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St Lucia South Africa - Information

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St. Lucia Wetlands - South Africa

The Isimangaliso Wetlands Park (Greater St. Lucia Wetlands Park)

World Heritage Site

Cape St Lucia information and accommodation

St. Lucia Wetlands - Introduction

The Greater St. Lucia Wetlands Park (now the Isimangaliso Wetlands Park) (3206’25’’E to 3256’46’’E. and 2651’26’’S to 2829’07’’S) is a World Heritage Site. There are few comparable protected coastlines within the tropics as pristine as St. Lucia's. The St. Lucia Wetlands Park is one of the outstanding natural wetlands sites of Africa. It lies on a tropical-subtropical interface with a wide range of terrestrial, wetlands, estuarine lake, coastal and marine environments, which are scenically beautiful and basically unmodified by people. These include coral reefs, long sandy beaches, coastal dunes, lake systems, swamps, and extensive reed and papyrus wetlands, critical habitat for a range of species from Africa's sea, wetlands and savannas. The interaction of these environments with major floods and coastal storms in the St. Lucia Wetlands Park's transitional location have resulted in exceptional species diversity and ongoing speciation.

Geographical Location of the St. Lucia Wetlands

The St. Lucia Wetlands Park is on the east coast of South Africa 150 miles (mi) north of Durban, in northern KwaZulu-Natal Province, stretching from the Mozambique border south almost 220 kilometers (km), 1 to 24 km wide, with a 155km x 5km parallel marine strip. The St. Lucia Wetlands lie between 3206’25’’E to 3256’46’’E. and 2651’26’’S to 2829’07’’S.

Date and History of Establishment

The St. Lucia Wetlands Park has legal protection under the following acts:

* 1935:Sea-Shore Act No.21; and the Water Act No.54 of 1956;
* 1974:Natal Nature Conservation Ordinance No.15, (refers to National Park, St. Lucia Game Reserve and St. Lucia Park, False Bay Park, Sodwana Bay);
* 1984:Forest Act No.122 (refers to Cape Vidal State Forest, Eastern Shores State Forest, Maphelane Nature Reserve, Nyalazi State Forest and Sodwana State Forest);
* 1986:Ramsar sites: the St. Lucia System, the Tongaland turtle beaches & coral reefs (155,500 hectares (ha));
* 1988:Sea Fishery Act No.12 (refers to St. Lucia Marine Reserve and Maputaland Marine Reserve);
* 1989:Environment Conservation Act No.73;
* 1991:Ramsar sites: Lake Sibayi and the Lake Kosi System. Total area within the Park: 174,232 ha.
* 1992:Kwazulu Nature Conservation Act No.29 (refers to the Coastal Forest Reserve and Lake Sibayi Freshwater Reserve);
* 1997:KwaZulu-Natal Nature Conservation Management Act No.9.

The following smaller parks were connected together with land in between to create the Isimangaliso Wetlands Park

* False Bay Park
* Sodwana Bay National Park
* St. Lucia Game Reserve
* St. Lucia Park
* Cape Vidal State Forest
* Eastern Shores State Forest
* Mapelane Nature Reserve:
* Nyalazi State Forest
* Sodwana State Forest
* St. Lucia Marine Reserve
* Maputaland Marine Reserve
* Lake Sibayi Freshwater Reserve
* Coastal Forest Reserve

Land Tenure

Province of KwaZulu-Natal. Administered by the KwaZulu-Natal Nature Conservation Service.


Most of the St. Lucia Wetlands lie below sea level to 172 meters (m) in the Ntambama and ~170m Maphelane dunes.

