The Namib Desert in southwest Africa stretches along 1,000 km of the Namibian coast and some180 km inland. The Namib Sand-sea is a coastal fog desert, 50 to150 km wide, which covers most of its southern half, encompassing two immense, complex and visually striking dune systems, one ancient and half lithified, one active and younger overlying it. Their formation is unusual. Sands derived from the upper Orange River basin carried by river, ocean currents and wind into Namibia combine there with an ecology dependent on condensation from fog. The resulting endemic flora and fauna make this sand-sea of great scientific interest.
NATURAL WORLD HERITAGE SITE
2013: Inscribed on the World Heritage List under natural criteria (vii), (viii), (ix) and (ix).
STATEMENT OF OUTSTANDING UNIVERSAL VALUE
The UNESCO World Heritage Committee adopted the following provisional Statement of Outstanding Universal Value at the time of inscription:
The Namib Sand-sea (NSS) lies along the arid African coast of the South Atlantic lying wholly within Namibia’s Namib-Naukluft Park. It covers an area of 3,077,700 hectares, with an additional 899,500 hectares designated as a buffer zone.
NSS is a unique coastal fog desert encompassing a diverse array of large, shifting dunes. It is an outstanding example of the scenic, geomorphological, ecological and evolutionary consequences of wind-driven processes interacting with geology and biology. The sand-sea includes most known types of dunes together with associated landforms such as inselbergs, pediplains, and playas, formed through aeolian depositional processes. It is a place of outstanding natural beauty where atmospheric conditions provide exceptional visibility of landscape features by day and the dazzling southern hemisphere sky at night.
Life in the fog-bathed coastal dunes of the Namib Sand-sea is characterised by very rare behavioural, morphological and physiological adaptations that have evolved throughout its specialist communities. The large number of endemic plants and animals are globally important examples of evolution and the resilience of life in extreme environments.
The property is the world’s only coastal desert that includes extensive dune fields influenced by fog. This alone makes it exceptional at a global scale, but it also represents a superlative natural phenomenon on account of the three-part ‘conveyor system’ which has produced the massive dune field from material transported over thousands of kilometres from the interior of the African continent by river erosion, ocean currents erosion, ocean currents and wind. Most dune fields elsewhere in the world are derived from bedrock eroded in situ. The age, extent and height of the dunes are outstanding and the property also exhibits a range of features that give it exceptional aesthetic qualities. The diversity of dune formations, their ever-changing form and the range of colour and texture create landscapes of outstanding natural beauty.
The property represents an exceptional example of ongoing geological processes involving the formation of the world’s only extensive dune system in a coastal fog desert through transport of material over thousands of kilometres by river, ocean current and wind. Although the nominated area encompasses only the Aeolian elements of this ongoing geological process the other elements of the ‘conveyor system’ are assured. The diversity of the ever-changing dune formations, sculpted by pronounced daily and seasonal changes in dominant wind directions is also exceptional at a global scale within such a relatively small area.
The property is an exceptional example of ongoing ecological process in a coastal fog desert where plant and animal communities are continuously adapting to life in a hyper arid environment. Fog serves as the primary source of water and this is harvested in extraordinary ways while the ever-mobile wind-blown dunes provide an unusual substrate in which well oxygenated subsurface sand offers respite and escape for ‘swimming’ and ‘diving’ invertebrates, reptiles and mammals. The outstanding combination and characteristics of the physical environment – loose sand, variable winds and fog gradients across the property – creates an ever-changing variety of microhabitats and ecological niches that is globally unique on such a scale.
The property is of outstanding importance for the in situ conservation of an unusual and exceptional array of endemic species uniquely adapted to life in a hyperarid desert environment in which fog serves as the primary source of water. These are mostly invertebrate animals and display a range of very rare behavioural and physiological adaptations to the desert environment where they live that contributes significantly to the property’s Outstanding Universal Value.
The boundaries of the property encompass all the elements of the Namib Sand-sea that exemplify its Outstanding Universal Values. These elements are well conserved and included at a scale appropriate to maintaining ongoing dynamic processes. The large size of the area (30,777 km2) ensures that all the active and underlying (fossilized) dune formations and features, causative processes and ancillary habitats are included. The extensive dune-scapes are unspoilt and continuously refreshed and maintained by wholly natural processes. Because of its vast size, difficulty of access and current management within the protected Namib-Naukluft Park (49,768 km2), the Namib Sand-sea is well conserved and in an excellent, undamaged state. Permanent visitor and management infrastructure is non-existent within the boundaries of the property and visitation is restricted to small, temporary point locations that have no measurable effect on the area.
