Protected Areas


 Areas Protected

 - 102,060 km2 Land
 - 224,640 km2 Ocean

Terrestrial and Inland Water



Area protected, as per WDPA

Area protected, as per country reports

Coastal and Marine Coverage



Area protected, as per WDPA

Area protected, as per country reports

Key species

South Africa is considered one of the most biologically diverse countries in the world. It has a high rate of endemism and diverse ecosystems. While it occupies only 2% of the world’s land surface area, South Africa is home to over 95,000 species, contributing a significant proportion to world plant species (6%), reptile species (5%), bird species (8%) and mammal species (6%), with more species regularly discovered and described.

Furthermore, it harbours around 15% of the world’s marine species. Endemism rates reach 56% for amphibians, 65% for plants, 49% for freshwater fish, 48% for reptiles, 36% for sea breams, and up to 70% for invertebrates.

Policy Contect

A comprehensive report on legislation and policy related to protected area management, governance and equity was undertaken by the BIOPAMA programme. It identified 158 relevant laws and policies in South Africa (Tessema, 2019). 

South Africa has 1,580 protected areas covering 102,060 km2 of the land and 224,640 km2 of the ocean (UNEP-WCMC & IUCN, 2019s). In October 2018, South Africa’s cabinet approved the declaration of 18 new protected areas, thus increasing the network of protected areas. There are nine provincial conservation authorities and the South African National Parks Agency who manage protected areas and implement conservation of plant diversity outside of reserves.

Protected and conserved areas designated as global sites of importance

Global designation

Number of sites

UNESCO Man and Biosphere Reserves


UNESCO World Heritage Sites (Natural or Mixed)


Wetlands of International Importance (Ramsar sites)


 Source ((Ramsar, 2019; UNESCO, 2019a, 2019b)


Priority areas for conservation


Number of sites

Alliance for Zero Extinction sites


Important Bird & Biodiversity Areas


Key Biodiversity Areas


 (AZE Secretariat, 2019; BirdLife International, 2019c, 2019a)

Regional Reference Information System South Africa

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Protected Areas Management and Biodiversity Conservation

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