Physical Features of the St. Lucia Wetlands

The St. lucia Wetlands Park comprises two geomorphic units: coastal plain and continental shelf. The coastal plain is the southernmost end of the Mozambique coastal plain. It encloses the lagoon-like lakes of two of the major estuarine systems of Africa, Lake St. Lucia and the Kosi Bay Lake System. These are separated from the sea by high forested barrier dunes of wind-blown sand. To its northwest of the St. Lucia Wetlands are the low Lubombo mountains in the adjacent Mkusi Game Reserve. The surficial geology within the site is a complex of terrestrial and marine sediments. The uppermost, the Cretacean St. Lucia formation, is very rich in marine fossils which are exposed on the west coasts of False Bay and Lake St. Lucia. Stratified Quaternary marine deposits related to marine transgression and regression have resulted in a series of prominent north-south oriented sandy dune ridges. The soils of the St. Lucia Wetlands area are largely infertile wind-redistributed grey and red sands over mudstone and clay pans. Riverbanks are alluvial; swamps have gley soils.

The coastal dunes along the eastern edge of the coastal plain between St. Lucia and Kosi Bay are unique for the height, variety and extent of their forest cover.They are the highest vegetated dunes in Africa. Along the intertidal and infratidal coast, the coastline has long sandy beaches between reefs of beach rock. The dunes east of the St. Lucia Wetlands were formed over the past 25,000 years, and consist of superimposed sedimentary strata of different ages. They range between 50 and 170 m high, the highest mapped being the Ntambama dune (172 m).

Two types of coastal lake systems have formed behind the coastal dunes: estuarine (Lake St. Lucia and Lake Kosi) and freshwater (Lake Sibayi, Lake Bhangazi North, Lake Bhangazi South, Lake Mgobezeleni). The St. Lucia estuarine system covers 36,826 ha. Lake St. Lucia, though varying with flood levels, is 13km x 35km long and is connected with the sea through a 15 km channel. The Moth of the St. Lucia Estuary is at the town of St Lucia. The depth of the water averages less than a meter and is predominantly saline. Lake St. Lucia has consistently become shallower during the past century. Only the uppermost section and the mouths of the feeder rivers are fresh water when inputs are high. Dry season evaporation is high and causes the inner reaches of the lake to become hypersaline. The biota adjusts to the fluctuations in salinity. Lake Sibayi is the largest freshwater lake in South Africa. Lake Kosi is a complex of four tidal lakes, estuary and swamps.

Lake St. Lucia is supplied by five rivers, most of their catchments lying outside the boundaries of the St. Lucia Wetlands Park. North to south these are the Mkuse, Mzizene, Hluhluwe, Nyalazi and Mpate. The Mfolozi and Msunduze rivers in the south enter the sea together close to the mouth of Lake St. Lucia. The largest rivers, the Mkuze and iMfolozi, have little of their alluvial lower reaches in the Wetlands Park. The rivers are seasonal, flowing during the wet summer months and reduced to isolated pools and seepage through bed sediments in winter. High sediment loads from the Mkusi river which drains the Lubombo mountains have filled its arm of the lake to form meandering distributaries, levees and pans with swamp and riverine forest.

The narrow, 2 to 4 km wide continental shelf of the coast of St. Lucia and the Wetland Park, is protected by reserves further north and, being warmed by the silt-free Agulhas current, has the southernmost coral reefs on the east coast of africa - almost the only reefs in South Africa. These parallel the coast for 155 km south from the Mozambique border at 8 to 35 m deep. Seven submarine canyons formed by palaeo-river outlets capture the silt brought by the Agulhas current and permit deep oceanic water and biota associated with it to reach near to the shore.

Climate of the St. Lucia Wetlands

The St. Lucia Wetlands lie between tropical and subtropical zones with warm, moist summers and mild dry winters. The Agulhas current warms the coast. The mean annual temperature exceeds 21C. There is an east-west climatic gradient with the coast being moist with high precipitation and the inland area moderately dry. Rainfall in the St. Lucia Wetlands Park is temporally and spatially highly variable. At the coast it varies from 1200 to 1300 millimeters (mm) per annum with 60% of the rain falling in summer (November to March). Evaporation rates are high and there is occasional large-scale flooding. The prevailing winds parallel the coast.