Protection and Management Requirements
The Namib Sand-sea has been under conservation management for more than 50 years with well established management and resource allocation systems, based on regularly revised and updated management plans and long-term budgetary planning. Prior to establishment of conservation management, the area was protected for its potential as a diamond mining area, but this was never realised. Key management issues today include managing the increasing demand for visitor access to pristine areas and precluding mineral exploration rights that would impact on the values and attributes of the area. There is potential for serial extension of the Namib Sand-sea beyond the Namib-Naukluft Park and beyond national borders to include other significant dune systems within other protected areas of the larger Namib Desert.
1995: Sandwich Harbour designated a Wetland of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention (16,500 ha).
IUCN MANAGEMENT CATEGORY
Located along and 50 to150 km inland from the coast of Namibia between the towns of Walvis Bay and Luderitz, centred on S 24.485°by E15.183°
DATES AND HISTORY OF ESTABLISHMENT
1907: The Namib-Naukluft National Park proclaimed; 1941: Sandwich Harbour added (now Sandvis);
1986: The Namib-Naukluft National Park established in final form (4,976,800 ha);
2013: The Sand-sea inscribed on the World Heritage List.
Both the core and buffer zones lie within the state-owned Namib-Naukluft National Park which is managed by the Ministry of Environment and Tourism through the Directorate of Regional Services.
Core area: 3,077,700 ha; Buffer area: 899,500 ha.
Sea level to 960m a.s.l. The highest dunes rise 350m above their base.
The Namib Desert stretches for 1,000 km of Namibia along the southwest African coast from southernmost Angola to northernmost South Africa and extends between some 180 km to the foot of the 2,000m high Great Western Escarpment inland. The property covers most of the 320 km-long by 120 km-wide southern half of the National Park, encompassing the cool coastal fog desert of the Namib Sand-sea. This is primarily composed of two immense, complex and visually arresting dune systems, one ancient, formed 21mya and semi lithified, and one mobile and younger overlying it as far as the Kuiseb river on the northern boundary which stops their flow. They contain 16 types of dune classifiable in three main categories: on the coast, transverse and barchan, in the centre linear, and star or pyramid-shaped in the east where winds are more variable, and one giant dune 350m high. The dunes cover 84% of the area. Other features are: 8% gravel plains and gramadoelas (dead ends/badlands), 4% coastal pans, 3% fringing rocky hills, and 1% inselbergs, as well as internally draining basins, ephemeral river beds, a coastal lagoon, and rocky shores. Between sea and dunes, there is a strip of low 2m sand mounds. The coastal lagoon is Sandwich Harbour, a Marine Protected Area and Ramsar site with two distinct wetlands: one aquifer-fed, with emergent vegetation but slowly disappearing, and the other tidal mudflats and raised shingle bars.
The Namib is considered to be the world's oldest desert and has been arid for 55-80 million years. It is said to be the second driest desert in the world. It is also remarkable for its origin. Most dune fields derive from local bedrock; the sands of the Namib Sand-sea derive from eroded sediments from the upper Orange/Vaal River basin carried 3,000 kilometres down river, then by the cold north-flowing Benguela ocean current driven by the West Wind Drift, to beaches in Namibia where strong winds transport them inland to form the exceptionally varied wind-sculpted landscape. Sandbar lobes of sand protruding northward along the coast, such as forms Sandwich Harbour, attest the strength of the current. Diurnally, temperature differences along the coast give rise to persistent morning fog for half the year, the condensation of which sustains the life of this very dry environment.
Surface water is absent, except for rare flash floods along dry riverbeds, only occasionally reaching the sea, more usually draining to pans such as the famous Sossusvlei 200 km south-southeast of Walvis Bay, where, with the neighboring Dead Vlei and Hidden Vlei. the Tsauchab River dies into the sands. Their blinding white clay pans studded with the stark black angularity of dead trees against the orange of the highest dunes in the desert are a landscape more surreal than natural. Except when veiled by fog, the lack of moisture and dust in the air results in an atmosphere of exceptional clarity which sharpens the vivid colours of the sands, and shadows flanks which range from red and pink to deep orange and light yellow, and change with the day, enhancing the drama of their complex and voluptuous shapes.
