If you wish to provide feedback on the revised environmental ask for inclusion of this EBSA into the upcoming Marine Spatial Planning process, please fill in the survey form

Data used in the analyses below (ecological condition, threat status, protection, distribution of activities, cumulative pressure from activities) are from the National Biodiversity Assessment 2018: Marine Realm Assessment. See the NBA 2018 website for access to the report.

 

EBSA Status Assessment and Management Recommendations

Ecological Condition, Threat Status, Current Protection and Key Features in the EBSA

Relevant Pressures and Activities (impact, extent) | Management Interventions Needed for the EBSA

Activity Evaluation Per Zone: Zoning Feasibility | Back to the SA EBSA status and management home page

 

 

EBSA overview

KwaZulu-Natal Bight and uThukela River is a critical land-sea connection between the uThukela River and the adjacent coastal and marine systems that is important for numerous ecological processes such as: supporting habitat formation (e.g., sand and mud habitats); important life-history stages for recruitment, development and foraging. Numerous threatened species are present, as well as sensitive ecosystems like canyons.

Click here for the full EBSA description

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Ecological Condition, Threat Status, Current Protection and Key Features in the EBSA

KwaZulu-Natal Bight and uThukela River is a critical land-sea connection that underpins the formation of the KwaZulu-Natal Bight and its associated processes, features and communities that thus needs to be protected for the area to maintain the characteristics that give it its EBSA status. The criteria for which this EBSA ranks highly are: importance for life history stages, importance for threatened species and habitats, biological productivity and biological diversity. There are 28 ecosystem types represented, including reefs and canyons that contain fragile species that are especially sensitive to damage. The productive site supports many important life-history stages for a variety of vertebrates and invertebrates, e.g., crustaceans, demersal fish, migratory fish, turtles and sharks, some of which are threatened and/or slow growing.

 

KwaZulu-Natal Bight and uThukela River proportion of area in each ecological condition category.

 

KwaZulu-Natal Bight and uThukela River is quite heavily impacted given its proximity to the intensively developed area around the Durban and Richards Bay ports, with only 15% of the EBSA in good ecological condition. A third (3%) is in fair ecological condition, but most of it (55%) is in poor ecological condition. Consequently, the bulk of the offshore extent is either Endangered (27%) or Vulnerable (47%), with 4% Near Threatened and a fraction (<1%) Critically Endangered, leaving a fifth (22%) as Least Concern. The most impacted, poorest condition and thus most threatened areas are on the shelf, which is widest in this area along the east coast because of the fluvial inputs from the uThukela River that in turn form the bight.

 

 KwaZulu-Natal Bight and uThukela River proportion of area in each ecosystem threat status category.

 

KwaZulu-Natal Bight and uThukela River proportion of area in a Marine Protected Area (MPA).

 

Protection of features in MPAs has improved substantially following the proclamation of the Operation Phakisa MPA network. Where previously there was no protection in the area, this has now increased to 39.4%. The new MPA covers the main portion of the bight where there are some portions of the Vulnerable and Endangered ecosystem types that are still in fair ecological condition, which will contribute to protecting these ecosystem types from further degradation. However, there are still features (e.g., the canyon) that have no protection in the EBSA. There is also a small sliver of overlap with the newly extended iSimangaliso Wetland Park.

 

Threat status, protection level and ecological condition of ecosystem types in the EBSA. Other key features are also listed.

Feature

Threat Status

Protection Level

Condition (%)

