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Vernon Gibbs-Halls

Garden Route Initiative

Cell:+27 (0) 72 670 5108
Tel: +27 (0) 448031410

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A formal application which seeks to provide protection and conservation status with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) for the area stretching from George to St Francis in the Eastern Cape has been lodged with a view to declaring it as the Garden Route Biosphere Reserve (GRBR).

Over the past two years, data on the fauna, flora and geology found in this area has been painstakingly gathered - enough to fill 16 lever arch files with over 8 000 pages of required documentation. This was the brainchild of Eden District Municipality (Eden DM) Environmental Specialist Vernon Gibbs-Halls who together with a consultant, Julie Carlisle, has been the driving force behind the compilation of the application.

It was decided 10 years ago that the aforementioned area is worthy to be included in the acclaimed Unesco Man and Biosphere Programme.

To gain accreditation of the GRBR the project was driven under the auspices of the Garden Route Initiative under the Cape Action for People and the Environment.

Eden Mayor Wessie van der Westhuizen and Eden Portfolio Chairperson of Community Services Henry McCombi congratulated the team on their hard work and efforts. The Eden DM Council continues to support the application for accreditation of the GRBR and firmly believes it will be a success.

The composition of the documentation is a proverbial testament of intergovernmental relations, joint efforts and cooperation between non-governmental organisations (NGOs). The various stakeholders involved include, marine biologist Gwenith Penry, May-Jane Waite, Bevin Arendse and Stephen Holness of SANParks, as well as Annelise Vlok from CapeNature. Gibbs-Halls managed to acquire funding two years ago from the Table Mountain Fund, in order to launch the application process.

The efforts by Errol Finkelstein, a chartered accountant from Plettenberg Bay, paved the way for the GRBR to be registered as a non-profit organisation. The present interim directors include Finkelstein as chairperson, co-directed by Gibbs-Halls as vice-chairperson, Carlisle, Hennie Swanevelder of the Eastern Cape Parks Board and 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 manage and conserve 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, NGOs, ratepayer 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.

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Photographs courtesy of Vernon Gibbs-Halls
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