Small town, big impact: Overstrand Local Municipality’s sustainability initiatives

Nestled in the Western Cape Province of South Africa, Overstrand Local Municipality is a relatively small coastal municipality spanning 1 708 km². Here, the biodiversity-rich areas include a 230 km coastline bordered by a towering mountain range and large tracts of natural vegetation, with globally significant plant diversity and uniqueness. Recognising the ecological value of their area, Overstrand Municipality remains committed to protecting the environment and supporting the community, thereby contributing to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The quality of life and natural splendour of this area attract many. The municipality, encompassing the vibrant town of Hermanus and several smaller communities, has seen a surge in population growth, especially post-COVID-19. Rapid urban growth brings both opportunities and sustainability challenges.

Embracing urban growth with sustainability

The influx of new settlers has accelerated urban growth, necessitating careful planning to maintain the area’s natural beauty and quality of life. The Overstrand Municipality faces multiple challenges: the expansion of formal and informal settlements; provision of basic services; the need to connect meaningfully with informal settlement community leaders; facilitating safe access to environmental assets and recreation opportunities, especially for children; poaching; the need for enhanced urban green open space development and maintenance; inner town revitalisation; the need for natural capital accounting; and incorporating nature and biodiversity into municipal spatial planning.

Despite these challenges, the small municipal environmental services unit at Overstrand Local Municipality packs a punch, with a commendable track record of successful environmental projects. More recently, with ICLEI’s guidance through the INTERACT-Bio project and other initiatives, they have gained resource and technical capacity, and embarked on a new project advancing their urban nature, biodiversity and sustainability journey.

Hope spots for coastal sustainability

In May of 2023, Overstrand’s Cape Whale Coast Hope Spot was showcased at one of ICLEI Africa’s RISE Africa webinars. The RISE Africa Action Festival is hosted annually by ICLEI Africa, with the aim of inspiring action for sustainable urban development across the continent. The Cape Whale Coast Hope Spot, renowned for whale sightings, serves as an educational and conservation focal point.  Hope Spots like this one are a good entry point to create awareness of special coastal areas. Networks of Hope Spots throughout the world maintain biodiversity, provide carbon sinks, generate life-giving oxygen, preserve critical habitats and allow low-impact activities like ecotourism to thrive. The Cape Whale Coast Hope Spot has attracted generous donations and inspired interest from a diverse range of local stakeholders, including the business sector. The Hope Spot is an iconic eco-tourist attraction and contributes to SDG 8. Decent work and economic growth, SDG 11. Sustainable cities and communities, SDG 13. Climate action, and SDG 14. Life below water.

Upskilling on biodiversity finance

In June 2023, Overstrand’s Municipal Environmental Services team participated in Biodiversity Finance training, offered by ICLEI, as part of the INTERACT-Bio project. This training enhanced their understanding of biodiversity finance and its relevance within the urban socio-economic development context. Through practical examples, participants learned to identify methods, instruments and solutions suited to their own context. Participants also learned how to leverage financial resources and where and how to access finances from various sources. This knowledge is pivotal for advancing their biodiversity initiatives, contributing towards SDG 10. Reduced inequalities, SDG 11. Sustainable cities and communities, and SDG 17. Partnerships for the goals.

Generation Restoration: A new era

Fen monitoring for wetland conservation at Onrus (Source: Overstrand Municipality)

In 2023, Overstrand secured a Generation Restoration project. This United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) initiative, supports the adoption of urban nature-based solutions to protect, conserve and restore degraded ecosystems, reconnect cities with nature and mitigate the impact of climate change on urban communities. The project will develop a strategy that will improve the ecosystem functioning of the Onrus Catchment corridor, enhance the preparedness and capacity of the municipality to mitigate against future climate change impacts on biodiversity, the economy and society, and provide a replicable model for the Overberg District. This aligns with the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration and the Global Biodiversity Framework, and contributes to SDG 11. Sustainable cities and communities, SDG 11. Sustainable cities and communities, and SDG 17. Partnerships for the goals.

Future possibilities and global recognition

With numerous significant wetlands and estuaries within the municipal area, ICLEI has identified Overstrand as a potential future candidate for the Convention on Wetlands’ (‘Ramsar’) Wetland City Accreditation. This scheme, in which ICLEI is a permanent committee member, recognises local government efforts to protect wetlands, and reconnect people and wetland benefits. Numerous wetlands and river corridors in Overstrand have been identified as national-level Freshwater Ecosystem Priority Areas. With two Ramsar sites, wetlands of international importance, and several large and productive estuaries, Overstrand’s biodiversity plays a critical role in ecological and economic functions sustaining commercial marine fisheries, aquaculture and tourism, for example. Overstrand’s internationally recognised efforts for wetland biodiversity highlight the municipality’s significant contribution to SDGs 14. Life below water, 15. Life on land and 11. Sustainable cities and communities.

Controlled burn to prevent destructive wildfires at Betty’s Bay (Source: Overstrand Municipality)

As Overstrand Municipality navigates the complexities of rapid urban growth, these efforts demonstrate their commitment to sustainable development, biodiversity conservation and community well-being, making it a model for small municipalities globally. By aligning its efforts with the Sustainable Development Goals, Overstrand exemplifies how small municipalities can make a significant impact on global sustainability, preserving unique biodiversity and ensuring a resilient future.

This piece was written by Dr. Ernita Flynn, Senior Professional Officer, Social-Ecological Systems at ICLEI Africa, and done in collaboration with Impakter, an online magazine aimed at connecting the knowledge hub with the public, using the force of transparent and impactful journalism.

Header photo credit: Turtle sunbathing at an Overstrand beach, Source: Overstrand Municipality

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