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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



Summary Located c. 190 km north of Durban, this site consists of the Richards Bay Game Reserve, which was formed when a berm wall was erected across Richards Bay estuary in 1976. The sanctuary portion of Richards Bay regularly holds over 20 000 waterbirds. When migrants are present, in summer, up to 50 000 waterbirds have been counted.

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.

Key Biodiversity See Box for key species. The site is important for migratory and nomadic waterbirds. The sanctuary portion of Richards Bay regularly holds over 20,000 waterbirds and, when Palearctic migrants are present in summer, up to 50,000 waterbirds have been counted. Phoenicopterus ruber and P. minor are almost always present, and the open water occasionally supports Sterna caspia. Species which occur in good numbers include Pelecanus rufescens, Platalea alba, Thalassornis leuconotus and Nettapus auritus. Gulls and terns are present in large numbers, including significant numbers of Larus cirrocephalus, Sterna bengalensis, S. hirundo, S. albifrons, Chlidonias hybridus and C. leucopterus. Richards Bay provides an important staging post for migrating waders as part of the east coast flyway, with the most numerous species including Pluvialis squatarola, Tringa cinerea, Calidris ferruginea, C. minuta and Numenius phaeopus. The flood-plain and surrounding marginal grassland is suitable for Balearica regulorum, Glareola pratincola, Turnix hottentotta and Crex crex (occasional records). Botaurus stellaris has been recorded in the past from a pan remnant near the harbour, and may still occur in the area.

Non-bird biodiversity: None known to BirdLife International.

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   

IBA Monitoring

2014 high near favourable medium
Habitat
Medium - based upon reliable but incomplete / partially representative data

Biological resource use fishing & harvesting aquatic resources - unintentional effects: large scale happening now majority/most of area/population (50-90%) moderate to rapid deterioration high
Biological resource use gathering terrestrial plants - unintentional effects (species being assessed is not the target) happening now some of area/population (10-49%) slow but significant deterioration medium
Climate change and severe weather storms and floods likely in long term (beyond 4 years) majority/most of area/population (50-90%) slow but significant deterioration medium
Energy production and mining mining and quarrying likely in short term (within 4 years) majority/most of area/population (50-90%) moderate to rapid deterioration high
Human intrusions and disturbance recreational activities happening now some of area/population (10-49%) no or imperceptible deterioration low
Human intrusions and disturbance war, civil unrest and military exercises happening now majority/most of area/population (50-90%) slow but significant deterioration high
Natural system modifications other ecosystem modifications happening now majority/most of area/population (50-90%) moderate to rapid deterioration high
Pollution agricultural & forestry effluents - herbicides and pesticides happening now some of area/population (10-49%) slow but significant deterioration medium
Pollution air-borne pollutants - type unknown/unrecorded happening now some of area/population (10-49%) slow but significant deterioration medium
Pollution domestic & urban waste water - run-off happening now majority/most of area/population (50-90%) slow but significant deterioration high
Pollution excess energy - light pollution happening now whole area/population (>90%) slow but significant deterioration high
Residential and commercial development tourism and recreation areas happening now small area/few individuals (<10%) no or imperceptible deterioration low
Transportation and service corridors utility & service lines happening now small area/few individuals (<10%) slow but significant deterioration low

Wetlands (inland) Estuarine waters  0 0 good (> 90%) good (> 90%) favourable
Wetlands (inland) Mangroves  0 0 good (> 90%) good (> 90%) favourable
Wetlands (inland) Riverine floodplains  0 0 good (> 90%) moderate (70-90%) near favourable

Whole area of site (>90%) covered by appropriate conservation designation  A management plan exists but it is out of date or not comprehensive  Substantive conservation measures are being implemented but these are not comprehensive and are limited by resources and capacity  medium 

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  

Habitats

IUCN habitat Habitat detail Extent (% of site)
Wetlands (inland) Estuarine waters; Mangroves; Riverine floodplains  -

Land use

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

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

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Recommended citation  BirdLife International (2015) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Richards Bay Game Reserve. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 01/08/2015

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