iSimangaliso Wetland Park – The Big Picture

By Guest Writer
Sodwana Bay-South Africa

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Bianca Oosthuyzen

In most countries there are places that, at certain moments in history, provide the backdrop against which a nation’s collective aspirations and challenges play themselves out. Somehow Lake St Lucia – and the majestic wildlands of Maputaland that surround it – provides just such a symbolism of landscape in South Africa today. In many ways, the natural system of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park forms a contemporary crucible in which the future of conservation in South Africa is being shaped.

The cultural and ecological treasures of the region are so great as to defy the normal rules of sentence construction: 220 kilometres of coastline and beaches; 100 species of coral; 8 inter-linking ecosystems; the only significant major swamp forests left in South Africa; 3 major lake systems including Kosi Bay, Lake St Lucia and Lake Sibaya; 8 major game reserves in the broader Maputaland;  105 years of conservation (the St Lucia Park was declared a game reserve 3 years after the Yellowstone National Park and is Africa’s oldest protected area); 4 of the Big Five; the highest number and density of black rhino in any  place on the globe; 105 red data species; 5 species of turtles; the highest number of frog species in southern Africa (35 of which 2 are endemic); 36 species of snakes;  526 bird species (the greatest avifauna diversity in Africa with 50% of South Africa’s bird species & 25% of Africa’s); 80 species of dragon flies; 110 species of butterflies on the Eastern Shores of St Lucia alone; more than 2000 species of flowering plants; all 5 of South Africa’s surviving mangrove tree species; 25 000-year-old coastal dunes, among the highest in the world; 700-year-old fish traps, commented on for the natural and cultural beauty by early Portuguese explorers; 5 cultural groups: Zulu, Swazi, Shangaan, Tonga and relict group of Gonda speakers.


This fragile combination of natural beauty and social diversity has elevated the iSimangaliso Wetland Park to the status of an icon in the history of environmental struggle in South Africa.


As former President Nelson Mandela himself put it during a speech marking the historic 2002 reintroduction of elephants to the Eastern Shores of the Lake St Lucia:  “The Wetland Park must be the only place on the globe where the world’s oldest land mammal (the rhinoceros) and the world’s biggest terrestrial mammal (the elephant) share an ecosystem with the world’s oldest fish (the coelacanth) and the world’s biggest marine mammal (the whale).”


“There can be no better icon for the holistic approach we are taking to conservation than the development of this Wetland Park.”

Content by :  iSimangaliso Wetland park Authority

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