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Coastal and Marine Species


Project Duration: Long Term

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The following are sections from Ugu Lwethu - Our Coast (Goble et al., 2014). Contributions are from a range of authors all of whom are credited per section.

The unique nature of the coastal and marine environment and the associated ecosystems, supports  a wide range of species from the smallest invertebrate to the largest of all mammals. Some are economically or socially important, while others are endemic and ecologically important to KZN.

Aquatic Plants

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Aquatic plants living within the coastal environment range from species that occupy the water column such as microalgae (e.g. phytoplankton) and floating or submerged plants (e.g. seagrasses), to those that inhabit the intertidal and supratidal regions, such as emergent macrophytes (e.g. salt marsh, reeds, sedges and mangroves). The area extending from the intertidal reaches of the seashore to the subtidal reefs is home to a fourth group of coastal marine vegetation, seaweeds. Each of the different habitat types are characterised by specific species or groups of species, based on their tolerance to salinity and inundation. Aquatic vegetation is largely associated with estuaries.

Photo: Fiona MacKay 

Photo: Fiona MacKay


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Around 98% of all animal species described are classified as invertebrates. Simply, invertebrates are animals that lack a backbone but are multicellular. With no backbone, these animals rely on other strategies for physical support such as hydrostatic pressure (e.g. sea anemones with a fluid-filled internal cavity), exoskeletons (e.g. crabs with a hard carapace) and shells (e.g. clams and mussels).

Sea Turtles

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Sea turtles are iconic marine reptiles. They are well adapted for life at sea, with legs modified into flippers and bodies encased in a hard carapace. While these reptiles range widely in all oceans, they have remarkably localised nesting grounds. KZN's sea turtle nesting beaches are of enormous international significance, especially as they are protected and monitored. Sea turtles represent an important element of marine and coastal biodiversity for KZN and indeed South Africa and the world at large.

Photo: Camilla Floros

Photo: Camilla Floros


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The KZN coast is blessed with a rich diversity of marine fish species. Estimates show that the southern African fish fauna comprise at least 2200 species, and a large percentage of these are found off the KZN coast.

The Prehistoric Coelacanth

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The coelacanth is a so-called "Lazarus" species; an organism known from the fossil record long before a living species was discovered.

Photo: Peter Timm

Photo: Jean Tersfon

Sharks, Rays and Chimaeras

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KZN is blessed with a wide diversity of sharks, rays and chimaeras, a group of fishes that have in common a skeleton made of cartilage. In general, these fishes are vulnerable to over-exploitation because of their life history characteristics; hence, careful attention needs to be paid to their conservation and management.

Whales and Dolphins

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While occasional vagrant species of seals may be found off the KZN coast, and dugongs have historically been recorded as far south as Umhlali, it is the 36 species of cetaceans (whales and dolphins) that comprise the true marine mammal fauna of the region.

Photo: Lloyd Edwards 

Photo: Martin Taylor

Coastal Birds

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Seabirds are broadly defined as birds that forage primarily on marine prey and spend most of their time (except when breeding) at sea. This excludes shorebirds, which are common in freshwater and estuarine systems but rely to a lesser degree on marine resources.

Coastal and Marine Species PDF



Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University

KZN Sharks Board

University of Cape Town

Birdlife South Africa

Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology

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Research Funders


Janine Adams

Fiona MacKay

Rudy van der Elst

Bruce Mann

Sean Fennessy

Larry Oellermann

Sheldon Dudley

Ken Findlay

Ross Wanless

Andrea Angel