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Natural & Cultural History

The area around the southern-most tip of Africa, often referred to as the Agulhas Plain, has rich natural and cultural features, which make it worthy of national park status. The Agulhas Plain is of international significance due to its rich plant biodiversity, with species richness values equalling those of tropical rain forests.

It has approximately 2000 species of indigenous plants including 100 which are endemic to the area and over 110 Red Data Book species. Consequently, the Agulhas Plain is a very important component of the Cape Floral Kingdom, the smallest and richest of the world’s six plant kingdoms.

The Agulhas Plain is unique in that a wide variety of wetlands occur in the area, contributing to a high diversity of wetland plants and aquatic invertebrates. This is also home to the endangered Cape platanna and the micro frog. In addition these wetlands attract a host of water birds, with over 21 000 migrant and resident wetland birds estimated to occur in the area annually. The coastline supports a rich marine and intertidal life, with breeding sties of rare coastal birds such as the African black oystercatcher. The nearby islands are home to a variety of seabirds and seals.

In spring and early summer southern right whales frequent the waters of the Agulhas coast. Besides its ecological importance, the Agulhas area has a rich cultural heritage. A reconnaissance of the area has established the presence of significant archaeological sites along the coast. The discovery of stone hearths and pottery, together with shell middens, link the archaeological deposits with the era of Khoisan migration and settlements.

The Agulhas area also provides history of a different kind – numerous shipwrecks of the early explorers attempting to conquer the wild seas off the southern tip of Africa, dot the coastline. Many national monuments are found in the area, such as the historical Cape Agulhas Lighthouse, which has been in operation since 1849. In addition, historical buildings such as the water mill at Elim and certain homesteads reflect the European influence in the history of the region.