Cape Cross

Lagoons and Saltworks, Namibia

Les Underhill
Animal Demography Unit

Cape Cross is about 120 km north of Swakopmund along the desert coastline of Namibia. It was one of the first landfalls of European explorers in southern Africa; Bartholomew Diaz erected a cross here. It consists of a rocky promontory, to the south of which is series of lagoons, which have a total area of about 5000 ha. The sandy barrier between the lagoons and the ocean consists of sediments brought down by the Orange River, and swept north by the actions of the Benguela Upwelling System. The lagoons are maintained by seepage of seawater, and by waves overtopping the barrier during spring high tides.

Cape Cross has a large Cape Fur Seal Arctocephalus pusillus population, numbering about 150 000 animals. It is on the mainland, so unlike island-based seal colonies, it is not space-limited.

Entrepeneurs have developed a simple but effective way of producing guano at the Cape Cross lagoons. Three wooden platforms with a total area of 68 000 ha were erected in the 1950s to provide a breeding and roosting site for Cape Cormorants. About 30 000 pairs of cormorants currently breed on the platforms; in 1974, an aerial survey estimated 900 000 cormorants. Guano is still collected on the platforms, even though guano scraping has largely stopped on most of the offshore islands.

  Cape Cross South platform
Photo H.D. Oschadleus
Cape Cross South platform

Excluding the cormorants, 28 species of coastal birds have been recorded at the lagoons, which regularly support up to 11 000 birds. 2000 Blacknecked Grebes have been recorded. Greater Flamingos and Lesser Flamingos are abundant at times. Waders include significant flocks of Chestnutbanded Plovers, Curlew Sandpipers and Little Stints. Kelp Gulls are common. Hartlaub's Gulls and Swift Terns are near the northern limits of their ranges along the west coast of southern Africa. Damara Terns breed in the area. In summer, large flocks of migrant Palearctic terns roost near the lagoons: Common Terns, Sandwich Terns and Black Terns.

The seal colony is a nature reserve with visitor facilities. About 40 000 tourists arrive here annually. However, the lagoons are fairly inaccessible and are little disturbed by people.

Further information

  • Simmons R 1992. The status of coastal wetlands in Namibia. In: Matiza T, Chabwela HN (eds) Wetlands conservation conference for southern Africa. Gland: IUCN: 125-132.
  • Underhill LG, Whitelaw DA 1977. An ornithological expedition to the Namib coast. Cape Town: Western Cape Wader Study Group: 1-106.
  • Williams AJ 1991. Numbers and conservation importance of coastal birds at the Cape Cross lagoons, Namibia. Madoqua 17: 239-243

See more photos at: Ringing visit to Namibian islands, January 2003