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Namaqua Coastal Area

The Namaqua Coastal Area lies between the Spoeg and Sout Rivers on the west coast of South Africa, within the Namaqua bioregion. It includes three functional estuaries, has high productivity due to local upwelling, and although species richness is fairly low, the communities have a high biomass. This EBSA comprises portions of several threatened habitat types, including some that are Critically Endangered, which are still in relatively good condition due to much lower levels of anthropogenic pressures in the Northern Province relative to other coastal areas. The Namaqua Coastal Area is also important for conservation of estuarine areas and coastal fish species.

EBSA Description: Namaqua Coastal Area

General Information


The Namaqua coastal area is on the west coast of South Africa, within the Namaqua bioregion, and is characterized by high productivity and community biomass along its shores. A large proportion of the area is characterized by habitat that is in relatively good (natural/pristine) condition due to much lower levels of anthropogenic pressures relative to other coastal areas in the Northern Province. Consequently, the area is important for several threatened ecoystem types represented there (including two Endangered and four Vulnerable ecosystem types). The area is also important for conservation of estuarine areas and coastal fish species. In summary, the area is highly relevant in terms of the following EBSA criteria: “productivity”, “importance for threatened, endangered or declining species and/or habitats” and “naturalness”. Since its original delineation, the boundary of this EBSA has been extended further offshore by approximately 7-20 km to better align with the underlying biodiversity features following recent research, rather than following an old proposed MPA boundary that was not adopted nor proclaimed.

MARISMA updates

The site description has been updated, and the boundary has been revised.

Introduction of the area


The Namaqua coastal area is located from the estuary of the Spoeg River to the estuary of the Sout River in the Namaqua biogeographic region (bioregion) of South Africa (Sink et al., 2012), and from the dune base to approximately 33-36 km offshore. It consists of Namaqua coastal, inner, middle and outer shelf ecosystem types (Sink et al., 2019). The associated pelagic environment is characterized by upwelling, giving rise to very cold waters with very high productivity/chlorophyll levels (Lagabrielle 2009, Roberson et al., 2017). Altogether, the area includes three estuaries (van Niekerk and Turpie, 2012).

Description of location

The area is within the national jurisdiction of South Africa, occurring on the west coast, in the Namaqua bioregion. It is bounded to the north and south by the Spoeg and the Sout estuaries, respectively, extending offshore by approximately 33-36 km.


Area details

Feature description of the area

The area consists of Namaqua coastal, inner, middle and outer shelf ecosystem types (Sink et al., 2019). There are also three estuaries in the area (van Niekerk and Turpie 2011). The associated pelagic environment is characterized by very high productivity, high chlorophyll and very cold water (SST mean = 15.2°C) caused by upwelling (Lagabrielle 2009, Roberson et al., 2017), also serving as an important area for coastal fish (Turpie et al., 2000). There is a small part of the EBSA (midway along the shore) that was recently declared as a marine protected area that came into effect in 2019. The terrestrial habitat adjacent to the part of the EBSA that stretches between the Groen and Spoeg estuaries is within the Namaqua National Park and is, therefore, also protected.

Since original description, the EBSA has been extended offshore by approximately 7-20 km so that the new offshore extent is 36 km at its widest point. The alongshore extent remains the same as before between the Spoeg and Sout estuaries. The extension was based on better alignment with the features comprising the EBSA, and their condition and threat status, based on the best available information (e.g., Holness et al., 2014; Majiedt et al., 2013; Sink et al., 2012, 2019). This was also based on new research (Karenyi 2014) that has allowed better ecosystem mapping in the area, thus affording more accuracy in the EBSA boundary rather than following an old proposed MPA boundary that was not adopted. New fine-scale mapping of the coast (Harris et al., 2019) also allowed a more accuracte coastal boundary to be delineated. The site is presented as a Type 1 EBSA because it contains "Spatially stable features whose positions are known and individually resolved on the maps" (sensu Johnson et al., 2018).

Feature conditions and future outlook of the proposed area

Sink et al. (2012, 2019) estimated the threat status of marine and coastal habitat types identified for South Africa by assessing the (weighted) cumulative impacts of various pressures (e.g., extractive resource use, pollution, development, and others) on each habitat type. Six of the ecosystem types represented in the area are threatened, including two Endangered (Cool Temperate Arid Predominantly Closed Estuary; Southern Benguela Reflective Sandy Shore) and four Vulnerable types (Namaqua Exposed Rocky Shore; Namaqua Kelp Forest; Namaqua Mixed Shore; Namaqua Very Exposed Rocky Shore; Southern Benguela Intermediate Sandy Shore). This implies that there has been substantial degradation in natural/pristine condition of these ecosystem types, and it is expected that important components of biodiversity pattern have been lost and that ecological processes have been moderately to heavily modified.

