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Located along the south-eastern coast of Maputo Province in Mozambique, the Ponta de Ouro Protected Marine Area (POPMA) is considered one of the 8 key biodiversity sites (seascapes) of global importance within the Eastern African Marine Ecoregion (EAME). The POPMA system stretches from northern part of the Greater St Lucia Wetland Park (GSLWP) in South Africa for approximately 98km north to Inhaca Island, covering an area of 674 km2. The marine ecosystem is characterized by a warm sea, scenic coral reefs running 1-2km offshore, parallel to the coastline and highly valuable reefs in terms of their diversity and sensitivity. The high and well-vegetated dunes in the site constitute the main features of the parabolic dunes sub-region in terms of the EAME biogeographic division.
The POPMA is geographically diverse with superlative scenic vistas along its 100km-long coast. From the clear waters of the Indian Ocean, long sandy beaches with parabolic dunes, extensive system of lakes, coastal lagoons, deep rocky formation (gorgonians), extensive marshes and flooded grasslands with endemic fish and plant species, the site contains exceptional aesthetic qualities. The POPMA coral reefs are amongst the highest latitude coral reefs in the world, and, as marginal reefs, they exhibit characteristics that make them unique. The reef complex located in the central area (Ponta Dobela - Ponta Techobanine), is considered the best in southern Mozambique and of unique value in the country. Natural phenomena judged outstanding is that these reefs are a recruitment source of coral larvae for the GSLWP World Heritage Site coral reefs to the south. The fish associated with these reefs are also highly diverse, with recorded numbers of species approaching 400.
The POPMA is considered to be of Outstanding Universal Value in terms of its terrestrial, coastal and marine biodiversity attributes. The site is important feeding area for turtle, dugong and migratory birds such as Whimbrel and Flamingos. Two species of turtle (Loggerhead & Leatherback) nest along the beaches from October to January between Inhaca Island and Ponta do Ouro. The turtles do migrate across the border, suggesting that the entire region from St. Lucia to Inhaca represents a turtle nesting zone. Turtles, dugong, whales, white and whale sharks as well as some birds are CITES listed species and require special protection. The POPMA is also the northern limit of migration for Southern Right Whale and presents endemic fishes and unique tube-worm reefs. The variety of ecosystems found in the POPMA and the many ecological linkages between them provide habitat for a significant diversity of African biota.
The property is of sufficient size to maintain the long-term ecological viability of its habitats and ecosystems. The legal protective measures for the property are adequate to protect the natural attributes of the property. All estuaries exist in a state of dynamic equilibrium and are places of constant interaction between humans and sea. Recognising the economic, social and environmental linkages in the region around the POPMA, the Governments of South Africa, Mozambique and Swaziland have initiated the Lubombo Spatial Development Initiative (LSDI). This exercise in tri-lateral regional planning will provide a crucial mechanism for addressing POPMA’s catchments issues. MICOA is drawing up a management plan for the site.
The adjacent GSLWP in South Africa has already been awarded World Heritage Site status on the basis of this biodiversity, and the POPMA currently shares many of the marine and terrestrial attributes of the GSLWP. Therefore, from a biodiversity perspective, there is substantial value in establishing the POPMA. This would be particularly appropriate since the GSLWP World Heritage Site is directly adjacent, permitting co-management of mutually beneficial protected area.