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This Earth Day (22 April 2016), I would like to draw the attention of Capetonians to the innate wealth we have inherited to live in a city of such natural wonder. We are blessed with a variety of plant and animal species right here on the doorstep of our city.

Cape Town is a biodiversity hotspot without parallel. Our city has on display approximately 3 000 plant species, constituting 19 different vegetation types with six of these vegetation varieties and more than 200 plant species flourishing within the urban confines of our city boundary.

Having said this, I urge residents to join the City in taking responsibility for our natural surroundings. Let’s be accountable to one another and get back to the basics of keeping our immediate surroundings clean, healthy, and vibrant. Plant a non-invasive tree or shrub or undertake a mini clean-up at your local park, your neighbourhood greenbelt or your nearest beach.Let us all make a start by doing something positive for our environment, and not disregarding the importance that small contributions make to the overall well-being of our eco-system.

Unless we all band together to maintain the integrity of our environment by committing to keep it clean, to recycling, and to transitioning to a more sustainable way of living, the sad reality is that our efforts to preserve our unique biodiversity will be in vain. Already 13 of our plant species are classed as extinct. A further 319 plant types are threatened with extinction.

As with all growing cities around the world, we are faced with numerous challenges when it comes to protecting our rich natural resources.

We have to strike a balance between ensuring the social provision for those who are less fortunate, stimulating our economy to create opportunities for financial upliftment, and preserving the immeasurable services that the environment grants our man-made landscape.

As residents of Cape Town we face climate change challenges, strain upon our economic well-being, and uncertainty in our resource availability. If we are to address these globally-felt challenges, I have realised that sustainability and environmental resource protection are more than just interesting concepts – they have to become central to all of our development strategies for Cape Town if environmental, economic and social stability are to be achieved in our fast-changing world.

As the City, we are committed to conserving and managing Cape Town’s unique biodiversity, while promoting natural areas as community spaces that perform a vital ecosystem service and present recreational and social functions. One of the best social benefits of this commitment includes job creation and skills development opportunities, benefiting particularly the communities surrounding these spaces. On average, these opportunities create over 100 000 person days of temporary employment annually.

Many of these projects focus on ecosystem functionality as well as biodiversity infrastructure implementation across the city. Ensuring the health of our rivers, which connect our green open spaces to our coastal areas, is critical to the overall health of the urban environment.

A successful example of a project which has had a positive impact on the ecosystem is the clearance of aquatic weeds in the Black River near the M5, which facilitated the return of flamingos and other birdlife to the river network. River system clean-ups and invasive species removal are crucial to our efforts to secure the ecosystem, which in turn provides invaluable benefits of hygiene and sanitation to our communities.

The City’s Environment Resource Management Department is responsible for the planning and the implementation of biodiversity management, which incorporates the protected areas expansion plan, conservation services, nature conservation tourism, recreation and education, job creation, skills development, as well as restoration and management of the City’s 16 nature reserves. The Department works closely with other City departments and partners to take care of the biodiversity in this special piece of our earth.

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