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EBSA overview

Kunene-Tigres is a transboundary EBSA shared between Namibia and Angola, which spans the Kunene River mouth and includes the Tigres Island-Bay complex. Although separated by 50 km, the Kunene River outflow influences the salinity, sediment, and productivity within the Tigres Bay. The Tigres Island-Bay complex forms a rare coastal wetland that plays an important role in the life cycles of many marine and terrestrial fauna, and is an Important Bird Area. The Kunene River mouth and adjacent habitat is also an Important Bird Area, additionally supporting the highest density of green turtles in Namibia, and containing many marine and freshwater reptiles and fish, crustaceans, and transient marine mammals. Many of the species represented are threatened and/or endemic.

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Delineation

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Summary of updates and revisions to the EBSA description

Editing and formatting throughout; 4 new references and 1 table added.

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Revised EBSA description

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General Information

Summary

Kunene-Tigres is a coastal transboundary EBSA shared by Namibia and Angola. The Kunene River, its mouth and associated wetland, and the Tigres Island-Bay complex are integrally linked by physicochemical processes. Although separated by ~50 km, the Kunene River influences the salinity, sediment and productivity within the Tigres Bay north of the river mouth. The Kunene-Tigres area is highly relevant in terms of its uniqueness, importance for migratory birds, nursery functions and high habitat and species diversity.

 

Introduction of the area

Adjacent to the arid, mostly uninhabited, and fairly remote 100 km of the southern Angolan coastline is an area of limited geographic but notable ecological prominence. Tigres Island and adjacent bay are a remnant of the pre-1970s peninsula formed by sediment discharged from the Kunene River. These features form a rare coastal wetland that plays an important role in the life cycles of many marine and terrestrial fauna (Simmons et al. 2006, Paterson 2007). The predominantly sandy island, measuring ~6 km at its widest point and ~22 km in length, has withstood the weathering effects of the Atlantic since the breaching of the isthmus in 1973, and has become an important site for a number of migratory and resident aquatic fauna (Morant 1996b, Simmons et al. 2006, Dyer 2007, Meÿer 2007). Approximately 50 km south of Tigres Island, the Kunene River mouth is an ecologically significant natural marine-freshwater feature. Although discharge volumes are erratic, this sub-tropical, perennial river may discharge up to 30 million m3 of fresh water per day into the sea. This has pronounced physicochemical influences on the adjacent marine habitat (sublittoral to littoral coastal region) to an extent of ~100 km from the river mouth (mostly northwards, but also southwards during certain times of year and during abnormal climatic events, such as Benguela Niños; Simmons et al. 1993, Shillington 2003). A lagoon extends 2 km south from the river mouth (Simmons et al. 1993). These features provide foraging, roosting and breeding habitat for a range of fauna, including sea- and shorebirds (Braine 1990, Simmons et al. 1993, Anderson et al. 2001, Dyer 2007, Simmons 2010), marine and freshwater reptiles (Griffin & Channing 1991, Simmons et al. 1993, Griffin 1994, Carter & Bickerton 1996, Griffin 2002), crustaceans (Carter & Bickerton 1996), marine and freshwater fish species (Simmons et al. 1993, Hay et al. 1997, Fishpool & Evans 2001, Holtzhausen 2003), as well as resident (Meÿer 2007) and transient marine mammals (Patterson 2007). Thus, based on these factors and the fact that the Tigres Island-Bay area is integrally linked to the Kunene River mouth and immediately adjacent environment, Kunene-Tigres is described herein as an area meeting EBSA criteria.

 

Description of the location

EBSA Region

South-Eastern Atlantic

 

Description of location

The delineated area encompasses ~9600 km2, extending along the shore approximately 100 km north of the Kunene mouth into southern Angola (24 km north of Tigres Island), and 40 km south of the Kunene mouth into northern Namibia, with an offshore “tongue” extending a further 14 km south. The maximum offshore extent is approximately 100 km, although the Namibian sections extend only 30 km offshore. The focus area includes the lagoon and approximately 12 km of estuary. Kunene-Tigres is well within the national jurisdictions of the two neighbouring countries it straddles (i.e., Angola and Namibia), with >80 % of the area falling within Angolan jurisdiction. In Namibia it borders the Skeleton Coast Park; in Angola it borders the Iona National Park.

