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

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EBSA overview

Offshore of Port Elizabeth in south-east South Africa includes Algoa Bay and surrounds. Complex ocean circulation occurs here where the Agulhas Current leaves the coast, following the shelf break. The EBSA includes several small islands that are breeding habitat for seabirds (notably, the Endangered African penguin); spawning areas, nursery areas, and key transport pathways for demersal and pelagic fish, thus also supporting foraging areas for seabirds, marine mammals and sharks. Several species also migrate through the EBSA, including threatened turtles (adults, juveniles, and hatchlings) and marine mammals. Habitats present include some rare types of limited spatial extent, as well as potentially vulnerable habitats like submarine canyons, steep shelf edge, deep reefs, outer shelf and shelf edge gravels, and vulnerable species such as reef-building cold-water corals.



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Summary of updates and revisions to the EBSA description

12 new references added; major revisions to the feature description of the area, feature conditions and future outlook, Criterion 2: importance for life-history stages, and Criterion 5: productivity. A lot of new research has been conducted in the area.


Revised EBSA description

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


General Information


This area includes some rare habitat types of limited spatial extent and is considered an important benthic and pelagic area that supports key ecological processes. Complex circulation occurs in this area where the Agulhas Current leaves the coast, following the shelf break. Cold-water eddies, intrusions of Agulhas water onto the shelf and large offshore meanders of the Agulhas Current occur at this location. Seabird (including the Endangered African penguin) breeding and foraging areas fall within the area, which also includes spawning areas, nursery areas and key transport pathways for demersal and pelagic fish. This area is also used by Critically Endangered leatherback and Near Threatened loggerhead turtles during their migrations, with hatchlings of both species also passing through during their dispersal from the nesting beaches. Green turtles have also been sighted in the area. Potential vulnerable habitats and species include submarine canyons, steep shelf edge, deep reefs, outer shelf and shelf edge gravels, and reef-building cold-water corals ranging in depth between 100 and 1000 m.


Introduction of the area

This area, from the coastline to the upper slope off Port Elizabeth, including Algoa Bay, includes benthic and pelagic features and an offshore area of high habitat complexity. The depth range is from the shallow subtidal to 1000m. Benthic features include a large shelf-intersecting canyon (Sink et al., 2011) and rare seabed habitat types (Sink et al., 2012). This area was identified as a priority area through a national plan to identify focus areas for offshore protection (Sink et al., 2011) because: it has relatively high habitat diversity, can meet multiple benthic and pelagic habitat conservation targets in a small area; and because it is an important area in the lifecycle of key (commercially-important) fish and (threatened) seabird species. There is also an extensive array of in-water devices for long-term ecological research within Algoa Bay.


Description of the location

EBSA Region

Southern Indian Ocean


Description of location

The coastline to the upper slope off Port Elizabeth within the EEZ of South Africa (approximately 33°S to 35°S and 25°E to 27°E).





Area Details

Feature description of the area

Offshore of Port Elizabeth includes Algoa Bay, and the adjacent shelf edge. Within the bay, several small islands provide breeding habitat for threatened seabird species. The area serves as spawning and/or nursery grounds for certain commercially-important fish species (Pattrick et al., 2016; Rishworth et al., 2015) and squid (Downey-Breedt et al., 2016; Lipiński et al., 2016) and sharks (Smale et al., 2015); as transiting/foraging areas for seabirds, sharks, cetaceans (including the humpback dolphin; Koper et al., 2016), and turtles; and forms part of the migration routes of loggerhead and leatherback turtles (Harris et al., in review). Habitat diversity is high (four pelagic habitats and 16 benthic habitats present), with benthic features including canyons, and productivity is enhanced by coastal upwelling (Goschen et al., 2015).


Feature conditions and future outlook of the proposed area

The South African National Biodiversity Assessment 2011 (Sink et al., 2012) indicated declining conditions overall in this area (based on pressure data and an ecosystem-pressure matrix) with conditions ranging from fair to poor across this broad area. Key pressures include commercial demersal trawl and longline fisheries, a midwater trawl fishery, linefishing, trap fisheries for rock lobster, shark fisheries and mining activities. Red tides have also become more common in recent years, some of which have been toxic (Pitcher et al., 2014). However, a large portion of the bay is currently proposed as a marine protected area, which will serve as a marine extension to the existing terrestrial Greater Addo Elephant National Park.