Vegetation of the St. Lucia Wetlands area

The S.t Lucia Wetlands Park, lying on the interface between tropical and sub-tropical biota with varied geomorphic and climatic conditions, supports an exceptional ecological and biological diversity, especially of wetlands. The distribution of the vegetation within the St. Lucia Wetlands area is largely determined by topography, moisture regimes and edaphic conditions. The system is almost pristine and still functions well. It is a rich mosaic of savanna grassland, thickets and woodlands; grasslands: low-lying, hygrophilous and floodplain; sedge swamps, freshwater reed and papyrus swamps; riverine woodlands, swamp forests and forested dunes; lake St. Lucia, with its uniquely variable salinity regime;, underwater macrophyte beds, saline reed swamps, salt marshes and mangroves; rocky and sandy shores, coral reefs and submarine canyons off the coast of Sodwana Bay.

The St. Lucia Wetlands Park is at the southernmost end of the Maputaland Centre of Endemism which extends from the Limpopo to the St. Lucia estuaries, east of the Lubombo mountains. It is one of two foci of high endemism in the Tongaland-Pondoland Regional Mosaic of White. The flora of St. Lucia is diverse, having 152 families, 734 genera and 2173 species. Within the St. Lucia Wetlands Park 98% (2173 species) of the Maputaland Centre species, approximately 9% of the flora of South Africa and 31% of the flora of KwaZulu-Natal, have been recorded in the Park. 32 species are listed in the South Africa Red Data Book for Plants and 8 species are contained in CITES appendices. 6 species are endemic to KwaZulu-Natal and 3 species are known only from the Greater St Lucia Wetland Park.

In the Maputaland Centre at least 168 species and subspecies are considered endemic or near-endemic. Of these, 44 (27%) are found in the, Wetlands Park. The following species are of phytogeographic interest: Helichrysopsis septentrionale (Maputaland endemic), four regional endemic genera (Brachychloa, Ephippiocarpa, Helichrysopsis and Inhambanella), Restio zuluensis, an endemic, Wolffiella welwitschii, a recently discovered endemic, the smallest flowering plant in southern Africa and Thalassodendron ciliatum, the only marine flowering plant found on the south African coastline. A new small grassland aloe with affinities to Aloe parviflora awaits description. It is endemic to the St. Lucia Wetlands Park and confined to the St. Lucia Eastern Shores area. Kalanchoe luciae lucia, described recently, is also endemic to the St. Lucia Wetlands Park. 136 species are at their southern limit and there are some notable disjunct distributions.

The wetlands of this unique estuarine system include freshwater Phragmites australis - Cyperus papyrus swamp which covers approximately 7,000 ha in the St. Lucia Wetlands Park, forming the largest protected wetland in South Africa; saline reed swamp on alluvium and islands in Lake St. Lucia, dominated by Phragmites mauritianus; sedge swamp, mainly in the Mfabeni swamp, characterized by Eleocharis limosa; salt marsh dominated by Sporobolus virginicus, Paspalum vaginatum with Juncus kraussii (ncema, commercially used by local people), and nutrient-rich submerged macrophyte beds on saline lake-bed soils.

Grassland types in the St. Lucia Wetlands Park include hydrophilous grassland on sandy riverine soils dominated by Acroceras macrum and Ischaemum arcuatum; high-lying grasslands on sand, a diverse fire-subclimax community, palm-veld with Hyphaene coriacea and Phoenix reclinata, another fire-subclimax community; Echinochloa floodplain grassland; and low-lying grasslands on clay.

Open woodlands in The St. Lucia Wetlands Park include mixed Acacia/broad-leaved woodland (Hyphaene coriacea and Ziziphus mucronata) and mixed Acacia woodland (Acacia nigrescens, A.gerrardii, A.tortilis, A.nilotica) which provide grazing and browsing for herbivores. Closed woodlands are found aound the St. Lucia Wetlands on low-lying drainage lines and older alluvial soils, especially along the Mkuze and Msunduzi rivers. They include riverine woodland (Ficus sycomorus, Acacia xanthophloea); mixed Acacia closed woodland (A.tortilis, A.nilotica); broad-leaved woodland (Combretum molle, Zizphus mucronata) and Terminalia sericea -Strychnos woodland and scrub. Thickets of mixed microphyllous and broad-leaved woodland subject to salt spray and wind occur on seaward-facing dune slopes between St. Lucia and Kosi Bay. (Eugenia, Brachylaena, Euclea, Diosporos and Mimusops species).

