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EBSA overview  |  Delineation |  Summary of description updates  | Revised description

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EBSA overview

Cape Fria is a new, proposed coastal EBSA in northern Namibia. Here, the continental shelf is at its narrowest in Namibia, and there is an intense upwelling cell, second only to that at Lüderitz, which enhances local productivity and marks the northern boundary of the Benguela Current. Cape Fria falls within a biogeographic transition zone, and thus local biodiversity is relatively high because it comprises species at both the northern and southern limits of their distributions. There is evidence that during specific periods of the year, the area is critical for aggregations of almost the entire global population of Damara tern, which is an endemic species to the Benguela System. It is also an important breeding site for Cape fur seals. Given its remote location, the coast is in relatively pristine condition, but may be threatened by industrial development in the future.

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Delineation

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Summary of updates and revisions to the EBSA description

This is an entirely new EBSA proposal.

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Revised EBSA description

NOTE: Read this here, or download the Word document on the right sidebar.

 

Abstract

Cape Fria is a coastal EBSA in northern Namibia, 50 km south of the border with Angola. The focus area extends 100 km along the shore, and 40 km offshore to depths of <250 m, and encompasses Cape Fria itself, and Angra Fria: a small, prominent bay to the north. Here, the continental shelf is at its narrowest in Namibia, and there is an intense upwelling cell, second only to that at Lüderitz, which enhances local productivity and marks the northern boundary of the Benguela Current. Cape Fria falls within a biogeographic transition zone, and thus local biodiversity is relatively high because it comprises species at both the northern and southern limits of their distributions. There is evidence that during specific periods of the year, the area is critical for aggregations of almost the entire global population of Damara tern, which is an endemic species to the Benguela System. It is also an important breeding site for Cape fur seals. Given its remote location, the coast is in relatively pristine condition, but may be threatened by industrial development in the future.

 

Introduction

Cape Fria, also known as Cape Frio, is located along the northern Namibian coast, adjacent to the Skeleton Coast National Park. It extends 40 km offshore, and includes inshore waters on the narrowest portion of the Namibian shelf, spanning a depth range of 0-250 m. The southern boundary forms a coastal extension that spans 60 km alongshore, and approximately 5 km offshore. The EBSA includes important threatened benthic shelf ecosystems, an important seal colony and seasonally appears to contain almost the entire global population of Damara tern (Sterna balaenarum). The EBSA lies at the northern limit of the Benguela Current, possibly influenced by the Angola-Benguela Frontal Zone, and is thus within the transition zone between temperate and sub-tropical bioregions. Data and information on the area are both relatively limited.

 

Location

Cape Fria is located about 50 km south of the border between Namibia and Angola. The main body of the EBSA extends 40 km offshore and 100 km along the coast, with a southern extension that includes inshore habitat for approximately 60 km alongshore, and approximately 5 km offshore. It lies entirely within Namibia’s national jurisdiction.

 

Feature description of the proposed area

Cape Fria includes both coastal and nearshore features, and has been identified previously in a systematic conservation plan as an important inshore focus area for conservation of biodiversity features that are not yet sufficiently represented in the existing marine protected area network (Holness et al., 2014). Local habitat heterogeneity is relatively high, with 17 habitat types identified in the area (Holness et al., 2014; Table 1). Two of these habitats are Endangered: Central Namib Outer Shelf and Cunene Outer Shelf, with the focus area being particularly important for the latter. In addition, a small portion of the Vulnerable Cunene Shelf Edge habitat type is also found in the EBSA. 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 (Holness et al., 2014; Table 1). Productivity offshore of Cape Fria is also high because it is the site of the second-most intensive upwelling cell in Namibia. Here upwelling is driven both by wind and bottom topography because the site is at the narrowest portion of the continental shelf (Sakko, 1998).

 

Although bird diversity and abundance is fairly low at Cape Fria (Tar & Tar, 1987), it may support a relatively high local biodiversity overall because it is situated with the transition zone between temperate and sub-tropical bioregions (Sakko 1998). Consequently, communities comprise species from both bioregions at the northern and southern limits of their respective distributions. This includes various linefish and other commercially important species, such as deep-water hake (Holtzhausen et al., 2001, Kirchner et al., 2011), large-eye dentex (Dentex macrophthalmus), thinlip splitfin (Synagrops microlepis), longfin bonefish (Pterothrissus belloci) and the African mud shrimp (Soleonocera africana; FAO field guide).

 

The Cape Fria coast also serves as an important breeding site for Cape fur seals, Arctocephalus pusillus pusillus, with an increasing local population, compared to largely declining populations in southern Namibia (Kirkman et al., 2012). It also supports several species of shore- and seabirds, including overwintering Palearctic migrants. Most notably, there is evidence that Cape Fria may contain, either seasonally or episodically, almost the entire global population of Damara Tern, Sterna balaenarum, a Vulnerable species, endemic to the Benguela System (Braby et al., 1992). The focus area appears to be an annual congregation site prior to the flock migrating northwards. It has been suggested that this is likely to be linked to high food availability, i.e., a high-energy coastline with a presumably dependable food source that is available at night and within about 5 km of the shore.