 

Feature description of the area

Tigres Bay is approximately 11 km at its widest point (northern region of Tigres Bay) and ~8.5 km at its narrowest point (southern limit of Tigres Island from the mainland), with a longitudinal extent of ~60 km. It is an Important Bird Area with high bird diversity. Past surveys of the area have recorded 26 bird species with abundances of around 13000 individuals (Simmons et al. 1993, Simmons et al. 2006, Simmons 2010). Several bird species, including globally or locally threatened Cape Cormorants, Great White Pelicans, Caspian and Damara terns breed on Tigres Island or along the bay (Simmons et al. 2006, Dyer 2007, Simmons 2010), and Cape fur seals breed on the island (Meÿer 2007). The Kunene River mouth and adjacent marine habitat is also an Important Bird Area that supports a lower bird density (~4000 individuals) than does Tigres Bay, but higher species richness, and serves as a refueling and resting area for Palearctic migrant bird species (Simmons et al. 1993). At least 119 bird species have been recorded there (Paterson 2007). Furthermore, this area is known to support the largest density of green turtles in Namibia (Griffin & Channing 1991, Simmons et al. 2006). Habitat heterogeneity is relatively high, with 15 habitats present in the EBSA. These include representation of two threatened habitat types: the Endangered Cunene Outer Shelf, and Vulnerable Cunene Shelf Edge. These threat statuses were determined by assessing the (weighted) cumulative impacts of various pressures (e.g., extractive resource use, pollution, development and others) on each habitat type for Namibia and Angola (Table 1; Holness et al., 2014).

 

Feature conditions and future outlook of the proposed area

Due to the remoteness of the area, limited human impacts (apart from mining) on the marine and coastal areas have resulted in this area being relatively pristine. However, threats to the pristine nature of this ecologically important area include industrial interests upstream of the Kunene River mouth (including proposals to dam the river to generate power) and recent increases in fishing, mining and tourism interests on both sides of the river mouth (Simmons et al. 1993, Paterson 2007). The Namibian portions of the area are generally in good condition, although most of the Angolan area is in fair condition, largely due to the high intensity of artisanal and commercial fishing (Holness et al., 2014). Consequently, overall 63 % of the area has been identified as being in fair condition, and 25 % in good condition.

 

Other relevant website address or attached documents

Table 1: Summary of ecosystem types and threat status for Kunene-Tigres. Data from Holness et al. (2014).

Ecosystem Threat Status

Ecosystem Type

Area (km2)

Area (%)

Endangered

Cunene Outer Shelf

922.8

9.8

Endangered Total

 

922.8

9.8

Vulnerable

Cunene Shelf Edge

440.4

4.7

Vulnerable Total

 

440.4

4.7

Least Threatened

Cunene Dissipative-Intermediate Sandy Beach

11.6

0.1

 

Cunene Estuarine Shore

6.2

0.1

 

Cunene Inner Shelf

2,228.1

23.6

 

Cunene Inshore

502.6

5.3

 

Cunene Intermediate Sandy Beach

43.6

0.5

 

Cunene Island

863.3

9.1

 

Cunene Lagoon Coast

4.7

0.0

 

Cunene Low-energy Reflective Sandy Beach

14.3

0.2

 

Cunene Lower Slope

896

9.5

 

Cunene Mixed Shore

28.5

0.3

 

Cunene Reflective Sandy Beach

26.6

0.3

 

Cunene Shelf

1,575.1

16.7

 

Cunene Upper Slope

1,894.9

20.0

Least Threatened Total

 

8,095.7

85.6

Grand Total

 

9,458.9

100

 

Status of submission

Areas described as meeting EBSA criteria that were considered by the Conference of the Parties

 

COP Decision

dec-COP-12-DEC-22

 

References

Anderson M.D., Anderson R.A., Anderson S.L., Anderson T.A., Bader U., Heinrich D., Hofmeyer J.H., Kolberg C., Komen J., Paterson B., Paterson J., Sinclair K., Sinclair W., van Zijl D., van Zijl, H. 2001. Notes on the birds and other animals recorded at the Kunene River mouth from 6-8 January 2001. Bird Numbers, 10: 52-56.

Barnard P. Curtis, B. 1998. Sites of special ecological importance. In: Biological Diversity in Namibia: a Country Study. Barnard, P. (ed.) 1998. Namibian National Biodiversity Task Force, Windhoek. Pages: 74-75.

Bethune S. 1998. Wetland habitats. In: Biological Diversity in Namibia: a Country Study. Barnard, P. (ed.). Namibian National Biodiversity Task Force. Windhoek. Pages 60-66.

Braine S. 1990. Records of birds of the Cunene River estuary. Lanioturdus, 25: 38–44.

Carter R., Bickerton, I.B. 1996. Chapter 5 Aquatic Fauna. In: Environmental Study of the Kunene River Mouth. Morant, P. D. ed.). CSIR Report EMAS - C96023. CSIR, Stellenbosch.

