Information

Environment

The Wild Coast has a comparatively high average rainfall, with the coastal belt receiving over 1000mm per annum. Spring rains generally appear in October, with July to September being the coolest and dryest months of the year; and December to February being the hottest and wettest.  

Temperatures can vary considerably between the northern and southern parts of the Wild Coast, with around a 1° C average increase per 100km as one moves northwards towards the sub-tropics. Whereas Port St Johns, for example, has heavy, hot and humid summer months similar to Durban and the South Coast;  Coffee Bay down past Hole in the Wall and the south enjoy far milder and more temperate climes.

Overall the Wild Coast enjoys very temperate climes with comfortable sub-tropical temperatures along most of the coast in summer, averaging around 23° during the day, and about 18°C at night.

The summer rainy seasons are sub tropically warm and pleasant, while the winters are mild and fine. The Wild Coast thus makes a great getaway for frost-bitten inland residents during the mid-winter school holidays. (July also coincides with the sardine run, lots of whale and dolphin activity, and the aloes and corral trees in full flaming bloom.)

Mid Wild Coast (Hole in the Wall) highs in January (mid summer) reach about 28°C , and in June (winter) about 21°C; with lows of 17°C and 10°C respectively. The mid-winter temps are typically balmy with daytime temperatures around 18°C and falling to an average of around 14°C at night.

Prevailing winds are from the North East and South West, with a distinct tendency for the N-E to dominate. Wind speeds on a good blowy day can gust around 50km/hr. Generally, mid-winter months have less wind.

Rainfall recorded at Hole in the Wall:

Oct 2015: 69mm
Nov 2015: 71mm
Dec 2015: 95mm
Jan 2016: 30mm
Feb 2016: 80mm
Mar 2016: 69mm
Apr 2016: 46mm
May 2016: 91mm
Jun 2016: 7mm
Jul 2016:128mm
Aug 2016: 19mm
Sep 2016: 37mm

TOTAL: 742 (El Nino drought?)

Raspalia trigyna

THE GHOST OF THE PONDOLAND CENTRE Around the turn of the century, this attractive shrub was mentioned by Thomas R. Sim in the 1900 “Agricultural Journal of the Cape of Good Hope” 16:21-42, 104-114. He states that it was “abundant along streams above the (Magwa) falls”. Later on, he records it in his “Forests and Forest Flora of the Cape Colony” published in 1906. It was only known from the Mzikaba Formation, a sandstone outcropping with which the Pondoland Centre of Plant Endemism (PC) (Van Wyk 1994) is congruent. This is a very small centre of 18,800 hectares located across the provincial boundary between the Eastern Cape (formerly known as the Transkei) and KwaZulu-Natal and lies along the coastline stretching no more than 15 or so kilometres inland with a maximum altitude of about 400 to 500 metres.

This elusive plant with the scientific name of Raspalia trigyna was named for a Professor of Botany in Paris, F. V. Raspail. It was originally described as Berardia, another genus in the family Bruniaceae. This family is nearly endemic to the Cape confined to the winter rainfall region – but with this one exception in the summer rainfall area. 

It was known earlier from only four collections: Dr. Sutherland, the Surveyor-General of Natal, collected one but gave no locality; another was found at Murchison near Port Shepstone by the renowned curator of Durban Botanic Garden, John Medley Wood; one was found at Mkweni River by William Tyson when teaching in Kokstad and the fourth was that mentioned above, by T. R. Sim. All these records are from the late 1800s or early 1900s. This gave a total distribution of about 80 km. Since that time, it lapsed into obscurity.