The sand-sea lies under the subtropical high pressure belt which inhibits rainfall so that its climate is hyper-arid, but one overlaid by coastal fog for almost half the year and harried by strong winds. Cold moist air from the Benguela current is carried east by the diurnal sea breeze, condenses overnight inland as radiation fog, and returns to the coast with the land breeze in the form of the morning fog condensation of which sustains the desert's life. The belt of cold air is trapped by a cap of warm air from the east and no clouds form. Precipitation is low but unpredictable: at the coast (Walvis Bay), it averages 13.5mm, rising to 50-85mm in the east, most falling in summer. Even there, it is the rain shadow of the Great Escarpment. But near the coast, it is more than doubled by condensation from the fog during 100-150 days a year. At low level, advection fog cooled over the ocean persists inland 15 km in the south of the site, 30 km in the north and is most frequent near Walvis Bay. At high level, the extent of radiation fog is 20 km inland in south, 40- 50 km in north.
The resulting coastal temperatures remain cool, between 2°C and 20°C, averaging 15°C with little diurnal variation. There is a west-east climatic gradient: inland temperatures become very high, varying from 0°C at night to a maximum of 45°C, especially when hot winter winds blow from the east. Evaporation is between 1680mm and 2100mm. Relative humidity at Walvis Bay is 65% in December, 81% from January to March. The pattern of winds is variable. In summer, cold northwesterly winds blow on the coast, and strong afternoon winds blow from the south and southwest, decreasing in intensity to the north. In winter, strong east berg winds from the interior gather heat and dust across the desert, which can result in dust plumes blown far out to sea. Except in these windstorms and in fog, owing to the absence of clouds, dust and pollutants, the atmosphere of the desert has exceptional clarity, noticeably at night. But the fog, extending out to sea, has in the past been fatal to ships along the coast.
The Namib is thought to have been arid for 55-80 million years, preserving more endemic species – one in five - than any other desert. The property has high habitat complexity: in addition to the dune, there are sand sheets, pans, the marine littoral, wetlands and ephemeral waterways. Of the 600 plant species growing in the Southern Namib, 260 are listed for the property. A large range of plants grows on the mountains and savannas of the east of the country, some of which may enter the desert down the savanna-like dry riverbeds; 205 seaweed species grow offshore.
In the sand-sea, there are two sets of flora: coastal and inland. Coastal species number 260 of which 15 live in the sand-sea itself, 5 being endemic to it, many being fog-dependent or succulent. These species are adapted to the unstable substrates, extremely low soil fertility and a substrate of very limited water holding capacity. They have the ability to store water, to harvest moisture from fog, and can withstand extreme thermal variations, reducing leaf area by rolling or losing leaves entirely and by growing a wide lateral shallow root system or deep taproots. On the dunes, two sparse grasses - the hardy evergreen succulent Trianthema hereroensis and bushman grass Stipagrostis sabulicola - provide shelter and food to a myriad of creatures: lizards and snakes, sparrow-larks, scale insects, ants, tenebrionid beetles, and even ostrich and gemsbok when other food is limited.
On dunes, vegetation growing at the base differs from that higher up the same sand dune but, though sparse, is home to scores of beetles, fishmoths and lizards, which feed on windblown detritus. Along water courses, the !Nara melon Acanthosicyos horridus is an endemic, long-lived nutritious keystone species which traps windblown sand to form giant sand hummocks of Stipagrostis spp. and other grasses. The leafless stems are grayish green; its deep taproot can extend 40m. On the granite inselbergs, the very long isolation from the Great Escarpment to the east, and the blockade from comparable habitats by mobile sand dunes, has produced a different flora; the rocky niches of the Haucheb Mountains, which gather more water, combine subtropical with temperate fauna. Riparian vegetation contains many washed-down seeds - though no endemics - but the branches and shade of the hardy camelthorn Acacia eriolaba are an important refuge to many animals and birds, like the colonial weaverbirds Philetarus socius, vultures and owls. Where fossilized by the dryness, the preserved tree trunks record the past history of the vegetation.