BirdLife International .2009. Designing networks of marine protected areas: exploring the linkages between Important Bird Areas and ecologically or biologically significant marine areas. Cambridge, UK: BirdLife International.

BirdLife International. 2010. Marine Important Bird Areas toolkit: standardised techniques for identifying priority sites for the conservation of seabirds at-sea. BirdLife International, Cambridge UK. Version 1.1: May 2010.

Downey-Breedt, N.J., Roberts, M.J., Sauer, W.H.H., Chang, N. 2016. Modelling transport of inshore and deep-spawned chokka squid (Loligo reynaudi) paralarvae off South Africa: the potential contribution of deep spawning to recruitment. Fisheries Oceanography: 25, 28–43.

Goschen, W.S., Bornman, T.G., Deyzel, S.H.P., Schumann, E.H. 2015. Coastal upwelling on the far eastern Agulhas Bank associated with large meanders in the Agulhas Current. Continental Shelf Research, 101: 34–46.

Harris, L.R., Nel, R., Oosthuizen, H., Meyer, M., Kotze, D., Anders, D., McCue, S., Bachoo, S. Managing conflicts between economic activities and threatened migratory marine species towards creating a multi-objective blue economy. Conservation Biology, in review.

Hutchings L, Beckley LE, Griffiths MH, Roberts MJ, Sundby S, van der Lingen C. 2002. Spawning on the edge: spawning grounds and nursery areas around the southern African coastline. Marine and Freshwater Research 53: 307-318.

Koper, R.P., Karczmarski, L., Du Preez, D., Plön, S. 2016. Sixteen years later: Occurrence, group size, and habitat use of humpback dolphins (Sousa plumbea) in Algoa Bay, South Africa. Marine Mammal Science, 32(2): 490–507.

Lagabrielle E. 2009. Preliminary report: National Pelagic Bioregionalisation of South Africa. Cape Town: South African National Biodiversity Institute.

Lipiński, M.R., van der Vyver, J.S.F., Shaw, P., Sauer, W.H.H. 2016. Life cycle of chokka-squid Loligo reynaudii in South African waters, African Journal of Marine Science, 38:4, 589-593.

Lutjeharms JRE, Cooper J and Roberts M 2000. Upwelling at the inshore edge of the Agulhas Current. Continental Shelf Research, 20(7): 737 – 761.

Mhlongo, N., Yemane, D., Hendricks, M. 2015. Have the spawning habitat preferences of anchovy (Engraulis encrasicolus) and sardine (Sardinops sagax) in the southern Benguela changed in recent years? Fisheries Oceanography 24 (Suppl. 1): 1–14.

Pattrick, P., Strydom, N.A., Harris, L., Goschen, W.S. 2016. Predicting spawning locations and modelling the spatial extent of post hatch areas for fishes in a shallow coastal habitat in South Africa. Marine Ecology Progress Series, 560: 223-235.

Pitcher, G.C., Cembella, A.D., Krock, B., Macey, B.M., Mansfield, L., Probyn, T.A. 2014. Identification of the marine diatom Pseudo-nitzschia multiseries (Bacillariophyceae) as a source of the toxin domoic acid in Algoa Bay, South Africa, African Journal of Marine Science, 36:4, 523-528.

Rishworth, G.M., Strydom, N.A., Potts, W. 2014. Fish utilization of surf-zones. Are they changing? A case study of the Sheltered, warm-temperate King’s Beach, African Zoology, 49:1, 5-21.

Santos, J., Rouillard, D., Groeneveld, J.C. 2014. Advection-diffusion models of spiny lobster Palinurus gilchristi migrations for use in spatial fisheries management. Marine Ecology Progress Series, 498: 227–241.

Sink KJ, Attwood CG, Lombard AT, Grantham H, Leslie R, Samaai T, Kerwath S, Majiedt P, Fairweather T, Hutchings L, van der Lingen C, Atkinson LJ, Wilkinson S, Holness S, Wolf T. 2011. Spatial planning to identify focus areas for offshore biodiversity protection in South Africa. Unpublished Report. Cape Town: South African National Biodiversity Institute.

Sink K, Holness S, Harris L, Majiedt P, Atkinson L, Robinson T, Kirkman S, Hutchings L, Leslie R, Lamberth S, Kerwath S, von der Heyden S, Lombard A, Attwood C, Branch G, Fairweather T, Taljaard S, Weerts S, Cowley P, Awad A, Halpern B, Grantham H, Wolf T. 2012. National Biodiversity Assessment 2011: Technical Report. Volume 4: Marine and Coastal Component. South African National Biodiversity Institute, Pretoria.