Carr T., Carr, N. 1991. Surveys of the Sea Turtles of Angola. Biological Conservation, 58: 19-29.

De Moor F.C., Barber-James H.M., Harrison, A.D., Lugo-Ortiz, C.R. 2000. The macro-invertebrates of the Cunene River from the Ruacana Falls to the river mouth and assessment of the conservation status of the river. African Journal of Aquatic Sciences, 25: 105-122.

Dentlinger, L. 2005. Namibia, Angola eye reviving Kunene hydropower plans. The Namibian. Wednesday, August 17. Dyer B.M. 2007. Report on top-predator survey of southern Angola including Ilha dos Tigres, 20-29 November 2005. In: Kirkman, S.P. (Ed.), Final Report of the BCLME (Benguela Current Large Marine Ecosystem) Project on Top Predators as Biological Indicators of Ecosystem Change in the BCLME. Avian Demography Unit, Cape Town, pp. 303–306.

Fishpool L.D.C., Evans, M.I. (eds.) 2001. Important Bird Areas in Africa and associated islands: Priority sites for conservation. Newbury and Cambridge, UK: Pisces Publications and BirdLife International. BirdLife Conservation Series No. 11.

Fretey, J. 2001. Biogeography and conservation of marine turtles of the Atlantic coast of Africa. CMS Technical Series Publication No. 6, UNEP/CMS Secretariat, Bonn, Germany: 429 pp.

Griffin, M. 1994. Report on the Reptiles of the Kunene Mouth. In: Tyldesley, P. (Comp) Report on an Integrated Scientific Data Collecting Expedition to the Mouth of the Kunene River 19/04/94 – 23/04/94. NNF report.

Griffin, M. 2002. Annotated checklist and provisional conservation status of Namibian reptiles. Technical Reports of Scientific Services No 1, Ministry of Environment and Tourism, Windhoek: 168 pp.

Griffin, M., Channing, A. 1991. Wetland: associated reptiles and amphibians of Namibia – a national review. Madoqua, 17: 221-225.

Hay, C.J., van Zyl, B.J., van der Bank F.H., Ferreira J.T., Steyn, G.J. 1997. A survey of the fishes of the Cunene River, Namibia. Madoqua, 19: 129-141.

Holness S., Kirkman S., Samaai T., Wolf T., Sink K., Majiedt P., Nsiangango S., Kainge P., Kilongo K., Kathena J., Harris L., Lagabrielle E., Kirchner C., Chalmers R., Lombard, M. 2014. Spatial Biodiversity Assessment and Spatial Management, including Marine Protected Areas. Final report for the Benguela Current Commission project BEH 09-01.

Holtzhausen, H. 2003. Fish of the Kunene River mouth. BCLME Orange-Kunene estuaries workshop. 21-23 October 2003, Swakopmund, Namibia. Kolberg H. & Simmons R.E. 1998. Wetlands. In: Biological Diversity in Namibia: a Country Study. Barnard, P. (ed.). 1998. Namibian National Biodiversity Task Force. Windhoek. Pages 47-48.

Lutjeharms, J.R.E., Meeuwis, J.M. 1987. The extent and variability of the South East Atlantic upwelling. South African Journal of Marine Science, 5: 51-62.

Meÿer, M.A. 2007. The first aerial survey of Cape Fur Seal numbers at Baia dos Tigres, southern Angola. In: Kirkman, S.P. (Ed.), Final Report of the BCLME (Benguela Current Large Marine Ecosystem) Project on Top Predators as Biological Indicators of Ecosystem Change in the BCLME. Avian Demography Unit, Cape Town, pp. 307.

Morant, P.D. 1996a. Chapter 1 Introduction. In: Morant, P. D. 1996 (ed.) Environmental Study of the Kunene River Mouth. CSIR Report EMAS-C96023. CSIR Stellenbosch.

Morant, P.D. 1996b. Chapter 6 Avifauna of the Kunene River Mouth. In: Morant, P. D. 1996 (ed.) Environmental Study of the Kunene River Mouth. CSIR Report EMAS-C96023. CSIR Stellenbosch.

Paterson, J.R.B. 2007. The Kunene River Mouth: Managing a unique environment. MSc Thesis, Unversity of KwaZulu Natal, Pietermaritzburg, South Africa: 124 pp.

Ryan, P.G., Cooper, J., Stutterheim, C. J. 1984. Waders (Charadrii) and other coastal birds of the Skeleton Coast, South West Africa. Madoqua, 14: 71-78.

