The South African legal framework for the conservation of biodiversity
Rouwenhorst, Erik Kleynhans
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South Africa is ranked as one of the most biologically diverse countries in the world. In comparison it has more species of vascular plants, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals per 1000 km² than Africa and the rest of the world. Unfortunately, statistics indicate that this biological diversity is becoming increasingly threatened by various anthropocentric activities in South Africa. It can be concluded that South Africa has the highest number of red data species in the world, as well as the second highest number of endemic taxa. The numbers of extinct, endangered, rare, and vulnerable species have increased exponentially over the past 10-15 years. South African legislation provides directives to ensure measures are taken to provide for biodiversity conservation and sustainable use. However, the trends in the conservation status of various South African species have raised the question of whether this legislation can adequately sustain biodiversity for future use. Biodiversity needs to be preserved for sustainable future use due to the instrumental and intrinsic value it holds for society. Various criteria should be complied with to ensure that biodiversity is sustained for future generations. In this research project a consortium of criteria was identified relevant to ensuring sustainable use of biodiversity and its conservation. These criteria pertain to the marine, terrestrial, atmospheric, fresh water and biological environment and may directly or indirectly reflect on the integrity of biodiversity. This consortium of aspects included marine harvesting, marine protection, marine pollution, air pollution, human population growth, development, land pollution, aquatic pollution, hydrological integrity, fire management, terrestrial protection, and agricultural management. These focus areas included numerous internationally recognised strategic and detailed aspects, and also additional measures relevant to the South African context. South African legislation was evaluated against these aspects to determine its compliance with these issues. The results concluded that South African legislation makes provision for various strategic aspects that are needed to sustain biodiversity. However, legislation failed to address a few strategic and some important detail aspects, such as the regulation of marine harvesting, marine protection, control over marine pollution, management of human population growth, regulation of development, hydrological integrity, and terrestrial protection. Smaller lacunae were discovered in air pollution control, fire management, land and aquatic pollution control, the management of agricultural activities, fragmented administration of legislation between government spheres, and the effectiveness of provincial legislation to regulate biodiversity protection in all provinces. The author recommended the formation of the National Interdepartmental Biodiversity Body to ensure integrated management of issues that relate to the environment and biodiversity. Other recommendations include: integration and fusion of provincial legislation to ensure equal protection of biodiversity in all provinces; national integration of international commitments into relevant statutes; and the formation of the Environmental Impact Assessment Agency to regulate the quality of environmental impact assessments. Detailed recommendations were aimed at improving specific aspects under various environmental acts.