Garden Route Biosphere Reserve a step closer to reality

The i’s are dotted and the t’s are crossed as final preparations for the submission of the Garden Route Biosphere Reserve application are underway.

Mr Vernon Gibbs-Halls (Eden DM Environmental Specialist: Biodiversity and Coastal Management), Ms Mary Jane Waite, Mr Johan Compion (Eden DM Manager: Environmental Services), Mr Godfrey Louw (Eden DM Municipal Manager) and Ms Julie Carlisle (Bitou Valley Foundation)
Mr Vernon Gibbs-Halls (Eden DM Environmental Specialist: Biodiversity and Coastal Management), Ms Mary Jane Waite, Mr Johan Compion (Eden DM Manager: Environmental Services), Mr Godfrey Louw (Eden DM Municipal Manager) and Ms Julie Carlisle (Bitou Valley Foundation)

Sixteen (16) lever arch files and over 8000 pages of required documentation, has been painstakingly compiled over the last two years, after it was decided 10 years ago that the area between George and Jeffrey’s Bay, is worthy to be included in the acclaimed United Nations UNESCO’s Man and Biosphere programme.

After sustaining the Garden Route Initiative (GRI) under the Cape Action for People and the Environment (C.A.P.E), the Eden District Municipality (Eden DM) embarked on an initiative to gain accreditation of the Garden Route Biosphere Reserve (GRBR).  This vital step towards ensuring that efforts to conserve the environment are met, is the brainchild of the Eden DM Environmental Specialist, Mr Vernon Gibbs-Halls and a consultant, Ms Julie Carlisle. The Executive Mayor of Eden DM, Cllr Wessie van der Westhuizen and the Eden DM Portfolio Chairperson, Community Services, Cllr Henry McCombi, congratulated the team on their hard work and efforts. The Eden DM Council continues to support and firmly believes that the application for accreditation of the GRBR will be a success.

The composition of the documentation is a proverbial testament of intergovernmental relations, joint efforts and cooperation between NGO’s. The various stakeholders involved includes, Marine Biologist, Ms Gwenith Penry, Ms May-Jane Waite, Mr Bevin Arendse and Mr Stephen Holness of SANParks, as well as Ms Anne Lise Vlok from CapeNature.  Mr Gibbs-Halls managed to acquire funding two years ago from the Table Mountain Fund (TMF), in order to launch the application process. Additional funding was raised by the Bitou Valley Foundation, for the following:

  • Garden Route Socio-economic study;
  • Climate Change Adaptation Plan;
  • Alien Invasive Eradication Plan;
  • Fundraising Strategy;
  • Responsible Tourism Strategy; and
  • Educational and Marketing Strategy.

The efforts by Mr Errol Finkelstein, a Chartered Accountant from Plettenberg Bay, paved the way for the GRB to be registered as a Non-Profit Organisation (NPO).  The present interim Directors include: Mr Finkelstein as Chairperson, co-directed by Mr Vernon Gibbs-Halls as Vice-Chairperson, Ms Julie Carlisle, Mr Hennie Swanevelder of the Eastern Cape Parks Board and Ms Londeka Phetha from the National Department of Environmental Affairs.

Once the UNESCO accreditation is received, nominations for a full management steering committee will be advertised. Elected members will then build the GRBR into a robust vehicle to steer how it manages and conserves precious natural resources in the Garden Route.  GRBR strives toward alleviating poverty and ensuring job creation for many, through new and exciting initiatives. Government representatives, parastatal bodies, NGO’s, Rate-Payer Organisations, Research Institutions and the general public will be given the opportunity of being nominated as members of the management committee. The municipalities included in the Biosphere are: George, Knysna, Bitou, Kouga, Koukamma, Eden District and Sarah Baartman District.

Mr Gibbs-Halls will be delivering the application to the Provincial Department of Environmental Affairs for an initial evaluation. Thereafter, the files will be sent to the National Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) Man and Biosphere Sub Directorate, for further evaluation.  Lastly, the files will be submitted to UNESCO in Paris, during September 2016. Here the final assessment, by a panel of experts, who will decide whether the Garden Route will become an internationally recognised Biosphere Reserve, will take place.

Mr Gibbs-Halls ellaborated that: “Biosphere reserves are areas comprising terrestrial, marine and coastal eco-systems. Each reserve promotes solutions reconciling the conservation of biodiversity with its sustainable use. Biosphere reserves are ‘Science for Sustainability support sites’ – special places for testing interdisciplinary approaches to understanding, managing changes and interactions, between social and ecological systems. It includes conflict prevention and management of biodiversity.

UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere Programme (MAB) was launched in 1971 and is known as an Intergovernmental Scientific Programme that aims to establish a scientific basis for the improvement of relationships between people and the environment.  MAB combines the natural and social sciences, economics and education, to improve human livelihoods and the equitable sharing of benefits. It aims to safeguard natural and managed ecosystems, thus promoting innovative approaches to promote culturally appropriate, economic development and environmental sustainability.  Biosphere reserves are nominated by national governments and remain under the sovereign jurisdiction of the states where they are located, but remain internationally recognised. There are three zones in a biosphere reserve.

  • The core area(s) comprises a strictly protected ecosystem that contributes to the conservation of landscapes, ecosystems, species and genetic variation.
  • A buffer zone surrounds or adjoins the core areas, and is used for activities compatible with sound ecological practices that can reinforce scientific research, monitoring, training and education.
  • A transition area is the part of the reserve where the greatest activity is allowed, fostering economic and human development, that is socio-culturally and ecologically sustainable.”

In conclusion, Mr Gibbs-Halls said: “I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone for their valuable input and hours of work that contributed to this application. A special word of thanks and acknowledgement to Ms Julie Carlisle, Ms Mary Jane Waite, Ms Gwenith Penry, Mr Hennie Swanevelder, Mr Errol Finkelstein (Chair), Mr Willem Smith, Mr Albert Ackhurst, Mr Bevin Arendse, Ms Anne Lise Schutte-Vlok, Ms Ruida Stanvliet, Mr Stephen Holness, Ms Maretha Alant, Ms Londeka Phetha and all my colleagues at Eden DM, Provincial Government and National Government. Finally, a heartfelt thank you to the TMF and all the people of the Garden Route.”  

For any further information, contact:

Mr Vernon Gibbs-Halls – Environmental Specialist: Biodiversity and Coastal Management

Telephone number: 044 803 1529 / 082 886 0699 or email by

Mr Johan Compion – Manager:  Municipal Health and Environmental Services

Telephone number: 044 803 1525 / 082 803 5161 or email by


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