Shillington, F. 2003. Oceanography. In: Namibia’s Marine Environment. Molloy, F. and Reinikainen, T. (eds.). Directorate of Environmental Affairs of the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, Namibia. Windhoek: 162 pp.

Simmons, R.E. 2010. First breeding records for Damara Terns and density of other shorebirds along Angola’s Namib Desert coast. Ostrich, 81: 19-23.

Simmons, R.E., Braby R, Braby, S.J. 1993. Ecological studies of the Kunene River mouth: avifauna, herpetofauna, water quality, flow rates, geomorphology and implications of the Epupa Dam. Madoqua, 18: 163-180.

Simmons, R.E., Sakko A., Paterson J. & A. Nzuzi 2006. Birds and Conservation Significance of the Namib Desert's least known coastal wetlands: Baia and Ilha dos Tigres, Angola. African journal of marine science, 28: 713-717.

Simmons, R.E., Brown, C.J., Kemper, J. 2015. Birds to watch in Namibia: red, rare and endemic species. Ministry of Environment and Tourism and Namibia Nature Foundation, Windhoek, Namibia.

Schneider, G.I.C., Miller, R.McG. 1992. Diamonds. Ministry of Mines and Energy Geological Survey Namibia. Economic Geology Series open file report.

 

Assessment of the area against CBD EBSA criteria

C1: Uniqueness or rarity High

Justification

The Kunene-Tigres area is unique in the sense that it is the only sheltered, predominantly marine, sandy bay with a link to a perennial river for a 1500 km stretch along the Namibian coast and a 200 km stretch along the Angolan coast (Simmons et al. 2006). Being both geographically and biologically isolated, this area is ranked amongst the most threatened habitats in Namibia (Simmons et al. 1993, Carter and Bickerton 1996, Barnard and Curtis 1998, Bethune 1998, De Moor et al. 2000) and supports reptilian fauna unique to southern Africa (Kolberg & Simmons 1998). Furthermore, the Kunene-Tigres wetland is globally unique because it is the only freshwater input area that is located adjacent to an upwelling cell, viz. the Kunene upwelling cell, and wedged within the longitudinal range of a warm-cold water frontal system, i.e., the Angola-Benguela frontal system (Lutjeharms & Meeuwis 1987, Paterson 2007).

 

C2: Special importance for life-history stages of species High

Justification

The Kunene-Tigres wetland serves as resting grounds for Palearctic migratory birds that use the area to build up energy reserves during their seasonal migrations (Simmons et al. 1993). The area (particularly Tigres Island) also serves as the breeding site for several bird species (Simmons et al. 2006, Simmons 2010). In addition to a colony of Cape fur seals, a number of other marine mammals (in particular Heaviside’s dolphins, long-finned pilot whales, bottlenose dolphins, beaked whales and Atlantic humpback dolphins) have also been recorded in the general area (Dyer 2007, Paterson 2007). However, little research has been done on cetaceans there, and they are currently considered to be only transient visitors to the area (Paterson 2007). Kunene-Tigres is very important for green turtles, with high densities of these animals known to occur in the area, which also represents the southern-most distribution of the species along the African west coast (Carr & Carr 1991, Griffin and Channing 1991, Carter & Bickerton 1996, Branch 1998, Griffin 2002, Fretey 2001, Paterson 2007). Furthermore, Kunene-Tigres is an important spawning area for many marine fish species found along the northern and central Namibian coast (Hay et al. 1997, Holtzhausen 2003).

 

C3: Importance for threatened, endangered or declining species and/or habitats Medium

Justification

The EBSA contains portions of two threatened habitats, assessed by determining the (weighted) cumulative impacts of various pressures (e.g., extractive resource use, pollution, development and others) on each habitat type for Namibia and Angola (Table 1; Holness et al., 2014): the Endangered Cunene Outer Shelf, and Vulnerable Cunene Shelf Edge. Further, the Kunene-Tigres area (including the island, the bay, the river mouth and adjacent marine environment) supports threatened and/or regionally endemic bird species – in particular the Great White Pelican: Pelecanus onocrotalus, Cape Cormorant: Phalacrocorax capensis, Lesser Flamingo: Phoeniconaias minor, African Black Oystercatcher: Haematopus moquini, Hartlaub’s Gull: Chroicocephalus hartlaubii, Caspian Tern: Hydroprogne caspia and Damara Tern: Sternula balaenara (Barnard & Curtis 1998, Anderson et al. 2001, Simmons et al. 2006, Simmons et al. 2015). Cetaceans that are endemic to the region (Heaviside’s dolphin: Cephalorhynchus heavisidii), or are threatened also make use of this area during their life cycles (Paterson 2007). The resident edible freshwater prawn: Macrobrachium vollenhovenii is also believed to be geographically, ecophysiologically and morphologically distinct here due to the physical characteristics of the Kunene River mouth (Carter and Bickerton 1996, Patterson 2007). Large aggregations of green turtles, Chelonia mydas, found in the area further support the significance of the area in relation to this EBSA criterion. However, this criterion is ranked as medium because the cetaceans listed are probably non-resident here, and there are other areas along the Namibian coast that are considered more important in terms of supporting threatened and endemic bird species.

