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Namib Flyway

The Namib Flyway is a highly productive coastal area in central Namibia that attracts large numbers of seabirds, shorebirds and waterbirds, marine mammals, sea turtles, and other fauna, many of which are threatened species. The main coastal features in the EBSA that provide important stopover, breeding and/or foraging sites for resident and migratory species include: two sheltered bays (Sandwich Harbour and Walvis Bay), four lagoons, and one cape. The Namib Flyway contains two marine Ramsar sites, four Important Bird Areas (IBAs) and two proposed offshore IBAs. The upwelling cell off Lüderitz raises productivity northwards due to longshore drift and predominant onshore winds. Primary production of the Benguela Current is highest in the central regions Namibia, near the EBSA, driven by delayed blooming.

EBSA Description: Namib Flyway

General Information

Summary

The Namib Flyway is a highly productive area in the Benguela system that attracts large numbers of sea- and shorebirds, marine mammals, sea turtles and other fauna. It contains two marine Ramsar sites, six terrestrial Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs), two proposed marine IBAs, and key spawning and nursery areas for some fish species. The upwelling cell off Lüderitz has its effect further north with the longshore drift and predominant onshore winds. Thus, primary production of the Benguela current is highest in the central regions of the Namibian coast, driven by delayed blooming. In summary, this area is highly relevant in terms of its importance for life-history stages of species, threatened, endangered or declining species and/or habitats, and biological productivity. 

MARISMA updates

 The site description has been updated; the EBSA boundaries have been refined. 

Introduction of the area

The main coastal features contain two sheltered bays (Walvis Bay and Sandwich Harbour), another north-facing but less sheltered bay (Conception Bay), three lagoons (Cape Cross lagoons, Swakop River Mouth Lagoon, and Walvis Bay Lagoon), one cape (Cape Cross) and one man-made shallow water habitat (Mile 4 salt works); the remaining coastline is high energy. The sheltered bays and shallow waters lead to warmer waters and higher productivity. There is a weak upwelling cell off Walvis Bay, which adds to the productivity. The area has been recognized as an important area by the United Nations Environment Programme, African Eurasian Migratory Waterbird Agreement; and the Convention on Migratory Species or “Bonn Convention”. BirdLife International has been funding a seabird breeding project in this area through its Rio Tinto BirdLife Partnership action fund. Two of Namibia’s five Ramsar sites (Walvis Bay and Sandwich Harbour) are included; both Ramsar sites are of international importance for resident bird species as well as resident and transient marine mammals, and constitute key refueling and roosting habitats for many species of migrating waterbirds. Of Namibia’s 19 IBAs, six border or fall in the area (viz., Cape Cross Lagoon, Namib-Naukluft Park, Mile 4 salt works, 30 km beach Walvis-Swakopmund, Walvis Bay and Sandwich Harbour). The area also encompasses key spawning and nursery areas of various fish species, including sardine and anchovy - important forage fish for a range of marine predators.

Description of location

The Namib Flyway EBSA extends from 18 km north of Cape Cross to 30 km south of Conception Bay, spanning about 380 km of coastline on the inshore area that borders the Dorob National Park, Cape Cross Seal Reserve and the Namib-Naukluft Park, roughly between latitudes 21 and 24 degrees South. The northern and southern parts extend offshore for up to 83 km, and the central portion is a narrow strip that extends no further than 7 km offshore. The entire area falls within the national jurisdiction of Namibia.

 

Area details

Feature description of the area

The coastline includes mixed rocky and sandy shoreline, which together with the adjacent marine inshore environment supports resident, Palearctic, Oceanic and intra-African migrant bird species. These include seabirds (e.g., terns, gulls, cormorants, gannets, shearwaters, albatrosses, petrels, skuas); shorebirds (e.g., plovers, sandpipers, turnstones, whimbrels, stints, oystercatchers, curlews, knots, godwits, avocets) and waterbirds (e.g., flamingos, ducks, grebes, coots, gallinules, herons). At least 17 threatened bird species occur in the area, either throughout the year or seasonally (Wearne & Underhill 2005, Simmons et al., 2015, IUCN 2016, SABAP_2 2017). Up to about 400,000 birds may be found during summer at Walvis Bay and Sandwich Harbour alone (Simmons 2002, Wearne & Underhill 2005). Cetaceans such as Bottlenose Dolphins, Heaviside’s Dolphins and Southern Right Whales also breed in this area; the small local inshore population of Bottlenose Dolphins appears to be discrete, utilizing a core area between Cape Cross and Sandwich Harbour (Findlay et al., 1992, Elwen & Leeney, 2009). Humpback and Minke whales are common in the area, whereas other species like Fin Whales, beaked whales and other cetaceans also occur there occasionally (e.g. Findlay et al., 1992); however, detailed distribution and population data for most cetacean species in the area are lacking. Seven threatened fish and condricthian species have been recorded in the Namib Flyway area (OBIS 2017), and it is also an important foraging area for leatherback turtles (Shackelton 1993, De Padua Almeida et al., 2003). Four Cape Fur Seal breeding colonies exist at Cape Cross, Pelican Point, Sandwich Harbour and Conception Bay (Kirkman et al., 2013); and the area includes seal foraging hotspots (Skern-Mauritzen et al., 2009). Altogether, there are records for 247 species from this area (OBIS 2017).

