cape supports 50% of South Africa’s mammal species. Of the 160 species that occur here, six are
endemic. Fifty species are regarded as threatened according to the World Conservation Union (IUCN). An
estimated eleven species have become extinct in the Western Cape. Six species have yet to be re-established
in formal conservation areas including the Lion, Spotted Hyena, African Wild dog, Black Rhinoceros,
Hippopotamus and African Buffalo.
Status of Birds 2002
The Western Cape supports 50% of South African bird life. The South African Bird Atlas Project has listed 344
of the country’s total 686 species in the Western Cape. The majority were recorded in protected areas. Of
these 53 species are listed in the Red Data Book for Birds. Eight species including the Wattled Crane, Lappet
Faced Vulture and Cape Parrot, are already extinct in the region.
Status of Amphibians and Reptiles 2002
Two out of every five species of amphibians known to occur in Southern Africa are found in the Western Cape
Province. At least 22 species (50%) are endemic to the region, occurring in habitats that are highly susceptible
to change. Six species are listed as threatened, of which the micro frog and the Table Mountain Ghost Frog are
regarded as critically endangered. South Africa hosts 350 reptile species, more than 5% of the world total. The
Western Cape contains 41% of this total, and boasts the highest diversity of terrestrial tortoises in the world.
Not only can one find here one of the world’s largest tortoises (the mountain tortoise) but also the smallest
(southern speckled padloper) and one of the rarest (geometric) tortoises. Of the 92 lizard species seven are
threatened and 17 endemic, while of the 41 snake species, three are threatened and two species are endemic
to the Western Cape.
Status of Fish 2002
Of the 18 species of freshwater fish found in the Western Cape, an alarming 15 are listed as threatened. Of
these, 50% are endemic and thus reliant on effective conservation of river systems and Aquatic habitats.
Unfortunately the Western Cape has many invasive fish species, posing a major threat to indigenous fish and
other aquatic life. A genetic variety of the Berg river redfin was exterminated from the Eerste River in the
1940s due to the introduction of rainbow trout. If the situation is allowed to deteriorate even further species
such as the highly Twee River redfin may become extinct within the next 20 years.
3. Biodiversity within the City of Cape Town in the Western Cape
The City of Cape Town falls within the CFR – a global biodiversity hotspot with a rich diversity of fauna and
flora and a high proportion of unique and endangered species. The City of Cape Town is facing a huge
challenge in terms of biodiversity conservation as the urban footprint coincides with many unique, rare and
endangered vegetation types and habitats. Of the 21 vegetation types in South Africa that have been assigned
the highest conservation status (Critically Endangered), 10 occur within the City of Cape Town. A further six
threatened vegetation types occur in the City. The Cape Town lowland (Cape Flats) is an area that has been
under-conserved and has experienced massive urban sprawl due to planning policies in the apartheid era. This
area alone supports more than 1460 different plant species of which 203 species are threatened with
extinction and five are globally extinct in the wild.
Cape Town is home to a total of 19 different and distinct vegetation types. This enormous variety is mainly
because the City is uniquely located at the convergence point of a great many different soil types and micro-
climates. These 19 vegetation types are mostly restricted to unusually small areas, and several are completely
endemic to the City – occurring nowhere else in the world. The vegetation types include the following.
Atlantis Sand Fynbos
Boland Granite Fynbos
Cape Flats Dune Strandveld
Cape Flats Dune Fynbos
Cape Winelands Shale Fynbos
Hangklip Sand Fynbos
Kogelberg Sandstone Fynbos
Lourensford Alluvium Fynbos
Peninsula Granite Fynbos
Peninsula Sandstone Fynbos
Peninsula Shale Renosterveld
Swartland Alluvium
Swartland Alluvium Renosterveld
Swartland Granite Renosterveld
Swartland Shale Renosterveld
Swartland Silcrete Renosterveld
Southern Afrotemperate Forest
Cape Lowland Freshwater Wetland
Fire is one of the key threats to the City of Cape Town’s vegetation and biodiversity in general – particularly
during the dry, windy summer season.
1. Introduction
All around the world biodiversity is under threat. Climate change is altering the face of our Planet and with it our biodiversity
and many of the ecosystems and associated services on which we depend. Other global threats to biodiversity are
associated with human activities. Humans are an integral part of ecosystems so our activities can affect ecosystems.
Human activities can be direct drivers of change in biodiversity through habitat loss and damage, or they can be indirect
drivers of change through social, cultural and economic policies or practice. Changes in biodiversity can affect how
ecosystems work and loss of ecosystem services may irreplaceable or only replaceable at great cost. As biodiversity
decreases ecosystems tend to deteriorate.
Examples of direct and indirect drivers of change
Direct drivers of change
Agriculture, Mining, Commercial
forestry, Housing infrastructure
development invariably results in
clearing of natural vegetation and
destruction of habitat for wildlife.