 

Feature condition and future outlook of the proposed area

Cape Fria and surrounds is a remote coastal area adjacent to the Skeleton Coast National Park. The focus area is inaccessible to the public, with only limited tourism, and consequently, it is near-pristine. According to data from Holness et al. (2014), nearly 90 % of the area is classified as being in good condition, with almost all of the remaining area classified as being in fair condition. Inshore and coastal habitats are in particularly good condition and are effectively well protected due to their remote location and the adjacent terrestrial Skeleton Coast National Park. However, pending plans to build an industrial port and associated infrastructure at Cape Fria or Angra Fria (Paterson, 2007) could potentially impact this. Onshore and offshore prospecting and mining (diamonds, oil, precious metals) is minimal at present but is likely to happen in future.

 

Assessment of the area against CBD EBSA Criteria

CBD EBSA Criteria

(Annex I to decision IX/20)

Description

(Annex I to decision IX/20)

Ranking of criterion relevance

 

Uniqueness or rarity

Area contains either (i) unique (“the only one of its kind”), rare (occurs only in few locations) or endemic species, populations or communities, and/or (ii) unique, rare or distinct, habitats or ecosystems; and/or (iii) unique or unusual geomorphological or oceanographic features.

Medium

 

 

Explanation for ranking

Cape Fria is both unique and rare for several reasons. It falls within a transition zone between the temperate and sub-tropical bioregions, and includes a relatively rare (four in Namibia) upwelling cell, second in intensity only to the upwelling cell at Lüderitz. It is also on the narrowest portion of the Namibian continental shelf. Further, a systematic conservation planning assessment by Holness et al., (2014) identified Cape Fria as an important inshore focus area for place-based conservation of biodiversity features that were not yet sufficiently represented in the existing marine protected area network. Portions of this focus area were always required to meet biodiversity conservation targets, and hence can be considered to be “irreplaceable”. Finally, there is evidence that Cape Fria may contain, either seasonally or episodically, almost the entire global population of Damara Tern, Sterna balaenarum, a Vulnerable, endemic species to the Benguela System (Braby et al., 1992). The area appears to be an annual congregation area prior to the flock migrating northwards, likely linked to high food availability at the site. 

Special importance for life-history stages of species

Areas that is required for a population to survive and thrive.

High

Explanation for ranking

Cape Fria is an important colony for breeding Cape fur seals, that was only relatively recently established and supports an increasing number of seals (Kirkman et al., 2012). Although not strictly a marine biodiversity feature, the expanding seal colony is also supporting an expanding population of the endangered Lappet-faced Vulture, Torgos tracheliotos (Braby, pers. comm.). The EBSA is also an overwintering site for Palearctic waders, although at fairly low densities (Tarr & Tarr, 1987). Further, as noted previously, either seasonally or episodically, Cape Fria hosts almost the entire global population of Damara tern in what seems to be an annual congregation area prior to the flock migrating northwards (Bradby et al., 1992). It is likely that this is linked to high food availability at the site, i.e., a high-energy coastline with a presumably dependable food source that is available at night, and within about 5 km of the shore. Finally, Cape Fria is a transition zone between the cool, temperate southern areas that are influenced by the Benguela current, and a more sub-tropical climate to the north (Tarr 1987), and may possibly be an important area for adaptation to climate change and range shifts. This is supported by the fact that the area constitutes the northern or southern limit for a number of fish species (Holtzhausen et al., 2001, FAO guide, Kirchner et al., 2011).

Importance for threatened, endangered or declining species and/or habitats

Area containing habitat for the survival and recovery of endangered, threatened, declining species or area with significant assemblages of such species.

High

Explanation for ranking

 

The EBSA contains two Endangered habitat types: Central Namib Outer Shelf and Cunene Outer Shelf, with the area being particularly important for the latter. In addition, a small portion of the Vulnerable Cunene Shelf Edge habitat type is also found in the EBSA. As noted previously, the site is also important for the Vulnerable Damara Tern, Sterna balaenarum (Braby et al., 1992), and for Cape fur seals that seem to be generally declining in abundance at rookeries in southern Namibia (Kirkman et al., 2014).

Vulnerability, fragility, sensitivity, or slow recovery

Areas that contain a relatively high proportion of sensitive habitats, biotopes or species that are functionally fragile (highly susceptible to degradation or depletion by human activity or by natural events) or with slow recovery.

Low or data deficient

Explanation for ranking

Possibly low because the conditions are unstable and unpredictable, preventing very vulnerable species from persisting (Sakko 1998). However, it could be argued that upwelling cell is vulnerable to impacts from climate change.

