Sites - Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs)
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Richards Bay Game Reserve
South Africa, KwaZulu-Natal
32o 1.00' East 28o 50.00' South
A1, A4i, A4iii
0 - 10m
Year of IBA assessment
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.