Interior Department Leaders Affirm Commitment to Global Conservation, Science Partnerships in South Africa Visit

Last edited 11/20/2023

Date: Monday, November 20, 2023


WASHINGTON — Assistant Secretary for Insular and International Affairs Carmen G. Cantor and U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Director David Applegate wrapped up a week-long trip to Cape Town, South Africa, where they led the Department of the Interior’s delegation to the intergovernmental Group on Earth Observations (GEO) Ministerial Summit. During the visit, the leaders highlighted the Department’s commitments to cooperating with international partners to tackle the climate crisis through collaborative science-based partnerships.   

GEO is a partnership of 115 United Nation member governments and 154 non-governmental organizations that work together to advance broad and open sharing of Earth observations globally and promote their utilization in decision-making.   

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

Assistant Secretary Cantordelivered statements on behalf of the United States that focused on the GEO Global Ecosystems Atlas. USGS and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) have provided critical and foundational scientific support, including the development of the initial science vision and framework, for the Atlas. The United States also endorsed the Cape Town Declaration, which aspires to advance inclusion and equity across the GEO Work Programme, as well as increase engagement and capacity building for the use of Earth observations among nations with an emphasis on co-design and co-development.  

Throughout their participation in the Summit, Assistant Secretary Cantor and Director Applegate highlighted the Landsat program, a collaborative program between USGS and NASA that provides the longest continuous space-based record of Earth’s land in existence. Since 1972, Landsat satellites have continuously acquired images of the Earth’s land surface, providing uninterrupted 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 counter wildlife trafficking efforts and illegal fishing in South Africa, with a focus on the protected lands and surrounding coastal waters. TMNP is a World Heritage Site and part of the Cape Floral Kingdom, that includes endemic wildlife found only in TMNP. Mixing of two ocean currents at the Cape creates a unique environment of marine biodiversity and is home to three abalone species including Haliotus midae “Midas.” 

Meetings with TMNP personnel as well as the South African National Parks Environmental Crimes Investigators centered on significant levels of poaching impacting park resources by organized criminal gangs from surrounding communities with ties to transnational criminal organizations. Assistant Secretary Cantor affirmed the United States support via the Department of State and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Wildlife Law Enforcement Attaché stationed at the U.S. Embassy in Pretoria, who works with counterparts to assist enforcement efforts on nature crimes 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 Reuben E. Brigety II and the U.S. country team regarding wildlife conservation, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, counter wildlife trafficking and the long-standing partnership between the USGS and the South African National Space Agency (SANSA). In addition, the Assistant Secretary, joined by USGS, FWS and embassy personnel, visited a Landsat Ground Station in 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 U.S. delegation met with the SANSA Satellite Operations Team to discuss the future of the Landsat Program, Landsat Next, and the importance of continuing the historic partnership built with South Africa to support Earth observation science.


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