Forest types in the St. Lucia Wetlands Park include swamp forest, rare in South Africa, covering 3,095 ha (64% of the South African total) dominated by Ficus tricopoda, hygrophilous forest and Barringtonia forest. (B. racemosa). These occur on organic soils in hypo-saline drainage lines and marshes around freshwater lakes usually flooded with slow-flowing water after rains; mangroves, dominated by Bruguieria gymnorrhiza and Avicennia marina; the uniquely well developed coastal dune forest (Mimusops caffra, Grewia occidentalis, Psychotria capensis) which can reach 30 m high and has a dense shrub layer with many lianas; sand forest on relict dunes of highly-leached sands (Newtonia hildebrandtii, Cleistanthus schlechteri); and coastal lowland forest growing to 30 m high on highly leached sands (Strychnos decussata, S.gerrardii); also plantations of Pinus elliottii.

In the marine flora, 325 seaweeds have been recorded in the St. Lucia Wetlands Park, nearly 78% of the total seaweeds of the Kwazulu-Natal coastline. A new species, Cellophycus condominius, and a parasitic red alga, Calocopsis smithenae, have recently been found; also beds of kelp Ecklonia biruncinata, deep in submarine canyons.

Fauna of the St. Lucia Wetlands Park.

St Lucia's diversity of habitats, terrestrial, wetland, coastal and aquatic, supports a wide variety of animal species, some at the northern and many at the southern limit of their range. The fringing coral reefs are among the southernmost in the world. The lakes, swamps and shallows comprise the most productive estuarine prawn nursery and marine nursery on the South African coast.

There are 97 species of terrestrial mammals in the St. Lucia Wetlands Park including the internationally threatened black rhinoceros Diceros bicornis minor (20 in the Eastern Shores and 95 in the adjoining Mkusi Game Reserve), and 150 white rhinoceros Ceratotherium simum. The St Lucia Wetlands Park has the largest single populations in South Africa of hippopotamus Hippopotamus amphibius (about 700), red duiker Cephalophus natalensis natalensis and southern reedbuck Redunca arudinum, also the largest publicly protected populations in KwaZulu-Natal of thicktailed bushbaby Otolemur crassicaudatus, samango monkey Cercopithecus mitis, sidestriped jackal Canis autoists, banded mongoose Mungus mungo, brown hyaena, Hyaena brunnea, bushbuck Tragelaphus scriptus, Tonga red squirrel Paraxerus palliatus tongensis, cane rat Thryonomys swinderianus and fourtoed elephant shrew Petrodromus tetradactylus also occurs at St. Lucia.

The St. Lucia Wetlands Park is also the only protected area in KwaZulu-Natal known to have populations of two shrew species, the lesser red musk Crocidura hirta and greater dwarf shrew Suncus lixus; eight species of bat: Eygptian fruit Rousettus aegyptiacus, Geoffroy's horseshoe, Rhinolophus clivosus, shorteared trident, Cloeotis percivalli, butterfly Chalinolobus variegatus, Schlieffen's Nycticeius schleiffeni, lesser woolly Kerivoula lanosa, Ansorge's freetailed, Tadarida ansorgei, Angola freetailed T.condylura; also sidestriped jackal and two species of gerbil, bushveld Tatera leucogaster and highveld T.brantsii. The St. Lucia Wetlands Park also contains populations of five species endemic to South Africa: Hottentot golden mole Amblysomus hottentotus, hairy slitfaced bet Nycterus hispida, Natal red hare Pronolagus crassicaudatus, Tonga red squirrel and red duiker.

