Transfrontier marine park a first
Africa's first - and largest - transfrontier marine conservation area has been established, connecting Maputaland in South Africa's World Heritage Site, the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, with Mozambique's first marine conservancy, the Ponto de Ouro Marine Protected Area.
This creates a vast protected marine area covering 300km of unbroken coastline and near-pristine beaches, from St Lucia in the south to Mozambique's Maputo Special Reserve.
It is made up of 220km on the South African side and 80km in Mozambique.
The Mozambique protected area of 678 square kilometres includes Inhaca and Portuguese islands, the Maputo Special Reserve, and stretches three nautical miles out to sea.
Additionally, Mozambique has lodged an application for its protected area to be declared a World Heritage Site, just as neighbouring iSimangaliso is.
iSimangaliso was awarded this status in December, 1999, on the basis of its biodiversity. It is also the largest significant breeding place for leatherback turtles in Africa.
If Mozambique's application to Unesco is successful, it, along with iSimangaliso, would form Africa's first Transboundary Marine World Heritage Site, said Andrew Zaloumis, iSimangaliso chief executive and chairman of the Ponta do Ouro/Kosi Bay Transfrontier Conservation Task Team.
The Ponta de Ouro Protected Marine Area is considered one of eight key biodiversity sites (seascapes) of global importance within the Eastern African Marine Ecoregion (EAME), according to the submission to Unesco by the Mozambican National Directorate for Culture.
In its statement of "Justification of Outstanding Universal Value", the Unesco submission describes the Ponto de Oura Protected Marine Area's coral reefs as among the highest latitude coral reefs in the world, with characteristics that make them unique, says the submission.
"The reef complex, located in the central area (Ponta Dobela to Ponta Techobanine), is considered the best in southern Mozambique and (is) of unique value in the country."
Considereda recruitment source of coral larvae for the iSimangaliso coral reefs to the south, fish associated with these reefs are also highly diverse, with about 400 recorded species.
The site is an important feeding area for turtle, dugong and migratory birds, such as Whimbrel and flamingos. Loggerhead and leatherback turtles nest along the beaches from October to January between Inhaca Island and Ponta de Ouro.
Cites-listed species requiring special protection include the turtles as well as dugong, whales, white and whale sharks, and some bird species. It is also the northern limit of migration for Southern Right whales.
It has taken five years for Mozambique to proclaim the protected area, because it initially did not have relevant legislation in place, said Zaloumis.
Activities such as commercial fishing, fishing on coral reefs and fishing with explosives are now banned. Driving on the beaches is also prohibited. However, recreational fishing - under strict controls - will be permitted.
The Mozambique tourism minister, Fernando Sumbana, said in a statement: "This is a vital step in protecting marine turtles that nest in high densities along the pristine beaches of the Maputo Special Reserve, other rare or endangered species, marine mammals and ecosystems."