This IBA is a stretch of coastal dunefield, 57.5 km in length and c.2.1 km wide, running from the Sundays river mouth to Cannon Rocks. The IBA includes Alexandria Forest and the coastal grasslands inland of the dunefield. The Woody Cape Nature Reserve holds the Alexandria Dunefield, which consists of open sand and several series of dune-slacks, interdune hollows and depressions between the dunes. This vast dune sea is considered by some to be the best example of a mobile dune system in the world. The dune-slacks support a distinctive coastal dune herbland. In stable dunes, thicket vegetation comprises many forest-precursor tree species. The dense, low-altitude (100–357 m) Alexandria State Forest, situated on the northern shores of Algoa Bay, lies inland of Cape Padrone. The forest backs the dunefield on the eastern extreme where rainfall is considerably higher. Although the vegetation is designated as Tongaland–Pondoland lowland forest, it has Afromontane affinities. Dominant trees include Ochna, Apodytes, Cassine and Sideroxylon, while frequently encountered sub-dominants include Euclea, Pittosporum, Rapanea, Strychnos, Pterocelastrus and Schotia.
See Box and Tables 2 and 3 for key species. The dry, unvegetated dunes and coastal slacks of the Woody Cape Nature Reserve hold c.17% of South Africa’s breeding population of Sterna balaenarum, the only such colony in the Eastern Cape. They also hold 2% of the global breeding population of Haematopus moquini. The wide open beaches and dunes hold large numbers of waders in summer. Circus maurus, Neotis denhami and Vanellus melanopterus all occur at very low densities in the partially vegetated dune-slacks and in the short, fringing inland grassland. Forest patches are highly localized and the dunes are filled with mostly secondary scrub, the only large patch of climax forest being found in Alexandria State Forest. The forest here holds Stephanoaetus coronatus, Buteo oreophilus, Tauraco corythaix, Telophorus olivaceus, Apaloderma narina, Bradypterus sylvaticus, Campethera notata, Cossypha dichroa, Cercotrichas signata and Serinus scotops.
Non-bird biodiversity: The cycad Encephalartos arenarius has a global range restricted to sandy habitats of the coastal dune-forest and bush in the Alexandria District, where it is found within the site. Among reptiles, the global ranges of Nucras taeniolata, Scelotes anguinus and Cordylus tropidosternum are virtually restricted to the Algoa Bay region of the Eastern Cape and a large proportion of their populations occur within the site. Habitat exists for Bitis albanica, an Algoa Bay endemic, but it is yet to be recorded in the site. The coastal thicket and dunes support Bradypodion ventrale, Chersina angulata, Leptotyphlops nigricans and Acontias meleagris.
Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
The coastal environment has been placed under increased pressure to be developed for recreational activities. Sandy coasts are particularly vulnerable to human activity and off-road vehicles are a cause for concern. The dune-breeding Sterna balaenarum and Haematopus moquini are particularly sensitive to human activity in their breeding areas. Although officially under conservation management, the Alexandria Dunefield is intensely disturbed by vehicular traffic and there are high levels of nest destruction and elevated levels of chick and adult mortality. It has been shown that over 25% of vehicles drive well above the high-water mark, showing general disregard for reserve regulations. Unfortunately, the summer peak breeding season for sensitive coastal seabirds coincides with peak dunefield utilization by recreational users. Management practices need to be reviewed, and access, particularly to off-road vehicles, should be strictly controlled. Education campaigns and increased awareness of how users of the coastal-zone impact the environment should be promoted.The region’s forests have endured a history of exploitation. Part of the management plan is to eradicate non-native plantations and allow natural vegetation to recover. Threats include subsistence hunting activities by rural residents, although this is now much reduced. Forest removal and bush encroachment as a result of agricultural activities are also potential problems.