THE HIGHEST VEGETATED SAND DUNES
Fringing the 280km coastline of this natural World Heritage Site are sand dunes exceeding 180m in height. These impressive dunes have been built and sculptured by the wind over the past 25 000 to 30 000 years. Rising steeply from the waves of the Indian Ocean are the highest vegetated dunes in Africa.
The dunes are composed of windblown sand driven off the beach by north-easterly winds. Vegetation growing on the dunes form a delicate membrane of plant life. These plants trap nutrients and stabilise the dunes. On the seaward side, the dunes have a stunted forest whereas on the leeward side a large Climax forest can be found. Hardwood trees in the climax can exceed 20m. Growing on these trees are a variety of epiphytic plants, including orchids, ferns, cactus (natural to Africa) and lichen (old man’s beard). A network of lianas and creepers complete this remarkable habitat.
Within this unique habitat occurs a variety of birds, monkeys, reptiles, squirrels, antelope and insects. Visitors can access this area by utilising guided safaris or self-guided walks.
Below this unique eco-system lies a huge mineral wealth. Mining was proposed in the 1980’s – a massive public outcry, however, averted a potential ecological disaster. Mining that would have caused a permanent ecological scar extending hundreds of kilometers, has been averted by the recent World Heritage status.
Although mining does occur near St. Lucia for Rutile, Zircon and Ilmenite, mining may not occur in this World Heritage Site. Historically, limited mining occurred during the days of Shaka, as the “black sands” of Zululand were known to contain useful minerals. A small clan of Zulus fashioned weapons with iron by smelting minerals found in these sand dunes. Present day mining which takes place near Richards Bay, separates minerals from the mined sand dunes. These minerals are then used in an array of modern day products.
These dune minerals were eroded from the Majestic Drakensberg and transported hundreds of kilometers to the coast. When reaching the Indian Ocean they were washed north and blown on-shore by the prevailing on-shore winds.
This phenomenon can still be witnessed today where black patches of sand pattern the beach. It is not oil, but mineral-rich sand. A unique geological feature of the iSimangaliso / Greater St. Lucia Wetland Park.