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Biodiversity describes the variety of life in an area, including the number of different species, the genetic wealth within each species, the interrelationships between them, and the natural areas where they occur


MAB combines the natural and social sciences, economics and education to improve human livelihoods and the equitable sharing of benefits, and to safeguard natural and managed ecosystems,



Education for Sustainable Development allows every human being to acquire the knowledge, skills, attitudes and values necessary to shape a sustainable future.”


The goal of sustainable development is to meet the needs of today, without compromising the needs of tomorrow. This means we cannot continue using current levels of resources as this will not leave enough for future generations.

The Marico Biosphere Reserve is in the very unique position of being at the intersection of three primary drainage regions. These primary drainage regions are: 

●        Region A - Limpopo River basin,

●        Region C - Vaal River basin

●     Region D - Orange River basin (below the Gariep Dam), and including the Kraai River  

The key implication for the water management plan for the Marico Biosphere Reserve is that the location of the Marico BR overlaps with sources or headwaters of some of the rivers in these catchments. All these rivers, therefore, drain away from the Biosphere Reserve and not into it.  The Marico BR is therefore not materially affected by surface water activities outside the boundary of the Biosphere Reserve. 

Another key implication of the location of the Marico BR is that it plays a key role in providing water ecosystem services for large areas of South Africa, which are downstream from the Biosphere Reserve. River headwaters are key areas for downstream water quality and functioning, and therefore need to be carefully managed. 

Karst aquifers occur in the Marico BR.  These karst aquifers underlie all three biosphere zones and extend under almost all of the south and west of the Biosphere Reserve. It is estimated that the karst aquifers that are in/overlap with the Biosphere Reserve have an expected yield ranging from 0.5 to 2.0 litres per second (l/s) to over 5.0 litres per second.

There is a scarcity of Karst type aquifers in South Africa

Based on this crucial aspect, the Marico BR has extensive responsibility in maintaining water qualities of a large portion of South Africa and is one of the core reasons for registration of this region as a Biosphere Reserve with UNESCO.   

In addition to this crucial aspect Marico BR also takes on and adopts the additional responsibilities as outlined in the MaB programme

Our Responsibilities

Marico Biosphere Reserve has a great responsibility towards the quality and quantity of water in SA

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Strategic Building Blocks

Key Ecosystem Services

A set of strategic building blocks and outcomes are identified in the Management Plan according to the two overarching themes in the Vision.  The strategic building blocks identified under the Healthy Environment theme are:

● The integrity of the dolomitic aquifers and its water is safeguarded for the generations to come.

● Biodiversity and the other ecosystem services in the area are also protected, restored and enhanced.

● Natural resources are utilised in a sustainable way.

● The clean air and the low light pollution at night are preserved.

● The historical capital is preserved owing to its contribution of value to the region through a vibrant tourism route.

● Coherent actions to address climate change to form part of the local way of living.

● Economic conditions are beneficial to improving livelihoods in the area.

A number of external stresses from the surrounding areas have been identified that pose a risk to the Marico Biosphere Reserve’s water systems. These include invasive alien plants, surface and groundwater pollution, devastating veld fires and water extraction.

The strategic building blocks identified under the Happy People: Quality of Life and Community theme are:

● The intellectual and human potential, as well as the sustainability knowledge base of the region, are optimised.

● The social capital of the area contributes to vision attainment by vigorous communities that foster a mindset of living in harmony with the environment.

● Education and capacity building promote sustainable development.

● Living standards are acceptable in terms of food security and safety.

● Basic services and public goods are functioning appropriately while overall regional sustainability increases over time.

● Job creation is contributing towards bettering the lives of the people in the area as well as enhancing the environmental services.

The three Strategic Objectives identified in the Marico BR Management Plan align with the three functions for biosphere reserves of conservation, sustainable development, and logistical support as identified by UNESCO. They are as follows:

● The proposed Marico BR contributes to the conservation of landscapes, ecosystems, species and genetic variation (biodiversity) in the proposed Marico BR Catchments in order to protect the environmental capital of the area.

● The proposed Marico BR fosters economic and human development, which is socio-culturally and ecologically sustainable.

● The proposed Marico BR provides support for research, citizen science, monitoring, education and information exchange related to local, national and global issues of conservation and development.

Key ecosystem services in the Marico Biosphere Reserve area are:

Soil formation

As much of the area is used for agriculture (commercial or subsistence), soil and the health thereof is thus central to the survival of the people in the area. Soil formation also underlies most of the other ecosystem services and is therefore key to the functioning of the area and all ecosystems.

Primary production

Much of the land in the Marico Biosphere Reserve area is used for grazing. Thus the primary production of vegetation, especially in the Grassland bio-regions, plays a significant role in the economic functioning of the area. Primary production also supports other vital ecosystem functions.

Nutrient cycling

Nutrient cycling, along with soil formation, are some of the most important ecosystem services that determine the land capability of an area. If the soil is degraded and the natural nutrient cycle is not functioning, the capability of an area will decrease, having not only environmental but also socio-economic impacts.