Part of the coastal extent of the area (between the Brak and Sout rivers) is the only stretch of coast in the Northern Cape province of South Africa that is in good (natural/pristine) condition (Sink et al., 2012). This is because very little mining (the most prominent anthropogenic pressure on this coastline) or other pressures have affected this section. Moreover, other habitat in the area (particularly that between the Spoeg and Groen estuaries) was assessed to be mainly in fair condition, with little industry present in the area except for some boat-based mining for which SCUBA is used (Majiedt et al., 2013). Of the three estuaries in the EBSA, two (the Groen and the Spoeg) have been identified as national priorities for estuarine protection (van Niekerk and Turpie 2012). The lack of marine protected areas in South Africa's Northern Cape province was previously highlighted as an issue of concern (Sink et al., 2012, Majiedt et al., 2013). Considering this and the following characteristics of the area: (i) the threatened ecosystem types represented there, (ii) the relative lack of human industry and consequently the good condition of much of the habitat in the area, (iii) the connectivity between part of the area and an established terrestrial national park, and (iv) the priority for national estuarine conservation of two of the river mouths in the area, most of the extent of the area has been identified as priority marine/coastal habitat for spatial protection (Sink et al., 2012, Majiedt et al., 2013). Furthermore, a complementarity analysis based on fish distribution data indicated that the coast within the area is a priority area for the conservation of coastal fish species in South Africa (Turpie et al., 2000). Therefore, among the newly proclaimed MPAs in South Africa is a relatively small Namaqua National Park MPA in the middle of this EBSA.


Assessment of the area against CBD EBSA criteria

 Uniqueness or rarity


Rank: Low

None of the coastal/inshore/inner shelf or pelagic habitat types represented in the area are unique to the area (Sink et al., 2012, Majiedt et al., 2013).

 Special importance for life-history stages of species


Rank: Medium

 The area is part of the important west coast nursery area for commercially caught pelagic fish species in South Africa (Hutchings et al., 2002). It also includes three estuaries that may also provide nurseries for coastal fish species (van Niekerk and Turpie 2000), many of which are in an over-exploited state (Mann 2000). The site also includes breeding habitat for birds, such as white breasted cormorants (Crawford et al., 2013) and roost sites for African black oystercatchers (Rao et al., 2014).

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


Rank: High

Two of the ecosystem types represented in the area (Cool Temperate Arid Predominantly Closed Estuary; Southern Benguela Reflective Sandy Shore) are Endangered (Sink et al., 2019). This implies that very little of the total area of these habitat types in South Africa is in natural/pristine condition. The Vulnerable Namaqua Exposed Rocky Shore, Namaqua Kelp Forest, Namaqua Mixed Shore, Namaqua Very Exposed Rocky Shore and Southern Benguela Intermediate Sandy Shore are also found in the area. However, these habitat types were all found to be in good condition in the area, therefore the importance of the area for the conservation of these threatened habitat types has been emphasized (Majiedt et al., 2013). The Namaqua Coastal Area is also important for estuarine conservation, given the presence of three estuaries and the fact that the conservation status of ±80 % of South Africa’s estuarine area is classified as threatened (van Niekerk and Turpie 2012). Furthermore, populations of many coastal fish species in South Africa are under severe conservation threat, mainly due to overexploitation (Mann 2000), and the Namaqua Coastal Area is a key site for protection of coastal fish species in South Africa (Turpie et al., 2000).

 Vulnerability, fragility, sensitivity, or slow recovery


Rank:  Medium

The threatened status of habitat types that occur in the focus area (Sink et al., 2012), implies that degradation and some loss of ecosystem processes has been associated with these habitat types in other areas, and therefore that they are vulnerable to effects of human activities.

 Biological productivity


Rank: High

The pelagic environment associated with this area is characterized by very cold water, high chlorophyll concentrations and high biological productivity, due to wind-induced upwelling (Hutchings et al., 2009, Lagabrielle 2009). Due to the abundance of nutrients associated with the upwelling, the biomass of communities along the shoreline (intertidal) is significantly higher than in the other two bioregions of South Africa (Bustamante and Branch 1996).


 Biological diversity


Rank: Low

Although the productivity and biomass of communities along the shore of the Namaqua bioregion (where the EBSA occurs) is higher than elsewhere in the country, the species diversity is lower than elsewhere (Bustamante and Branch 1996). Notwithstanding, there are 13 ecosystem types present in this EBSA (Sink et al., 2019) that likely harbour a variety of species collectively.




Rank: High

There is a relative lack of human activities (past and present) in the Namaqua Coastal Area. A recent analysis of cumulative anthropogenic pressure of South Africa's marine environment showed that 98% of this EBSA is considered in good ecological condition, 2% fair and <1% poor ecological condition (Sink et al., 2019). Consequently, even ecosystem types that are threatened at a national level are in good ecological condition in this area (Sink et al., 2012), and hence have been highlighted as conservation priority areas along the South African west coast (Majiedt et al., 2013).



Bustamante, R.H., Branch, G.M. 1996. Large scale patterns and trophic structure of southern African rocky shores. The roles of geographic variation and wave exposure. Journal of Biogeography 23: 339-351.

