iSimangaliso’s wide variety of ecosystems and natural habitats provide for an astounding diversity of species in the area.
With its lakes, lagoons, freshwater swamps and grasslands, iSimangaliso supports more species of animal than the better-known and much larger Kruger National Park and Okavango Delta – from the country’s largest population of hippos and crocodiles to Giant Leatherback turtles, black rhino, leopards, and a vast array of bird and marine life.
According to Living Lakes, more than 530 species of birds use the wetland and other areas of the Lake St Lucia region. “These waters also are graced by 20 000 greater flamingos, 40 000 lesser flamingoes, as well as thousands of ducks. With 36 species, this area has the highest diversity of amphibians in South Africa.
“… Here, and nowhere else in the world, can one find hippopotamuses, crocodiles and sharks sharing the same waters.”
In proclaiming the iSimangaliso Wetland Park a World Heritage Site in 1999, Unesco said: “The interplay of the park’s environmental heterogeneity with major floods and coastal storms, and a transitional geographic location between sub-tropical and tropical Africa, has resulted in exceptional species diversity and ongoing speciation.”
“The mosaic of landforms and habitat types creates superlative scenic vistas. The site contains critical habitat for a range of species from Africa’s marine, wetland and savannah environments.”
In 1989, a mining company seeking titanium and other metals sought to bulldoze the dunes along the eastern shore of Lake St Lucia.
In 1996, the South African government followed the recommendations of an environmental assessment in barring the mining proposals – and began work on an integrated development and land-use planning strategy for the entire region.
Under the Lubombo Spatial Development Initiative, the governments of South Africa, Swaziland and Mozambique aim to foster sustainable investment and job creation in the area, using the iSimangaliso Wetland Park as the core.