This IBA comprises the Alexandria Dunefield, the adjacent Alexandria Forest and patches of coastal grassland inland of the dunefield. It extends for c. 60 km from the Sundays River mouth to Cannon Rocks and is about 10 km wide. Considered by some to be the best example of a mobile dune system in the world, the Alexandria Dunefield consists of open sand and several series of dune slacks and inter-dune hollows. A distinctive coastal dune vegetation made up of forbs grows on the dune slacks, while on stable dunes many forest-precursor tree species form thicket, which is also known as Valley Bushveld.
The dense, low-altitude (100–357 m a.s.l.) Alexandria Forest, situated on the northern shore of Algoa Bay, lies inland of Cape Padrone. The town of Alexandria is located c. 7 km north of the main forest area. Although the region as a whole receives a mean rainfall of 900 mm p.a., the amount is considerably higher where the forest backs onto the eastern extreme of the dunefield. Fragments of forest are isolated from the main block by farmland, primarily dairy. On the coast, holiday resorts lie adjacent to the forest's fringes. Although the vegetation is designated as Tongaland–Pondoland Lowland Forest, it has Southern Afro-temperate Forest affinities. In comparison to the Amatole Forests, it is characterised by a shorter canopy (mean of 14.5 m), which is open and has numerous gaps, accounting for the tangled nature of the undergrowth and the high incidence of lianas and vines. Open forest glades, with an abundance of grasses, are also present in the area. Plantations of pines Pinus species and blue gums Eucalyptus species are being removed to enable the natural vegetation to recover.
A total of 357 bird species has been recorded so far in this IBA during SABAP2. There have been no major changes to the IBA trigger species list, due to a fairly stable environment. The dry, unvegetated dunes and coastal slacks of the Woody Cape Section hold c. 17% of South Africa's breeding Damara Tern Sterna balaenarum population, the only known Damara Terns in the Eastern Cape. They also hold 2% of the global breeding population of African Black Oystercatcher Haematopus moquini, which was at the eastern limit of its breeding range here but has subsequently expanded further north-east along the coast. Small numbers of African Penguin Spheniscus demersus occasionally roost along this coastline.
Cape Bulbul Pycnonotus capensis and Grey Tit Parus afer occur in the Valley Bushveld around the dunefield. The open beaches and dunes hold large numbers of waders in summer, which are hunted by Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus and Lanner Falcon F. biarmicus. Secretarybird Sagittarius serpentarius, Black Harrier Circus maurus, African Grass Owl Tyto capensis, Denham's Bustard Neotis denhami and Black-winged Lapwing Vanellus melanopterus occur at very low densities in the partially vegetated dune slacks and the short, fringing grassland. Pallid Harrier Circus macrourus has been recorded here as a vagrant.
The forest holds Crowned Eagle Stephanoaetus coronatus, Forest Buzzard Buteo trizonatus, Knysna Turaco Tauraco corythaix, Olive Bush-Shrike Chlorophoneus olivaceus, Narina Trogon Apaloderma narina, Red-fronted Tinkerbird Pogoniulis pusillus, Knysna Warbler Bradypterus sylvaticus, Barratt's Warbler B. barratti, Scaly-throated Honeyguide Indicator variegatus, Black-bellied Starling Notopholia corrusca, Knysna Woodpecker Campethera notata, Chorister Robin-Chat Cossypha dichroa, Brown Scrub Robin Erythropygia signata, Forest Canary Crithagra scotops and Grey Sunbird Cyanomitra veroxii.
Globally threatened species are Damara Tern, African Black Oystercatcher, Cape Cormorant Phalacrocorax capensis, Martial Eagle Polemaetus bellicosus, Crowned Eagle, Black Harrier, Secretarybird, Denham's Bustard, Knysna Warbler and Knysna Woodpecker. Regionally threatened species are African Marsh Harrier Circus ranivorus, Lanner Falcon and African Grass Owl. Restricted-range and biome-restricted species that are locally common in the IBA include Cape Bulbul, Olive Bush-Shrike, Knysna Turaco, Barratt's Warbler, Knysna Woodpecker, Brown Scrub Robin, Black-bellied Starling, Forest Canary and Grey Sunbird. Uncommon species in this category include Forest Buzzard, White-starred Robin Pogonocichla stellata, Chorister Robin-Chat, Knysna Warbler, Yellow-throated Woodland Warbler Phylloscopus ruficapilla, Grey Cuckooshrike Coracina caesia and Swee Waxbill Coccopygia melanotis.
