Milestone as new national park comes into being

The new Garden Route National Park was formally declared by Environmental Affairs and Tourism Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk at a function in Knysna at the weekend. The massive new conservation area, one of only four national parks in the world incorporating urban areas, covers about 121000ha, incorporating about 52000ha of newly proclaimed park land and 68500 hectares of the Wilderness and Tsitsikamma national parks.

It straddles the Eastern and Western Cape provinces as well as the Eden and Cacadu district municipalities and the local municipalities of George, Knysna, Bitou and Koukamma. The environmental diversity of the park includes indigenous forests, the Knysna estuary, the Wilderness lake areas, marine protected areas, lowland fynbos and mountain catchment areas. Van Schalkwyk said at the function on Friday that new ground was being broken with the establishment of the park and some parts would be fenced off while others would have open boundaries.

“The Garden Route is one of the most important areas in South Africa and one of our crown jewels in terms of biodiversity and its attraction of both foreign and local tourists.”

He said it was increasingly necessary to give economic value to conservation in order to achieve conservation goals, and that the level of conservation protection afforded to the area had increased due to its proclamation as a national park. SANParks chief operating officer Sydney Soundy said the new park contained the largest continuous indigenous forest in the country, spanning about 60500ha all along the Garden Route.

“Its aquatic systems, the Knysna estuary and the Wilderness lake areas, are rated number one and number six (in order of importance) respectively in the country. The fynbos falls within the Cape floristic region, which is a designated global diversity hotspot.”

Soundy said the term “conservation without boundaries” had to become a way of life, not just for major stakeholders but also residents in areas surrounding the park. Van Schalkwyk said South Africa‘s parks were among the country‘s most important conservation and tourism assets, and as such the government had steadily increased expenditure on parks.

“We have invested R411- million in infrastructure development for the period 2006/07 to 2008/09 and a further R245-million is being earmarked for the next medium term expenditure framework period. Other financial assistance has increased from R85,6-million in 2004/05 to R205-million in 2009/10.”

source: The Weekend Post

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