The Namib Flyway also includes three Endangered habitat types (Central Namib Outer Shelf, Kuiseb Lagoon Coast and Kuiseb Mixed Shore), with the area being particularly important for Central Namib Outer Shelf and Kuiseb Lagoon Coast. These threat statuses were estimated by assessing the weighted cumulative impacts of various pressures (e.g., extractive resource use, pollution, development, and others) on each habitat type for Namibia (Holness et al., 2014; Table 1). 

Feature conditions and future outlook of the proposed area

The terrestrial part of the area to the low water mark is protected in three national parks, namely Dorob National Park, Cape Cross Seal Reserve and Namib-Naukluft Park. The area has three towns: the main harbour town of Namibia: Walvis Bay, in addition to Swakopmund and Henties Bay. The marine component is partially protected by fishery management regulations such as a “no trawl zone” up to the 200-m depth contour; however, purse-seining activities in the area threaten already depleted local pelagic fish stocks on which a number of marine predators depend (e.g. Sherley et al., 2017). The area is under threat from a large-scale harbour expansion at Walvis Bay, a proposed industrial park, and seabed mining (e.g., for phosphates). Uncontrolled coastal development and off-shore oil exploration are additional threats. Climate change may alter productivity and therefore the area’s capacity to support the large number of animals that are dependent on this area (Roux 2003). Revision of the EBSA boundary has largely excluded areas of direct impact, and therefore most of the EBSA area is in a Good (87 %) or Fair condition (9 %; Holness et al., 2014). Nevertheless, the area is likely to be significantly impacted by activities directly adjacent to the EBSA, and this assessment of condition is likely to be highly optimistic.

 

Assessment of the area against CBD EBSA criteria

 Uniqueness or rarity

 

Rank: High

This is the only high-productivity area featuring bays and lagoons on the Namibian coast apart from Lüderitz. It is also one of only two globally Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas in Africa that feature sandy bays and spits. A number of species that are endemic or near-endemic to the Benguela region occur here, including breeding residents such as the Damara Tern, Cape Cormorant and Heaviside’s Dolphin (Sakko 1998; Simmons et al., 1998; Maartens 2003; Kemper et al., 2007; Elwen & Leeney 2009).

 Special importance for life-history stages of species

 

Rank: High

The Namib Flyway is an important over-wintering area for several threatened bird species, such as Lesser and Greater Flamingos, Chestnut-banded Plovers and Black-necked Grebes. Numerous sea- and shorebird species, migratory species (Palaearctic and intra-African birds), and resident species use the area for roosting and feeding. This area includes four Cape fur seal colonies, and turtle and cetacean breeding and foraging areas, and includes a small, discrete inshore population of Bottlenose Dolphins (Shackelton 1993; Sakko 1998; Simmons et al., 1998; De Padua Almeida et al., 2003; Maartens 2003; Kemper et al., 2007; Elwen & Leeney 2009; Kirkman et al., 2013; Simmons et al., 2015). It is also a key foraging area for recently fledged African Penguins originating from southern Namibia and the west coast of South Africa (Sherley et al., 2017). Further, the area encompasses known spawning and key nursery area for several fish species, including sardine and silver kob (Holtzhausen et al., 2001; Hutchings et al., 2002).

