Lucia Wetlands - South Africa
Isimangaliso Wetlands Park (Greater St. Lucia
Lucia Wetlands - Introduction
The Greater St.
Park (now the Isimangaliso
Wetlands Park) (32°06’25’’E to 32°56’46’’E. and
26°51’26’’S to 28°29’07’’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.
Location of the
St. Lucia Wetlands
The St. Lucia
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 32°06’25’’E to
32°56’46’’E. and 26°51’26’’S to 28°29’07’’S.
Date and History of
The St. Lucia
Park has legal protection under the following acts:
* 1935:Sea-Shore Act No.21; and
the Water Act No.54 of
* 1974:Natal Nature Conservation Ordinance No.15, (refers to National
Park, St. Lucia Game Reserve and St. Lucia Park, False Bay Park,
* 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
Province of KwaZulu-Natal.
Administered by the
KwaZulu-Natal Nature Conservation Service.
Most of the St.
lie below sea level to 172 meters (m) in the Ntambama and ~170m
Physical Features of the St.
The St. lucia
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
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
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.
The St. Lucia
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 21°C. 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
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
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.
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.
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
Forest types in the St.
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.
of the St. Lucia
St Lucia's diversity of habitats,
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
There have been five major
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.
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.
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
The St. Lucia
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.
the St. Lucia Wetlands
Management of the St.
Park at the provincial level is by the Board of the
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
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