Year inscribed: 1999
Location: KwaZulu-Natal, 27º 50′ 20″ S 32º 33′ E
Type: Natural heritage
On 1 November 2007, South Africa’s first World Heritage Site, the Greater St Lucia Wetland Park, was given a new name that better reflects its unique African identity: the iSimangaliso Wetland Park.
The iSimangaliso Wetland Park has both one of the largest estuary systems in Africa and the continent’s southernmost coral reefs. In granting it World Heritage status in 1999, the World Heritage Committee noted the park’s “exceptional biodiversity, including some 521 bird species”.
Situated on the central Zululand coast of KwaZulu-Natal, the park is made up of 13 adjoining protected areas with a total size of 234 566 hectares. Its remarkable biodiversity is a result of the park’s location between subtropical and tropical Africa, as well as its coastal setting.
Shaped by the actions of river, sea and wind, iSimangaliso’s landscape offers critical habitats to a wide range of Africa’s marine, wetland and savannah species. Its varied landforms include wide submarine canyons, sandy beaches, forested dune cordon and a mosaic of wetlands, grasslands, forests, lakes and savannah.
The iSimangaliso Wetland Park has its origins in the St Lucia Game Reserve, declared in 1895 and made up of the large lake and its islands. St Lucia Park was proclaimed in 1939, containing land around the estuary and a strip of about one kilometre around most of the lake shore. In 1971 St Lucia Lake and the turtle beaches and coral reefs of the Maputaland coast were listed by the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance.
“The mosaic of landforms and habitat types creates breathtaking scenic vistas,” the committee notes in its assessment of the park.
“Features include wide submarine canyons, sandy beaches, forested dune cordon and a mosaic of wetlands, grasslands, forests, lakes and savannah. The variety of morphology as well as major flood and storm events contribute to ongoing evolutionary processes in the area.
“Natural phenomena include large numbers of nesting turtles on the beaches; the migration of whales, dolphins and whale-sharks offshore; and huge numbers of waterfowl including large breeding colonies of pelicans, storks, herons and terns.”