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iSimangaliso Wetland Park World Heritage Site

Parc de la zone humide d’iSimangaliso, South Africa


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iSimangaliso Wetland Park (previously known as the Greater St. Lucia Wetland Park) is situated on the east coast of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, about 275 kilometres north of Durban. It is South Africa's third-largest protected area, spanning 280 km of coastline, from the Mozambican border in the north to Mapelane south of the Lake St. Lucia estuary, and made up of around 3,280 km2 of natural ecosystems, managed by the iSimangaliso Authority. The park includes:

The park was previously known as the Greater St. Lucia Wetland Park, but was renamed effective 1 November 2007. The word isimangaliso means "miracle" in Zulu.

The park is due to be integrated into a transfrontier park, the Ponta do Ouro-Kosi Bay Transfrontier Conservation Area, straddling South Africa, Mozambique, and Swaziland. This is in turn planned to become a part of the greater Greater Lubombo Transfrontier Conservation Area.

Until 1895, the bay has been a proud home of the Tsonga people and their primitive Tsonga fish kraal. This is the original and the natural home of the Tsonga people and they have lived here for more than 1000 years. Records from early Portuguese sailors rightfully point out this area to be occupied by the Tsonga people and further down south. The area was also known as Tembeland or Thongaland but the name fell into disused around early 1900's. The area was ruled by a Tsonga branch of the Vahlanganu (Tembe), the Swiss Missionary, Reverend Henri Alexandra Junod (Known as HA Junod), conducted a scientific and ethnographic study of the Tsonga people during the early 1890s and produced a detailed map, showing the occupation of the bay by the Tsonga Tembe people. The Swiss Missionary, Rev Junod, illustrated in his detailed map that the area was known as Tembeland and that the Tembe capital city was located in the St Lucia bay. Rev Junod's map showed that by 1906, the Tsonga people occupied the land from St Lucia up until Valdezia in the Spelenkon district of the Transvaal province, known today as Limpopo Province. St Lucia bay and Maputo bay are one land and they belong to the Tsonga people, Tsonga villages were built from St Lucia bay until Maputo and they were not separated by any natural division. Around St Lucia, the ruling chief was the Tembe Royal Family, while around Maputo, the ruling class was the Maputo royal family, who are all of the Vahlanganu branch of the Tsonga people. In around Maputo and St Lucia bay (Tembeland), the language spoken is Ronga, which according to the Swiss Missionary, Rev HA Junod, is not an independent language but a dialect of Xitsonga. According to Rev Junod, Ronga language is so similar to Xitsonga to an extent that it cannot be regarded an independent language but a dialect of a major language known today as Xitsonga.

The Tsonga people were forcefully removed from the park when Britain colonised the area in 1895 and turned the place into a wildlife reserve and established a holiday town of St Lucia. Because of colonisation, the southern part of the park was handed over to the Zulu nation, while the northern part was given to the Tsonga people. Before colonisation, the Tsonga controlled the entire St Lucia bay. Despite colonisation and annexation of land, the Tsonga people still live in the northern part of the park, at Kosi Bay. The Tembe Elephant Park, run by Chief Israel Tembe, is a living history that testify to the rich Tsonga history of this wetland park. Chief Israel Tembe is the custodian of this ancient Tsonga land that was taken away during colonisation. The Tembe kingdom, one of the most powerful kingdoms in Southern Africa before colonisation, was a ruling class for more than eight centuries.

St. Lucia was first named in 1554 Rio de la Medaos do Oura (River of the Dows of Gold) by the survivors of the Portuguese ship Saint Benedict. At this stage, only the Tugela River mouth was known as St. Lucia. Later, in 1575, the Tugela River was named Tugela. On 13 December 1575, the day of the feast of Saint Lucy, Manuel Peresterello renamed the mouth area to Santa Lucia.

The park was proclaimed a world heritage site because of the rich biodiversity, unique ecosystems and natural beauty occurring in a relatively small area. The reason for the huge diversity in fauna and flora is the great variety of different ecosystems on the park, ranging from coral reefs and sandy beaches to subtropical dune forests, savannas, and wetlands. Animals occurring on the park include elephant, leopard, black and white rhino, buffalo, and in the ocean, whales, dolphins, and marine turtles including the leatherback and loggerhead turtle.

The park is also home to 1,200 Nile crocodiles and 800 hippopotami.

In December 2013, after 44 years of absence, also lions were reintroduced to iSimangaliso.

There are large outcroppings of underwater reefs which are home to brightly coloured fish and corals. Some of the most spectacular coral diversity in the world is located in Sodwana Bay. The reefs are inhabited by colour-changing octopuses and squid ready to ambush unsuspecting prey. Occasionally gigantic whale sharks can be seen gliding through the water; mouth agape to scoop up tiny plankton.

Twenty-four species of bivalve molluscs are recorded in St. Lucia Lake, which constitutes a considerable portion of the park.

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Points of interest in iSimangaliso Wetland Park

Latest activity in this protected area

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    Protected Area updated by IUCN, facilitated by UNEP-WCMC

    about 3 years ago

    Modified Geometry, Management Authority, No Take Area km2 and 5 more attributes see details >

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St. Lucia


Official Record

  • WDPA ID198302
  • NameiSimangaliso Wetland Park
  • Original NameParc de la zone humide d’iSimangaliso
  • Country / TerritoryZAF
  • Sub locationZA-NL
  • IUCN CategoryNot ApplicableWhat is this?
  • English DesignationWorld Heritage Site
  • Designation TypeInternational
  • StatusInscribed
  • Status Year1999
  • Reported Area km22395.66
  • Marinetrue
  • Reported Marine Area km2775.0
  • No TakeNot Reported
  • No Take Area km20.0
  • Governance TypeNot Reported
  • International Criteria(vii)(ix)(x)
  • Management AuthorityNot Reported
  • Management Plan URLNot Reported




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IUCN (2012)

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  • Iucn_red_white_small Logogbif

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