South Africa's iSimangaliso Wetland Park introduces innovative conservation activities

August 6, 2010

PRETORIA, August 6, 2010 — Conservation activities in the world-famous iSimangaliso Wetland Park in South Africa’s east coast are set to add a new dimension to economic growth in the region. With the recent approval of a $9 million from the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the iSimangaliso Wetland Park Authority can pursue its conservation objectives with the added dimension of using spatial development approaches to foster local economic development.

Speaking about the significance of the conservation effort, Andrew Zaloumis, CEO, iSimangaliso Wetland Park Authority, said:  “Our goal in the next five years is to meaningfully increase the flow of fresh water into Lake St. Lucia and reposition the park from being an underdeveloped tourist attraction to a major territorial asset that will play an important role in the region’s economic growth initiative.”

The word iSimangaliso means “miracle” or “wonder” in the local Zulu language, and the park is South Africa's third-largest protected area. A World Heritage site and tourism magnet, iSimangaliso Wetland Park lays claim to unique, internationally recognized biodiversity assets with significant potential for eco-tourism. Its attractions include spectacular mountain ranges, access to the  southern-most coral reefs in Africa and diverse flora and fauna, including dolphins, humpback whales, sea turtles and some 250 fish species, more than 3,000 plant types, all matched by a favorable year-round climate.

“The project is designed so that the benefits from conservation and eco-tourism activities reach poor people,” says Ruth Kagia, World Bank Country Director for South Africa.  “The World Bank is proud to be associated with this project which protects the unique biodiversity of South Africa.”

The area is inhabited by people from diverse cultural and linguistic heritages.

The project’s innovative approach to conservation aims to uplift living standards in the area of KwaZulu-Natal where the project is situated, one of the poorest regions of the country. “It is essential that the benefits reach local people so that their energies can be mobilized for environmental protection,” said Paola Agostini, World Bank Economist in the Africa Region and project leader.

For project implementation, the World Bank is piloting the use of South Africa’s robust and well-developed system of environmental safeguards. South Africa has an established legal and regulatory system, and a favorable reputation for effective implementation of its systems governing environmental assessment, protection of natural habitats, protected areas and protection of physical cultural resources.

“We are delighted that the project stands to benefit from South Africa’s world-class environmental safeguard standards,” said Juan Gaviria, World Bank Sector Leader for Sustainable Development in the Africa Region. “By adopting this approach, we are preparing the ground for smoother, more effective implementation of this and other projects.”