South Africa celebrates International Day of Biodiversity with two new Ramsar sites


South Africa celebrates International Day of Biodiversity with two new Ramsar sites

In celebrations to mark the International Day of Biodiversity, 22 May 2007, the Republic of South Africa announced the Ramsar listing of two new Wetlands of International Importance, the sub-Antarctic Prince Edward Islands and the Makuleke Wetlands in the far northeast of the country, part of the Kruger National Park on the border with Zimbabwe and Mozambique. South Africa has now designated a total of 19 Ramsar sites, covering a surface area of 543,978 hectares.

South Africa designates a Ramsar site in the sub-Antarctic Indian Ocean

The Prince Edward Islands, one of the Republic of South Africa's two new Wetlands of International Importance, are designated as of 22 May 2007 and cover an area of 37,500 hectares. The site includes the larger Marion Island (46°54'S 037°45'E) and the smaller Prince Edward Island (46°38'S 037°57'E), which are classified as sub-Antarctic and are of volcanic origin. They are protected natural habitats and do not support any consumptive or exploitative activities, and the site meets Ramsar Criteria 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6. The three main terrestrial habitats are unvegetated uplands, well-drained vegetated slopes, and poorly-drained vegetated coastal plains. Significant wetland formations include non-forested peat lands (swamps and bogs), intermittent streams, waterfalls, freshwater ponds, crater lakes, rocky marine shores, kelp beds, sea cliffs and sand shores.

The islands host numerous breeding seabirds like the vulnerable Wandering Albatrosses (Diomedea exulans) and White-chinned Petrel (Procellaria aequinoctialis) and the endangered Sooty Albatross (Phoebetria fusca) and Yellow-nosed Albatross (Thalassarche carteri). Three penguin species breed and moult on the rocky areas around the coastline; the King Penguin (Aptenodytes patagonicus), Macaroni Penguin (Eudyptes chrysolophus) and Eastern Rockhopper Penguin (E. c. filholi). Commercial tourism and fishing within territorial waters are prohibited.

The principal activities on these islands since their annexation by South Africa in 1947 and 1948 include meteorological observations, scientific research, logistic support for research and conservation and management activities. More applied research programmes address the roles of introduced species, including house mice, invertebrates and plants, and on aspects relating to human disturbance and pollution. Geophysical studies have included volcanology, geology and geomorphology. Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing for Patagonian Toothfish in the surrounding waters caused reduction in fish stock and high levels of incidental mortality of seabirds. This has declined in recent years, however.

The islands fall under the jurisdiction of the Cape Town Magistrate's Court, and South African law as applied in the Western Cape applies on them.

It's worth noting that this is the first time that a Ramsar site has been designated in the sub-Antarctic region where many of the wetlands are untouched.

The Secretariat would like to urge all the Contracting Parties that have territories in the Southern Ocean around Antarctica north of the Antarctic Circle (66°33'38") to follow the example of the Government of South Africa and proceed with the designation of their wetlands that meet the Ramsar Criteria.

The Makuleke Wetlands Ramsar site (7,757 hectares, 22°23'S 031°11'E), most of which lies within the Kruger National Park in Limpopo Province, is bordered by Zimbabwe and Mozambique to the north and east and is an excellent example of a floodplain vlei type. Prominent features include riverine forests, riparian floodplain forests, floodplain grasslands, river channels and flood pans. Flood pans are depressions in the floodplains which are intermittently filled from floods and rains - they are of great importance in this ecosystem as they hold water right into the dry season, thus acting as a refuge point for wildlife and waterbirds during both winter and summer months, and there are 31 of them found on these floodplains, where herds of Hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibious) are found. The floodplains attenuate floods, resulting in reduced flood damage in downstream areas of Mozambique, are important for groundwater recharge, and maintain riparian and floodplain vegetation. In the Makuleke Region of the National Park there is an attempt to harmonize biodiversity protection with the interests of rural dwellers through cooperation between the Community Property Association of Makuleke community, South African National Parks Board, and many government departments. The proclamation of the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park (GLTP) in 2002 through an international treaty between South Africa, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe aims at jointly managing the bordering National Parks and conservation areas, and the Ramsar site will benefit from that protection status.

-- Abou Bamba and Evelyn Parh

Photos of Makuleke Wetlands

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Number of » Contracting Parties: 168 Sites designated for the
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2,186 Total surface area of designated sites (hectares): 208,674,247

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