 Importance for threatened, endangered or declining species and/or habitats

 

Rank: High

Critically Endangered leatherback turtles from the Indian Ocean, Gabon and Brazilian coasts come to forage in the offshore waters off Walvis Bay and Sandwich Harbour, where certain jellyfish species occur in great numbers. Other globally threatened species like African Penguins, Cape, Bank and Crowned Cormorants, Damara Terns, Lesser Flamingos and Chestnut-banded Plovers (IUCN 2016) are attracted to this area’s high productivity to forage and/or to breed (Shackelton 1993; Sakko 1998; De Padua Almeida et al., 2003; Kemper et al., 2007; Simmons et al., 2015; IUCN 2016). Seven threatened fish and condricthian species have been recorded in the area, including the Endangered Lithognathus lithognathus, Argyrosomus hololepidotus, and Petrus rupestris, and Vulnerable Mustelus mustelus, Oxynotus centrina, Alopias vulpinus, Cetorhinus maximus (OBIS 2017). Holness et al. (2014) identified three Endangered habitat types (Central Namib Outer Shelf, Kuiseb Lagoon Coast and Kuiseb Mixed Shore) were identified, with the area being particularly important for Central Namib Outer Shelf and Kuiseb Lagoon Coast.

 Vulnerability, fragility, sensitivity, or slow recovery

 

Rank:  Medium

This area is highly sensitive to hydrocarbon and other industrial pollution. Sheltered bays and lagoons are not able to dilute or flush pollutants out of the system easily (Shackelton 1993). Climate change, including a rise in sea surface temperatures, may contribute to an increased vulnerability of the habitats and species in the area (Roux 2003).

 Biological productivity

 

Rank: High

The central Namibian coast is situated down-stream of the intensive Lüderitz upwelling cell, and it features sheltered bays; it thus boasts a high level of plankton production, which in turn provides a rich food source to other marine organisms. Migratory species are able to fatten up rapidly here to prepare for long journeys. Leatherback turtles, for example, come from as far as the Indian Ocean, Brazil and Gabon to forage in this area. The Namib Flyway also supports an important nursery area for sardine and other fish species and sustains the highest abundance of cetaceans and seals in relation to the rest of the Namibian coastline (Sakko 1998; Holtzhausen et al., 2001; Hutchings et al., 2002; Maartens 2003; Kemper et al., 2007).

 

 Biological diversity

 

Rank: Medium

The area is characterized by significant habitat heterogeneity, which results in relatively high diversity of species, particularly waterbirds and marine mammals, in comparison to other areas along the Namibian shore (Shackelton 1993; Sakko 1998; Simmons et al., 1998; De Padua Almeida et al., 2003; Maartens 2003; Kemper et al., 2007). There are records for 247 different species from this area (OBIS 2017).

 

 Naturalness

 

Rank: Medium

Coastal town developments and, more recently, the large-scale expansion of the Walvis Bay harbour have impacted the naturalness of the broader area and impacts are very likely to spill over into the EBSA footprint. The area has also experienced high fishing pressure in the past. Some coastal parts have also been modified for large-scale salt production, as well as for guano harvesting (Maartens 2003). The coastal area south of Sandwich Harbour, however, remains largely intact. The revision of the boundary of the EBSA has largely excluded areas that are directly impacted, with most of the remaining area being assessed as being in Good (87 %) or Fair condition (9 %; Holness et al., 2014). Nevertheless, because it is likely that spillover effects from adjacent development are significantly underestimated in the assessment of condition, the EBSA was ranked as Medium rather than High in terms of the naturalness criterion.

 

References

De Padua Almeida, A., Filgueiras, H., Braby, R., Tiwari, M. 2003. Increasing evidence of leatherback migrations from Brazilian beaches to the west African Coast. Sea Turtle Newsletter, 1: 9-11.

Elwen, S.H., Leeney, R.H. 2009. Report of the Namibian Dolphin Project 2010: Ecology and Conservation of Dolphins in Namibia. Submitted to the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources, Namibia. 26 pp.

Findlay, K.P., Best, P.B., Ross, G.J.B., Cockcroft V.G. 1992. The distribution of small odontocete cetaceans off the coasts of South Africa and Namibia. South African Journal of Marine Science, 12: 237-270.

Holness, S., Kirkman, S., Samaai, T., Wolf, T., Sink, K., Majiedt, P., Nsiangango, S., Kainge, P., Kilongo, K., Kathena, J., Harris, L., Lagabrielle, E., Kirchner, C., Chalmers, R., Lombard, M. 2014. Spatial Biodiversity Assessment and Spatial Management, including Marine Protected Areas. Final report for the Benguela Current Commission project BEH 09-01.

