Can Cape Town's unique biodiversity be saved? Balancing conservation imperatives and development needs
Cape Town is an urban hotspot within the Cape Floristic Region global biodiversity hotspot. This city of 2460 km² encompasses four local centers of fynbos plant endemism, 19 national terrestrial vegetation types (six endemic to the city), wetland and coastal ecosystems, and 190 endemic plant species. Biodiversity in the lowlands is under threat of extinction as a result of habitat loss to agriculture, urban development, mining, and degradation by invasive alien plants. Cape Town’s population is 3.7 million, increasing by an estimated 55,000 people/yr, which puts pressure on biodiversity remnants for development. South Africa is a signatory to international instruments to reduce biodiversity loss and has a good legislative and policy framework to conserve biodiversity, yet implementation actions are slow, with limited national and provincial support to conserve Cape Town’s unique and irreplaceable biodiversity. The lack-of-action problem is two-fold: national government is slow to implement the policies developed to realize the international instruments it has signed, with conservation initiatives inadequately funded; and local governments are not yet recognized as important implementation partners. A further problem is created by conflicting policies such as the national housing policy that contributes to urban sprawl and loss of critical biodiversity areas. The City’s Biodiversity Management Branch, with partners, is making some headway at implementation, but stronger political commitment is needed at all levels of government. Our objective is to improve the status and management of biodiversity in existing conservation areas through the statutory proclamation process and management effectiveness monitoring, respectively, and to secure priority areas of the BioNet, Cape Town’s systematic biodiversity plan. The most important tools for the latter are incorporating the BioNet plan into City spatial plans; communication, education, and public awareness; negotiating appropriate management of public land; and conservation stewardship on private land. The time frame for saving Cape Town’s biodiversity is short, and it is unlikely that full success will be achieved without national or international funding and political will at all levels of government.