The Alexandria cycad Encephalartos arenarius has a global range restricted to sandy habitats of the coastal dune forest and bush in the Alexandria District, where it is found in the IBA. The global ranges of the striped sandveld lizard Nucras taeniolata, Algoa dwarf burrowing skink Scelotes anguinus and Tasman's girdled lizard Cordylus tropidosternum are virtually restricted to the Algoa Bay region of the Eastern Cape and a large proportion of their populations occur in the IBA. There is suitable habitat in the IBA for Albany adder Bitis albanica, an Algoa Bay endemic, but it is yet to be recorded here. The coastal thicket and dunes support southern dwarf chameleon Bradypodion ventrale, angulate tortoise Chersina angulata, black thread snake Leptotyphlops nigricans and Cape legless skink Acontias meleagris.
The endemic forest shrew Myosorex varius, least dwarf shrew Suncus infinitesimus, short-legged seps Tetradactylus seps, bronze caco Cacosternum nanum, bushveld rain frog Breviceps adspersus, Cape sand frog Tomopterna delalandii, leopard toad Bufo pardalis and yellow-striped reed frog Hyperolius semidiscus occur in Alexandria Forest and the surrounding coastal sandy habitats in the IBA. Threatened mammals include tree hyrax Dendrohyrax arboreus, blue duiker Philantomba monticola, honey badger Mellivora capensis and samango monkey Cercopithecus mitis.
Threats to the IBA stem from the nearby agricultural activities and the Coega Industrial Development Zone, which could lead to increased pollution and disturbance along the coastal section of the IBA. SANParks is well aware of all threats to the IBA and its biodiversity and the necessary steps are being taken to mitigate or eliminate them.
Although the citrus farms in the upper reaches of the Sundays River valley lie outside the IBA, run-off of fertilisers and pesticides from them travels downstream and can affect birds in the IBA. Traces of unregistered herbicides have been found in African Penguin egg shells on the Algoa Bay islands for example, illustrating the potential for these agro-chemicals to move from one ecosystem to another and accumulate there. The abstraction of water for the nearby agricultural areas can lead to changes in the dynamics of the dunefield ecosystem, which gets its water from underground sources. An escalation in the abstraction of fresh water could lead to increasing salinity in the dunefields, making the water unsuitable for birds and other biodiversity. Severe hot and cold weather events associated with climate change may affect certain IBA trigger bird species in the future, particularly Damara Tern and other dune-nesting species.
Recreational activities in the IBA are low-impact and very limited, being mostly restricted to hiking. They are well managed by SANParks to avoid any effects on biodiversity. There is, however, continuous pressure for recreational facilities to be developed in the coastal environment, and sandy coasts are particularly vulnerable. The dune-breeding Damara Tern and African Black Oystercatcher are especially sensitive to human activity in their breeding areas. Unfortunately, the peak breeding season of these coastal birds coincides with the peak utilisation of the dunefield by beach-goers in summer. The IBA is safeguarded to a large extent by its formal protection status and the ban on off-road driving, although illegal off-road driving and angling do occasionally take place at its boundaries, particularly at the Sundays River. Campaigns to raise awareness about the impact of coastal-zone users on the environment could be promoted along the border of the national park.
The forest was exploited until the area was declared a nature reserve in 1987. Subsequently incorporated into the Addo Elephant National Park as the Woody Cape Section, it now enjoys the highest level of formal protection under South African environmental legislation. SANParks carries out all the necessary conservation action as determined by the park's management plan, including the maintenance of infrastructure, trails and roads, the control of invasive alien species, beach clean-ups, law enforcement and environmental monitoring. Neighbouring areas that could be considered for future incorporation into the IBA are the Ngiyo floodplain, which lies between Kariega Private Game Reserve and Sibuya and Emlanjeni game reserves, and the Kaba wetland.
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