Walvis Bay lagoon dates back some 5,000 years, making it the oldest lagoon on the Namibian coast. A safe haven for over 150,000 birds, it also acts as a feeding station for a further 200,000 shorebirds and terns on their bi-annual migration to and from the Arctic. Up to 90% of all South African flamingos spend the winter here, while 70% of the world’s chestnut-banded plovers depend on the lagoon for their survival.
Pressure on the lagoon in recent years has built up from a number of areas: construction of housing to the southeast, salt pans to the south and west, and a road dyke to the east and south. All these factors have served to reduce flooding, which would naturally keep up the water levels. Added to this is the knock-on effect of the diversion of the Kuiseb River in 1967, since when the dunes have effectively ‘marched round’ and headed straight for Walvis Bay. The sand blown from the desert contributes significantly to the silting up of the lagoon.
The saltworks that surround the edge of the lagoon in Walvis Bay are South African owned; salt is exported raw from Namibia, then processed in South Africa for industrial use (as against that from Swakopmund which is for human consumption). The salt pans in Walvis Bay are entirely manmade, with the company now owning as far as Pelican Point. As salt extraction increases, it is forecast that the entrance to the lagoon will eventually close up and the lagoon itself will dry up. Initiatives to re-establish the natural flow of water include the construction of culverts under the road leading to the saltworks.
(Photo: © Rick McCharles, Flickr)
On the basis of current information, the lagoon could in the future disappear completely. Nevertheless, it has been protected as a wetland of international importance under the Ramsar Convention since 1995, and other agencies are on the case. The Coastal Environmental Trust of Namibia (064 205057; www.nnf.org.na/CETN/index.htm) has a three-phase ‘lagoon integrated environmental management plan’ in place, and protection of the lagoon is also part of the Walvis Bay Local Agenda 21 Project, based at the municipality.