Good

Fair

Poor

Ecosystem Types

Durnford Inner Shelf Reef Complex

EN

MP

0.0

5.6

94.4

Durnford Mid Shelf Reef Complex

VU

MP

0.0

72.3

27.7

KZN Bight  Muddy Shelf Edge

VU

MP

0.0

58.3

41.7

KZN Bight Deep Shelf Edge

EN

MP

0.0

14.2

85.8

KZN Bight Mid Shelf Mosaic

EN

PP

0.0

0.8

99.2

KZN Bight Mid Shelf Reef Complex

EN

NP

0.0

0.0

100.0

KZN Bight Muddy Inner Shelf

VU

MP

0.0

51.7

48.3

KZN Bight Outer Shelf Mosaic

VU

MP

0.0

22.3

77.7

KZN Bight Sandy Inner Shelf

EN

MP

0.0

10.0

90.0

Natal Delagoa Dissipative Intermediate Sandy Shore

LC

WP

53.5

26.9

19.6

Natal Delagoa Intermediate Sandy Shore

NT

WP

60.7

21.1

18.2

Natal Delagoa Reflective Sandy Shore

VU

WP

19.2

16.1

64.7

Natal Exposed Rocky Shore

NT

WP

0.2

0.9

98.9

Natal Mixed Shore

VU

WP

29.7

22.9

47.4

Southwest Indian Mid Slope

LC

PP

0.0

100.0

0.0

Southwest Indian Upper Slope

LC

WP

59.8

36.1

4.2

St Lucia Sandy Inner Shelf

LC

WP

0.2

99.7

0.2

St Lucia Sandy Mid Shelf

VU

MP

0.0

26.7

73.3

Subtropical Estuarine Bay

CR

NP

2.3

0.0

97.7

Subtropical Estuarine Lake

EN

PP

0.5

61.8

37.7

Subtropical Large Fluvially Dominated

EN

PP

15.6

13.5

70.9

Subtropical Large Temporarily Closed

EN

PP

0.0

9.3

90.7

Subtropical Predominantly Open

EN

MP

60.8

22.3

16.9

Subtropical Small Temporarily Closed

VU

MP

1.1

93.4

5.6

uThukela Canyon

NT

NP

35.3

64.7

0.0

uThukela Mid Shelf Mosaic

VU

MP

0.0

11.6

88.4

uThukela Mid Shelf Mud Coarse Sediment Mosaic

VU

MP

0.0

35.1

64.9

uThukela Outer Shelf Muddy Reef Mosaic

VU

MP

0.0

99.0

1.0

Other Features

  • Endemic, threatened, and commercially important fish species, including sparids and unique demersal fish communities
  • Cold-water corals, black corals, gorgonians
  • Areas for recruitment and nurseries for sharks, fish and crustaceans
  • Foraging areas for numerous taxa including threatened turtles and sharks
  • Upwelling cells
  • Paleo-shorelines

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Relevant Pressures and Activities (impact, extent)

  • There are 18 pressures present in this EBSA, of which shipping is the only one that covers the entire EBSA extent and has the highest cumulative pressure profile.
  • Key pressures in this EBSA that most directly impact the features for which the EBSA is described include: linefishing (commercial and recreational), mean annual runoff reduction, prawn trawling and pelagic longlining. These activities will need to be managed particularly well in order to protect the nursery and spawning habitats, fish and shark assemblages, turtles (caught as bycatch), and delivery of sediments and freshwater to the marine environment that underpins formation of the KwaZulu-Natal Bight, all which are key characteristics of this EBSA. For most of these pressures, the larger portion of the activity is in the Impact Management Zone.
  • Fourteen of the 18 pressures each comprise <1.3% of the EBSA pressure profile, including: pelagic longlining, shark netting, ports and harbours, coastal disturbance, wastewater discharge, recreational shore angling, coastal development, oyster harvesting, dredge spoil dumping, subsistence harvesting, oil and gas (exploration and production), alien invasive species, mining (prospecting and mining), and naval dumping (ammunition).
  • Activities in South Africa that are not present in this EBSA include: abalone harvesting, beach seining, benthic (hake) longlining, gillnetting, kelp harvesting, mariculture, midwater trawling, tuna pole fishing, small pelagics fishing, south coast rock lobster harvesting, squid fishing, inshore trawling, offshore trawling, and west coast rock lobster harvesting.

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Map of cumulative pressure from all activities in the EBSA and surrounds. Darker reds indicate higher pressure intensity.

 

Pressure (in arbitrary cumulative pressure units, CPUs) summed for each pressure in the EBSA, per proposed EBSA biodiversity zone, ranked left (highest) to right (lowest) by the overall relative importance of pressures in this EBSA. Note that pressures from shark netting to mining each comprise <1% of the EBSA pressure profile.