Crawford, R.J.M., Randall, R.M., Whittington, P.A., Waller, L., Dyer, B.M., Allan, D.G., Fox, C., Martin, A.P., Upfold, L., Visagie, J., Bachoo, S., Bowker, M., Downs, C.T., Fox, R., Huisamen, J., Makhado, A.B., Oosthuizen, W.H., Ryan, P.G., Taylor R.H., Turpie, J.K. 2013. South Africa's coastal-breeding white-breasted cormorants: population trends, breeding season and movements, and diet. African Journal of Marine Science, 35: 473-490.

Harris, L.R., Bessinger, M., Dayaram, A., Holness, S., Kirkman, S., Livingstone, T.-C., Lombard, A.T., Lück-Vogel, M., Pfaff, M., Sink, K.J., Skowno, A.L., Van Niekerk, L., 2019. Advancing land-sea integration for ecologically meaningful coastal conservation and management. Biological Conservation 237, 81-89.

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.

Hutchings, L., van der Lingen, C.D., Griffiths, M., Roberts, M.R., Beckley, L.E., Sundby, S. 2002. Spawning on the edge: spawning grounds and nursery areas around the South African coast. Marine and Freshwater Research, 53: 307–318.

Hutchings, L., van der Lingen, C.D., Shannon, L.J., Crawford, R.J.M., Verheye, H.M.S., Bartholomae, C.H., van der Plas, A.K., Louw, D., Kreiner, A., Ostrowski, M., Fidel, Q., Barlow, R.G., Lamont, T., Cotzee, J., Shillington, F., Veitch, J., Currie, J.C., Monteiro, P.M.S. 2009. The Benguela Current: An ecosystem of four components. Progress in Oceanography, 83: 15 – 32.

Johnson, D.E., Barrio Froján, C., Turner, P.J., Weaver, P., Gunn, V., Dunn, D.C., Halpin, P., Bax, N.J., Dunstan, P.K., 2018. Reviewing the EBSA process: Improving on success. Marine Policy 88, 75-85.

Karenyi, N. 2014. Patterns and drivers of benthic macrofauna to support systematic conservation planning for marine unconsolidated sediment ecosystems. PhD thesis. Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, Port Elizabeth.

Lagabrielle, E. 2009. Preliminary report: National Pelagic Bioregionalisation of South Africa. Cape Town: South African National Biodiversity Institute.

Majiedt, P., Holness, S., Sink, K., Oosthuizen, A., Chadwick, P. 2013. Systematic Marine Biodiversity Plan for the West Coast of South Africa. South African National Biodiversity Institute, Cape Town.

Mann, B.Q. 2000. Status Reports for Key Linefish Species. Durban: Oceanographic Research Institute Special Publication.

Rao, A.S., Hockey, P.A.R., Montevecchi, W.A. 2014. Coastal Dispersal by Pre-Breeding African Black Oystercatchers Haematopus Moquini. Marine Ornithology, 42: 105–112.

Roberson, L.A., Lagabrielle, E., Lombard, A.T., Sink, K., Livingstone, T., Grantham, H., Harris, J.M. 2017. Pelagic bioregionalisation using open-access data for better planning of marine protected area networks. Ocean & Coastal Management, 148: 214-230.

Sink, K., Holness, S., Harris, L., Majiedt, P., Atkinson, L., Robinson, T., Kirkman, S., Hutchings, L., Leslie, R., Lamberth, S., Kerwath, S., von der Heyden, S., Lombard, A., Attwood, C., Branch, G., Fairweather, T., Taljaard, S., Weerts, S., Cowley, P., Awad, A., Halpern, B., Grantham, H., Wolf, T. 2012. National Biodiversity Assessment 2011: Technical Report. Volume 4: Marine and Coastal Component. South African National Biodiversity Institute, Pretoria.

Sink, K.J., van der Bank, M.G., Majiedt, P.A., Harris, L.R., Atkinson, L., Karenyi, N., Kirkman, S. (eds) 2019. National Biodiversity Assessment 2018 Technical Report Volume 4: Marine Realm. South African National Biodiversity Institute, Pretoria.

Turpie, J.K., Beckley, L.E., Katua, S.M. 2000. Biogeography and the selection of priority areas for conservation of South African coastal fishes. Biological Conservation, 92: 59–72.

Van Niekerk, L., Turpie, J.K. (eds). 2012. South African National Biodiversity Assessment 2011: Technical Report. Volume 3: Estuary Component. CSIR Report Number CSIR/NRE/ECOS/ER/2011/0045/B. Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, Stellenbosch.

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


Download the revised EBSA description:

icon Namaqua Coastal Area 2020 (1.08 MB)


Download the revised EBSA boundary:

icon Namaqua Coastal Area KMZ (34.64 kB)

icon Namaqua Coastal Area SHP (808.26 kB)


Download a map of the revised EBSA:

icon Namaqua Coastal Area 2020 (258.54 kB)