A park of extremes – Dorob National ParkAugust 2, 2012
Adventure takes flightAugust 2, 2012
The proclamation of the Dorob National Park set the conservation- wheels in motion for having Namibia’s entire coastline proclaimed as one national park – the Namib-Skeleton Coast National Park. This will make it the eighth-largest protected area in the world, and Namibia the only country worldwide that has its entire coastline protected.
Conservationists in Namibia refer to this envisioned protected area as the Namib-Skeleton Coast National Park (NSCNP). It extends for 1 570 km along the coast, from the Orange River in the south to the Kunene River in the north. At its narrowest point in the Skeleton Coast, the park extends about 25 km inland, and at its widest point in the Naukluft area, about 180 km inland to the top of the escarpment. Once proclaimed as a protected area, the NSCNP will cover 10 754 million hectares.
However, this is not where it ends. In the south the envisioned park will border the Richtersveld in South Africa, which comprises a protected area of about 160 000 hectares within a multiple-use buffer zone of about 398 425 hectares. This whole area forms the Ai-Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Conservation Area under a formal co-operation agreement between the governments of Namibia and South Africa.
To the north across the Kunene River it joins the Iona National Park in Angola, which covers about 585 000- hectares. The governments of Namibia and Angola have signed an agreement to promote transfrontier co-operation between these parks.
Multi-faceted conservation implications
The conservation tentacles of this major park go even further. In Namibia the protected area borders other inland protected areas, conservancies, concessions and private land managed for conservation. A total of 6 235 million hectares is being protected as part of these conservancies. The area occupied by concessions amounts to 800 000 hectares; freehold conservancies and private protected areas extend over 2 050- million hectares; state parks over 2 651 hectares; and marine protected areas 1.2 million hectares. This totals about 14 million hectares of protected land that the NSCNP will be bordering. Together it represents almost 25 million hectares.
However, before Namibia can boast effectively with these impressive numbers, constructive and efficient management mechanisms need to be developed and put in place. These mechanisms need to stipulate how to optimise the environmental and socioeconomic values while allowing historic movements and migration patterns, mitigating the impact of climate change and creating incentives for people to become part of this environmental landscape.
Once proclaimed, the park will extend over the coastal biome and three terrestrial biomes, namely the hyper-arid Namib Desert, the Nama Karoo and the Succulent Karoo. Another interesting feature of the park is its geology. The oldest rocks – the Vioolsdrif Granite Suite and the Haib Group (2 600–1 650 million years old) – are found in the southern Sperrgebiet, and the youngest, comprising the Namib Sands (70 million years old to present), dominate the central Namib sand sea and large parts of the Sperrgebiet.
Globally significant features
The NSCNP houses a number of globally significant features, notably:
- The Namib is one of the most diverse deserts in the world. Almost 25 per cent of Namibia’s plant species (about 1 050) occur in the park, on less than 3 per cent of its surface. Many of them are endemic to the area and highly range-restricted.
- Three Ramsar Sites, namely Walvis Bay, Sandwich Harbour and the Orange River Mouth, will be represented in the NSCNP.
- It will also contain eight important- bird areas – the Kunene River Mouth, Cape Cross Lagoon, Namib-Naukluft Park, Mile 4 Salt Works, the 30-km stretch of beach between Walvis Bay and Swakopmund, Walvis Bay, Sandwich Harbour and Sperrgebiet. Adjacent to the Namib-Naukluft area and the Sperrgebiet, there are also four important bird areas on islands off the coast. These are Mercury Island, Ichaboe Island, the Lüderitz Bay Islands and Possession Island.
- The lichen fields in the central section of the park and the Sperrgebiet are classified as the two most important plant areas. Several important plant areas also occur inland, on the land bordering the park.
- These plant and bird areas also qualify as key biodiversity areas.
- Two perennial rivers border the park – the Orange River in the south and the Kunene River in the north. Twelve ephemeral river systems drain westwards across the park.
- The park contains a huge diversity of desert landscapes, habitats and biodiversity, and a large number of economic opportunities, provided they are carefully planned and managed.
- The Ai-Ais National Park contains the second-largest canyon in the world – the Fish River Canyon.
- Namibia’s first Coastal and Marine Protected Area off the Sperrgebiet and Namib-Naukluft areas, running for 400 km up the coast and about 30 km wide, covers an area of 1.2 million hectares and contains all of Namibia’s islands.
- More than 80 per cent of the over 14 million hectares of protected areas bordering the park in the east is shared with neighbours practising land uses that are friendly and compatible.
- Once the park is proclaimed, Namibia can aim for the next milestone by seeking World Heritage Site status for the entire region. Marketability of the area will increase and more socioeconomic benefits will be generated.
(Information obtained from the Venture Publications magazine, Conservation and the Environment in Namibia 2009/10, from the article ‘One of the largest parks in the world’ by Peter Tarr.)
This article appeared in the Aug/ Sep 2011 edition of Travel News Namibia.