Home department heads reaffirm commitment to global conservation, science partnerships in South Africa

Date: Monday, November 20, 2023
Contact: [email protected]

WASHINGTON — Assistant Secretary for Insular and International Affairs Carmen G. Cantor and US Geological Survey (USGS) Director David Applegate concluded a weeklong trip to Cape Town, South Africa, where they led the Department of the Interior’s delegation to the Intergovernmental Panel on Ministerial Summit for Earth Observations (GEO). During the visit, the leaders highlighted the Department’s commitment to working with international partners to address the climate crisis through collaborative science-based partnerships.

GEO is a partnership between 115 UN member governments and 154 non-governmental organizations working together to promote the broad and open sharing of Earth observations worldwide and promote their use in decision-making.

At the GEO Ministerial, Assistant Secretary Cantor and Director Applegate participated in GEO Executive Committee meetings, plenary sessions, and numerous bilateral meetings with Directors from South Africa, Paraguay, the United Kingdom, and Australia.

Assistant Secretary Cantormade statements on behalf of the United States that focused on the GEO Global Ecosystem Atlas. The USGS and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) provided critical and foundational scientific support, including the development of the initial scientific vision and framework for the Atlas. The United States also endorsed the Cape Town Declaration, which seeks to improve inclusion and equity in the GEO work program, and to increase engagement and capacity building for the use of Earth observations among nations with an emphasis on joint design and joint development.

During their participation in the summit, Assistant Secretary Cantor and Director Applegate highlighted the Landsat program, a joint program between the USGS and NASA that provides the longest continuous space-based record of the Earth’s landmass in existence. Since 1972, Landsat satellites have continuously acquired images of the Earth’s surface, providing continuous data to help land managers and policymakers make informed decisions about natural resources and the environment.

While in Cape Town, Assistant Secretary Cantor met with South African counterparts at Table Mountain National Park (TMNP) to discuss efforts to combat wildlife trafficking and illegal fishing in South Africa, with a focus on protected lands and surrounding coastal waters. TMNP is a World Heritage Site and part of the Cape Floral Kingdom, which includes endemic wildlife found only in TMNP. The mixing of two ocean currents at the Cape creates a unique environment of marine biodiversity and is home to three species of snails, including Haliotus midae ‘Midas’.

Meetings with TMNP staff as well as environmental crime investigators in South African national parks focused on significant levels of poaching affecting park resources by organized crime gangs from surrounding communities with links to transnational criminal organizations. Assistant Secretary Cantor confirmed the support of the United States through the Department of State and the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s Wildlife Enforcement Attaché located at the US Embassy in Pretoria, who are working with colleagues to assist in crime enforcement efforts against nature in the country and region, providing investigative support, cross-border coordination, criminal intelligence sharing and capacity building.

In Pretoria, Assistant Secretary Cantor met with U.S. Ambassador to South Africa Ruben E. Brigitte II and the U.S. team on wildlife conservation, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, combating wildlife trafficking, and the long-standing partnership between the USGS and the South African National Space Agency (SANSA). In addition, the Assistant Secretary, accompanied by USGS, FWS, and Embassy officials, visited a Landsat ground station at Hartebeesthoek, about 70 km west of Pretoria, South Africa. SANSA has been a Landsat partner for over 40 years, receiving Landsat data since 1981. The US delegation met with SANSA’s satellite operations team to discuss the future of the Landsat programme, Landsat Next, and the importance of continuing the historic partnership , built with South Africa will support Earth observation science.


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