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Location South Africa, KwaZulu-Natal
Central coordinates 32o 1.00' East  28o 50.00' South
IBA criteria A1, A4i, A4iii
Area 1,200 ha
Altitude 0 - 10m
Year of IBA assessment 2001

BirdLife South Africa

Site description Located c.190 km north of Durban, this site consists of Richards Bay Game Reserve, which was formed when a four-kilometre-long causeway was erected across Richards Bay estuary in 1976, as part of the development of the harbour. To the south-west of this berm, the bay was left undisturbed as a Nature Reserve (or sanctuary area). Here, three rivers (all are canalized) flow into the shallow mudflats and estuarine area: the Mtantatweni river drains Lake Cubhu, which lies to the south; an unnamed channel, in the south-west corner of the sanctuary, drains the sugar-cane lands on the flood-plain; and the primary river, the Mhlatuze, forms the estuary itself. The estuarial lagoon opens to the sea via an artificially created outlet, and river flows play an important part in keeping this mouth open. The lagoon is tidal and very shallow, and is fringed by extensive stands of mangroves Rhizophora (the best surviving population in KwaZulu-Natal). Vegetation along the Richards Bay–Empangeni road consists of extensive stands of papyrus, with tall, dense, coarse grass and forbs at the edge. Other sites in the area have Phragmites, or mixed emergent sedges, grass and Typha.The once extensive papyrus swamps on the Mhlatuze river flood-plain have been largely drained and the land used for sugar-cane cultivation. The nearby Thulazihleka Pan owes its origin to the disposal of spoil dredged in 1976. It has shallow water with beds of emergent Phragmites, Typha and Schoenoplectus, much aquatic vegetation such as Lemna, Potamogeton and Ceratophyllum, and much emergent and floating matted grass mixed with patches of the tall reeds and sedges. On the harbour side of the development, saltmarsh and mangroves have been, or are in the process of being, eliminated. A well-preserved remnant of climax coastal dune forest remains on the eastern side of the sanctuary area. Savanna communities overlook the sanctuary from higher land near Lake Cubhu. Ilala palms Hyphaene are scattered throughout.

Populations of IBA trigger species

Species Season Period Population estimate Quality of estimate IBA Criteria IUCN Category
White-backed Duck Thalassornis leuconotus winter  70-238 individuals  A4i  Least Concern 
Lesser Flamingo Phoeniconaias minor winter  present  A1  Near Threatened 
African Spoonbill Platalea alba winter  69-150 individuals  A4i  Least Concern 
Common Tern Sterna hirundo winter  3,573-13,000 individuals  A4i  Least Concern 
White-winged Tern Chlidonias leucopterus winter  1,157-2,037 individuals  A4i  Least Concern 
A4iii Species group - waterbirds winter  20,000 individuals  unknown  A4iii   

Protected areas

Protected area Designation Area (ha) Relationship with IBA Overlap with IBA (ha)  
Richards Bay Provincial Nature Reserve 1,340 protected area contains site 1,200  


IUCN habitat Habitat detail Extent (% of site)
Wetlands (inland) Coastal lagoons; Mangroves; Montane bogs, swamps and mires  -
Forest   100%

Land use

Land-use Extent (% of site)
agriculture -
nature conservation and research 100%
nature conservation and research 100%

Other biodiversity None known to BirdLife International.

References Begg (1978), Taylor (1997b).

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Recommended citation  BirdLife International (2014) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Richards Bay Game Reserve. Downloaded from on 31/07/2014

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