Holtzhausen, J.A., Kirchner, C.H., Voges, S.F. 2001. Observations on the linefish resources of Namibia, 1990-2000, with special reference to West Coast steenbras and silver kob. South African Journal of Marine Science, 23: 135-144.

Hutchings, L., Beckley, L.E., Griffiths, M.H., Roberts, M.J., Sundby, S., van der Lingen, C. 2002. Spawning on the edge: spawning grounds and nursery areas around the southern African coastline. Marine and Freshwater Research, 53: 307-318.

IUCN. 2016. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2016-3. www.iucnredlist.org. Downloaded on 10 May 2017.

Kemper, J., Underhill, L.G., Crawford, R.J.M., Kirkman, S.P. 2007. Revision of the conservation status of seabirds and seals breeding in the Benguela ecosystem. Pp 325 – 342 in Final report for the BCLME (Benguela Current Large Marine Ecosystem) project on top predators as biological indicators of ecosystem change in the BCLME. Kirkman, S.P. (Ed) Animal Demography Unit, University of Cape Town.

Kirkman, S.P., Yemane, D., Oosthuizen, W.H., Meÿer, M.A., Kotze, P.G.H., Skrypzeck, H.l., Vaz Velho, F. Underhill, L.G. 2013. Spatio-temporal shifts of the dynamic Cape fur seal population in southern Africa, based on aerial censuses (1972-2009). Marine Mammal Science, 29: 497-524.

Maartens, L. 2003. Biodiversity Pp 103 – 135 In: Namibia’s Marine Environment. Molloy, F., Reinikainen, T. (Eds) Directorate of Environmental Affairs (DEA) of the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, Namibia.

OBIS. 2017. Summary statistics of biodiversity records in the Namib Flyway EBSA. (Available: Ocean Biogeographic Information System. Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO. www.iobis.org. Accessed: 2017-07-27).

Roux J-P. 2003. Risks. In: Molloy, F., Reinikainen, T. (Eds) Namibia’s marine environment. Directorate of Environmental Affairs of the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, Windhoek, Namibia, pp. 137-152.

SABAP 2. 2017. Southern African Bird Atlas Project 2.http://sabap2.adu.org.za/index.php. Last accessed 10 May 2017.

Sakko, A. 1998. Biodiversity of marine habitats. In: Biological Diversity in Namibia – A Country Study. Barnard, P. (Ed) Namibian National Biodiversity Task Force. DEA, Windhoek. Pp 189-226.

Shackelton, L. 1993. Environmental Data Workshop for Oil Spill Contingency Planning; Centre for Marine Studies, University of Cape Town, Cape Town.

Sherley, R.B., Ludynia, K., Dyer, B.M., Lamont, T., Makhado, A.B., Roux, J-P., Scales, K.L., Underhill, L.G., Votier, S.C. 2017. Metapopulation tracking juvenile penguins reveals and ecosystem-wide ecological trap. Current Biology, 27: 1-6.

Simmons, R.E. 2002. Sandwich Harbour bird monitoring January 2002. Lanioturdus, 35: 2-4.

Simmons, R.E., Boix-Hinzen, C., Barnes, K.N., Jarvis A.M., Robertson, A. 1998. Important Bird Areas of Namibia. In: Important Bird Areas of southern Africa. Barnes K.N. (Ed) BirdLife South Africa, Johannesburg. Pp 295-332.

Simmons, R.E., Brown, C.J., Kemper, J. 2015. Birds to watch in Namibia: red, rare and endemic species. Ministry of Environment and Tourism and Namibia Nature Foundation, Windhoek, Namibia.

Simmons, R.E., Kolberg, H., Braby, R., Erni, B. 2015. Declines in migrant shorebird populations from a winter-quarter perspective. Conservation Biology, 29: 877-887

Skern-Mauritzen, M., Kirkman, S.P., Olsen, E., Bjørge, A., Drapeau, L., Meÿer, M.A., Roux, J-P., Swanson, S., Oosthuizen, W.H. 2009. Do inter-colony differences in Cape fur seal foraging behavior reflect large-scale changes in the northern Benguela ecosystem? African Journal of Marine Science, 31: 399-408.

Wearne K., Underhill, L.G. 2005. Walvis Bay, Namibia: a key wetland for waders and other coastal birds in southern Africa. Wader Study Group Bulletin, 107: 24-30.

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EBSA criteria met at a high (red), medium (orange) or low (yellow) rank. 

 

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