Unesco Biosphere Reserve

Last Updated: June 2018

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About Unesco Biosphere Reserve

In June 2017, the Garden Route, including both the Tsitsikamma and Langkloof regions of Koukamma, was recognised as a Biosphere Reserve by The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, (UNESCO) MAB (UNESCO’S Man & Biosphere Programme). UNESCO states that biosphere reserves are nominated by national governments and remain under the sovereign jurisdiction of the states where they are located, even though their status is internationally recognised. The Garden Route Biosphere Reserve (GRBR) is the ninth such reserve to be declared in South Africa. 

Biosphere reserves are tools to address environmental, social and economic sustainability. They do not exclude people, development, towns or farmlands. Rather, they logically define an area that is deemed to be “special” (due to its ecological and cultural areas of significance) into three zones: the core zones, such as national parks, that have legal protection; the buffer zones that adjoin or surround the core areas and where low impact activities take place, such as ecotourism, education, research, etc, and; transition zones where towns are situated and where human activities such as farming, business, etc takes place. 

The reserve stretches from George in the west to St Francis in the east, and is a highlight of plant biodiversity in the Cape Province, encompassing both the Western and Eastern Cape provinces. Diverse wildlife includes large mammals such as elephants, rhinos and buffalo. It is home to plateau forest, shrubs and herbs of relevance for indigenous groups such as the KhoiSan people. It includes the Tsitsikamma Marine protected area, Wilderness Lake Ramsar site, Garden Route National Park and two World Heritage sites, the Nelson Bay Cave and the critically endangered Langkloof Valley. 

Of special interest is the Cape Floral Kingdom - the smallest and most biodiverse of all the world’s floral kingdoms. Fynbos is endemic to this small 100-to-200km stretch of coastal shrubbery that has some 9000 species, 6200 of which are found nowhere else in the world. The most famous of the Fynbos region is the Protea, followed closely by Rooibos tea (bush tea) and Erica. Fynbos attracts a wide range of birdlife to the region making it ideal for birders, hikers and photographers. 

The Biosphere Reserve is also home to Tsitsikamma rainforest characterised by giant Yellowwoood trees, waterfalls and ferns. A popular attraction is the “Big Tree”, estimated to be +-800 years, standing 36.6m high and with a circumference of almost 9m – this magnificent giant has stood guard over the region for centuries. Explore more of this magnificent forest by mountain bike, on foot, Segway or zip-line through the trees.

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