All 32 marine mammal species are both internationally threatened and listed in CITES appendices. Populations of bottlenose Tursiops truncatus, humpback Sousa plumbea and spinner Stenella longirostris dolphins live in the waters of the St. Lucia Wetlands Park. Winter migrations of humpback whale Megoptera novaangliae and southern right whale Eubalaena australis can be seen coming past St Lucia, Sodwana Bay and Kosi Bay.

Terrestrial invertebrates in the St. Lucia Wetlands Park are known to be numerous and diverse, supporting much of the conspicuous fauna. There are 196 species of butterflies (49% of Kwazulu-Natal species), 52 species of dragonflies (23% of South African species), 139 species of dung-beetles, 27 species of hole-nesting wasps, 64 species of biting flies (64% of South African tabanids), 58 species of chafer beetles (cetonids) and 41 species of land snails.

The herpetofauna of the St. Lucia Wetlands is rich: 50 amphibians and 109 reptiles: and one crocodile, 12 species of Chelonidae, 53 snakes and 42 lizards and chameleons, including Bouton's coral rag skink Cryptoblepharus boutoni africanus, found only here in South Africa. The Mozambique shovelsnout snake and three South African endemics: two burrowing skinks, the striped Stelotes vestigifer and Fitzsimon's S. Fitzsimonsi and Setaro's dwarf chameleon Bradypodion setaroi, are found only in the coastal dune system In the St. Lucia Wetlands Park. The St. Lucia Wetlands Park is the main South African breeding ground for loggerhead Caretta caretta, and leatherback turtles Dermochelys coriacea, with estimated populations of 2,500 and 750 females respectively. Non-breeding green turtles Chelonia mydas are also resident and hawksbill Eretmochelys imbricata and olive ridley Lepidochelys olivacea turtles visit the coast. The population of Nile crocodiles, Crocodylus niloticus, of approximately 1500 animals over 2 m long is one of the largest in Africa, The St. Lucia Wetlands Park contains populations of 5 amphibians endemic to KwaZulu-Natal, 2 being nationally threatened, and 6 internationally and 20 nationally threatened reptile species; 16 listed in CITES appendices.

Marine and estuarine invertebrates are far the most important group of aquatic invertebrates. The coral-inhabited reefs of the St. Lucia Wetlands Park include 129 species and are particularly important for their conservation and scientific value. Within the St. Lucia Wetlands Park, 43 scleractinian (hard coral) and 10 alcyonacean (soft coral) genera, 14 sponges, 4 tunicates, 812 species of marine and estuarine mollusks (72% of Kwazulu-Natal coastal species), including the giant clams Tricdaca maxima and T.squamosa, and 198 species of Crustacea have been recorded.

The ichthyofauna of the St. Lucia Wetlands Park includes nearly 85% of the reef fish species endemic to the west Indian Ocean region (399 species) including several commercially important endemics such as the slinger Charysoblephous puniceus. 991 species have been recorded. including summer aggregations of ragged-toothed shark Tiburon odontaspis and whale shark Rhynchodon typus. The 212 estuarine species occur in the St. Lucia and Kosi estuaries, include the large Zambezi shark Carcharhinus leucas. The fresh water fish fauna comprises 55 species including 6 internationally threatened and 16 nationally threatened species. The St. Lucia Wetland Park encloses the largest estuarine prawn nursery area in South Africa.

