South Africa takes charge of local environment

An initiative to protect and restore the South African countryside and environment has been launched by the Science and Technology Minister, Mosibudi Mangena.

Based in Phalaborwa, the South African Environmental Observation Network (SAEON) will produce environmental data by monitoring change over large spatial scales, while promoting social development through postgraduate and school programmes.

As an emerging facility of the National Research Foundation (NRF), SAEON will aim to limit the fragmentation of ecosystem research and help South African citizens to know their natural environment and learn how it is changing.

"Intensifying climatic and human impacts are affecting how natural ecosystems function," said Johan Pauw, head of SAEON. "To sustain our natural capital reserves, such as water, arable land, forests and biodiversity, and protect them from the pressure of over population and rampant consumption patterns will require far-sighted and well informed planning."

The countryside in Southern Africa tends to go from one extreme to the other: from barren, deforested land heavy with smokestacks and open landscape mining, to largely untouched, protected areas with rich ecosystems.

Phalaborwa was chosen as the main site for SAEON because it is situated between these two extremes, according to Mr Pauw, with equally good access to protected land as rural communities, and therefore issues such as agriculture, tourism, mining and forestry.

"It will stimulate a spread of research efforts in the Lowveld, from its narrower focus in the south of Mpumalanga to the Limpopo Province and Mozambique. This central positioning is important considering the spectrum of savannah ecosystems in the Lowveld," he said.

An initial focus of the initiative will be the Olifants River, which has been heavily affected by the local industries and settlements that run along its course. These have then had down-stream impacts on the Kruger National Park and Mozambique.

Mr Pauw added that he was confident the project would be able to rectify locally induced adverse changes, and that it would attempt to counteract globally caused issues as well.

By Jane Kettle



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