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Management Interventions Needed for the EBSA

Improved place-based protection of EBSA features should be pursued. In support of this, the EBSA is divided into a Biodiversity Conservation Zone and an Environmental Impact Management Zone, both comprising several areas within the EBSA. The aim of the Biodiversity Conservation Zone is to secure core areas of key biodiversity features in natural / near-natural ecological condition. Strict place-based biodiversity conservation is thus directed at securing key biodiversity features in a natural or semi-natural state, or as near to this state as possible. Activities or uses that have significant biodiversity impacts are incompatible with the management objective of this zone. If the activity is permitted, it would require alternative Biodiversity Conservation Zones or offsets to be identified. If this is not possible, it is recommended that the activity is Prohibited. Where possible and appropriate, the Biodiversity Conservation Zones should be considered for formal protection e.g., Marine Protected Areas or Other Effective Area-Based Conservation Measures (OECM). The aim of the Environmental Impact Management Zone is to manage negative impacts on key biodiversity features where strict place-based measures are not practical or not essential. In this zone, the focus is management of impacts on key biodiversity features in a mixed-use area, with the objective to keep biodiversity features in at least a functional state. Activities or uses that have significant biodiversity impacts should be strictly controlled and/or regulated. Within this zone, ideally there should be no increase in the intensity of use or the extent of the footprint of activities that have significant biodiversity impacts. Where possible, biodiversity impacts should be reduced.

As far as possible, the Biodiversity Conservation Zone was designed deliberately to avoid conflicts with existing activities. There are also two MPAs that are wholly or partially within the EBSA: the uThukela Banks MPA and a small sliver of the iSimangaliso MPA (see also Delagoa Shelf Edge, Canyons and Slope EBSA). The activities permitted within these MPAs are not considered as part of the EBSA management recommendations because these are as per their respective gazetted regulations, which are available here: uThukela Banks MPA and iSimangaliso MPA.

 

Proposed zonation of the EBSA into Conservation (medium green) and Impact Management (light green) Zones. MPAs are overlaid in orange outlines, with the extent within the EBSA given in dark green. Click on each of the zones to view the proposed management recommendations.

 

Protection of features in the rest of the Conservation Zone may require additional Marine Protected Area declaration/expansion. Other effective conservation measures should also be applied via Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) to ensure that the existing activities/uses are appropriately controlled to ensure compatibility of activities with the environmental requirements for achieving the management objectives of the EBSA Biodiversity Conservation and Environmental Impact Management Zones.

Based on the compatibility of sea-use activities with the management objective of each EBSA zone (see table below, from the sea-use guidelines of the National Coastal and Marine Spatial Biodiversity Plan), it is recommended for MSP that compatible activities are managed as General activities, which are those that are permitted and regulated by current general rules and legislation. Activities that are conditional are recommended to be managed as Consent activities, which are those that can continue in the zone subject to specific regulations and controls, e.g., to avoid unacceptable impacts on biodiversity features, or to avoid intensification or expansion of impact footprints of uses that are already occurring and where there are no realistic prospects of excluding these activities. Activities that are not compatible are recommended to be Prohibited, where such activities are not allowed or should not be allowed (which may be through industry-specific regulations) because they are incompatible with maintaining the biodiversity objectives of the zone. These recommendations are subject to stakeholder negotiation through the MSP process, recognizing that there will likely need to be significant compromises among sectors. It is emphasized, as noted above, that if activities that are not compatible with the respective EBSA zones are permitted, it would require alternative Biodiversity Conservation Zones or offsets to be identified. If this is not possible, it is recommended that the activity is Prohibited.

 

List of all sea-use activities, grouped by their Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) zones, and scored according to their compatibility with the management objective of the EBSA’s Biodiversity Conservation Zone (i.e., Critical Biodiversity Area, CBA) and Environmental Impact Management Zone (i.e., Ecological Support Area, ESA). Activity compatibility is given as Y = yes, compatible, C = conditional or N = not compatible, with major activities that are present in the EBSA shaded in grey.

There are also some pressures on biodiversity features within the EBSA that originate from activities outside of these EBSA or beyond the jurisdiction of MSP. In support of maintaining the ecological integrity of and benefits delivered by the key biodiversity features, these other activities need to be appropriately managed by complementary initiatives.

