This IBA is a stretch of coastal dunefield that extends 23 km from the Gamtoos River mouth to the Maitland River mouth. It is 0.75 km wide and covers approximately 1 800 ha in total. The extensive coastal dunefields of the area consist primarily of open sand and a series of dune slacks, inter-dune hollows and depressions between dunes. Coastal dune herbland grows along the coast and is colonised by Arctotheca populifolia, Stipagrostis zeyheri, Suaeda maritima and Passerina rigida. Patches of grassland lie adjacent to the herbland. In stable dunes, thicket vegetation comprising several forest precursor tree species is found. Exotic Acacia and Eucalyptus species also occur.
African Black Oystercatcher Haematopus moquini numbers have almost doubled since the first IBA directory was published (Barnes 1998). The BirdLife International data zone puts the total global population of the species at 3 300–4 000 birds; Roberts (2005) estimates a total of 6 000 birds. Thus, according to latest estimates, this IBA may support at least 5%, and possibly up to 10%, of the global population. The site also holds suitable breeding habitat for Damara Tern Sterna balaenarum, although this species has not been reported during SABAP2 or in recent CWACs. African Marsh Harrier Circus ranivorus has been recorded breeding at Gamtoos River Mouth.
The Valley Bushveld in the surrounding thicket holds Southern Tchagra Tchagra tchagra and Grey Tit Parus afer, as well as a number of other thicket and forest species, such as Knysna Turaco Tauraco corythaix and Forest Canary Crithagra scotops.
Globally threatened species are African Black Oystercatcher (346 individuals; survey data from Paul Martin), which also passes the 1% or more congregatory population threshold, Cape Cormorant Phalacrocorax capensis and Knysna Woodpecker Campethera notata. Regionally threatened species are African Marsh Harrier, Caspian Tern Sterna caspia (average nine, maximum 31 individuals; CWAC data) and Lanner Falcon Falco biarmicus.
Restricted-range and biome-restricted species that are locally common include Cape Bulbul Pycnonotus capensis, Knysna Woodpecker, Black-bellied Starling Notopholia corrusca, Swee Waxbill Coccopygia melanotis, Forest Canary and Knysna Turaco.
A ban on off-road driving on beaches and the sand dunes and dune slacks bordering the coast impedes accessibility to this coastal IBA and helps to reduce the number of threats facing the site. The previous high level of vehicular traffic was regarded as the single biggest threat to African Black Oystercatcher, the main trigger species for this IBA. Eggs and nests were crushed and breeding success for the species was reduced. The ban was quickly effective and even in the first seasons after its implementation an increase in breeding success was noted. Nevertheless, the coastal environment is under continuous pressure from development and recreational activities. Sandy coasts are particularly vulnerable to human activity, and off-road vehicles in these areas remain a cause for concern. Although legislation and management guidelines prohibit vehicles, they continue to gain access to the area illegally, resulting in nest destruction and high rates of chick and adult mortality.
Another significant threat comes from plastic and solid waste pollution washing up on the coast. Birds can choke if they ingest plastic, or they become entangled in nets or fishing line. There is, however, no evidence as to the scale of this particular threat.
Alien vegetation is estimated to cover up to 70% of the coastal dunes, replacing indigenous dune vegetation and reducing the habitat available for the forest endemic birds that occur at this site. Urgent eradication programmes are required in this sensitive ecosystem.
Proposed wind energy facilities in the agricultural land adjacent to the IBA pose a threat to birds moving inland from the IBA. They may impact on Secretarybirds Sagittarius serpentarius and Denham's Bustards Neotis denhami that utilise the area outside the IBA but directly adjacent to it.
Gamtoos Nature Reserve, which begins at the Gamtoos River mouth and extends eastward towards the Van Stadens River mouth, covers almost the entire IBA. Although the area is administered by the Kouga municipality, no active management of the reserve is currently under way. Maitland Nature Reserve is adjacent to the IBA and is actively managed by the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan municipality. A proposal that certain municipal nature reserves be managed by ECPTA because the district and local municipalities do not have the capacity or mandate to manage them is under discussion. However, ECPTA is also limited by capacity and is understandably reluctant to take on the management of sites without the resources necessary for the task.
CWAC monitoring is undertaken at the Gamtoos River mouth by members of St Francis Bay Bird Club and at the Maitland River mouth by members of BirdLife Eastern Cape.
The isolated nature of this IBA and the ban on off-road driving provide a degree of protection and preclude much development. Beach clean-ups have taken place in the past and it is hoped that these will become an annual event to reduce the amount of plastic pollution accumulating along the coastline. BirdLife South Africa has assisted BirdLife Eastern Cape to establish a Local Conservation Group linked to this IBA, and this group may undertake beach clean-ups in future. Education campaigns and increased awareness of the impacts of beach-goers' activities should also be promoted.
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