The property has high habitat complexity with some 300 species of fauna, 50% being endemic - higher than in any other hyper-arid environment. The dunes' fossil record reveals a richer fauna of large animals in the past. The present animal life is richest in insects, including 227 species of fog-basking beetles and 131 tenebrionid species. The animals specific to the Sand-sea are: 12 mammals, 2 being endemic, 9 birds (one endemic) 18 reptiles (8 endemic), 44 arachnids (37 endemic) and 207 insects (108 endemic). The conditions supporting life beneath the dunes, combined with the frequent moisture-bringing fogs, are the foundation of the sand-sea environment. With 1,580 species, far the most numerous fauna are the arachnids and invertebrates. These need little water to survive and have morphological, physiological and behavioral adaptations to harvest water and avoid heat: animals that swim through oxygenated sand, have high thermal tolerance, can effectively evade extreme temperatures, build structures to capture fog-water and can harbor gut micro-organisms that recycle nutrients. The nearly pure dune sand has an open air-holding structure fluid enough to allow animals to swim, burrow, take refuge and live where it is deep enough (about 300cm) for a comfortable temperature which varies only about 10°C between summer and winter. This contrasts with similar animal species in other dune deserts that have to dig burrows. Animals can rapidly dive into the sand and immediately disappear, even on slipface or dune-slope surfaces. This includes lizards, the dune gerbil Gerbillurus paeba and the endemic !Nama golden mole Eremitalpa granti namibensis, a blind insectivorous mammal that lives under the sand except for nocturnal sorties, only discovered in the 1950s. On the inland dunes, conditions at the base differ from those higher up. The dune slope area above the plinth and the steep upper slipface, are home to scores of beetles, fishmoths and lizards which feed on windblown detritus.
The nomination lists 75 mammals, which include those from the mountain plateau and savanna in the east of the country classified as 'boundering'. Most are unlikely to be found in the property, except briefly down ephemeral river beds and are not noted here. But some 57 larger mammals visit the sand-sea for longer or shorter periods. Widespread and sand-sea species are marked*. 40 mammals listed as resident include Grant's golden moleEremitalpa granti namibensis\, 3 shrews, Egyptian free-tailed bat Molossidae tadarida aegyptiaca\, Egyptian slit-faced batNycteris thebaica*and 6 other bats, Cape pangolinManis temminckii, Cape hareLepus capensis*, scrub hareLepus saxatilis,springharePedetes capensis,dune hairy-footed gerbilGerbillurus tytonis,four-striped grass mouseRhabdomys pumilio\, 5 gerbils, 13 rats and mice, Cape porcupine Hystrix afrocaeaustralis, Cape hunting dog Lycaon pictus (EN), black-backed jackal Canis mesomelas*, Cape fox Vulpes chama\, bat-eared foxOtocyon megalotis,honey badgerMellivora capensis, striped polecatIctonyx striatus, spotted genetGenetta genetta,meerkatSuricata suricatt, yellow mongooseCynictis penicillata, aardwolfProteles cristatus, African wild catFelis silvestris*, brown hyaenaParahyaena brunnea\, spotted hyaena Crocuta crocuta\, aardvarkOrycteropus afer, rock hyraxProcavia capensis, gemsbokOryx gazella\, springbok Antidorcas marsupialis*, steenbok Raphicerus campestris and klipspring Oreotragus oreotragus. Possible 'boundering' wanderers from the east might include chacma baboon Papio hamadryas on rocks and far-roaming leopard Panthera pardus, cheetah Acinonyx jubatus (VU) and caracal Caracal caracal.*
The World Heritage property ends at the high water line. However, the cold Benguela current induces the world's strongest upwelling, and with it a rich source of food in organic sediments. The Atlantic coast and islands, coastal wetlands, coastal dunes and plains contain many animals, breeding bird colonies and reptiles dependent on this supply. Sandwich Harbour lagoon attracts thousands of wading and sea birds, migrants and 8 endangered species. Offshore, perhaps sometimes beaching, are South African fur seal Arctocephalus pusillus and southern elephant seal Mirounga leonina. Three species of marine turtles travel offshore, as do 8 species of baleen whales and 23 species of dolphins and toothed whales.
