The West Coast National Park adjoins the town of Langebaan c. 100 km north of Cape Town and encompasses Langebaan Lagoon, a wetland of international importance and a designated Ramsar site; the coastal zone, which includes Postberg Nature Reserve and much of 16 Mile Beach; and the islands in Saldanha Bay, namely Jutten (43 ha), Malgas (18 ha), Marcus (17 ha) Vondeling (21 ha) and Schaapen (29 ha). Meeuw Island (7 ha) still belongs to the SANDF but is included in the IBA. The lagoon, an arm of Saldanha Bay, is approximately 15 km long, 3 km wide and up to 6 m deep, and is sheltered from wave action. The spring tide range extends from 1.7 m at the mouth to 1.4 m at the lagoon's southern end. Several hydrological conditions change along the length of the lagoon, creating a gradient of habitats. Although it receives no significant freshwater input above ground, the lagoon is fed by a number of underground aquifers, particularly the Elandsfontein aquifer, and consequently qualifies as an estuary.
The rich mud of the salt marshes supports dense populations of molluscs and crustaceans. Some 71 species of marine algae have been recorded in the lagoon and its verges are lush with salt-marsh succulents and dense stands of bulrushes, reeds and freshwater vegetation. The lagoon serves as a nursery ground for juvenile fish, and gobies, pipefish, skates, rays and small sharks are common. Extensive areas of mudflats, sand flats and salt-marsh succulents (concentrated in the south) are exposed at low tide. The localised freshwater input at the lagoon's southern section permits the growth of a diversity of palustrine wetland vegetation.
The islands within the IBA's borders are diverse. Jutten, a large, triangular island, lies about 800 m from Jut Point at the southern entrance to Saldanha Bay and rises to some 60 m a.s.l. Sparse vegetation grows over numerous boulders strewn across its flat perimeter and up the sides of two small hills. There are buildings on the island and stone and concrete walls intricately subdivide it. Malgas Island, which is circular and flat, lies across from Jutten at the northern entrance to Saldanha Bay. Large boulders are scattered across this barren island. Marcus Island rises to just over 7 m a.s.l. and lies deep in Saldanha Bay, about 1.2 km south of Hoedjies Point. Since 1976 it has been connected to the mainland by a 2-km causeway, which was built as part of the harbour development for the export of iron ore and the import of crude oil. Sparse vegetation is interspersed between scattered boulders. Meeuw and Schaapen islands, which lie about 800 m from one another, are near the shore of Donkergat Bay and Langebaan Town respectively. Both islands are located in the southern section of Saldanha Bay, almost in the mouth of Langebaan Lagoon, and are sparsely covered by vegetation.
Well-developed strandveld, comprising low bushes and succulents, dominates the terrestrial vegetation around the lagoon. Many flowering annuals put on a show in spring and there are also elements of coastal sclerophyllous fynbos, especially in the east. Some old farmlands provide more open habitat. The open coast on the park's western border is exposed to heavy wave action and is predominantly sandy in the south and rocky in the north.
More than 250 bird species have been recorded in the West Coast National Park. Langebaan Lagoon is the most important wetland for waders in South Africa, regularly accounting for c. 10% of South Africa's coastal wader numbers. It consistently supports more than 20 000 non-passerine waterbirds in summer, of which 16 500 are waders and 93% are Palearctic migrants. In some years wader numbers can increase from 4 000 in winter to 20 000 in summer. Grey Plover Pluvialis squatarola, Curlew Sandpiper Calidris ferruginea, Sanderling C. alba, Red Knot C. canutus and Ruddy Turnstone Arenaria interpres are the major components of the summer wader assemblage. Important resident waders include Chestnut-banded Plover Charadrius pallidus, White-fronted Plover C. marginatus and Kittlitz's Plover C. pecuarius.