The very diverse avifauna numbers 521 species in the St. Lucia area, which is 60% of the South African total, approximately 200 of which are water birds for which the Wetlands Park is an important refuge. The 339 breeding species include 23 of the 97 migrant species. There are four species endemic to South Africa and 47 endemic or nearly endemic to the region. The St. Lucia Wetlands Park is an important breeding area for the pinkbacked pelican Pelecanus rufescens, white pelican P. onocrotalus, African fish-eagle Haliaeetus vocifer, Caspian tern Hydroprogne caspia, goliath heron Ardea goliath, rufous-bellied heron Butorides rufiventris, yellowbilled stork Mycteria ibis, pygmy goose Nettapus auritus, collared pratincole Glareola pratincola and greyrumped swallow Pseudohirondo griseopyga. The St. Lucia Wetlands Park is also habitat for major South African populations of greater and lesser flamingo Phoenicoepterus ruber, and P.minor, osprey Pandion haliaetus, Neergaard's sunbird Nectarinia bifasciata, Woodward's batis Batis fratrum, Natal nightjar Caprimulgus natalensis, blackrumped button-quail Turnix hottentotta, black coucal Centropus bengalensis and shorttailed pipit Anthus brachyurus. 62 species are listed in the South African Red Data Book and 73 species are listed in CITES appendices.

Cultural Heritage

The first evidence of human occupation of the area now covered by the St. Lucia Wetlands Park dates from the Early Stone Age. Three occupation sites of the Acheulian culture (between 500,000 and a million years B.P.) have been found around St. Lucia and northward to Sodwana Bay and Kosi Bay.. People of Middle and Late Stone Age cultures may have inhabited the Maputaland area probably for as long as 110,000 years. The Maputaland plain which includes the area of the St. Lucia Wetlands Park was widely settled by agriculturists in the early and late Iron Ages (250-1840 AD). Shell middens on the coast testify to extensive use of black mussels (Perna perna) for food. These early agriculturists probably occupied coastal sites at St. Lucia, Cape Vidal and Kosi Bay as early as 1600 years ago, cutting fields in and living in the forest.

Due to the prevalence of malaria and the cattle disease trypanosomiasis, carried by the tsetse fly Glossina, extensive areas of what is now the St. Lucia Wetlands Park were uninhabited. Small scattered settlements of the Sokhulu people were present between Sodwana and the St. Lucia estuary, evidenced by several traditional burial sites. These people smelted bog iron, felling trees to produce charcoal for their smelters. The effects of their agriculture and iron-smelting may have modified habitats by increasing sub-climax grassland in the place of forest, creating favorable habitat for grazing species.

The name St. Lucia was first applied by Portugese navigators in 1576. Little is known about the nature of human settlements around St. Lucia until the early nineteenth century. Maputaland was then occupied from the north by two culturally distinct groups: Nguni-speaking people in the south and Tembe-Thonga people in the north. Both subsequently came under Zulu domination. A tribal wildlife sanctuary was established in the mid 19th century within the present adjacent Mkusi Game Reserve area. Concern about the destruction of wildlife after annexation in 1884 led to demarcation of game sanctuaries in 1895 and later. These are the oldest extant game reserves in Africa and are now part of the St. Lucia Wetands Park. There was a little settlement along the coast and in 1956 the State Department of Forestry planted 5,000 ha in the Eastern Shores State Forest, mainly of Pinus elliottii and species of eucalyptus, but these were phased out in 1991 because of their low economic value.

Local Human Population

Except in the Coastal Forest Reserve the northern part of the St. Lucia Wetlands Park, the area is not inhabited. Within this, there are six small private townships (Enkovukeni, Kwa Dapha, Mqobella, Mbila, Shazibe, and Hlabezimhlophe) with a combined total population of approximately 200 families. There are also the private villages of Makakatana and St. Lucia Estuary which are enclaves within the St. Lucia Wetlands Park. Nearly 500 local people enter the St. Lucia Wetlands Park for the limited use of natural products and there is a two-week grass and reed gathering period in June by some 1,500 people a day. A progressive neighbor-relations policy fosters good relations with communities who live near the St. Lucia Wetlands Park. This ensures that communities derive direct benefits from the protected area such as free access and business and employment opportunities.

Visitors and Visitor Facilities within the St. Lucia Wetlands

Approximately one million visitors enter the St. Lucia Wetlands Park each year from nine entrance points. The St. Lucia Wetlands Park can accommodate 5,736 persons per night in chalets and camping facilities. 2000 beds are also provided privately in St. Lucia Estuary village and on privately owned game-ranches next to the Wetlands Park. Visitor access is controlled and managed by the KwaZulu-Natal Nature Conservation Service or through concessions. Recreational access is via wilderness trails, guided walks, vehicle and boat tours and a network of roads for viewing game. Access to and diving on the coral reefs is controlled through diving concessionaires. A crocodile breeding center at St. Lucia is the interpretive center for the region.

