The Namib Sand Sea, a unique coastal fog desert with a diverse range of large, shifting dunes – was granted World Heritage status at the annual UNESCO World Heritage Committee meeting in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, this month.
The Namib Sand Sea is a place of outstanding natural beauty where atmospheric conditions provide exceptional visibility of the landscape by day and the dazzling southern hemisphere sky at night. The latest World Heritage site lies along the arid African coast of the South Atlantic and is contained within Namibia’s Namib-Naukluft Park.
Life in the Namib Sand Sea is harsh: plant and animal communities are continually adapting to life in this extremely arid environment. Before conservation management began, the area was protected for diamond-mining potential, but this was never realised. Key issues today include managing the increasing demand for visitor access to pristine areas and preventing mineral exploration.
The Namib Sand Sea in Namibia is the only coastal desert in the world that includes extensive dune fields influenced by fog. It spans an area of over three million hectares and a buffer zone of 899,500 hectares. Comprising two two dune systems – it is home to an ancient semi-consolidated dune system overlain by a younger active one. The desert dunes are formed by the transportation of materials thousands of kilometres from the hinterland, that are carried by river, ocean current and wind. It features gravel plains, coastal flats, rocky hills, inselbergs within the sand sea, a coastal lagoon and ephemeral rivers, resulting in a landscape of exceptional beauty. Fog is the primary source of water in the site, accounting for a unique environment in which endemic invertebrates, reptiles and mammals adapt to an ever-changing variety of microhabitats and ecological niches.
“World Heritage status for Namib Sand Sea is a great achievement for all involved in the nomination of this spectacular site,” says Moses Mapesa Regional Vice-Chair, Eastern and Southern Africa, of IUCN’s World Commission on Protected Areas. “The listing brings high expectations and, as with all World Heritage sites, we would like to see strong management measures put in place to ensure the natural values of this area are safeguarded and monitored.”