In winter, the lagoon regularly holds more than 6 500 birds, of which Greater Flamingo Phoenicopterus roseus and Lesser Flamingo Phoeniconaias minor make up 2 000, and 4 000 are waders. The terrestrial strandveld habitat is important for African Marsh Harrier Circus ranivorus, Black Harrier C. maurus, Southern Black Korhaan Afrotis afra, Red-chested Flufftail Sarothrura rufa and African Rail Rallus caerulescens, and possibly also for the secretive Hottentot Buttonquail Turnix hottentottus.
The islands in Saldanha Bay are home to nearly 80 000 coastal seabirds. Malgas Island is one of only six localities in the world that supports breeding Cape Gannet Morus capensis and is known to have been used by the species since at least 1648. The colony on the island comprises 25% of the global Cape Gannet population. Together, the islands hold important numbers of African Penguin Spheniscus demersus, although there is considerable cause for concern because the populations at Malgas, Marcus and Jutten islands have declined by more than 50% – a decline that is mirrored across the species' west coast breeding sites. The largest known Kelp Gull Larus dominicanus colony in southern Africa is found on Schaapen Island. Nearly 10% of South Africa's Hartlaub's Gull Chroicocephalus hartlaubii population and 5% of the global Crowned Cormorant Phalacrocorax coronatus population are present in this IBA. Important populations of Bank Cormorant P. neglectus, Cape Cormorant P. capensis and Swift Tern Thalasseus bergii also breed at the various islands.
The lagoon has supported large numbers of Caspian Tern Sterna caspia in the past, but they may have moved to the Lower Berg River wetlands (SA104). Twelve per cent of the world's African Black Oystercatcher Haematopus moquini population is found scattered throughout the IBA, mostly on the islands. The coastal strandveld supports several restricted-range and biome-restricted assemblage species, including the recently described Cape Long-billed Lark Certhilauda curvirostris, Karoo Lark Calendulauda albescens, Cape Bulbul Pycnonotus capensis, Cape Spurfowl Pternistis capensis and Sickle-winged Chat Cercomela sinuata.
Globally threatened species are African Penguin (614 breeding pairs; Crawford et al. 2012), Cape Gannet (30 000 breeding pairs; Crawford et al. 2012), Cape Cormorant (3 343 breeding pairs; Crawford et al. 2012), Bank Cormorant (65 breeding pairs; Crawford et al. 2012), Crowned Cormorant (maximum 308 individuals; CWAC data), African Black Oystercatcher, Lesser Flamingo (maximum 687 individuals; CWAC data), Chestnut-banded Plover, Secretarybird Sagittarius serpentarius, Black Harrier and Southern Black Korhaan. Regionally threatened species are Caspian Tern, Greater Flamingo, Great White Pelican Pelecanus onocrotalus, Verreauxs' Eagle Aquila verreauxii, African Marsh Harrier and Lanner Falcon Falco biarmicus.
Restricted-range and biome-restricted species include Cape Spurfowl and Cape Bulbul, which are common; Karoo Lark, which is locally common; and Cape Long-billed Lark and Layard's Tit-Babbler Sylvia layardi, which are uncommon.
Species that meet the 1% or more congregatory population threshold are Cape Gannet (30 000 breeding pairs; CWAC data), Cape Cormorant (3 343 breeding pairs; CWAC data), Crowned Cormorant (maximum 308 individuals; CWAC data), Bank Cormorant (65 breeding pairs; CWAC data), Greater Flamingo (maximum 1 312 individuals; CWAC data), Lesser Flamingo (maximum 687 individuals; CWAC data), White-fronted Plover (maximum 197 individuals; CWAC data), Grey Plover (maximum 3 300 individuals; CWAC data), Ruddy Turnstone (maximum 1 600 individuals; CWAC data), Curlew Sandpiper (maximum 7 859 individuals; CWAC data), Sanderling (maximum 4 950 individuals; CWAC data), Kelp Gull (4 221 breeding pairs; Crawford et al. 2012) and Hartlaub's Gull (245 breeding pairs; Crawford et al. 2012). Species that meet the 0.5% population threshold are Kittlitz's Plover (maximum 106 individuals; CWAC data), Red Knot (maximum 2 000 individuals; CWAC data) and Common Tern Sterna hirundo (maximum 1 000 individuals; CWAC data).