In 1962, the well-known amateur botanist and conservationist, Mr. Hugh Nicholson retired to St. Michael’s-on-sea on the KwaZulu-Natal south coast. His retirement interests included the creation of an arboretum on the grounds around his home “Skyline” and the exploration of the vegetation of the surrounding area. One of his early Thursday botanical walks took him to the Umtamvuna Nature Reserve (UNR) and there he found, to his surprise, a single unidentifiable plant growing on a stream bank. It was a shrub standing about a metre and half high and covered with a mass of tiny white flowers. This was sent off to Mr. R G Strey at the Natal Herbarium who identified it as the elusive Pondoland ghostbush. It was in good health growing in very moist conditions on the bank of a small stream where fire was unlikely to invade with any force. With its identification, the strange history was revealed and since then, Mr. Nicholson always encouraged his group of enthusiasts to keep watch for another specimen. The mass of tiny white flowers which makes the plant stand out and so easy to spot but when it is not flower it becomes one of those obscure small fine leaved plants which grow along the sandstone streams.

The UNR plant was apparently the sole surviving known specimen of this species and in the ‘80s, it started to fail. It declined from a healthy one and a half metre shrub to a single remaining 30 cm shoot and finally in 1987, it was clear that it was beyond recovery. Dr Hannes de Lange of the Endangered Plant Laboratory at Kirstenbosch came up to collect material to try and propagate but the amount he dared remove from the ailing plant was so tiny that all attempts at propagation had failed. In November 1987 our Umtamvuna plant finally gave up the ghost and the species, so far as was known, was thought to be extinct.

Prof. Braam Van Wyk of the Department of Botany of Pretoria University is the authority on the Pondoland Centre of Plant Endemism which arose from his research over the years and resulted in the publication of a number of new species. The PC is well known for its suite of endemic woody plants as well as grassland endemics. In July of 1988, Braam had just completed the publication of his Field Guide to the Flowers of Witswatersrand and Pretoria and he was ripe for an excursion. It was clear that we had to undertake a field trip to try and find another plant or plants to perpetuate the species.

A group was made up of interested and knowledgeable people and we set of on this search to the Transkei. This extensive exploration covered the coastal area starting from Mazeppa Bay in the south looking into every stream we came across as we headed north. To everyone’s great pleasure and excitement, our search was eventually successful with discovery of a fine two metre specimen by one of us (Trevor Streever) near Magwa Falls. Nevertheless, it was still only a single specimen. Therefore, in one year it had changed from a KwaZulu-Natal endemic known from a single specimen to and Eastern Cape one. Our floral “rhino” had charged back to life but with an even more tenuous hold on life than the rhino. 

An urgent message was sent to Dr. Hannes de Lange of the Kirstenbosch Endangered Plant Laboratory. He came and collected cuttings from the plant and after much trial and error such as attempts to graft cuttings onto other Cape species of Raspalia, sufficient cuttings took successfully and plants were raised which allowed the establishment of small populations in both the U N R and the Mkambati Game Reserve. Naturally, all these plants were clones of the Magwa plant. The Magwa plant survived for some years before it too faded and died in 1995 leaving us with the belief that the species might well be extinct in the wild.

So matters remained for some years with all of us on the lookout for other plants. At last, on one of Mr. Nicholson’s regular Thursday walks on the Western Heights in August 1995, while the rest of the group relaxed after lunch, one of his apprentices, Jo Arkell, wandered off and returned with a branchlet. This was presented to “Mr. Nic” who, after some consideration, was happy to declare it Raspalia trigyna. This exciting find was located down a stream about 20 metres off the normal path which “Mr. Nic” had walked over the years! Once more Dr de Lange came up from Kirstenbosch to take further cuttings and to assess the possibilities for cross-pollination. He examined the flowers under the microscope and found that them to be self-incompatible but the globe on his microscope blew before checking the cross pollination potential but he felt that the chances of crossing between the new plant and the clones were not good. He cross-pollinated both ways between the two groups of plants but subsequently we never found any seed.

Years went by before another excitement occurred with the discovery of a plant in Mkambati Nature Reserve by manager, Dirk Prinsloo, a plant enthusiast, in May 1999. This small plant was wedged into some rocks in the bed of a stream and its broken look testifies to its struggles to survive the yearly floodwaters. As with all the plants seen, it was in a position where fire would be unlikely to penetrate.

