The proposed Cape Point to Cape Agulhas EBSA is located at the coastal tip of Africa, wrapping around Cape Point and Cape Agulhas, within South Africa’s EEZ. It extends from the coast to the inner shelf, and includes key islands, two major bays (False Bay and Walker Bay). This EBSA is of key importance for threatened species and habitats, and for supporting life-history stages, notably for some of the threatened species. The threatened habitats include coastal, inshore and inner shelf ecosystem types. The important life-history stages supported by the area are breeding and/or foraging grounds for a myriad of top predators, including sharks, whales, and seabirds, some of which are threatened species, such as the Endangered African penguin. The EBSA also includes some relatively rare features. For example, it contains one of a few locations where surf diatom accumulations occur in South Africa, that in turn fuel sandy shores with heightened productivity. This EBSA is also the place where the Benguela and Agulhas Currents meet, and thus where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet.
This is a new, proposed EBSA.
Introduction of the area
Cape Point to Cape Agulhas is a coastal EBSA at the southernmost tip of Africa that includes both benthic and pelagic features, and key links between the terrestrial and marine realms. The proposed EBSA extends from the dune base at the back of the shore to depths that are mostly shallower than 150 m. The Agulhas and Benguela Currents meet offshore of this EBSA, with the sea surface temperature between Cape Point and Cape Agulhas being generally cooler than that further offshore where the warmer Agulhas current has a greater influence. The area is important for many commercially important fish species (e.g., Watermeyer et al., 2016), and forms part of their spawning grounds. Consequently, it provides key foraging habitat for numerous top predators, including sharks, whales, seals and seabirds (e.g., Crawford et al., 2008; Pichegru et al., 2010; Best et al. 2015). The EBSA also contains important breeding and resting sites for these top predators, both on the mainland, in bays and on several islands that are contained within the EBSA (e.g., Best 2000; Underhill et al., 2006; Kirkman et al., 2013). Cape Point to Cape Agulhas also includes areas of high productivity formed by relatively rare surf diatom accumulations. Given the close proximity of the EBSA to key research institutions, and the rich diversity of key marine species and features in the area, there are many datasets available for the site.
The reason this site was not part of the original list of EBSAs first proposed in the South Eastern Atlantic EBSA Identification Workshop in 2013 (UNEP/CBD/RW/EBSA/SEA/1/4) is because the value of the area was recognised only afterwards in a gap analysis. It is presented as a Type 2 EBSA because it contains “spatially stable features whose individual positions are known, but a number of individual cases are being grouped” (sensu Johnson et al., 2018).
Description of location
The proposed Cape Point to Cape Agulhas EBSA is located at the coastal tip of Africa, within South Africa’s EEZ. It starts just south of Camps Bay, wraps around the tip of Cape Point, extends along the shore to the western end of the terrestrial De Mond Nature Reserve in Struisbaai, just past Cape Agulhas. It extends from the dune base to the inner shelf, mostly following the -150m isobath.
Feature description of the area
Cape Point to Cape Agulhas is important for both benthic and pelagic features. The benthic features include ecosystem types comprising mosaics of sand and reef, kelp beds, and several islands (Seal Island, Dyer Island, Geyser Rock, Quoin Rock), and shore habitats including rocky, sandy, mixed and estuarine shores; the pelagic features include important spawning and foraging grounds for a variety of fish and top predators, and areas of high primary productivity. Benthic-pelagic coupling is also a key feature of this EBSA, particularly important in the two important bay systems that are in the EBSA, and for land-sea connectivity among ecosystem types. Overall, the EBSA’s most key attributes are that it includes many threatened species and 23 threatened ecosystem types, and supports important life-history stages of many species, including some of the threatened taxa.
Of the 32 ecosystem types represented in Cape Point to Cape Agulhas, two thirds (n=23) are threatened, including one Critically Endangered and eight Endangered and 14 Vulnerable types (Sink et al., 2019). By implication, these support biological communities that are also threatened. The EBSA forms part of the spawning grounds for many commercially important fish species (e.g., Watermeyer et al., 2016). Consequently, it provides key foraging habitat for numerous top predators, including sharks, whales, seals and seabirds (e.g., Crawford et al., 2008; Pichegru et al., 2010; Best et al. 2013, Kock et al., 2018), many of which species are also threatened. It also contains important breeding and resting sites for top predators in bays, on the islands and the mainland. For example, it contains island-based (Seal Island, Dyer Island, Geyser Rock) and the only mainland-based (Boulders Beach, Stony Point) colonies of breeding Endangered African penguins (Underhill et al., 2006), and Seal Island, Geyser Rock and Quoin Rock support breeding colonies of Cape fur seals (Kirkman et al., 2013). The EBSA may also include areas where southern right whales give birth to and nurse their calves, and possibly mate (Best 2000).
Secondary attributes of Cape Point to Cape Agulhas support all other EBSA criteria except for Naturalness. The EBSA includes relatively rare surf diatom accumulations that are present at a few sites along the South African south coast, and only several other places, globally (Campbell & Bate., 1988, Campbell 1996). These surf diatom accumulations fuel sandy beach food webs with particularly high productivity. The kelp beds in the adjacent habitat also provide beach-cast kelp wrack, which also creates particularly productive sandy shore systems (e.g., Dugan et al., 2003; Rodil et al., 2018). Cape Point represents a biogeographic break between the warm and cold temperate coastal systems (Sink et al., 2012), and thus diversity at this site is comparatively higher than adjacent sites because it includes representatives from both bioregions. And finally, the reef and hard ground habitats all support fragile species, that are slow growing and sensitive to disturbance.