Cape golden mole Chrysochloris asiatica, black-footed cat Felis nigripes, bontebok Damaliscus dorcas dorcas, Cape molerat Georychus capensis and a host of endangered and endemic plant species are found in the national park. The South African endemic sand toad Bufo angusticeps, Cape sand frog Tomopterna delandii and Cape dwarf chameleon Bradypodion pumilum have been found nearby and may well be present in the IBA. The highly localised southern adder Bitis armata occurs around the town of Langebaan. Three endemic, highly localised and threatened reptiles found on the xeric salt marsh are Gronovi's dwarf burrowing skink Scelotes gronovii, a west coast endemic; Kasner's dwarf burrowing skink S. kasneri; and large-scaled girdled lizard Cordylus macropholis. The South African endemic Namaqua dwarf chameleon Bradypodion occidentale, marbled leaf-toed gecko Afrogecko porphyreus, Marico thick-toed gecko Pachydactylus mariquensis and Austen's thick-toed gecko P. austeni occur along the fringes of the wetland.
Southern African endemic species of more general occurrence include parrot-beaked tortoise Homopus areolatus, angulate tortoise Chersina angulata, Sundevall's shovel-snout Prosymna sundevallii, cross-marked grass snake Psammophis crucifer, Cape cobra Naja nivea, Cape legless skink Acontias meleagris, spotted sand lizard Pedioplanis lineoocellata, Cape girdled lizard Cordylus cordylus, Cape crag lizard Pseudocordylus microlepidotus, southern rock agama Agama atra and ocellated thick-toed gecko Pachydactylus geitje.
Additional mammal species found in the national park include bat-eared fox Otocyon megalatus, honey badger Mellivora capensis, small grey mongoose Galerella pulverulenta, caracal Caracal caracal, Cape grysbok Raphicerus melanotis, mountain zebra Equus zebra zebra, grey rhebok Pelea capreolus, common duiker Sylvicapra grimmia, steenbok Raphicerus campestris, springbok Antidorcus marsupialis, red hartebeest Alcelaphus buselaphus and eland Taurotragus oryx.
The proclamation of the national park at this site precludes most threats, although the Industrial Development Zone at Saldanha and the expansion associated with it could impact negatively on the system as a whole. After the completion of the Sishen–Saldanha railway line in the early 1970s and the construction of a deep-water harbour in Saldanha Bay, the area was committed as a major port for the export of iron ore. Major industrial development subsequently led to the town's growth. Metal pollution from the iron-ore berth and pollution and oiling incidents from urbanisation and shipping pose a threat to the future of the lagoon. The development of the port has already altered the hydrodynamics and physical structure of the bay; it is due to be expanded and the number of different products exported, including various minerals and chemicals, will be increased.
These changes, which include the development of potential phosphate mines next to the IBA, pose a major threat to the sensitive ecosystems of Langebaan Lagoon in that increased shipping traffic and industrial activities may result in oil or chemical spills. The intertidal salt flats, marshes and rocky islands are at particular risk. Chronic pollution from crude oil or other contaminants that spill into the ocean when tankers break open, wash their tanks, dump cargo or pump bilge can occur. African Penguins are particularly susceptible to events such as this and a single oil disaster can severely affect populations. One large spill could threaten all the important seabird populations at the Saldanha Bay islands, as well as impact the Ramsar-designated Langebaan Lagoon.
Dredging required to deepen the harbour is an additional threat as it can lead to increased sedimentation in the lagoon itself. A fine layer of sediments on the mudflats reduces habitat quality for invertebrates and could also reduce the foraging quality for birds. Sewage effluent overflows and leaks from soak-away tanks in the towns of Langebaan and Saldanha occasionally affect water quality in the bay, impacting negatively on the sensitive ecology of the system and potentially reducing the habitat quality.
