afrol News, 6 July - The South African protected area of the Cape Floral Region has won international recognition as one of the richest areas for plants in the world. The tiny area hosts 20 percent of Africa's flora and is a living example of how the evolution of species proceeds in practical terms, for all to see. The government expects to increase "responsible tourism" to the area.
The Cape Floral Region Protected Areas was one of the very few places to be accepted as a World Heritage site on ecological merits by UNESCO last week. Nevertheless, it has become South Africa's eighth World Heritage site.
The region, also known as the "Cape Floral Kingdom", has featured among the main tourism attractions of the much visited Cape region and forms part of the "Garden Route", which is heavily marketed by Cape tourism authorities. The region has earned fame for its extreme biodiversity and the enormous wealth in flowering plants, and photos from its flowers decorate every South African tourism brochure.
The new international recognition thus caused tremendous joy among authorities in the South African provinces of Eastern Cape and Western Cape. Provincial leaders yesterday compared the UNESCO's inscription of the Floral Region with South Africa winning the bid to host the 2010 football World Cup earlier this year.
Also South African Environment and Tourism Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk hailed the UNESCO decision in a statement. "This is another fantastic achievement for South Africa, with great significance for our role as global leaders in responsible tourism and sustainable environmental management," he said.
- It underlines our responsibility to ensure the wise use of resources like the Cape Floral Regions, added Minister van Schalkwyk. "It also places us in an excellent position to expand responsible tourism and generate much-needed employment."
The Cape Floral Region protected areas was registered as a serial site in the World Heritage list and is made up of eight protected areas, covering 553,000 hectares. According to UNESCO, the region is "one of the richest areas for plants in the world."
It represents less than 0.5 percent of the area of the African continent, but it is home to nearly 20 percent of the continent's entire flora. "The site displays outstanding ecological and biological processes associated with the Fynbos vegetation, which is unique to the Cape Floral Region," UNESCO said.
- The outstanding diversity, density and endemism of the flora are among the highest worldwide, the UN agency said in its decision to inscribe the Cape Floral Region. "Unique plant reproductive strategies, adaptive to fire, patterns of seed dispersal by insects, as well as patterns of endemism and adaptive radiation found in the flora are of outstanding value to science."
The Cape Floral Region was considered of "outstanding universal value for representing ongoing ecological and biological processes associated with the evolution of the unique Fynbos biome." These processes are represented generally within the Cape Floral Region and captured in the eight protected areas.
- Of particular scientific interest are the plant reproductive strategies including the adaptive responses to fire of the flora and the patterns of seed dispersal by insects," UNEACO said. "The pollination biology and nutrient cycling are other distinctive ecological processes found in the site. The Cape Floral Region forms a centre of active speciation where interesting patterns of endemism and adaptive radiation are found in the flora."
The species density in the Cape Floral Region is also known to be amongst the highest in the world. It displays the highest levels of endemism at 31.9 percent and it has been identified as one of the world's 18 "biodiversity hot spots".
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