Feature conditions and future outlook of the proposed area
Although the Cape peninsula is protected in a marine protected area, there are numerous threats to the marine environment in this EBSA, particularly within False Bay and Walker Bay. There are several fisheries operating in the area, including those for West coast rock lobster, squid, linefish, and sharks, as well as subsistence and recreational shore and boat-based fishing, kelp harvesting, and bait collecting (Sink et al., 2012). Given the close proximity to the Cape Town harbour, and the numerous smaller ports within the EBSA, shipping is a relatively high pressure here. The coast is under particular pressure from coastal development (outside the many terrestrial nature reserves in the western half of the EBSA), with associated pressures such as waste water discharge; there are also several invasive invertebrates that are primarily associated with rocky shores that have affected native populations (Sink et al., 2012). Global change pressures are affecting the distribution of local fish stocks, which in turn are affecting some of the top predators, including Endangered African penguins, and Endangered Cape gannets (Crawford et al., 2008; Pichegru et al., 2010). A recent assessment of the ecological condition of the marine realm shows that this EBSA is in fair to poor ecological condition (Sink et al., 2019).
Assessment of the area against CBD EBSA criteria
Uniqueness or rarity
The EBSA contains three of 14 sites in South Africa where surf diatom accumulations are present (Campbell 1996), and the only mainland colonies of Endangered African penguins (Underhill et al., 2006). False and Walker Bay are also relatively rare geomorphic features in the BCLME. It also encompasses the only coastal area where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet.
Special importance for life-history stages of species
Cape Point to Cape Agulhas is an important spawning ground for commercially important fish species (e.g., Watermeyer et al., 2016). Consequently, it provides key foraging habitat for numerous top predators, including sharks, whales, seals and seabirds (e.g., Crawford et al., 2008; Pichegru et al., 2010; Best et al. 2013). It also contains important breeding and resting sites for top predators, in bays, on the islands and the mainland. For example, it contains island-based and the only mainland-based colonies of breeding Endangered African penguins (Underhill et al., 2006), and Seal Island, Geyser Rock and Quoin Rock support breeding colonies of Cape fur seals (Kirkman et al., 2013). The EBSA may also include areas where southern right whales give birth to and nurse their calves, and possibly mate (Best 2000).
Importance for threatened, endangered or declining species and/or habitats
There are a number of threatened species that depend on this EBSA focus area for foraging and/or breeding, including Vulnerable white shark, Endangered Indian Ocean humpback dolphin, Endangered Cape gannet, Endangered African penguin, Endangered Cape cormorant, Endangered bank cormorant, white-breasted cormorant, and Near Threatened crowned cormorant. Importantly, some of these species have high residency within the EBSA, e.g., white sharks have specific locations within False Bay where they have high levels of occurrence (Kock et al., 2018), and are especially resident in inshore areas between Walker Bay and around Cape Agulhas (A. Kock, Unpublished tracking data).
The area includes a very high diversity of threatened ecosystem types. Of the 34 ecosystem types in the EBSA, 23 are threatened, including one Critically Endangered, eight Endangered and 14 Vulnerable ecosystem types (Sink et al., 2019). By implication, the biological communities associated with these ecosystems are also likely to be threatened. There are also a further six ecosystem types in the EBSA that are considered Near Threatened (Sink et al., 2019).
Vulnerability, fragility, sensitivity, or slow recovery
The top predators represented in this EBSA have a slow recovery time following impacts to their respective populations. Further, the reefs and hard grounds contain fragile species that are slow growing, and sensitive to disturbance.
The kelp beds and surf diatom accumulations contribute to elevated productivity for coastal ecosystems, notably the sandy shores (Campbell and Bate, 1988, Rodil et al., 2018). As a spawning area for commercially important fish species, productivity across the shelf is also relatively high.
The Agulhas and Benguela currents also meet in the broader area surrounding the EBSA. Consequently, Cape Point is a biogeographic break between the warm and cold temperate bioregions, and thus biodiversity in the area is expected to relatively higher here compared to that of surrounding areas. This is additionally true because the conditions range from fully sheltered within the bays, to fully exposed on the open coast, and because it contains 34 different ecosystem types, each likely supporting their own biological communities (Sink et al., 2019). The EBSA is also known to support diverse assemblages of key species (e.g., Best et al., 2013).
Although there are some areas that are protected or under relatively low pressure within this EBSA, the bays in particular are under high pressure from human activities, and the condition of the ecosystem types across the EBSA as a whole is generally quite poor (Sink et al., 2012, 2019). Global change pressures are also strongly felt in this area, with the knock-on effects observed at the top-predator level (Crawford et al., 2008; Pichegru et al., 2010).
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Best, P.B. 2000. Coastal distribution, movements and site fidelity of right whales Eubalaena australis off South Africa, 1969–1998. South African Journal of Marine Science, 22: 43-55.
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Kock, A.A., Photopoulou, T., Durbach, I., Mauff, K., Meÿer, M., Kotze, D., Griffiths, C.L., O’Riain, M.J. 2018. Summer at the beach: spatio-temporal patterns of white shark occurrence along the inshore areas of False Bay, South Africa. Movement Ecology 6, 7.
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Rodil, I.F., Lastra, M., López, J., Mucha, A.P., Fernandes, J.P., Fernandes, S.V., Olabarria, C. 2018. Sandy Beaches as Biogeochemical Hotspots: The Metabolic Role of Macroalgal Wrack on Low-productive Shores. Ecosystems, in press.
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Underhill, L.G., Crawford, R.J.M., Wolfaardt, A.C., Whittington, P.A., Dyer, B.M., Leshoro, T.M., Ruthenberg, M., Upfold, L., Visagie, J. 2006. Regionally coherent trends in colonies of African penguins Spheniscus demersus in the Western Cape, South Africa, 1987–2005. African Journal of Marine Science, 28: 697-704.