The 301 bird species recorded include 62 species of seabirds, 20 being rare vagrants. Most are found on the edges of the sand-sea, on rocky outcrops and surrounding plains, along the coast, at Sandwich Harbour, along the Kuiseb River on the northern border, and the other large ephemeral rivers such as the Tsondab and Tsauchab, only entering the sand-sea occasionally and not going far into the interior. There are nine specialised sand-sea species. These include the endemic dune lark Certhilauda erythrochlamys which drinks no water at all, pale chanting goshawk Melierax canorus, Gray's Lark Ammomanes grayi, and red-capped lark Calandrella cinerea in coastal salt flats. Nesting and relatively widespread in the sand-sea are ostrich Struthio camelus, spotted eagle owl Bubo africanus, Namaqua sandgrouse Pterocles namaqua, grey-backed sparrowlark Eremopterix verticalis, pied crow Corvus albus and black crow Corvus capensis. Common raptors in the desert recorded from the rocky coast and Sandwich Harbour include greater kestrel Falco rupicoloides, rock kestrel Falco rupicolus, black-chested snake-eagle Circaetus pectoralis and the huge lappet-faced vulture Torgos tracheliotus (VU). The martial eagle Polemaetus bellicosus breeds in the Tsauchab and Tsondab Rivers and scattered trees on the plains far into the sand-sea. Even the secretary bird Sagittarius serpentarius have been found nesting in trees on the dunes and feeding in the sand-sea. Other notable birds include Ludwig’s bustard Neotis ludwigii (EN), and on the coast, the African penguin Spheniscus demersus (EN), African black oystercatcher and the Damara tern Sternula balaenarum. Many more species are migratory or peripheral.
Sandwich Harbour lagoon, thronged with some 75,000 to 400,000 wading and sea birds, supports an average of 145 waterbird species, 117 Palaearctic and African migrants and 8 endangered species. Among its larger resident birds are great crested grebe Podiceps cristatus, white pelican Pelicanus onocrotalus, pink-backed pelican Pelecanus rufescens, grey heron Ardea cinerea, black-headed heron Ardea melanocephala, little egret Egretta garzetta, black-crowned night heron Nycticorax nycticorax, African spoonbill Platalea alba, greater flamingo Phoenicopterus ruber (1,000), lesser flamingo Phoenicopterus minor (4,500), jackal buzzard Buteo rufofuscus, African marsh harrier Circus ranivorus, black oystercatcher Haematopus moquini, marsh owl Asio capensis, scops owl Otus senegalensis, barn owl Tyto alba, white-faced owl Otis leucotis and pearl-spotted owlet Glaucidium perlatum.
71 reptiles have been recorded for the whole site, and 18 burrowing sand-swimming reptiles in the sand-sea. Three are strict endemics: the small-scaled desert lizard Meroles micropholidotus, Brain's blind legless skink Typhlosaurus braini, and Koch's barking gecko Ptenopus kochi; 5 endemic dune sea-adapted species include the sidewinder adder Bitis peringuei, shovel-snouted lizard Meroles anchietae and web-footed gecko Palmatogecko rangei. 4 near endemics include the coral snake Aspidelaps lubricus infuscatus; and 5 common resident species include the Namaqua chameleon Chamaelio namaquensis. In addition to the larger animals, there is a multitude of centipedes, spiders, scorpions, solifuges, beetles and ants. The site's total of invertebrate species is 1,580.
This hyperarid desert is exceptional in its formation, its persistent coastal fog, and the great variety of adaptations of its sand-sea flora and fauna, with a resulting high degree of endemism. It lies within a WWF Global 200 Eco-region, a Centre of Plant Diversity, in one of the world’s Endemic Bird Areas, within a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and contains a Ramsar wetland.
There was very early human occupation: early Paleolithic stone tools, stone circles and stone-capped graves have been found at coastal springs. There are 1,000-year old shell middens at Sandwich Harbour, and evidence of settlements along ephemeral watercourses. Bartholomew Diaz mapped the coast in 1488. The Portuguese were followed by the Dutch, and in the nineteenth century by whalers, the British at Walvis Bay, German colonisers from 1884 to 1915, guano miners and diamond miners between 1908 and the 1960s, and finally by the South African regime before independence in 1990.