Biological productivity

Area containing species, populations or communities with comparatively higher natural biological productivity.

High

Explanation for ranking

There is an upwelling cell at Cape Fria that enhances local productivity (Sakko, 1998). Upwelling is year-round but is most strong in winter and early spring (Hutchings et al., 2006), and is driven both by wind and bottom topography, because the continental shelf in Namibia is at its narrowest around Cape Fria.

Biological diversity

Area contains comparatively higher diversity of ecosystems, habitats, communities, or species, or has higher genetic diversity.

Possibly Medium

 

Explanation for ranking

Shorebird and coastal seabird diversity and density are relatively low in the focus area (Ryan et al., 1984; Tarr & Tarr, 1987). However, the Cape Fria focus area may be an area of high subtidal/coastal biodiversity because it is at the transition between temperate and sub-tropical biogeographic regions, with communities comprising species at their southern and northern limits (Sakko 1998). It is possible that this is enhanced by high productivity from the upwelling cell, and the close proximity to Walvis Ridge, which has high habitat heterogeneity. The speculated higher biodiversity in the area could be locally important because Namibia generally has a low species richness (Sakko 1998). Local habitat heterogeneity is also high, with 17 habitats represented in the EBSA.

Naturalness

Area with a comparatively higher degree of naturalness as a result of the lack of or low level of human-induced disturbance or degradation.

High

 

Explanation for ranking

Cape Fria and surrounds is a remote coastal area adjacent to the Skeleton Coast National Park. The focus area is inaccessible to the public, with only limited tourism, and consequently, it is currently near-pristine.

 

References

Braby, R., Braby, S.J., Simmons, R.E. 1992. 5000 Damara Terns in the northern Namib Desert: a reassessment of world population numbers. Ostrich, 63: 133-135.

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.

FAO field guide.

Holtzhausen, J.A., Kirchner, C.H., Voges, S.F. 2001. Observations on the linefish resources of Namibia, 1990-2000, with special reference to West Coast steenbras and silver kob. South African Journal of Marine Science, 23: 135-144.

Hutchings L., Verheye H.M., Huggett J.A., Demarcq H., Cloete R., Barlow R.G., Louw D., da Silva, A. 2006. Variability of plankton with reference to fish variability in the Benguela Current Large Marine Ecosystem – an overview. In: Benguela – predicting a large marine ecosystem. Shannon V., Hempel G., Malanotte-Rizzoli P., Moloney C., Woods, J. (eds). Elsevier, Amsterdam. Pages: 91-124.

Kirchner C., Japp D.W., Purves M.G., Wilkinson, S. (eds) 2011. Benguela Current Large Marine Ecosystem. Annual state of fish stocks report. Windhoek. 92 pp.

Kirkman, S.P., Yemane, D., Oosthuizen, W.H., Meÿer, M.A., Kotze, P.G.H., Skrypzeck, H., Vaz Velho, F., Underhill, L.G. 2012. Spatio-temporal shifts of the dynamic Cape fur seal population in southern Africa, based on aerial censuses (1972–2009). Marine Mammal Science, 29: 497–524.

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.

Sakko, A.L. 1998. The influence of the Benguela upwelling system on Namibia's marine biodiversity. Biodiversity & Conservation, 7: 419-433.

Tarr, J.G, Tarr., P.W. 1987. Seasonal abundance and the distribution of coastal birds on the northern Skeleton Coast, South West Africa/Namibia. Madoqua, 15: 63-72.

 

Other relevant website address or attached documents

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

Ecosystem Threat Status

Ecosystem Type

Area (km2)

Area (%)

Endangered

Central Namib Outer Shelf

243.0

5.0

 

Cunene Outer Shelf

1342.5

27.8

Endangered Total

 

1585.5

32.9

Vulnerable

Cunene Shelf Edge

3.8

0.1

Vulnerable Total

 

3.8

0.1

Least Threatened

Central Namib Inner Shelf

829.4

17.2

 

Cunene Exposed Rocky Shore

0.3

0.0

 

Cunene Inner Shelf

1551.1

32.2

 

Cunene Inshore

275.4

5.7

 

Cunene Intermediate Sandy Beach

61.0

1.3

 

Cunene Mixed Shore

6.3

0.1

 

Cunene Reflective Sandy Beach

1.9

0.0

 

Hoanib Dissipative-Intermediate Sandy Beach

9.8

0.2

 

Hoanib Dissipative Sandy Beach

7.0

0.1

 

Hoanib Exposed Rocky Shore

0.4

0.0

 

Hoanib Inshore

445.4

9.2

 

Hoanib Intermediate Sandy Beach

38.4

0.8

 

Hoanib Mixed Shore

7.9

0.2

 

Hoanib Sheltered Rocky Shore

0.03

0.00

Least Threatened Total

 

3234.5

67.1

Grand Total

 

4823.8

100.0

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