Biodiversity and tourism on the Cape West Coast

Tourism is one of the world’s fastest growing sectors and, over the last decade, nature and adventure travel has emerged as the fastest growing segment of the industry. These days, rather than visit bustling cities, many travelers are attracted by natural landscapes which harbour significant and unique biodiversity and they are looking to visit unspoilt coastal areas, swim in clean waters and experience wildlife in its natural habitat.

By far the most richly and uniquely abundant natural area in South Africa is the West Coast, specifically the Biodiversity Corridor. Beginning a mere 25 minutes from Cape Town on the scenic coastal R27 road, and stretching from Blaauwberg Nature Reserve up to Langebaan and beyond, it’s a veritable treasure trove of pristine nature.

The West Coast Biodiversity Corridor is an internationally recognized biodiversity hotspot with more than 1500 endemic plants, birds, mammals, reptile and amphibian species.

The West Coast Biodiversity Corridor is an internationally recognized biodiversity hotspot with more than 1500 endemic plants, birds, mammals, reptile and amphibian species.

Flora

Part of the Cape Floristic Region and inside the Fynbos biome, the West Coast is home to thousands of species of unique plants, most of which are found nowhere else in the world. For this reason, UNESCO deemed the Cape Floristic Region Protected Areas a World Heritage Site and specifically on the West Coast, proclaimed the Cape West Coast Biosphere Reserve. When you consider that although the Cape Floristic Region occupies only a tiny fraction of land at the bottom of Africa, yet hosts almost 20% of all floras on the continent, one begins to grasp the true natural wealth of this unique region. 1

  • There are almost 9 000 plant species, and of those, 70% are endemic (found nowhere else)
  • There are 2 285 fynbos species in an area a third of the size of greater London.
  • A full 3% of all the world’s plants are found here, on less than 0.05% of the Earth’s land surface.
  • The Western Cape is also under the highest threat with twice as many threatened species as all the other provinces combined making Cape Town the plant extinction capital of the world.2
  • The West Coast Corridor alone has more than 1 200 plant species, of which 194 are threatened by extinction.
The West Coast Biodiversity Corridor is an internationally recognized biodiversity hotspot with more than 1500 endemic plants, birds, mammals, reptile and amphibian species.

The West Coast Biodiversity Corridor is an internationally recognized biodiversity hotspot with more than 1500 endemic plants, birds, mammals, reptile and amphibian species.

Fauna

The West Coast is also home to a rich diversity of wildlife, both marine and terrestrial. Birdlife International identified four Important Birding Areas (IBAs) on the West Coast which includes the Langebaan Lagoon, a registered Ramsar wetland site. 4 & 5

  • The lagoon is unique in that it has no river feeding into the lagoon, but contains a third of the entire salt marsh habitat in the country! In summer, it supports up to 55 000 water birds and when including the 5 islands off the coast, more than a quarter of a million birds, many of which are endemic to the region.
  • The internationally famous Bird Island of Lamberts Bay is the most accessible Cape Gannet colony in the world
  • Velorenvlei, in Elandsbaai, also a Ramsar wetland site and IBA, is an important feeding area for the Great white pelican, supporting a quarter of the Western Cape’s entire population along with at least 15 other threatened bird species.
  • It is the southernmost point for the Palearctic migratory birds from northern Europe and Siberia, making it a bird-watcher’s paradise.
  • Fed by the nutrient-rich Benguela current which supports an incredible biologically productive marine ecosystem, the waters of the West Coast teem with marine life.
  • Southern Right whales return here to mate and calve annually and they conveniently enter the Bay of Saldanha and the calmer waters at the mouth of the Lagoon to calve, with the peak calving period overlapping our Langebaan wild flower season.
  • St Helena Bay is home to a population of the exceptionally rare and elusive Heaviside’s dolphin, classified as Data Deficient by the IUCN Red List.
Geelbeksterretjie - Swift Tern – at West Coast National Park

Geelbeksterretjie – Swift Tern – at West Coast National Park

The West Coast is also home to an array of mammalian wildlife which includes large antelope such as Eland, Red Hartebeest, Bontebok,  Duiker, Steenbok and Grysbok and smaller indigenous animals such include the Honey badger, Cape Fox, Bat Eared Fox, Caracal and Cape Grey Mongoose.

Also hosting world famous cultural heritage sites such as the Mamre werf, !Khwa ttu and the West Coast Fossil Park, it is no surprise then that the region was declared one of only 34 biodiversity ‘hot spots’ in the entire world.

Celebrated for its wild beauty and natural splendour, the West Coast is unspoiled and authentic, known for its hospitable, friendly people and unpretentious way of life.  Dotted with charming fishing villages and quaint towns, flanked by the Atlantic Ocean and dramatic mountain ranges inland, and offering myriad activities, the West Coast is a very special place that anyone who appreciates natural splendour would definitely add to their bucket list.

Wildlife at !Khwa ttu, on the R27

Wildlife at !Khwa ttu, on the R27

  1. UNESCO World Heritage Conservation programme: http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1007 – Cape Floral Region Protected Areas
  2. SANBI Red list of South African plants.  http://redlist.sanbi.org/stats.php – Plant conservation Statistics.
  3. DCCP species list. – I have a master copy.
  4. BirdLife SA: http://www.birdlife.org.za/conservation/important-bird-areas/iba-map – IBA’s (Important Birding Areas).
  5. RAMSAR Wetland Sites : https://rsis.ramsar.org/ris/398 – Langebaan Lagoon.
  6. Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund: http://www.cepf.net/where_we_work/regions/africa/cape_floristic_region/Pages/default.aspx – Cape Floristic Region Biodiversity Hotspot.

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