 

C4: Vulnerability, fragility, sensitivity, or slow recovery Medium

Justification

The Kunene-Tigres wetland is believed to be vulnerable to environmental change, mainly as a result of anthropogenic stress from activities such fishing, mining and other industrial development (Schneider & Miller 1992, Simmons et al. 1993, De Moor et al. 2000, Paterson 2007). Historically, dams constructed along the upper reaches of the Kunene River (six in total) have not had significant negative impacts on the flow characteristics of the river and naturalness of the adjacent wetland (Paterson 2007). This may be linked to the fact that the six dams have never been in operation at the same time due to structural damages sustained during the historic civil unrest in the region. This, however, may change as there is a proposal for a new hydroelectric dam to be built in the vicinity of the Epupa Falls (Dentlinger 2005), and potential still exists for the renovation of the existing six dams (Paterson 2007). Limited fishing occurs in the area that poses threats to vulnerable species such green turtles (which are often targeted by small military contingents near the Kunene River mouth) and marine mammals, which can get entangled in gillnets used by the fishers on the Angolan side of the border (Paterson 2007). On the Namibian side marine diamond mining poses a threat to the area although it is located some 180 km south of the Kunene River mouth (Schneider & Miller 1992, Patterson 2007). There has also been a proposal for a deepwater harbour at one of two locations (viz. Cape Fria or Angra Fria), which are located roughly 160 and 130 km south of the Kunene River mouth, respectively (Paterson 2007). There have also been calls for the investigation of aquaculture viability at the Kunene River mouth, focusing on the edible freshwater prawn that is resident to the area (Patterson 2007). Furthermore, limited tourism interests are already established on the Namibian side, and with tourism gaining momentum on the Angolan side, this industry could also pose a threat to the naturalness of the area if not properly regulated (Simmons et al. 2006, Paterson 2007).

 

C5: Biological productivity Medium

Justification

The Kunene-Tigris area is considered to be moderately productive due to its unique geographical location. It is situated within the moderately strong Kunene Upwelling Cell, within the longitudinal range of the Angola-Benguela frontal system (Lutjeharms & Meeuwis 1987, Paterson 2007), and at the mouth of one of only two perennial rivers in Namibia. The nutrients carried by the Benguela Current are supplemented by nutrient inputs from the Kunene River, providing a rich food supply that supports a diverse fish community in the area (Paterson 2007).

 

C6: Biological diversity High

Justification

Habitat heterogeneity in Kunene-Tigres is high, with 15 distinct habitat types present in the EBSA (Holness et al., 2014). The Kunene-Tigres wetland also supports a high diversity of species, including terrestrial, freshwater and marine fauna (Paterson 2007). Over and above freshwater and marine reptiles (e.g., Nile soft-shelled terrapin, Nile crocodile, green turtle and Nile monitor), and cetaceans, the area also supports a large colony of Cape fur seals (Griffin & Channing 1991, Simmons et al. 1993, Carter & Bickerton 1996, Patterson 2007). The Kunene river mouth is also one of Namibia’s most diverse bird areas, with a total of at least 119 bird species (including 8 resident waders, 22 palearctic waders, 32 wetland-, 19 marine- and 38 non-wetland bird species; Ryan et al. 1984, Braine 1990, Simmons et al. 1993, Anderson et al. 2001, Paterson 2007). In terms of ichthyofauna, 65 freshwater fish species (five of which are endemic to the area) and 19 marine fish species have been recorded in Kunene-Tigres (Hay et al. 1997, Holtzhausen 2003, Paterson 2007).

 

C7: Naturalness Medium

Justification

In Namibia, human impacts on the Kunene-Tigres area have been limited due to its remoteness. However, historic and current fishing activities, combined with dam construction, mining and prospecting activities in and around the area have had some impacts on the local naturalness (Simmons et al. 1993, De Moor et al. 2000, Paterson 2007). Much of the Angolan area was identified as being in fair condition by Holness et al. (2014) largely due to the high intensity of artisanal and commercial fishing. Consequently, overall 63 % of the area is in fair condition and 25 % in good condition.

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