30 March 2009
South African National Parks (SANParks) has established the new Garden Route National Park as part of its long-term strategy to expand official conservation areas from 6% to 8% of the country’s total land area.
The diverse biomes in the Garden Route include indigenous forests, the Knysna estuary, the Wilderness lake areas, marine protected areas, lowland fynbos and mountain catchment areas of national importance.
“The Garden Route is one of the most important conservation areas in South Africa, and one of our crown jewels in terms of biodiversity and its attraction of both foreign and local tourists,” Environment and Tourism Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk said at the park’s opening in Knysna last week.
SANParks is the second-largest employer in the region, and its total economic contribution to the local economy is estimated to be almost R95-million per year.
Garden Route National Park
According SANParks, the new park covers approximately 121 000 hectares, consisting of about 52 500 hectares of newly proclaimed conservation area as well as 58 500 hectares of the existing Wilderness and Tsitsikamma National Parks.
These two parks will retain their identities and become camps within the greater Garden Route National Park.
The new park will straddle two provinces, namely the Eastern and Western Cape; two district municipalities, namely Eden and Cacadu; and four local municipalities, namely George, Knysna, Bitou and Koukamma.
Tourist facilities at the park will include camping decks, chalets, mountain biking trails, hiking trails, canoeing, diving and history and adventure activities.
According to Van Schalkwyk, the new park will allow for the sharing of resources and management experience and the integration of current management units to achieve greater economies of scale.
It will also facilitate the regional implementation of fire management and alien clearing programmes, enable land consolidation, and improve the protection of important ecosystems.
Critical focus area
SANParks chief operating officer Sydney Soundy said the Garden Route was host to the largest continuous complex of indigenous forest in South Africa, spanning approximately 60 500 hectares, while its fynbos fell within the Cape Floristic Region, a designated global biodiversity hotspot.
To manage such a unique combination of diverse biomes with strong tourism and developmental interest would be a big challenge, he said, adding that the term “conservation without boundaries” needed to become a way of life, not just for major stakeholders, but also for all residents in the areas surrounding the park.
“The Garden Route is fortunate to be part of this process, and I believe we will be coining a new conservation model for South Africa,” Soundy said. “The park is unique and will require unique management, which we will have to drive.
“We are looking forward to this challenge.”
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