 

Recommendations for other activities beyond the jurisdiction of MSP management to support securing key biodiversity features within the EBSA.

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Activity Evaluation Per Zone: Zoning Feasibility

[To be updated]

Proposed zonation of the EBSA, with the cumulative intensity footprint of activities within the EBSA (sorted highest to lowest) given relative to the national footprint of those activities to illustrate feasibility of management interventions.

All of the country’s dredge spoil dumping takes place within the EBSA, exclusively in the Impact Management Zone. It is recommended to continue in this zone as a Consent activity, but is recommended to be Prohibited in the Conservation Zone because this activity currently does not occur in this zone. The dredge spoil is generated as part of maintaining the two ports in the EBSA: Durban and Richards Bay. Note that although the ports and harbours footprint overlaps with the Conservation Zone, this is only for the shores adjacent to the Richards Bay Port; the port infrastructure itself is in the Impact Management Zone, and the entire of the Durban Port control area is in the Impact Management Zone. Port and harbour activities should be carefully managed to avoid unacceptable impacts on adjacent Conservation Zones, and in particular, to ensure that no new alien invasive species establish in these areas. Shipping is recommended to continue in both the Conservation and Impact Management Zone under current general rules and legislation.

Another key economic activity in the EBSA is prawn trawling, with 90% of the national footprint of this activity falling within the EBSA.  Most of this is within the Impact Management Zone and the newly declared MPA (prior to the MPA came into force), and a much smaller portion in the Conservation Zone. It is recommended to be a Consent activity in both the Conservation and Impact Management Zones. Other accommodated activities relating to biological resource use include linefishing (commercial and recreational), oyster harvesting, subsistence harvesting, and recreational shore angling, and are proposed to continue in both EBSA zones as Consent activities. Recreational activities (e.g., bathing and water sports are important along the shores of this EBSA – considered as part of coastal disturbance), playing a key economic role in the tourism sector. Consequently, shark nets have been put in place to protect bathers. Shark nets are located mostly along the KZN coast, with a third of the national footprint in this EBSA. It is also recommended to continue as a Consent activity in both EBSA zones.

Other extractive activities in the EBSA include oil and gas (exploration and production) and mining (prospecting and mining), both of which comprise a very small proportion of their respective national footprints. Oil and gas (exploration and production) are accommodated in both EBSA zones where it is recommended to be a Consent activity; however, mining is recommended to be a Consent activity in the Impact Management Zone only because it is not compatible with the management objectives of the Conservation Zone. Dumping ammunition at sea historically occurred within the EBSA, but is no longer an active activity in South Africa. The sites where ammunition was dumped are within the Impact Management Zone where it is listed as a Consent activity. Thus, in all cases, the EBSA zonation has no or minimal impact on the national footprint for the listed marine activities.

There are also several activities that are largely outside the EBSA but have downstream impacts to the biodiversity within the EBSA, e.g., from mean annual runoff reduction, coastal development, coastal disturbance, and wastewater discharge. The impacts should be managed, but principally fall outside the direct management and zoning of the EBSA. These existing activities are proposed as Consent activities for both EBSA zones, recognising that they should ideally be dealt with in complementary integrated coastal zone management in support of the EBSA. For example, investment in eradicating the alien invasive species could aid in improving the ecological condition of rocky and mixed shores, improving benefits for subsistence and recreational harvesting; and rehabilitation of degraded dunes and formalising access points could support improved habitat for nesting shorebirds, and enhanced benefits for coastal protection during storm surges. Similarly, improved estuary management through development of appropriate freshwater flow requirements, estuarine management plans and wastewater management regulations can improve the ecological condition of the surrounding marine environment, in turn, improving water quality and safe conditions for human recreation.

 

Research Needs

There are no specific research needs for this EBSA in addition to those for all EBSAs. However, it is noted that there is planned research in this area through the African Coelacanth Ecosystem Program Phase III.

 

Future Process

Portions of the EBSA have been gazetted for inclusion into the uThukela MPA. It is unclear if this EBSA will be subject to detailed attention in the MARISMA EBSA status assessment and management options workplan.

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