The latest stage of the history of this unusual plant came in May 2001 when Simon Woodley, a keen indigenous plant nurseryman, together with a friend, Matt Williams, found a tiny population south of the Msikaba River. With great excitement, on closer inspection, it proved to be a functioning breeding population. This remarkable discovery seems to underline the vulnerability of the species as the site is a mere 20 metres long by 2 metres up a stream bank. It is on a steep bank facing south west situated at the base of a wetland giving year round cool moist conditions. Many of the plants in the PC which have an affinity with the Cape winter rainfall region survive on these cooler slopes. The population consists of 12 larger plants up to 1.2 metres tall with around a dozen smaller ones but the important point was the presence of a good number of seedlings of different sizes. The preferred habitat for the seedlings is under the overhanging bank is cool shady conditions. The locality of this remarkable colony is not available to the public.

A very small seedling was sent immediately to Braam van Wyk who confirmed that it was definitely a Raspalia trigyna. Seed was collected from the plants and this proved to be fertile. The recovery plan for Raspalia trigyna allows Simon Woodley of Indigiflora Nursery to propagate the plant with the long-term objective of establishing more populations in the wild and making plants available for gardeners. The first seedlings will be planted to create ex-situ breeding colonies to ensure availability of seed stocks as the breeding colony is not protected or conserved in anyway. One will be in the UNR and the other at Mkambati Nature Reserve.

Perhaps, one day you may so lucky as to have a Raspalia trigyna growing in your garden!

Tony Abbott December 2003

Rural scene near Coffee Bay - (c) Hougaard Malan

The terrestrial environment of the Wild Coast is commonly divided into two broad areas. South of Port St Johns lies a gently undulating coastline, interspersed with rocky points, and is more densely populated with highly popular holiday destinations and homes right to the shoreline. Vegetation types most predominant in this area include the Transkei Coastal belt grasslands and scarp forests. North of Port St Johns the rugged plateau of the Msikaba Formation sandstone, deeply incised by narrow river gorges and fewer sandy beaches, is congruent with the Pondoland Centre of Endemism (PC), a local endemic focus of the MPR (van Wyk & Smith 2001). The Msikaba formation is characterised by frequently shallow, highly leached, acidic, sandy soils of low production potential (van Wyk & Smith 2001, Abbott 2002). It is largely only good for grazing in the summer months and most local inhabitants live further inland.

The PC vegetation is characterised by grasslands interspersed with forests along protected riverine gorges and other isolated forest patches (van Wyk & Smith 2001). The Pondoland-Natal Sandstone Coastal sourveld grassland is predominant. Outside of conserved areas (Mkambati, Oribi Gorge and Umtamvuna Nature Reserves), the grasslands vary in the level of transformation and degradation, from relatively light utilisation (along coastal areas) to completely modified areas (cultivated). More than 80 plant species are endemic to the region (van Wyk 1990) and it is suggested by local ecologists that grasslands in reasonably good natural condition should rate highly for conservation prioritisation (Abbott 2002), as even grazed lands contain refugia such as wetlands that contain a diverse biota (Abbott pers comm.).  Forests in the PC are largely constrained by gorges, confined roughly to the lower 15km from the sea (Abbott pers comm.), and other topographical features providing protection from fires. They have remarkable species diversity (330 woody species – Abbott et al. 2000) and levels of endemism (30 endemic spp.) (Abbott 2002). Complete species distributions are often not known, but many species are likely to have isolated populations and limited ranges, conducive to being very rich in endemics. Rocky outcrops, wetlands, swamp forest (the rarest of the forest types in the PC), dune forest and mangroves complete the compliment of broad habitat types that contribute to the regions diversity and endemism. The Pondoland centre of endemism is recognised by DEAET which aims protect at least 10% of its area by 2013 (DEAET 2004).

The Transkei has an estimated 100000ha of indigenous forest, 70% of which is gazetted as State land under control of the DWAF. Within the Wild Coast there are approximately 50000 ha of indigenous forest. Many of the smaller patches of indigenous forest are under the control of local tribal authorities and referred to as Headman’s forests. These Indian Ocean Coastal forests are sub-divided into six subtypes: Pondoland Coast, South Coast, Dune, Swamp, Coast Scarp and Mangrove forests. Forest classifications vary considerably in the area see discussion in Part B.

