If the current rate of conversion of natural vegetation to other land uses continues, there would be almost no natural habitat left by 2050.
This is according to the National Biodiversity Assessment Report, launched by the Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs, Edna Molewa, at the iSimangaliso Wetland Park on the International Day for Biological Diversity on Tuesday.
Compiled by the SA National Biodiversity Institute, the report, which is released every seven years, assesses South Africa’s biodiversity and ecosystems, covering terrestrial, river, wetland, estuarine, coastal, and marine environments, as well as areas that are important for climate change resilience.
The report also showed that although South Africa was the third most bio-dive rse country in the world after Brazil and Indonesia, wetlands were the most endangered ecosystems in South Africa, with those that remained making up just 2.4 percent of the country's land.
In only 10 years, South Africa’s total area infested by alien plants doubled from 10 million to 20 million hectares, costing the government about R6.5 billion worth of ecosystem services per year.
However, South Africa is strong on the medicinal front, with more than 2 000 medicinal plants, 656 of which are traded, and only 56 that are threatened.
The UN proclaimed Tuesday the International Day for Biological Diversity to protect ecosystem degradation and biodiversity loss by increasing understanding through communication, education, and public awareness.
The theme for Tuesday’s celebration was marine biodiversity.
Molewa said the day gave everyone an opportunity to raise local awareness of the important role and value of biodiversity for our health, wealth, food, and survival.
“You and I use biodiversity every day, yet these services of nature are taken for granted. The benefits of biodiversity, or “natural capital”, are estimated at R73bn, contributing to seven percent of South Africa’s GDP per annum.”
The minister said good environmental management, coupled with integrated development planning would allow for a low carbon economy that supported ecosystems and economies.
“Healthy intact ecosystems give us more options for responding to climate change and alleviating poverty,” she said.
“It is only through broad-based partnerships, commitment, co-operation, co-ordination, and communication, that we can succeed in ensuring life will continue to flourish on Earth for the benefit of all species.”