Text Jonas Nghishidi, NNF project coordinator
The Succulent Karoo is one of 25 biodiversity hotspots in the world, and sadly, one of three within Southern Africa. Why sadly? Because biodiversity hotspots are areas where threats to a large and diverse number of species are the greatest. As such they deserve integrated approaches and targeted sustainable management to maintain them as valuable resources.
Extending along the Atlantic coast from south-western South Africa into southern Namibia, the Succulent Karoo hotspot covers 102 691 km2 of desert. Some pockets of this hotspot are scattered within the Cape Floristic Region Hotspot, which borders it to the south. In fact, the Succulent Karoo exhibits a particularly strong floristic affiliation with the Cape Floristic Region, to the point that some have argued convincingly for the inclusion of the region into a greater Cape Flora.
The semi-arid Succulent Karoo is unique because of its many spectacular natural gems that occur above as well as below the ground. The hotspot boasts the richest succulent flora on earth, as well as remarkable endemism in plants – approximately 70%. In addition, reptiles also show high levels of endemism in the region. It is also one of only two entirely arid ecosystems to earn hotspot status, and is home to the mysterious tree-like succulent, the halfmens (Pachypodium namaquanum), as well as many unique species of lizard, tortoise and scorpion.
A dedicated programme to support the conservation and management of the Succulent Karoo was identified as a key priority. As a result, the Succulent Karoo Ecosystem Programme (SKEP) was initiated in January 2005, with the coordination unit for Namibia hosted by the Namibia Nature Foundation (NNF). The NNF, in partnership with the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET), coordinates the programme implementation in Namibia to achieve the following long-term goal: “Biodiversity in the Succulent Karoo ecosystem in Namibia must be effectively conserved and managed by the state and civil society through an integrated programme of conservation action and co-management of conservation areas for sustainable development of the region and for improvement of peoples’ livelihoods.”
SKEP Namibia’s current role is to consolidate the management processes of the biodiversity hotspot, and specifically the recently proclaimed Sperrgebiet National Park.
The proclamation of the Sperrgebiet National Park, an area of 2.6 million hectares of Succulent Karoo ecosystem, is the most notable success of the SKEP Namibia programme. This proclamation now ratifies the 10.5 million hectares or 1 600 kilometres of Namibia’s entire coastal conservation area, extending from the Orange River in the south to the Kunene River in the north.
This coastal protected area is contiguous with a newly proclaimed coastal and marine protected area in Namibian waters of approximately one million hectares, and links to the north with the Iona National Park in Angola, to the south with Richtersveld in South Africa, and along its western borders with a multitude of private, communal and state protected areas – another 15 million hectares, bringing together a total of over 25 million hectares of contiguous land under conservation. This opens up huge potential for initiating landscape-level co-management public-private approaches within Namibia, and transboundary conservation initiatives between Namibia and its neighbouring countries.
The SKEP project also works closely with neighbouring communities to help them understand their environment and its biodiversity values better. A key component of this has been the identification and implementation of local-level projects through a grants mechanism to manage the landscape better while deriving sustainable benefits. More targeted support has enabled the development of a Biodiversity Overview and Plan, Park Management and Development Plan (which subsequently became the model approach for all the coastal parks in Namibia), and a Tourism Development Plan and Business Plan.
Guided by the overarching plans developed, a target of SKEP has been to support the focused research and monitoring of key plant communities (endemic and range-restricted) and flagship mammals; develop a park monitoring system and guide; and develop a good-practice Restoration Guide with special focus on the rehabilitation of former mining areas.
In terms of infrastructure (physical and human resources), the design of an Information Centre for the Sperrgebiet National Park and surrounding areas is underway. The objective is to build a strong base and network for ongoing support to conservation and people’s livelihoods in the Succulent Karoo ecosystem and the broader Karas Region of Namibia where the hotspot lies.
In moving the programme forward, SKEP is seeking to consolidate activities following the proclamation of the Sperrgebiet National Park, both within and immediately around it to support the implementation of plans, to strengthen key committees, and to implement a range of outreach activities.
Key areas of activity
Specifically, SKEP is to work closely with the MET staff of the Sperrgebiet National Park to address the following key areas:
• Finalising the park regulations and producing them in an accessible user-friendly, format;
• Finalising the planning and preparation for a Sperrgebiet Information, Interpretation and Education Centre;
• Establishing and putting scientific research and monitoring systems into operation to generate appropriate information for informed management and stakeholder information;
• Supporting the development of a detailed staffing and infrastructure plan for the park;
• Promoting and supporting the establishment of relevant committees for the co-management of the park;
• Supporting the implementation of the Tourism Development Plan for the Sperrgebiet National Park;
• Building on the Strategic Action Plan of the MET, the Concessions in Parks Policy and the recently formulated national Namibia- Tourism Policy; and
• Supporting a process to debate the Sperrgebiet National Park Business Plan.
Building on the above, SKEP seeks further to implement the following cross-cutting themes:
Environmental education, with particular emphasis on running exposure trips for decision-makers, community leaders, stakeholders, students and schoolchildren into the Sperrgebiet and via the Environmental Education Centre near Lüderitz;
Stakeholder participation in the management and development of the Sperrgebiet National Park, including setting up a Friends of the Sperrgebiet National Park for funding contributions (such as from local mining, fishing and tourism sectors), and for practical support (for transport, monitoring, maintenance and so on); and
Fostering links to the Ai-Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park process.
The Succulent Karoo is an amazing and diverse environment that is at the ‘beginning’ of its new conservation and management focus. With the efforts of the NNF, MET and partners, we hope that, built on these small and humble steps taken to preserve it, this rich hotspot will remain intact for generations to come.
This article appeared in the 2012 edition of Conservation and the Environment in Namibia.