Barberton Mountains declared Unesco World Heritage Site


Barberton Mountains declared Unesco World Heritage Site

Barberton Mountains declared Unesco World Heritage Site

The Barberton Mountain Land, or the Barberton Greenstone Belt, in Mpumalanga, is declared a Unesco’s World Heritage Site (WHS), as the region contains some of the most widely accepted fossil evidence for Archaean life, dating back 3.5 billion years.

A major drive for international recognition of the mountains started a few years ago and is finally bearing fruit.

The Barberton Makhonjwa Mountains in Mpumalanga have officially been declared a Unesco World Heritage Site (WHS) after being on the tentative list for a number of years.

The World Heritage Committee inscribed the naturally significant Barberton Makhonjwa Mountains on Monday (July 2), after the decision was taken at the 42nd session of the World Heritage Committee of Unesco, which took place in Manama, Bahrain, from June 29-30, where Arts and Culture Minister, Nathi Mthethwa represented South Africa.

This marks the tenth site in South Africa to be inscribed by the world heritage body since the country became a member in 1997.

The mountain range lies within the sub-tropical lowland region in the north-east of South Africa, containing some the world’s best preserved, oldest and diverse sequence of volcanic and sedimentary rock, dating back 3.5 billion years.

The project was initiated back in 2007 and put forward for nomination two years later as part of the efforts to conserve the natural inheritance and to boost tourism in the province, according to the Department of Economic Development and Tourism for Mpumalanga.

The MEC for Finance, Economic Development and Tourism for the region, Sikhumbuzo Kholwane, said the government would continue to provide resources to maintain the status of this unparalleled mountain range in order to boost tourism.

“The human resource structure of the Management Authority has been expanded to include a new unit led by a senior geologist and a complement of support staff, totalling eight persons. The Government has also committed to support the new unit with an additional US$1 million per year, to fund the Management Authority staff and operations”, said Kholwane.

According to Tony Ferrar, Wildlife Ecologist and Park Planner, it has been 30 years since geo professionals first stated that the mountains deserved WHS status.

Ferrar said being part of the WHS branding would be good for tourism, attracting both state and private-sector investment.

“The additional challenge of developing geological tourism will make it even more interesting, as it is quite a specialised field,” added Ferrar.

 “It is an exciting new element to add to travel in the Kruger Lowveld region – it is also an exciting alternative to the usual Panorama Route, giving people another reason to come back again and hopefully spend money in new areas that are in dire need of it.”

It contains the best-preserved, oldest and most diverse sequence of volcanic and sedimentary rocks on earth. These rocks contain some of the earliest life forms yet found. The well-researched outcrops provide a globally unique source of information about the earliest measurable conditions at the earth’s surface from 3.5 billion years ago.

The discovery of the mountains has become known as ‘the history of our planet cast in stone’, as there are very few places where rocks of the Archaean period are visible. The majority of the other sites are far removed, and hard to reach.

There are hundreds of geo sites of interest, which, when their information is combined, allow the Barberton Makhonjwa Mountains, also dubbed ‘The Genesis of Life’, to tell a richly consistent and, as yet, only partially explored the story of when and where life began.

The Barberton Makhonjwa Geotrail spans 38 kilometres, exploring ancient rock formations that date from the Archaean period.

The route forms only a portion of the longer 260 kilometres Genesis Route which links Barberton, Badplaas and Low’s Creek. The route can either be enjoyed by self-drive or on a guided tour.


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