A study conducted in the Transkei Coastal Forests found that all indigenous forests surveyed showed utilization to varying degrees (De Villiers and White, 1997) Principal utilization included wood collection (live and dead), livestock grazing, commercial exploitation of wood for the curio trade, bark stripping for medicinal use, illegal erection of holiday cottages, and more minor disturbance from roads and footpaths, refuse, edge fires and alien invasive species. The study reports that utilization pressure of smaller Headman’s forests and small forest patches does not appear to be sustainable. Management of indigenous forests is inadequate.

Although systematic surveys of the whole region are still needed, more than 130 endemic vascular plants were recorded and include a monotypic family (Rhynchocalycaceae), at least 6 monotypic genera and over 30 endemic tree, creeper and shrub species (van Wyk & Smith 2001). The Umtamvuna Nature Reserve (3257 ha) is an example that compares well with well known areas of floristic diversity (Abbott et al. 2000). The nature reserve contains at least 1435 plants species, approximately the same number of species as the whole of the Kruger National Park or Great Britain, including 82 endemic and near endemic species. The Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve (77 km2) in the Cape Floristic Region supports at least 1080 plant species and probably 11 endemics.  Pondoland endemics are noted for having very narrow distributions along the coastal belt and “are thought to be palaeoendemic relictual species on the verge of extinction with poor reproductive ability” (Abbott 2002), and as such are highly vulnerable to disturbance and unwise land modification.

The number of endemics in the Wild Coast is still undetermined as systematic surveys are lacking or fragmented for most taxa. However, preliminary surveys in recent years have revealed many new species and it is certain that further taxa await discovery (Abbott 2002). As distributions and dynamics are poorly known and species diversity and endemism are so high, local ecologists are concerned that without immediate conservation, untold species could be jeopardised or lost (Abbott 2002). Serious threatening factors for this region’s biological environment include uncontrolled and ill-planned agricultural expansion, illegal cottage developments and associated impacts, proliferation of alien invasives, illegal invasion of state forests, major destructive activities (such as road building and mining) and inappropriate management practises (van Wyk & Smith 2001, DEAET 2004). This in addition to high eco-tourism potential and the biological importance of the area, warrants a high prioritisation of conservation investment in the region. On a global scale, the MPR was identified as one of the regions requiring highest priority for new conservation investment in the form of protected areas based on the high irreplaceability and vulnerability recorded (Rodrigues et al 2003). While securing many benefits for society, the conservation of priority areas for global biodiversity has the potential to impart local costs in terms of placing limitations on use and development, and therefore a careful consideration of options for future conservation and development is essential.

Marine and Freshwater Environments

The Agulhas Current Ecoregion which lies along the east coast of South Africa is recognized as one of the Global 200 Ecoregions which harbour exceptional biodiversity and are representative of the regions ecosystems. This ecoregion is described as relatively stable (Olsen & Dinerstein 2002). The coastal region of the Wild Coast is termed the Transkei Inshore Bioregion as defined by the NSBA (Lombard et al. 2004) and lies between the Kei and Mtamvuna Rivers. The intertidal zone of the Wild Coast forms part of the Agulhas and Natal Bioregions as defined in the NSBA (Lombard et al. 2004). The Agulhas Bioregion lies south of the Mbashe River, while the Natal Bioregion lies to the north.

Of southern Africa’s 227 endemic coastal fish species (mostly from the Clinidae (klipfishes), the Gobidae (gobies), and the Sparidae (seabreams e.g. stumpnoses, red steenbrass) families), endemic species numbers peaks along the coast of the Eastern Cape. There are also high numbers of endemic marine invertebrate species in a unique transition zone along the Wild Coast between East London and Durban.

The east coast of South Africa is also classified by Conservation International as one of the top ten coral reef hotspots. The key threats facing the hotspot are: Land-based sources of pollution, fishing and tourism development. The area has rich coral communities encrusting sandstone reefs, which are bathed by the warm Agulhas current. A number of marine protected areas occur within this region but require greater enforcement and management strengthening.