Water cycling

As the area is key to water production, the cycling of water within the system is one of the most important ecosystem services in the area.

Erosion regulation

The importance of the soils of the area in term of agriculture, makes the prevention of soil erosion and the conservation of soil a crucial ecosystem service. Furthermore, increased soil erosion can negatively impact the water quality, thus impact not only on the Marico Biosphere Reserve area, but also on the areas and the people living downstream of the area.

Water purification

Large wetlands are associated with all the dolomitic eyes of the Malmani karst system (BSP, 2015). These are nationally unique ecosystems that provide an immeasurable ecosystem service (BSp, 2015). Apart from being massive carbon sinks, these wetland systems filter, clean and regulate the flow of fresh water from the dolomitic eyes (BSP, 2015). These wetlands have significant ecosystem service value and make a disproportionately large contribution to human well-being in the province (BSP, 2015). The numerous wetlands, surrounding the dolomitic eyes and along the rivers/streams, deliver a vital ecosystem service through the purification of water. The impact of water purified in the area of the Biosphere Reserve area is enormous, as the water surfacing in and flowing through this area impacts the water quality downstream as far as Mozambique and Namibia. The Marico and Molopo rivers in themselves support numerous communities and economic sectors in their catchment areas.

Fresh water

As the Biosphere Reserve area includes not only a part of the Malmani Karst system but the eyes of the Groot-Marico, Klein-Marico, Molopo and Elands rivers as well, it forms part of one of the single most important ecosystem service areas in the North West Province. The Malmani Karst system is responsible for regulating and maintaining the fresh water resources for a significant proportion of the province’s population (BSP, 2015). The Biosphere Reserve area is considered as being semi-arid and therefore relies heavily on underground water reserves, or karst aquifers. Although the bulk of households in the more urban areas have been provided with water services sourced from the river systems, many of the rural communities are still dependent on sourcing fresh water from non-piped sources. The water from these dolomitic eyes also supply water to other countries, i.e. Botswana through the ‘Tswasa Agreement’ (DWAF, 1998) through the river systems. Locally, the water derived from these features for agriculture and domestic use is important. This karst landscape should be regarded as a Strategic Water Source Area and be managed accordingly as it is the recharge area for the network of eyes which are critically important to ecological infrastructure within the area and the North West province.


Many of the communities in the Biosphere Reserve area rely heavily on the natural vegetation for the provision of wood for fuel.

Stone and Sand

In many communities in the area, sand and stone is used for the construction of infrastructure. In the upper reaches of the Groot-Marico River, slate is very often used for the construction of homes and other infrastructure (e.g. kraals). The export of slate is one of the main economic contributors in the upper reaches of the Groot-Marico River.

Biochemical and pharmaceutical products

Target species of plants and animals are harvested for food and for their medicinal properties. An ever increasing population, coupled with health challenges such as HIV/AIDS, has led to increased demand on medicinal plants in particular. Commercialisation of the medicinal plant trade via the development of 'muthi' markets has led to a decrease in the traditional methods of harvesting species, which were designed to protect populations of species being harvested. Specific endemic bulbs that are harvested for their medicinal value includes: Crinum bulbispermum and C. macowanii, and succulents such as Lithops leslei subsp. Leslei.

Genetic Resources

The dolomitic eyes (springs) are associated with dolomitic rock underlying the area. These dolomitic eyes, which are still in a relatively natural state (BSP, 2015), are often associated with unique bio-diversity. The geographic isolation of the dolomitic eyes results in high levels of speciation and thus results in high endemism of both invertebrates and fish species. Diversification of fish and other aquatic organisms is likely to be a phenomenon common to all the upper catchments of rivers in the area. Therefore, the local and international importance of these unique ecosystems and landscape features cannot be underestimated.

Due to the clean, free-flowing nature of the Groot-Marico River and the presence of the Vulnerable Marico barb (Enteromius motebensis) and the Near Threatened Barbus sp. ‘Waterberg’ the conservation of the upper reaches and tributaries of the Groot-Marico River is of great importance. The upper Groot Marico River and tributaries are also important for species evolutionary processes as the different catchments support three genetically distinct populations of the Vulnerable Marico barb (Enteromius motebensis) (Roux, 2015b).

Furthermore, all the river systems in the area are important as they represent a representative sample of the diversity of freshwater ecosystem types in the North West Province that should remain in a good ecological state. In the Marico River catchment these include the Rietspruit-, Bokkraal-, Ribbokfontein- and Kaaloog- se- Loop and the upper reaches of the Groot Marico River.

The Highveld Salt Pans are also important habitats for saline pan specialists. The occurrence of two saline pan specialist grasses, Cynodon polevansii and Sporobolus oxyphyllus, highlights the possibility that similar saline pan specialists may be discovered in the area.

Thus, the Marico Biosphere Reserve area is important in the preservation and conservation of unique genetic resources.