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Unesco Biosphere Reserves And World Heritage Sites

Biosphere Reserves

Biosphere reserves are ‘learning places for sustainable development’. They are sites for testing interdisciplinary approaches to understanding and managing changes and interactions between social and ecological systems, including conflict prevention and management of biodiversity. They are places that provide local solutions to global challenges. Biosphere reserves include terrestrial, marine and coastal ecosystems. Each site promotes solutions reconciling the conservation of biodiversity with its sustainable use.

Biosphere reserves are nominated by national governments and remain under the sovereign jurisdiction of the states where they are located. Biosphere Reserves are designated under the intergovernmental MAB Programme by the Director-General of UNESCO following the decisions of the MAB International Coordinating Council (MAB ICC). Their status is internationally recognised. Member States can submit sites through the designation process.

The Cape West Coast Biosphere Reserve is located on the south-western coast of South Africa, north of the Cape Town metropolitan area. It stretches between the Diep river mouth in the south and the Berg River in the north. The Langebaan Lagoon and Lower Berg River support a high diversity of wader bird species, with the latter providing the highest number of wader birds in South Africa. The area contains a number of urban areas including the dormitory town of Atlantis in the south and Saldanha Bay town and industrial complex in the north.


The Cape Winelands Biosphere Reserve is located in the Western Cape Province of South Africa approximately 40 km east of Cape Town. The reserve extends northwards from the Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve in the south, along the Cape Fold Belt Mountain Chain and adjoining valleys that constitute the Cape Winelands. The reserve incorporates key portions of the registered Cape Floral Region Protected Areas World Heritage Site.The area is characterized by a mosaic of diverse ecosystems and physiographic environments and a range of land uses and human settlement patterns associated with the renowned Cape Winelands viticultural landscape. It includes an array of historic towns, hamlets and farmsteads, which are home to approximately 320,024 people.

With an area of 698,363 ha and a population of more than 450,000 inhabitants, the Garden Route Biosphere Reserve is a highlight of the plant biodiversity of the Cape Province. The diversity of wildlife includes large mammals such as elephants, rhinos and buffalo. It is home to plateau forests, 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 Lankloof Valley.

The Gouritz Cluster Biosphere Reserve is located in the southern part of South Africa. It is divided into four connected sectors ranging from sea level to 2,240 metres. The area is the only place in the world where three recognized biodiversity hotspots converge (Fynbos, Succulent Karoo and Maputoland-Tongoland-Albany). The site is characterized by high endemism of plant species (1,325 species including 182 Succulent Karoo endemics and 92 Red List species) and threatened invertebrates including seven endemic species of the enigmatic beetle genus Colophon and 14 butterfly species.

Located in the north of the country, the Marico Biosphere Reserve comprises a unique freshwater ecosystem that includes the Molemane, Molopo and Marico river systems. The ecosystem is characterised by wetlands and a dolomitic system, which constitute a valuable part of South Africa’s natural heritage. The savannah and grassland areas support vulnerable plant species such as Searsia maricoana. Endemic fauna includes 73 species of mammal such as the African elephant, the black rhinoceros and the lion. The main economic activities are subsistence agriculture, livestock, game ranching and tourism.

Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve is the first South African biosphere reserve and is situated in the Western Cape Province about 40 km from Cape Town. It covers 103,629 hectares, more than 80% of which consists of mountainous landscape ranging from high mountain peaks and deep valleys to gentle hills and lower mountain slopes. The remaining area comprises a gently rolling coastal plain and a marine area, which covers about 24,500 hectares. The coastline is mostly rocky with sandy beaches and estuaries.

The Kruger to Canyons Biosphere Reserve is located in the north-east of South Africa. It encompasses the Kruger National Park as well as other national and provincial nature reserves such as the Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve. Three Southern African biomes are incorporated into the biosphere reserve: grasslands, Afro-montane forests and the savannah of the lowveld. There is a high level of biodiversity, especially plant endemism on mountaintops.There are a number of different land-use practices in the region including gold, phosphate and copper mining, the plantation of exotic species, and the extensive cultivation of subtropical fruits and vegetables.


The Magaliesberg Biosphere Reserve is located in South Africa between the cities of Pretoria and Johannesburg to the east and Rustenburg to the west. The reserve lies at the interface of two great African biomes — the Central Grassland Plateaux and the sub-Saharan savannah — and the remnants of a third biome, the Afro‐montane forest. The rich biodiversity includes floral species such as Aloe peglerae and Frithia pulchra, and faunal species such as the forest shrew (Myosorex varius), sable antelope (Hippotragus niger) and 443 bird species representing 46.6% of total bird species in the southern African sub-region. The area is characterized by remarkable scenic beauty and unique natural features. The reserve also forms part of the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage site which encompasses cultural heritage and sites of archaeological interest dating back 4 million years. The area faces high levels of unemployment and poverty. The main economic activities are agriculture, mining, urban development and tourism.

Vhembe Biosphere Reserve is located in the northeast of South Africa near the border with Botswana, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. The reserve includes the northern part of Kruger National Park, Mapungubwe National Park and World Heritage site, several Provincial Nature Reserves, two recognized centres of biodiversity and endemism (Soutpansberg and Blouberg), and the Makgabeng Plateau, which contains more than 1,000 rock art sites.

