South Africa is world-renowned for its extensive fossil record. It contains some of the world’s oldest living organisms in the form of 3.5 billion year old fossilized bacteria to the origins and evolution of mammals and the earliest dinosaurs. As such, South Africa is one of the top palaeontological destinations in the world. New fossil species are continually being discovered and these examples of past life form part of our natural heritage. Thus, it is vital that our valuable resource be protected.
The NHRA or Natural Heritage Resources Act requires that all heritage resources (which include fossils) be assessed and provision must be made for their protection. Thus, a Palaeontological Impact Assessment (PIA) forms part of Heritage Impact Assessments (HIA), Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) or Environmental Management Plans (EMP). As development expands, fossils are under constant threat of destruction. Thus, a PIA, conducted by a qualified palaeontologist, must precede any development. The main aim of the assessment is to document fossils in the development area and make recommendations for the protection or mitigation of these fossils. Fossil material must be conserved where possible, or removed and stored in an institution that is permitted to curate fossils.
PIAs must be conducted by specialists in the field, although often a simple desktop study will be sufficient. PIAs are usually only required in cases where the bedrock is to be disturbed.