The Mzimvubu to Keiskamma Water Management Area (WMA), which includes the Wild Coast, is the only one of the 19 WMAs in SA which has no inter-catchment transfer schemes. From the catchments of the Wild Coast run five major and medium-sized rivers (Umzimvubu, Mbashe, Kei, Mtata and Mtamvuna Rivers) and nearly 100 minor rivers and estuaries. Freshwater aquatic systems have been poorly researched in the Wild Coast but it is likely that this region will be host to important areas of freshwater endemism and diversity.

Already important estuaries along the Wild Coast have been identified as having high botanical importance, with the Wild Coast’s Mngazana, Mbashe and Keiskamma estuaries being highly ranked nationally (DEAET 2004). A study by Colloty & Adams (1999) showed that the Pondoland estuaries are nationally important as they have been the least impacted over time. These estuaries also have species such as the mangrove fern and fringe mangrove communities. Estuaries are highly sensitive systems whose salinity and mouth closure are easily influenced by water abstration projects, dune mining, floodplain agricultural activities and unmanageable harvesting of mangrove forests. These mangrove forests are at their most southerly distribution at the Wild Coast. These unique forests, containing some species prized as medicinal plants, are linked to the warm subtropical marine currents. Two mangrove species are of particular concern as they have been completely removed from three estuaries (DEAET 2004).

Reproduced with permission from Wilderness Foundation South Africa - Wild Coast Project website (http://www.wildernessfoundation.co.za/)

Gladioli are popular garden plants that have been cultivated in Europe for more than 250 years and are renowned for their striking, colourful flowers.

Interestingly, these common European garden plants were cultivated from hybrids of wild gladioli native to South Africa.

Gladiolus oppositiflorus, or the Transkei gladiolus, with its large, showy flowers is an important species in the breeding history of a number of Gladiolus hybrids...

Gladiolus oppositiflorus is a representative from the Pondoland Centre of Plant Endemism (PCE), located in a small area between the Mzimvubu River, near Port St Johns, and the Umtamvuna River, near Port Edward, within the region known as the Transkei Wild Coast. This is an area of great natural beauty, and many rare and unusual species are found here.

Because a high number of species are concentrated in such a small area of only about 180 000 hectares, the Pondoland Centre of Endemism is acknowledged by international conservation organizations such as the World Conservation Union (IUCN) and the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF), as one of 235 world-wide centres of plant diversity.

Another international organization, Conservation International, included the Pondoland Centre among only 25 global hot spot sites (see CI hotspots ), in need of special conservation efforts. However, locally, very little is being done to conserve the Pondoland floral riches.

Only a few small nature reserves exist within the area, and although negotiations have been going on for years, no national park to conserve the Pondoland Centre has been established to date.

Meanwhile the Pondoland Centre faces severe threats from dune mineral mining, overgrazing, illegal holiday cottage developments and a proposed toll road connecting Durban and East London which could dissect the most sensitive areas of the Centre containing more than 200 endemic or near-endemic plant species.

Distribution and Habitat 
Gladiolus oppositiflorus is endemic to the summer rainfall regions of the Eastern Cape north of East London to southern KwaZulu-Natal, from the coast to as far inland as the Lesotho border. It is found in rocky areas in open grassland, often among rocks along streams.

See http://www.plantzafrica.com/plantefg/gladoppos.htm for more information.

Ecology: Landscape, Forests, Estuaries, Rivers & Geology

The Transkei Landscape (between the Umtamvuna and Kei Rivers, and up to the Drakensberg Mountains bordering on Lesotho) covering an area of roughly 41 000km2, can be considered rugged terrain. A number of impressive rivers rise in the highlands and cut through this landscape to spill out into the warm Indian Ocean.

Geologically, the region is dominated by Beaufort sandstones of the Karoo System, with bands of the older Ecca and Dwyka series towards the coast. The northern coastal region is dominated by Table Mountain Sandstone which creates the steep sea cliffs characteristic of the Wild Coast. The Drakensberg is capped by basalts to form the steep escarpment as they overlay the sandstones of the Stormberg Series.

