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National Biodiversity Assessment 2018: The status of South Africa’s ecosystems and biodiversity

By Shahieda Davids, Dr Andrew Skowno and Carol Poole, SANBI
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The National Biodiversity Assessment is used to inform policies, strategies and activities for managing and conserving biodiversity in South Africa more effectively

The National Biodiversity Assessment (NBA) was released on 3 October 2019 in Pretoria by the Minister of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries, Ms Barbara Creecy.

The NBA is the primary tool for reporting on the state of biodiversity in South Africa. It is used to inform policies, strategies and activities for managing and conserving biodiversity more effectively.

During the NBA launch Minister Creecy said, “The assessment allows the government to evaluate progress and shortcomings in conservation and ecosystem management on both land and sea.”

The NBA was led by the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) as part of their mandate to monitor the status of South Africa’s biodiversity and was undertaken between 2015 and 2019. It involved extensive collaboration from over 470 individuals representing about 90 institutions.

Key partners

The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and Nelson Mandela University (NMU) were key partners to SANBI on the NBA – the CSIR led the freshwater and estuarine components and NMU led the coast component.

SAEON also played a fundamental role in contributing towards the NBA, as ten SAEON staff members were involved in the technical reports as authors and contributors. Contributors from SAEON included: Charles von der Meden, Grant van der Heever, Hannah Raven, Jasper Slingsby, Lara Atkinson, Sue van Rensburg and Thomas Bornman.

Dr Nicky Allsopp from SAEON’s Fynbos Node was a reviewer on the overall NBA synthesis report and commented, “A huge amount of material has been effectively synthesised in accessible and easily understood figures and tables.”

Megadiversity threatened with ecological collapse

South Africa is ranked in the top three countries globally when it comes to plant and marine species endemism (species found nowhere else on Earth). The diversity and uniqueness of South Africa’s species and ecosystems makes us one of the world’s 17 megadiverse nations – countries that, together, contain more than two-thirds of the world’s biodiversity.

The NBA revealed that almost half of all South Africa’s 1 021 ecosystem types are threatened with ecological collapse and one in seven of the 23 312 indigenous species that were assessed is considered threatened with extinction. Nonetheless efforts to protect our biodiversity are showing promising outcomes, as over two-thirds of ecosystem types and 63% of species assessed are represented in protected areas.

These four headline indicators of threat status and protection level for ecosystems and species are summarised in the graphs below.

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The study found that major pressures on South Africa’s biodiversity are habitat loss, changes to freshwater flow, overuse of some species, pollution, climate change and invasive alien species.

Protected areas have expanded in the ocean and on land and are a source of pride for South Africans. Continued expansion will help to ensure biodiversity conservation, ecological sustainability and even more social and economic benefits from biodiversity to society.

Protected areas now cover nearly 9% of South Africa’s mainland area and 75% of terrestrial ecosystem types have some form of representation.

Socio-economic benefits

South Africa’s biodiversity wealth gives people benefits like food, water, medicine and materials; it supports agricultural and fisheries production and helps protect us from natural hazards like floods and droughts; and it provides the basis of a vibrant tourism industry while offering natural spaces for recreational and cultural activities.

South Africa’s economy is highly dependent on its biodiversity – for example: biodiversity-related employment is estimated at 418 000 jobs; biodiversity tourism generates a direct spend of R31 billion annually; and our approximately 2 000 medicinal plant species contribute to the African Traditional Medicine sector worth ~R18billion a year.

Minister Creecy commented that with this wealth of biodiversity comes the responsibility of ensuring it is both protected and used sustainably. She said “Biodiversity is central to South Africa’s national objectives of addressing poverty, inequality and unemployment, and supports increased economic growth and improved service delivery for all its citizens. Every decision taken, whether by governments or individuals, affects the future of biodiversity’’.

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The National Biodiversity Assessment was launched on 3 October 2019 in Pretoria

The full set of NBA products, which include a synthesis report, seven technical reports, datasets, maps, supplementary materials and popular products, is accessible via http://nba.sanbi.org.za/

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