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West Coast Fossil Park

About 200 million years ago the area in which Fossil Park is now situated was a natures haven, with a large river flowing, animals small and big from frogs to the big bears and most importantly the West Coast Strandveld (Fynbos/Dune Thicket Mosaic) could be found in abundance in the area. Some of the now extinct animals that used to reside in that area include the African Bear, a gomphothere- an elephant that resembles a mammoth, as well as the threetoed horse.These conditions were prevalent before mankind tempered with anything that could to be found in the precinct. However, in the 1940s human beings saw a treasure in this area, but this was not its natural beauty but the mineral resources hidden beneath the surface. There people discovered the mineral called phosphate. As a result of this, mining activity was initiated in the area, and a mine called Chemfos Phosphate Mine under the company SAMANCOR- a division of Billiton- was established (Nupen, 2001). Workers in the mines had to be accommodated and had to be provided with housing in order to be near their place of work. This is how the communities currently living in the area were developed. Mining of phosphate in the area carried on until the year 1993. The land was left in ruins and scarred by the mining practices that were carried out through the lifespan of the mining company. It is, however, because of the mining activity that the clearing of alien vegetation and replacing it with indigenous vegetation took place. Indigenous vegetation was replanted after the mining activity was shut down, as a form of rehabilitation process in 1996. But the main challenge faced with the replanting of indigenous vegetation in this area is the fact that there is now a difference in topography as a result of the mining activity that took place. This in turn has resulted in vegetation of different characteristics and ages being planted in the same area, which has not left much effectiveness as far as restoring floral diversity is concerned.

It is in this area that a bed of fossils was discovered; where about 14ha of the 700ha is covered in fossils. These fossils are the remains of some sea and land creatures that lived in and along the Olifants River before the course of the river leading to the sea changed. The whole area has now been declared a National Monument under the management of Iziko Museum in Cape Town. This makes it in simple words a heritage site. As part and parcel of achieving this status and recognition, an Environmental Impact Assessment (involving specialist

such as botanists, archeologists and soil experts) was undertaken and it was proposed that rehabilitation of indigenous vegetation should occur. This would form part of biodiversity conservation within the West Coast area. The positive social impact of the restoration of the West Coast Fossil Park is evident by the fact that the mining rooms that were probably offices at the time of the mining era have now been converted into a display area, lecture room, tea room and the library. This shows the integrated approach in which this restoration program has been undertaken in order to provide for the public. In addition staff members who work in the tea room and some of those employed as tour guides (Mr Engelbracht) were previously miners, or people who live in the immediate community who were previously unemployed. This means the community benefits economically and educationally from the program, as our guide, an uneducated man has learned from the experts (professors) about paleontology. I really dont know what more to write. *Embarrased*

References Nupen (2001). Have vegetation regimes at West Coast Fossil Park effectively restored fauna diversity? A preliminary analysis. The University of Cape Town (Incomplete thesis). [Accessed on 30 September 2011].