iSimangaliso Wetland Park

iSimangaliso Wetland Park  -  Greater St Lucia Wetland Park
On 27 april 1897 St Lucia was declared a game reserve. The conservation area was a 35000 hectare lake with a 1km strip of land surrounding the lake. At a later stage other conservation areas were added. On 1 December 1999 UNESCO declared the lake and adjacent coastal areas a world heritage site. The 328 000 hectare reserve was south africa’s first world heritage site and encompasses 5 five major ecological zones.

Makakatana Bay Lodge remains the only privately owned lodge situated within this world heritage site.

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Ecological Zones
The Greater St Lucia Wetland Park encompasses 5 major ecological zones:

Marine Ecosystem: Warm sea, coral reefs teaming with fish, whales and dolphins.
Eastern Shores Ecosystem: Golden beaches flanked by some of the highest vegetated sand dunes in the world, grassy plains and a variety of wetlands.
Lake St Lucia: Africa's largest natural estuary, populated by hippopotamus, crocodile and water birds.
Mkuze Swamps: A reed and papyrus wetland
Western Shores: Dry savannah and thornveld with rich deposits of fossils.

The Size of the Lake
Lake St. Lucia is the largest marine lake in Africa and is connected by the sea in the South by 21 km of winding channels called the Wetland Narrows. It then opens up to the main lake that is approximately 40km long and the width is between 100 metres and 21km wide. The average depth is about 1 metre and the expanse of water is about 300sq km.

Feeder Rivers to the Lake
5 Rivers that feed the Lake are the Mpate, Nyalazi, Hluhluwe, Mzinene and the largest being the Mkuze River. There is an incredible interplay between marine and freshwater life where in the saline areas there are mangrove swamps and the less saline area there are lake reeds. The lake system provides an important nursery for many marine species where eg. Fish and prawns breed in the sea and migrate to the lake to mature. In fact, the St. Lucia Lake system is probably the most important prawn habitat in South Africa.

Salinity of the Lake
The ecological status of the Lake responds significantly to the fresh water influx.

When the rainfall has been low, the salinity rises, changing the ecosystem. During the saline phase there are higher numbers of Flamingo & Pelican in the lake When the lake salinity reaches that of the sea, the numbers of Pelican seen escalate substantially.

Two species of flamingo are found here, The Greater Flamingo and The Lesser Flamingo. Flamingos are filter feeders and feed with their heads upside down. The Lesser Flamingo filters microscopic algae and diatoms food from the surface, whereas the Greater Flamingo submerge their entire head and feed on larger crustaceans, moluscs and diptera larvae.

Marine Life in the Estuary
It is estimated that over a hundred different species of fish utilize the St Lucia estuary as a nursery, but use the sea as the maternity ward or spawning area.

Annual spawning occurs between April and August.

Marine Life
Activities include diving or coral reefs, boat cruises, walking for miles on golden beaches, exploring great dunes, wandering through magical coastal forests or roaming across grassy plains. You can also try your hand at canoeing, snorkeling and angling. This is the place to indulge yourself.

The Coelacanths
The oldest living species on the planet, the Coelacanth, is found in deep water off the Greater St Lucia Wetland Park. The Coelacanth was thought to be long extinct, but in 1938 the first specimen was found along the eastern coast of Africa. It has now become known that Coelacanths live in the underwater canyons offshore of the Greater St Lucia Wetland Park.

Scientists are trying to research these creatures and obtain an understanding of the number of these fish, their locations and habitats. They are also interested in finding out if the population of coelacanths living in these waters are resident and are breeding.

Information found will feed the Greater St Lucia Wetland Park Coelacanth Management plan so that the species can be conserved and protected as part of the World Heritage Site.

The Greater St Lucia Wetland Park supports approximately 367 different bird species in 11 major habitats. There are only a few places in Africa that support such a concentration of bird life. About one third of the species are waterside birds. St. Lucia has the only breeding colony in South Africa of the pink backed pelican. Flocks of flamingo’s and pelican make homes on the islands when the plankton levels are high.

There has been a substantial increase of animal species within the Greater St Lucia Wetland Park Reserve. The most noticeable are the buffalo and elephant now to be seen on the Eastern and Western shores. The goal of the Conservation Park Authority is to re-habilitate the park and re-introduce animals that used to occur in this region. A Game Introduction Policy has been set out and are formulating a 5 year Game Introduction Programme whereby they will be able to determine what species will be introduced and to what areas.

Although typically home to Hippopotamus and Crocodile, the Greater St Lucia Wetland Park will eventually become a Big 5 Game Reserve.

As it currently stands the Park is only short of Lion.