LOCAL HUMAN POPULATION
The area is locally uninhabited except for indigenous nomads, the Topnaar Nama, a San people, now living in scattered settlements along the Kuiseb River. At most, 400 live in the buffer zone. They traditionally reared animals, gardened, hunted and harvested wild fruits, notably the !nara melons, but their population is now reduced because the young mostly work in nearby towns and many traditions are being lost. Human activities at Sandwich Harbour have included fishing, guano collection and hunting. Until recently, the northern end of the Sperrgebeit (protected/off-limit) diamond mining area north of Luderitz, half owned by de Beers, was exploited, but it remains pristine where not mined.
VISITORS AND VISITOR FACILITIES
The surreal landscape of Sossus Vlei ('dead-end marsh'), served by a tarred road, with tours, lodges and camp sites is the greatest tourist attraction of the desert. In 2005-2006, there was a total of 58,800 visitors to the Sesriem/Sossus Vlei area, which rose to 89,000 in 2011. Quite a number also go to Sandwich Harbour. Of 123,393 visitors to the Namib-Naukluft Park in 2011, 74% of the total were foreigners, 18% Namibians and 8% other Africans. Seven active 4WD concessions allow vehicle convoys to cross the sands, with overnight camping at fixed sites. There are also ballooning and safari flights. The visitors are served by some 60 tourism lodges outside the property and several campsites. Control of the impacts of such numbers over so large an area with a staff of only 28 is a major management challenge.
SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH AND FACILITIES
The dunes' unusual formation, their vast area, fog-supported ecology, and their ecological isolation for millions of years has resulted in levels of endemism and evolutionary processes among certain taxa comparable to those of oceanic islands. These make the Namib sand-sea of great scientific interest. Ongoing detailed studies have been made and are ongoing into geology, geomorphology, climate, ecology, biology, paleontology, archaeology, anthropology, desert conservation and restoration. The Gobabeb Desert Research Station, 120 km southeast of Walvis Bay, founded in 1962, has since 1998 been run as the Gobabeb Research & Training Centre and has an international reputation. Sandwich Harbour is also used for scientific research. The whole area is a collection hotspot for the International Board for Plant Genetic Resources for grassland communities.
Namibia is the world's only continental country that will have its entire coastline protected as a national park: the Namib–Skeleton Coast National Park. The Namib-Naukluft National Park, its southern half and the largest game park in Africa, surrounds the Namib Sand-sea. The Nature Conservation Ordinance of 1996 provides for the conservation of nature and establishment of game parks and nature reserves. Other legislation relevant to management includes the Environment Management Act (2007), Minerals (Prospecting and Mining) Act (1992), Namibian Tourism Board Act (2000), National Heritage Act (2004), and Water Resources Management Bill (2004). Management is by the Ministry of Environment and Tourism through the Directorate of Regional Services and Parks Management.
Two draft Management Plans are given in the nomination, one for the Namib-Naukluft National Park, a second for the Namib Sand-sea. They aim for close cooperation between the Ministry of Environment and Tourism and national, local and regional government organizations, traditional and local communities, tourist firms, research institutes and NGOs. The plan deals with conservation, research, education, monitoring, enforcement, traditional practices and cultural resources. It includes provisional zoning for Strict Nature Reserve, Wilderness, Day-visitor Use, Tourism Driving and Lodge Concessions, and Monuments (old diamond-mining areas). Uranium mining, large-scale water extraction and high-impact tourist activities are currently carried out in other parts of the Namib-Naukluft Park. These will not be allowed within the property, but rigorous legal protection will be essential. The two plans need to be integrated, identifying what can be done within the limits of the present budget and staff to become operational. The right of the Topnaar and local people to use resources within the property is not yet legally recognized, but in 1993 a community-based natural resource management project was internationally funded to promote their right to benefit from wildlife management and tourism. Regular monitoring by Gobabeb and Ministry of Environment staff will cover migratory birds at Sandwich Harbour, vultures and raptors, invertebrates, vegetation, pans, ephemeral rivers, weather and tourists.
The property faces four main threats to its integrity: tourism, mining, water supply and invasive species.
