On 18 July, renowned Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti took CitiesWithNature – the global urban nature partnership initiative – to the stars, by posting a tweet from SPACE to highlight the importance of urban biodiversity and ecosystem restoration.
Samantha Cristoforetti, aka AstroSamantha, is a renowned Italian astronaut in the European Space Agency. In 2001, Samantha joined the Italian Air Force, and was selected as a European Space Agency astronaut in May 2009. On 23 November 2014, Samantha was launched from the cosmodrome of Baikonur in Kazakhstan, and returned to Earth on 11 June 2015, after spending 200 days in space. The mission, which was given the name Futura, was the second long-duration flight opportunity for the Italian Space Agency, and the eighth for an ESA astronaut.
In 2019, Samantha served as commander for NASA’s 23rd Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO23) mission during a 10-day stay in the world’s only undersea research station, Aquarius. Samantha returned to the International Space Station for her second mission, Minerva, on 27 April 2022. She was launched in a new SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule named Freedom alongside her Crew-4 crew mates, NASA astronauts Bob “Farmer” Hines, Kjell Lindgren and Jessica “Watty” Watkins.
Samantha is a UNICEF ambassador and donates to UNICEF the proceeds from sales of her memoir Diary of an Apprentice Astronaut, in which she shares her experience of being selected as an astronaut and then training for and flying her first space mission.
AstroSamantha called for proposals on impactful biodiversity and ecosystem restoration work across the globe that is visible from SPACE so that she could highlight the value of nature and the importance of protecting biodiversity during her mission. ICLEI partnered with the City of Cape Town, a long-standing Member and pioneer CitiesWithNature city, and asked AstroSamantha to feature the incredible work that is being done in the Blaauwberg Nature Reserve, while also calling on all cities to join CitiesWithNature and strengthen action through collaboration! On 18 July, the following Tweet circulated the globe, directly from Mission Minerva, reaching AstroSamantha’s 989.6k followers:
The space-based tweet highlighted the progress made through the Blaauwberg Large-scale Sand Fynbos Restoration Project in Cape Town. Cape Town is the most biodiverse city in the world, famous for its amazing variety of plants, collectively known as Fynbos. Cape Flats Sand Fynbos is a critically endangered habitat type, intrinsically rich in biodiversity, and found only within the city. The area being restored in Blaauwberg Nature Reserve was highly degraded and covered in dense woody alien invasive species. Besides having immense ecological importance, this area is also historically and socially significant. This restoration project is a prime example of collaboration and co-learning between researchers at a local university and City of Cape Town management, with external funders. Besides its ecological successes and lessons learnt, this project has produced a range of research projects and scientific papers on the various methodologies tested and employed, making it a great case study for other cities across the globe. The restoration project started in 2012 and is ongoing.
Why urban ecosystem restoration?
The total area covered by the world’s cities is set to triple in the next 40 years as millions of people continue to move into cities each week. Cities, regions and towns can control the way they change and grow, through a nature-positive approach. Collaboration across cities globally, and with all stakeholders, are essential to protecting biodiversity, restoring ecosystems, providing safe and accessible green open spaces, and reconnecting people with nature. CitiesWithNature, like Cape Town, are reaching for the stars and leading the way in restoring biodiversity and reconnecting their communities with nature. Restoring biodiversity can restore hope, and will help make cities sustainable and resilient through the ecosystem services provided by nature. Cape Town is one of the first hundred pioneer cities of the global CitiesWithNature initiative – which has now reached over 200 cities committed #ForNature. CitiesWithNature provides the UN Biodiversity-recognized platform that secures collaboration to strengthen the necessary actions to ensure that we have a bright, green future at peace with nature.