Non-consumptive use of the area is encouraged. Activities include game-viewing, bird-watching, turtle viewing, camping, caravanning, accommodation in chalets and bush-camps, day-walks and overnight hiking, also religious activities (mass baptism). To control tourism there are three ecotourism use-zones: a zone of low intensity use in the wilderness core of the St. Lucia Wetlands Park where access is by foot except for staff; a moderate use zone where visitors can view wildlife from vehicles and from scattered camps and hides; and high intensity use zones where, at seven development nodes there are roads, interpretative and educational displays, guided walks, accommodation and other facilities.

Scientific Research and Facilities

There have been five major successful conservation programs in the St. Lucia Wetlands Park: of the black rhinoceros, the hippopotamus, sea turtle beaches, crocodile breeding and the re-establishment of locally extinct species. There are also programs on the control of alien species, the management of ungulate populations, rehabilitation of clear-felled forest in the Eastern Shores and controlled fire management. All these programs benefit from research and monitoring. The research and monitoring records of the environment, biota, and St. Lucia Wetlands Park management are extensive. Records are updated annually or more often as needed. They are in the form of several computerized databases, reports and publications and a geographical information system. Main facilities are located at St. Lucia, the Pietermaritzburg head office, the Oceanographic Research Institute and elsewhere.

Conservation Value of the St. Lucia Wetlands

The natural systems protected within the Greater St. Lucia Wetlands Park are unique for their biophysical diversity and for the hydrological and ecological processes of Lake St. Lucia. There are few comparable pristine protected coastlines within the tropics. And the Wetlands Park's concentrations on a tropical-subtropical interface of a range of grassland, swamp, estuarine lake, coastal dune forest and marine environments, scenically beautiful and substantially unmodified by people, form one of the most outstanding natural sites in Africa. The St. Lucia Wetlands Park is not under serious threat and is large and diverse enough to survive as a natural area. Four sites have been designated under the Ramsar Convention as wetlands of international importance: the St. Lucia System, the turtle beaches/coral reefs of Tongaland adjacent to the St. Lucia Wetlands Park to the south (1986), Lake Sibayi and the Lake Kosi System (1991). These total 213,732 ha of which 174,232 ha are within the Wetlands Park and comprise 73% of its area.

The coasts of the St. Lucia Wetlands Park are spectacular and are known for superlative natural spectacles: the night-time nesting and later hatching of leatherback and loggerhead turtles, the migrations of whales, dolphins and whale sharks offshore; aggregations of feeding flamingos of up to 50,000 birds, and impressive displays of pelicans, waders and other waterfowl, the basking and nesting sites of the Nile crocodile and large concentrations of ungulates. The leatherback and loggerhead turtle nesting beaches, the black rhinoceros thickets and woodlands, the species-rich dry sand forest and bushland and the very diverse mosaic of wetlands are all of global importance. The St. Lucia Wetlands Park also has sites of significance for understanding the evolutionary history of the earth following the break-up of Gondwanaland. These are the upper Cretaceous sedimentary rocks on the western shore of Lake St. Lucia and False Bay, rich in well-preserved fossils of marine origin, including giant ammonites and inoceramids and other bivalves. More than a hundred different species of fossils have been recorded in the St. Lucia area/

The St. Lucia Wetlands Park is located in a different biogeographic region from other World Heritage sites in southern Africa (Lake Malawi National Park in Malawi, Mana Pools and Victoria Falls National Parks in Zimbabwe and Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park in Zambia) and it represents a quite different range of biodiversity. Lake St. Lucia with its fluctuating salinity and adapted biota also contrasts with other coastal lagoons in Africa, the salinity rising to seawater levels in times of drought where other coastal lagoons have less varied ranges of salinity.