Tourism is developing much faster than the capacity to manage it. In 2011, there were more than 135,000 visitors, mainly to the Sesriem/Sossus Vlei area, but also to Sandwich Harbour, and in seven active 4WD concessions, which permit vehicle convoys to cross the sands, camping overnight at fixed sites. This is supported by some 60 tourism lodges on private land outside the property. To control the impacts of such numbers over an area the size of Belgium, the management has only 28 staff to supervise conservation, monitoring, law enforcement, off-road driving, flying heights, unauthorized camping, overcrowding, litter and sanitation management, and disturbance of critical wildlife habitat, in addition to revenue collection. There is a need to disperse visitor use away from the Sossus Vlei area, improve the infrastructure at heavily used sites, and improve the visitor experience with better interpretation and education facilities.
There is no active mining within the property, though there has been periodic diamond and emerald mining and quarrying for granite since the early 1900s, and some abandoned infrastructure remains. Uranium has been discovered north of the property, but new finds of minerals within the property are limited, and the government decided in 2012 to cease all prospecting and terminate all current licenses to preserve the integrity of the property.
The ephemeral rivers are threatened by possible upstream impoundments. Further extraction of underground water from the Kuiseb River valley for nearby Walvis Bay may alter the ecology of the Sandwich Harbour wetlands. These potential developments require rigorous environmental impact assessment and mitigation procedures.
Invasive plants and animals noted include 11 species of plants, 1 fish, 2 birds, 2 mammals and 12 invertebrate species. Most of the plants are carried in by ephemeral rivers and are difficult to eliminate due to regular re-infestation by new floods.
COMPARISON WITH SIMILAR SITES
The sand-sea is the only coastal subtropical desert with an expanse of dunes influenced by fog. The closest equivalent, the Atacama Desert, has none of the aeolian landscape and is relatively lifeless. Shark Bay and Ningaloo on the arid western Australian coast, El Vizcaino in Baya California and the Banc d'Arguin on the barren coast of Mauritania are primarily of marine interest. The much larger Air and Ténéré in Niger (7,700,000 ha), Tassili n’Ajjer in Algeria (7,200,000 ha) and the similarly sized Tadrart Acacus in Libya near Tassili do not have an equal variety of desert features.
The site's most striking beauty, as with many deserts, lies in the voluptuous outlines of dunes of many shapes, textures and, as the light changes, wide range of subtle colors. Several dunes are huge and when seen contrasted against a coast or, as at Sossusvlei a riverbed, where the pans are studded with blackened dead trees, form a landscape of surreal vividness.
Geologically, there is also no comparable example of its unique and ongoing formation by a combination of successive fluvial, oceanic and aeolian processes. The nomination also lists its concentration of 23 desert geomorphic features, far more than any other of the 14 comparable World Heritage sites considered, in an area less than half of the two Saharan World Heritage properties.
Ecologically, the extent and variety of physiological and behavioral adaptations of the biota to life in unconsolidated sand, relying on fog for water, are as unique as their island-like isolation from other African deserts, except to the south. The biodiversity is relatively low except for invertebrates, but is rich in endemic species of these and in endemic vertebrates, especially sand-sea species. There is a high endemism in certain taxa known only from sand-sea habitats: 8 species of plant (53% of the sand-sea total), 37 arachnids (84%), 108 insects (52%), 8 reptiles, (44%), one bird (11%) and two mammals (17%). This undisturbed array of endemic species adapted to a fog-sustained life in hyperarid conditions is unique and few deserts have been as intensively studied as result.
There is a permanent staff of 28 under the Executive Director, and an ongoing training program in cooperation with educational institutions. However, staff numbers are too few to effectively control conservation, monitoring, law enforcement, off-road driving, flying heights, camping restrictions, waste management as well as revenue collection, over so large an area. Since 1998, the Gobabeb Research & Training Centre, with a staff of 14, has been under the Ministry of Environment & Tourism and the Desert Research Foundation of Namibia.
In 1993, the government of Namibia received initial funding from USAID through its Living in a Finite Environment (LIFE) Project. The Ministry of Environment and Tourism, with the financial support from organizations such as USAID, Endangered Wildlife Trust, WWF, and Canadian Ambassador's Fund, together formed a Community Based Natural Resource Management support structure, the main goal of which was to promote sustainable natural resource management by giving local communities rights to wildlife management and tourism. The government allocates an annual operational budget of about US\$850,000, a stable though barely adequate amount.
Ministry of Education, Private Bag 13186, Windhoek, Namibia.
The principal sources for the above information were the original World Heritage nomination, the IUCN site evaluation report and Decision 37 COM 8B of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee
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