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Lake Profile

Sibaya (Sibayi)

General Information

Description Lake Sibaya is the largest natural freshwater lake in South Africa and is narrowly separated from the sea by a range of high forested coastal dunes. The lake is home to large hippopotamus and crocodile populations. The lakeshore is also home to the only known population of a rare climbing orchid.

Surface water in the surrounding coastal plain often disappears completely during dry years, making the lake the only source of permanent water for humans and other life forms.

Country South Africa
Latitude -27° 20' 0" (-27.3333)
Longitude 32° 42' 0" (32.7000)

Physical Characteristics

Surface Area 70.00 km2
Depth Mean depth: 11.0 m
Origin River
Type Fresh
Catchment Catchment size: 530.00 km2
Catchment/surface area ratio: 8:1


Economic Value Resources used by both local residents and recreational visitors include fish, reeds, sedges and wild fruits. Very little data is available on overall utilisation.
Major Cities

Watershed Management

Description The management authority for the lake is the KwaZulu Bureau of Natural Resources. Management is essentially limited to law enforcement, protecting the fauna and selected forest communities. The water surface is being proclaimed as a nature reserve.

Alien plant control has taken place on the eastern shore, combating Pereskia aculeata.

In 1995 a permitting system was established for gill-netting and all catches are monitored.

Watershed Action Plan In development
Issues According to the Ramsar Information Sheet on the Ramsar site at Lake Sibaya, there is a need to control the numbers of herbivores using the grasslands, as severe overgrazing and veld degradation is occurring. Levels for sustained utilization of natural resources by local people need to be determined and enforced.

The lake is particularly susceptible to pollution because it has no outlets. Extensive DDT spraying for malaria control in the area is a cause of concern, while more recently, interest has been shown for spraying molluscacide in the wetlands to destroy the bilharzia snail (the poison will also kill invertebrates and even small fish).

Other Issues Erosion
Nutrient pollution

Biodiversity Conservation

Description Lake Sibaya contains large hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibius) and crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus) populations. Hippo and crocodile populations are counted annually by helicopter and waterbirds are counted twice each year by vehicle and boat. The hippo and crocodile numbers have dropped over the last fifteen years due principally to poaching. Waterbird numbers have not shown any clear trends.

Twenty-two species of frog and eight reptile species are associated with the lake. Of the 279 bird species recorded in the area, 60 are closely associated with the lake for breeding, feeding and roosting. The Lake Sibaya area is home to the only known population of a rare climbing orchid (Vanilla roscheri). One endemic copepod (Tropocyclops brevis) occurs in the lake.

Designations Ramsar Site
Species of Concern



ILEC Database


9/11/2003 - Film documents land restitution in wildlife areas
9/10/1999 - New ecotourism project at Lake Sibaya
4/17/1998 - Rural poor buy into KwaZulu ecotourism venture

Additional Data Sources

Birkett, C., and I. Mason. 1995. A new global lakes database for remote sensing programme studying climatically sensitive large lakes. Journal of Great Lakes Research, 21 (3) 307-318.
International Lake Environment Committee, the United Nations Environment Program and Environment Agency, Government of Japan. 1997. World Lakes Database.

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