The actual rocky coastline itself comprises Ecca sediments with many intrusions therein, mainly in the form of sheets of varying thickness of Karoo dolerite, as far as the mouth of the Mngazi river. Between the Mgazi and Mgazana Rivers a hight dune of older and redder sand of the 'Berea red sand' formation occurs. Exposed on it in places are implements of the Middle and later Stone Age and the Iron Age.

Several distinct vegetation zones are found in The Transkei. Much of the region is grassland with the hardy Alpine Veld in the Drakensberg and Highland Sourveld over the central region. The larger river valleys are flanked with Valley Bushveld, where acacias and euphorbias dominate; and two thornveld types, Ngogoni Veld and Eastern Province Thornveld, abut the coastal strip. Pondoland Coastal Plateau Sourveld occurs on the Table Mountain Sandstone in the north and is characterised by sour grasses, forest and patches of fynbos.

The Wild Coast has a comparatively high average rainfall, with coastal and mountain regions receiving over 1000mm per annum. Snow is not uncommon at high altitudes in winter, but the remainder of the country is temperate with high sub-tropical temperatures along the coast in summer.

Although the inhabitants of Transkei all share the isiXhosa language, there are, in fact, several markedly different tribes including the Pondo, Bomvana, Pondomeise, Thembu, and the Xhosa tribe itself. The people live under chieftancies and retain the customs and traditions of their cultural group. Maize and millet are the most commonly grown crops, with cattle, goats and chickens being kept by many families. The clusters of thatched bungalows, painted in various bright colours, are a characteristic feature of the Transkei landscape.

Reprinted from A Guide to the Coast and Nature Reserves of TRANSKEI by Duncan Butchart in association with The Wildlife Society.

Forests, Estuaries and Landscapes

Three great features of the area are its beautiful indigenous forest, excellent estuaries and its scenic landscapes. Nowhere in South Africa are these features so well conserved as along this spectacular stretch of rugged coastline.

The forests contain a great variety of interesting trees and shrubs as well as many rare and threatened birds and animals such as the Spotted Thrush, Barred Owl, Mangrove Kingfisher and Cape Parrot, Samango Monkey, Tree Dassie, Giant Golden Mole and Blue Duiker. Typical trees of the forest biome include Giant Umzimbeet (Millettia sutherlandii), Forest Mahogany (Tichilia dregeana), Forest Ironplum (Drypetes gerrandii), Forest Fever Berry (Croton sylvaticus), Forest Bushwillow (Combretum krausii), and Small-leaved Jackal-berry (Disopyros natalnesis). Rare and threatened trees are Transvaal Stinkwood (Ocotea Kenyensis), Forest Potato Bush (Phyllanthus macnaughtonii), and Forest Canary-berry (Suregada procera).

Most of the forests are demarcated as 'State Forests' and conserved for the benefit of local people and visitors alike. Fascinating hours and days can be experienced walking along the forest trails enjoying the sights and sounds of this great diversity of life.

The estuaries provide a suitable habitat for mangroves (the only trees that can tolerate sea water) and both Mngazana and Ntafufu estuaries harbour fine stands of Black, White and Red mangroves. These in turn provide an indespensable nursery area for many juvenile marine fish and crustaceans. Eventually these fish, prawns and crabs grow to provide food and recreational angling for both locals and visitors. The beautiful Mangrove Kingfisher is one of the rarest birds and is still found in the Port St Johns area.

The coastal grasslands and valley bushveld areas are another feature of this region of South Africa. Here typical species include Coastal Buffalo grass (Stenotaphrum secundatum), Ngongoni or Wire grass (Aristida junciformis), and Giant Terpentine grass (Cymbopogon validis), Bitter Aloe (Aloe ferox), Sweet Thorn (Acacia karoo), and the common Umzimbeet (Millettia grandis).

Keith Cooper, Director: Conservation, Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa.
Reprinted from the map Port St Johns and Environs by Liz Tarr and Marlene Powell. Sponsored by WWF and The Green Trust.