Between 1956 and 1980 the global Cape Gannet population declined some 50%. The collapse was attributed to a decrease in sardine Sardinops sagax stocks, the gannets' primary food source. Despite the global decline, which affected mainly Namibian colonies, the Malgas Island colony has been increasing since the late 1960s to early 1970s, which correlates with the local recovery of sardine stocks in the Western Cape. African Penguin and Cape Cormorant are thought to have been affected by competition with commercial fisheries, especially purse-seining for surface-shoaling fish such as anchovy Engraulis capensis and sardine. A recommendation has been made that marine reserves with a radius of 25 km are established around important breeding islands. Commercial fishing should be banned or restricted within these zones.
Uncontrolled recreational activities such as jet-skiing and kite-boarding can disturb foraging birds. This is a particular threat for migratory waders, which need to gain weight for the return flight to the northern hemisphere. It is being tackled by the West Coast National Park Forum and the development of a watercraft association in Langebaan. A new camp may be built in the park, at a site known as Kleinmooimaak on the lagoon shore. If it goes ahead, the disturbance effect along the shore will increase and the activities and numbers of people utilising this area will have to be regulated.
Seals have been known to prey on juvenile seabirds and this can impact on populations on the rocky islands of the IBA. This threat is being actively managed by park and DEA: Oceans and Coasts Division officials and the culling of rogue seals is carried out when necessary. Since the construction of the causeway to Marcus Island, several mammalian predators have periodically occurred on the island, including Cape grey mongoose Herpestes pulverulentus, yellow mongoose Cynictis penicillata, small-spotted genet Genetta genetta and Cape fox Vulpes chama. During a four-year period, a minimum of 195 individuals of nine seabird and shorebird species, including large numbers of African Penguin and African Black Oystercatcher (8% of the island's breeding population was killed in a single season), were killed by mammalian predators on Marcus Island. This led to the construction of a predator-proof wall, which has reduced, but not eliminated, predation on the island. Since the construction of the causeway, populations of all breeding seabirds on Marcus Island have declined. European rabbits Oryctolagus cuniculus have substantially altered the vegetation on Schaapen and Jutten islands, but there is no evidence to suggest they have adversely affected breeding seabirds.
Langebaan Lagoon and the Saldanha Bay Islands were proclaimed a national park in 1985, and in 1987 Postberg Nature Reserve was added. The farm Wildevarkevallei was incorporated in 1988 and an additional 0.6 ha was purchased at Langebaan Lodge. Although the Donkergat military area (including Meeuw Island), at the northern extreme of the park's western arm, is not part of the park, the SANDF manages it as a conservation area. The lagoon was designated a Ramsar site in 1988.
As a designated South African national park under NEM:PAA, the West Coast National Park and the islands of Saldanha Bay enjoy the highest category of legislative protection for a conservation area in South Africa. This IBA therefore requires a detailed and appropriate management plan, which has to be implemented according to available resources. A State of Knowledge Report for the park was produced in March 2009. There is also a zonation plan for recreational activities within the park, and this aims to reduce impacts on biodiversity while maintaining recreational potential for different user groups.
The park's management implements all required conservation actions, including the maintenance of infrastructure, the eradication of alien vegetation and wildlife law enforcement, occasionally with different partners. A Working for Water team works on the eradication of alien plants. The People and Conservation officer runs environmental education programmes with school groups staying at the park. A Park Forum consisting of all relevant stakeholders has been established and meets quarterly to discuss management issues. CWACs, coordinated by the Animal Demography Unit at UCT and members of the Cape Bird Club, are undertaken at numerous sites in the IBA. The IBA also forms the northern core zone of the Cape West Coast Biosphere, which coordinates conservation action across this region. It implements projects such as the eradication of alien vegetation, biodiversity stewardship and the building of a corridor of conservation sites linking the West Coast National Park to Melkbos in the south, and potentially with the Dassenberg Coastal Catchment Partnership area.
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