Vegetation clearing could also
destabilize soils, change local water
balances, encourage the spread of
Indirect drivers of change
Collapse of national or local economies
and or the breakdown of infrastructure
and related services, can force people
to mine ecosystem goods and services
(e.g. fish, forests, etc.) as a last resort
to ensure their survival.
Changes in trade agreements between
alien plants and/or result in the loss of
pollinators that are important for local
crop production.
Industrial development often results in
water pollution that affects a range of
organisms and ecosystems, and may
change the quality or quantity of
availability of drinking water.
Pumping of ground water can lead to
a drop in the water table, which in turn
leads to drying up of boreholes and
countries can lead to incentives to
switch crops for increased production of
certain goods. These changes in turn
will lead to different pressures on
biodiversity and ecosystem services.
2. Impact Assessment as a tool for biodiversity conservation
International Conventions such as the Ramsar Convention on wetlands and the Convention for Biological Diversity (CBD),
recognize Impact Assessment (IA) as an important decision support tool to help plan and implement development with
biodiversity in mind. IA provides an opportunity to ensure that biodiversity values are recognized and taken into account in
decision making and/or planning process. Importantly IA adopts a participatory approach - involving people who might be
affected by proposed development. The IA should be applied to individual projects through EIA processes, and to collective
policies, plans and programmes through Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA). Considerable progress has been
made in the application of IA to further aims of the CBD and related conventions. IA’s are generally informed by
Environmental Authorities, Local Authorities, Biodiversity Agencies, Agriculture and Water authorities and Key nongovernment organizations.
3. Challenges that need to be addressed in relation to IA
Raising awareness of biodiversity, its values and importance.
Building capacity to commission, carry out and review assessments.
Obtaining and communicating reliable up to date information on biodiversity in an accessible form.
Providing guidance to communities, governments and businesses
4. Guiding Principles for IA
The following guiding principles set out to achieve no net loss of biodiversity:
Avoid irreversible losses of biodiversity.
Seek alternative solutions that minimize biodiversity losses.
Use mitigation to restore biodiversity resources.
Compensate for unavoidable loss by providing substitutes of at least similar biodiversity values.
Seek opportunities for enhancement:
 Use the ecosystem approach - objectives of ecosystem management are a matter of societal choices and
should be set with a long term view. Ecosystem managers should consider the effect of their activities on
adjacent and other ecosystems. Ecosystems should be managed within the limit of their functioning. The
approach must be undertaken at appropriate spatial temporal scales and should seek an appropriate balance
between integration of conservation and use of biodiversity. All forms of relevant information should be
considered and all relevant sectors of society and scientific disciplines should be involved.
 Positive planning - encourages an early analysis of the opportunities and constraints posed by the natural
environment. Encourages the early identification of alternatives that could avoid or prevent significant impacts
on biodiversity and ecosystem services. Encourages early identification that could enhance and secure benefits
for safeguarding biodiversity and ecosystem services.
 Ensure sharing - ensure traditional rights and uses of biodiversity are recognized in IA and the benefits from
commercial use of biodiversity are shared fairly. Consider the needs of future as well as current generations.
Seek alternatives that do not trade in biodiversity.
 Always consider alternatives - good planning should clearly identify and select those alternatives that offer
and avoid undesirable impacts for the good of society. Decision making should strive towards this (i.e.
evaluation of alternatives is essential part of assessment and decision making).
 Apply the precautionary principle - this should be applied in any situation where important biodiversity may
be threatened. Requires that development consent should be delayed while steps are taken to ensure that best
available information can be obtained through consultation with local stake holders/experts.
5. Operating Principles for IA
1) Screening- to determine whether important biodiversity resources maybe affected. Should include potential impacts on
protected areas and areas supporting species. Include activities posing a particular threat to biodiversity (in terms of
their type magnitude, location, duration, timing reversibility). Include areas that provide important biodiversity services
including extractive reserves, indigenous people’s territories, wetlands, fish breeding grounds, soils prone to erosion,
relatively undisturbed or characteristic habitat storage areas, groundwater recharging areas, etc.
2) Scoping - defining the issues and the methods that will be used. Use scoping as an opportunity to raise awareness of
biodiversity concerns and discuss alternatives to avoid/ minimize negative impact biodiversity.
3) Impact study and preparation of EIS - address biodiversity at all appropriate levels and allow for enough survey time
to take seasonal features into account.
4) Mitigation measures - include restoration and rehabilitation. Apply the positive planning approach where avoidance
has priority and compensation. Look for opportunities to positively enhance biodiversity.
5) Review decision making - peer review of environmental reports with regards to biodiversity should be undertaken by
specialist, with appropriate expertise where biodiversity impacts are significant.
6) Decision making - avoid putting conservation goals against development goals, try to balance conservation with
sustainable use for economically viable and socially, sustainable solutions.
7) Management, monitoring, evaluation and auditing - it is important to recognize that all prediction of changes in
biodiversity in relation to perturbation is uncertain, especially over long time frames.
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