The Waterberg Biosphere Reserve is situated in the Bushveld district in the Limpopo Province of South Africa. The Waterberg, as the name implies, serves as a water reservoir for this arid region. The area consists of low mountain ranges and escarpments with poor soils and a relatively low level of economic activity. The vegetation is dominated by different veld types characteristic of mountainous savannah areas which creates a rich biodiversity with more than 5,500 species of plants.The area has been inhabited over hundreds of thousands of years and is one of the most important San rock art areas in South Africa. Tourism is the major source of income, however people also practise cattle raising and crop production, and are increasingly switching from game-farming to eco-tourism.

World Heritage Sites

A World Heritage Site is a cultural or natural landmark that has been recognised by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). These sites are deemed worthy of preservation due to their universal value to humanity, both in the present and for future generations. Each World Heritage Site is held in collective trust, 'belonging to all the peoples of the world, irrespective of the territory on which they are located'  and is legally protected by an international treaty.

Situated in north-eastern South Africa, the Barberton Makhonjwa Mountains comprises 40% of the Barberton Greenstone Belt, one of the world’s oldest geological structures. The property represents the best-preserved succession of volcanic and sedimentary rock dating back 3.6 to 3.25 billion years and forms a diverse repository of information on surface conditions, meteorite impacts, volcanism, continent-building processes and the environment of early life.


Cape Floral Region Protected Areas are located at the southwestern extremity of South Africa. It is one of the world’s great centres of terrestrial biodiversity. The extended property includes national parks, nature reserves, wilderness areas, State forests and mountain catchment areas. These elements add a significant number of endemic species associated with the Fynbos vegetation, a fine-leaved sclerophyllic shrubland adapted to both a Mediterranean climate and periodic fires, which is unique to the Cape Floral Region.

The undulating landscape containing the Fossil Hominid Sites of South Africa comprises dolomitic limestone ridges with rocky outcrops and valley grasslands, wooded along watercourses and in areas of natural springs. Most sites are in caves or are associated with rocky outcrops or water sources. The serial listing includes the Fossil Hominid Sites of Sterkfontein, Swartkrans, Kromdraai and Environs, and the Makapan Valley and Taung Skull Fossil Site.

The ongoing fluvial, marine and aeolian processes in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park have produced a variety of landforms, including coral reefs, long sandy beaches, coastal dunes, lake systems, swamps, and extensive reed and papyrus wetlands. The interplay of the park's environmental heterogeneity with major floods and coastal storms and a transitional geographic location between subtropical and tropical Africa has resulted in exceptional species diversity and ongoing speciation. The mosaic of landforms and habitat types creates breathtaking scenic vistas. The site contains critical habitats for a range of species from Africa's marine, wetland and savannah environments.

The ǂKhomani Cultural Landscape is located at the border with Botswana and Namibia in the northern part of the country, coinciding with the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park (KGNP). The large expanse of sand contains evidence of human occupation from the Stone Age to the present and is associated with the culture of the formerly nomadic ǂKhomani San people and the strategies that allowed them to adapt to harsh desert conditions.

Mapungubwe is set hard against the northern border of South Africa, joining Zimbabwe and Botswana. It is an open, expansive savannah landscape at the confluence of the Limpopo and Shashe rivers. Mapungubwe developed into the largest kingdom in the sub-continent before it was abandoned in the 14th century. What survives are the almost untouched remains of the palace sites and also the entire settlement area dependent upon them, as well as two earlier capital sites, the whole presenting an unrivalled picture of the development of social and political structures over some 400 years.

The Maloti-Drakensberg Park is a transnational property composed of the uKhahlamba Drakensberg National Park in South Africa and the Sehlathebe National Park in Lesotho. The site has exceptional natural beauty in its soaring basaltic buttresses, incisive dramatic cutbacks, and golden sandstone ramparts as well as visually spectacular sculptured arches, caves, cliffs, pillars and rock pools. The site's diversity of habitats protects a high level of endemic and globally important plants.


The 160,000 ha Richtersveld Cultural and Botanical Landscape of dramatic mountainous desert in north-western South Africa constitutes a cultural landscape communally owned and managed. This site sustains the semi-nomadic pastoral livelihood of the Nama people, reflecting seasonal patterns that may have persisted for as much as two millennia in southern Africa. It is the only area where the Nama still construct portable rush-mat houses (haru om) and includes seasonal migrations and grazing grounds, together with stock posts. The pastoralists collect medicinal and other plants and have a strong oral tradition associated with different places and attributes of the landscape.

Robben Island was used at various times between the 17th and 20th centuries as a prison, a hospital for socially unacceptable groups and a military base. Its buildings, particularly those of the late 20th century such as the maximum-security prison for political prisoners, witness the triumph of democracy and freedom over oppression and racism.

Vredefort Dome, approximately 120 km southwest of Johannesburg, is a representative part of a larger meteorite impact structure, or astrobleme. Dating back 2,023 million years, it is the oldest astrobleme yet found on Earth. With a radius of 190 km, it is also the largest and the most deeply eroded. Vredefort Dome bears witness to the world’s greatest known single energy release event, which had devastating global effects including, according to some scientists, major evolutionary changes.