Conservation Management of the St. Lucia Wetlands

Management of the St. Lucia Wetlands Park at the provincial level is by the Board of the KwaZulu-Natal Nature Conservation Service (KNNCS) working with the provincial administration in accordance with national and provincial legislation. There is potential for future trans-frontier development with Mozambique and the establishment of buffer Biosphere Reserves to the west. Existing land uses in the region of the St. Lucia Wetlands Park consist of formal and informal agriculture and forestry, nature conservation, mining and ecotourism which is a significant industry. A strategy to provide a development framework and policy guidelines for the development of the region in which the Wetlands Park is sited is being compiled by the KwaZulu-Natal provincial authorities. The Kwazulu-Natal provincial government, with the governments of Mozambique and Swaziland, is also undertaking a multi-stakeholder planning initiative for the Richard Bay-Maputo corridor area (the Lubombo Spatial Development Initiative) to protect catchments and promote further agriculture and tourism in the area around the wetland park. There are threats from infestation by alien plants and to the hydrology of the wetlands systems around St. Lucia. To counter them three programs have been started: the removal of exotic tree plantations, the removal of alien plant infestations from important water-producing catchment areas (part of a nationally funded program), and the re-establishment of the natural hydrological regime by the allocation of water for Lake St. Lucia.

An integrated planning and development process by the state Nature Conservation Service (KNNCS) involving various sectors and stakeholders is undertaken to ensure that land-use planning decisions are complementary and environmentally sustainable. KNNCS with funding from World Wildlife Fund (WWF) South Africa, has set up a comprehensive community conservation program for the whole of the Greater St. Lucia Wetlands Park to develop a sustainable relationship within the protected area aroung St. Lucia and to integrate conservation with sustainable development programs. The following management plans have been compiled by KNNCS: Master Plan for the Greater St. Lucia Wetland Park, St. Lucia Marine Reserve Management Plan and Mkuzi Game Reserve Management Plan. Management plans for seven other component areas are also in preparation: for False Bay, Western Shores, Lake and islands, Eastern Shores, Tewate Wilderness Area, Sodwana Bay and the Maputaland Marine Reserve.

Management Constraints in the St. Lucia Wetlands area

The most serious threat in the St. Lucia Wetlands Park is from alien invasive plants, although the area currently affected is limited. Principal threats are caused by Chromolaena odorata, Psidium guajava, Pereckia acuelata and Melia azedarach. Under the management programs to eliminate infestations from the Wetlands Park, the Plant Protection Research Institute has identified and established a range of biological control agents. Two potential threats could also affect the integrity of the ecology of the St. Lucia Wetlands Park: land-use changes related to the closure of the St. Lucia estuary mouth by sedimentation, and the reduction in the supply of critical resources. This threat comes from the transformation of the upper portion of the Mfolozi Swamps by agriculture. The spread of commercial gillnetting in the lake is no longer controlled and recently poachers have also been reported to be overexploiting the resources of False Bay. More than twenty species, including abalone, crayfish and prawns are at risk, especially in the area south of St. Lucia towards Cape St. Lucia.

A proposal to dredge-mine heavy mineral ores in the dune forest north of St. Lucia was opposed by conservationists, led to an environmental impact assessment on the St. Lucia Wetlands Park area, and then to a decision ratified by the Cabinet in March 1996 to ban industrial development in the area. It also led to nomination of the St. Lucia Wetlands Park as a World Heritage site. Another potential threat is from offshore leakage from oil tankers which may pollute the marine and estuarine environments although arrangements exist along the coastline for managing oil spills. This became a reality when the Jolly Rubino ran aground at Cape St. Lucia in 2002. Fortunately no oil reached the St. Lucia Estuary or the St. Lucia Beach. Finally there have been several land claims by impoverished communities. These areas include the Eastern Shores State Forest, Cape Vidal State Forest and Sodwana State Forest. No solution has yet been reached but the matter is before the Land Claims Court.

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