The theme of this year’s International Day for Biological Diversity is “Biodiversity and Sustainable Tourism”, and was chosen to coincide with the observance of 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development, as proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA).
The Convention on Biological Diversity defines IDB as the variability among living organisms from all sources including, terrestrial, marine and other aquatic ecosystems and the ecological complexes of which they are part.
The minister of environmental affairs, Dr Edna Molewa said in a statement this year’s theme had particular resonance at a time when eco-tourism was growing in popularity and making greater contributions to South Africa’s economic growth.
“Nature-based tourism, or rather eco-tourism is recognised as a driver and critical component to the sustainability and efficacy of conservation management,” said Molewa.
Biological and physical resources were the assets that attracted tourists.
“Ecosystems, on the other hand, provide the much need resources, such as water and food that support the tourism sector. However tourism, if not sustainably managed, may lead to the degradation of the natural environment.”
Molewa said: “The conservation of species and ecosystems protection, in conjunction with the promotion of energy and water efficient practices, overall supports responsible tourism.”
The department said in the same statement that the country was amongst the world’s most mega bio-diverse countries, and its well-managed natural resources had made it a premier destination for tourists.
In 2016 alone, they said, over 10 million tourist arrivals were recorded in South Africa, representing a 13% increase from the previous year.
They said that in the 2016/2017 financial year, six million people had visited the 19 parks that were managed by South African National Parks (SANParks).
“Tourism has to be developed in harmony with environmental considerations. Sustainable tourism can generate employment and income, thus providing a strong incentive for conservation.”
Molewa said that through tourism, public awareness could be raised about the many goods and services provided by biological diversity, and of the needs to respect traditional knowledge and practices.