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The eThekwini Municipality has a rich and diverse natural environment within its boundaries. Stretching from the coast to the inland reaches, these habitats include vegetated dunes, mangroves and coastal forests, densely vegetated valleys, rivers, wetlands and rich grasslands. D’MOSS provides a range of ecosystem services to all residents of Durban. However, the extent of transformation of different habitat types in the eThekwini Municipal Area (EMA) has already been very dramatic.

Approximately 34% of Eastern Valley Bushveld and 40% of KZN Hinterland Thornveld have been transformed. These habitats are well represented in D’MOSS, but they have no legal protection and the land is generally developable. As a result, these habitats are threatened by potential development. Approximately 67% of the KZN Coastal Belt (coastal grasslands, thickets and forests) has been transformed, mainly due to urbanization and sugar cane production.  The remnants of this habitat are largely located along and adjacent to major river valleys.

KZN Sandstone Sourveld (a grassland habitat) has been classified nationally as Endangered, with only 0.2% of the original area under formal conservation. This habitat is restricted to central, coastal KZN, thus requiring Durban to play a critical role in its conservation. Within the EMA, 73% of this habitat has already been lost to urban development and sugar cane production. Remaining areas requiring protection are found in the western suburbs around Hillcrest and Kloof where they are often in private ownership and zoned for development. The other western suburbs grassland, Ngongoni Veld, is also threatened by development as it is generally located on flatter areas and zoned for development (e.g. the Cato Ridge industrial region). Within the EMA, 62% of this habitat has already been transformed.

Scarp Forests are tall and contain many species, including a number of endemic species (i.e. they occur only within this habitat type). Because they are found in steep gorges and associated scarps, they are generally not directly threatened by development. Development in close proximity to these habitats does, however, lead to indirect impacts associated with increased disturbance and the edge effect, including invasion by alien species, increased nutrients, and increased runoff and erosion. It is for these reasons that developments need to be setback from forest systems. Northern Coastal Forests occur on the coastal plains and dunes. Being located on the flatter areas, much of this forest type has been transformed.

The other forest type found in Durban, Mangrove Forest, has been classified nationally as Critically Endangered. Most Mangrove Forests have already been lost to forms of development; three remnants remain, i.e. Beachwood Mangroves at the mouth of the Umgeni River, the Isipingo Mangroves at the mouth of the Isipingo River and the Bayhead Mangroves within Durban bay. In the 1800’s, the Bayhead Mangroves covered an area of 438 ha, today only 15 ha remain representing a loss of 97%.

These systems all play important roles as both refuges for biodiversity within the City and valuable ecosystem service areas, providing free natural services and resources to the residents of the Municipality. However, as a growing Metro, there is constant pressure from development, urbanization, agriculture and the need for expanding infrastructure, on the natural environment. In order to ensure that potential impacts associated with growth do not negatively affect sensitive ecosystems in the City or reduce the value of the services provided by these corridors and areas of open space, there is a need for the assessment and management of these potential impacts. Impact assessment aims to achieve a sustainable balance between development and the need for protection of the natural environment.

Areas of irreplaceable biodiversity, critically endangered habitats or vital for ecosystem support areas are protected and preserved to ensure longevity of these functional ecosystems. Those activities planned on areas of lower environmental sensitivity or activities of lower environmental impact are assessed to ensure a positive outcome for the environment, while ensuring responsible development is accommodated (no net loss).

In addition to ensuring the natural assets of the eThekwini Municipality are protected and maintained for all residents and rate payers, the EPCPD, as the mandated department with the City, also has a responsibility to ensure that the conservation targets set by National Government for threatened ecosystems are promoted and achieved within the municipal boundary.

The Role of Biodiversity Impact Assessment in Protecting Ecosystems
In order to protect Durban’s remaining open spaces as far as possible, the BIA Branch of the EPCPD is responsible for assessing, and in some cases, regulating development and development applications within the City that occur on or adjacent to D’MOSS to ensure that biodiversity is protected and the supply of ecosystem services is maintained.
 
The development applications that are received by the department include building plans, special consent applications, rezoning applications, low-cost housing developments, subdivision/township applications or site development plans for multi-unit developments proposed to be developed by sectional title and/or by free hold, town planning proposals, infrastructure projects and both private and public housing applications. The BIA Branch also provides comment and input on various Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) processes, including the Basic Assessment and Full EIA processes, and Water Use Licence and Mining Applications.

The BIA Branch will assess the potential impact on the environment of the proposed development and then make its recommendations for approval, approval with conditions, or refusal of the application. Where approval is given it is likely to be subject to specific controls to ensure that the biodiversity of the designated land is not negatively affected. Your development may require formal EIA authorisation from the competent authority (national or provincial Department of Environmental Affairs), or you may only require municipal approval. Thus, in order to assist developers, planners, engineers, architects, Environmental Assessment Practitioners (EAPs) and the general public the following recommendations are offered as guidelines for submissions to our department. 

BIA Process