Smale, M.J., Dicken, M.L., Booth, A.J. 2015. Seasonality, behaviour and philopatry of spotted ragged‑tooth sharks Carcharias taurus in Eastern Cape nursery areas, South Africa, African Journal of Marine Science, 37:2, 219-231.

Weidberg, N., Porri, F., Von der Meden, C.E.O., Jackson, J.M., Goschen, W., McQuaid, C.D. 2015. Mechanisms of nearshore retention and offshore export of mussel larvae over the Agulhas Bank. Journal of Marine Systems, 144 70–80.


Other relevant website address or attached documents

SIO_3_EBSA-GIS (/api/v2013/documents/031812B7-157C-286E-792D-6A75DD9CFE51/attachments/


Status of submission

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


COP Decision



Assessment of the area against CBD EBSA criteria

C1: Uniqueness or rarity Medium


Rare habitat types in this region include outer shelf mixed sediments and Agulhas canyon (Sink et al., 2012). This site includes a large canyon that intersects with the shelf (Sink et al., 2011).

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


This area includes foraging areas for African penguins and Cape gannets (Sink et al., 2011). BirdLife International data also indicates importance for damara terns, kelp gulls and roseate terns. Species that have shown spawning activity in this area include (among others) kingklip, squid, sparids, sardine, anchovy, kob and hake (Hutchings et al., 2002, Sink et al., 2011; Mhlongo et al., 2015, Downey-Breedt et al., 2016; Lipiński et al., 2016; Pattrick et al., 2016). This is considered an area of crucial importance for the entry of eggs and larvae spawned upstream to enter the Agulhas Bank nursery area (Hutchings et al., 2002). Offshore of Port Elizabeth is also particularly important for mussel larvae (Weidberg et al., 2015) and spiny lobsters (Santos et al., 2014).

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


This area includes areas important for the survival of several IUCN global Red-listed species, including the African penguin Spheniscus demersus (Endangered on the IUCN global redlist) and the Cape Gannet Morus capensis (Vulnerable on the IUCN global redlist). This area is also used by green, loggerhead, and leatherback turtles (respectively listed as Endangered, Near Threatened and Critically Endangered on the IUCN global redlist for the South West Indian Ocean region; Petersen et al., 2009, Harris et al., in review). Threatened habitat types include Agulhas inshore reef, Agulhas mixed sediment outer shelf, Agulhas muddy inner shelf, Agulhas canyon (all reported as Critically Endangered), Agulhas hard inner shelf (Endangered) and Agulhas sandy inner shelf, Agulhas hard outer shelf, Agulhas hard shelf edge, Agulhas sandy shelf edge, Agulhas gravel outer shelf (Vulnerable; Sink et al., 2012).

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


This area includes submarine canyons, steep shelf edge, deep reefs and outer shelf and shelf edge gravels. These habitats may support fragile habitat-forming species. Cold-water corals (Goniocorella dumosa, Solenosmilia variabilis) have been recorded in the area (Sink et al., 2011) and are in the Iziko South African museum invertebrate collection. In-situ surveys have not been undertaken in this area, and further research is needed to provide more information on habitat sensitivity.

C5: Biological productivity High


Productivity offshore of Port Elizabeth is medium to high, and very variable. Chlorophyll-a concentrations are also highly variable, associated with frequent SST and chlorophyll fronts on the steep outer shelf (Lagabrielle 2009, Sink et al., 2011). Coastal upwelling may be driven, or at least enhanced, by the formation of Natal pulses (Goschen et al., 2015).

C6: Biological diversity High


Four pelagic habitat types and 16 benthic habitat types lead to high habitat heterogeneity in this area: Agulhas island, Agulhas mixed sediment inner and outer shelf, Agulhas sandy inner shelf, Agulhas hard inner and outer shelf, Agulhas sandy outer shelf, Agulhas canyon, Agulhas gravel outer shelf, Agulhas gravel shelf edge, Agulhas muddy inner and outer shelf, Southwest Indian upper bathyal and lower bathyal (Sink et al., 2012). The associated communities supported by these habitats is thus also diverse.

C7: Naturalness Low


Although some areas are assessed as in poor condition (based on pressure data, see South Africa’s National Biodiversity Assessment 2011, Sink et al., 2012), there are many examples of habitat types in good condition and include examples of features that may support fragile and vulnerable habitat forming species (Sink et al., 2012).


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