Animalhabitat affected by climate change

Kevin Coldrey weighs up the pros and cons of climate change impact on South Africas national parks.

When it comes to climate change, the good news is that tourist arrivals at Table Mountain National Park (TMNP) will not be as badly affected as some other national parks.

However, the bad news is that animal species in the park will be unable to change their habitat as the climate changes around them, owing to the high density of households neighbouring the park.

This is according to Kevin Coldrey, of in-
dependent consulting firm Anchor Environmental. He gave a talk, “Assessing the Vulnerability of South Africa’s National Protected Areas to Climate Change”, at the Cape Research Centre in Tokai.

Mr Coldrey, a Noordhoek resident, said decades of burning fossil fuels meant climate
change was a given, and rising temperatures
and extreme and less predictable rainfall
patterns would threaten natural and human systems.

Using a method he developed to assess the vulnerability of protected areas to climate change, he applied this to South Africa’s 19 national parks, from tourism-focused parks, such as TMNP and Kruger, to remote ones, such as Tankwa Karoo and Bontebok; and from coastal parks of the West Coast and Agulhas to inland bushveld areas of Mapungubwe and Marakele.

He looked into ways of conserving our biodiversity from human interference: habitat loss, disease, alien vegetation, resources, changes in freshwater flows and the impacts on tourism and local communities. All of this on top of the pressure of climate change, which has the potential to exacerbate these.

Mr Coldrey is an economist by training and worked in the industry for almost a decade before deciding to change career paths.

“I recently completed an MPhil from UCT’s African Climate and Development Initiative which focused on climate change and sustainable development. I hope to use my experience in the corporate sector to drive the change that’s needed, looking for ways to incentivise behaviour change financially,” he said.

His findings, he said, showed which parks were the most, or least, vulnerable to climate change, including extreme events such as droughts and flooding.

“I used the worst-case-emissions scenario, which we have been tracking globally, to project climate change in 2050 and how this will affect protected areas, including tourist numbers and their comfort levels,” he said.

“Visitor numbers to TMNP should not be severely impacted by climate change because visitors’ accommodation is close by and so they are able to change the time of day when they visit the park. As opposed to Kruger where tourists are stuck in accommodation in the high heat.”

He calculated that 20% of SANParks’s infrastructure was threatened by rising sea levels and flooding.

Kruger has the most infrastructure at risk, about R300m worth, while the West Coast has the highest proportion of infrastructure at risk, at roughly 90%. The coastal parks of West Coast and Garden Route are at risk of both flooding and damage from storm surge as a result of sea-level rise.