International Crane Foundation


The Zambezi Delta: management opportunities and challenges

Africa: > The Zambezi Delta: management opportunities and challenges

The Zambezi Delta: management opportunities and challenges
The Zambezi Delta is a broad, flat alluvial plain along the coast of central Mozambique. The delta is triangular in shape, covering an area of approximately 1.2 million hectares that stretches 120 km from its inland apex (near the confluence of the Zambezi and Shire Rivers) to the main Zambezi River mouth and 200 km along the Indian Ocean coastline from the Cuacua River outlet near Quelimane south to the Zuni River outlet (MAP 1). The large port city of Beira is located about 200 km to the south. The Delta is bordered to the north by the Morrumbala escarpment that serves as a divide between the Zambezi and Shire River watersheds, and to the west by the Cheringoma escarpment that separates the Zambezi and Pungue River watersheds. The entire Lower Zambezi basin in Mozambique covers an area of approximately 225,000 km2 from Cahora Bassa Reservoir to the Zambezi Delta (more than 27% of the total land area of Mozambique) and supports more than 3.8 million people (25% of the total population of Mozambique).

The 11,000 km2 Marromeu Complex includes the southbank of the Zambezi Delta and adjacent uplands. The complex includes the Marromeu Special Reserve (Reserva especial de Marromeu), four surrounding hunting concessions (Coutadas 10, 11, 12, and 14), coastal mangrove zone, commercial sugar production fields, lowland subsistence agriculture and grazing lands, the Salone depression (a river corridor that connects the Marromeu Complex to the Zambezi River), and the Cheringoma escarpment (MAP 2).

At the heart of the Marromeu Complex is the 1500km2 Marromeu Special Reserve and surrounding hunting concessions (8252km2) that extend from the edge of the buffalo reserve into the adjacent Cheringoma highlands. These productive grasslands support diverse wildlife, including Cape Buffalo (historically the largest population in Africa), African Elephant, Lichtenstein’s Hartebeest, Sable Antelope, Eland, Burchell’s Zebra, Hippopotamus, Waterbuck, and Reedbuck. Predators include Lion, Leopard, Cheetah, Wild Dog, and Spotted Hyena. The complex supports the highest density of waterbirds in Mozambique, with large nesting colonies of Great White and Pinkbacked Pelicans, Yellowbilled and African Openbill Storks, Glossy Ibis, and Whitebreasted Cormorants. Tremendous numbers of Spurwing Geese and other waterfowl feed on the floodplain. The wetland is home to 120 breeding pairs of endangered Wattled Cranes and provides critical refuge for up to 30% of their global population during times of extreme drought in southern Africa. Other bird species of international concern include Grey Crowned Cranes, Saddlebill Storks, Woolynecked Storks, Goliath Herons, African Skimmers, Redwing Pratincoles, and Caspian Terns. Humpback and Minke Whales occur offshore, along with Bottlenosed, Roughtoothed, and Humpback Dolphins.

The Marromeu Complex is vital for the national economy of Mozambique and provides subsistence for hundreds of thousands of rural villagers. The extensive coastal mangroves and estuaries nourish the prawn fishery on the Sofala bank, one of Mozambique’s most important sources of export revenue. The floodplain swamps provide important spawning grounds for riverine and oceanic fishes, and support an important freshwater fishery during years of good flooding. The wet grasslands provide critical dry-season grazing lands for livestock. The rich delta soils support the largest sugar plantation in Mozambique and productive flood-recession agriculture along drainage ways. The savannas and woodlands provide fuelwood, building materials, wild fruits, honey, and medicinal plants to local communities. The complex also offers exclusive ecotourism and trophy hunting opportunities through the hunting concessions.

Although a portion of the complex is protected legally as the Marromeu Special Reserve, there has never been a warden or administrator or a management plan for any part of the Marromeu Complex nor any attempt to monitor or regulate resource utilization. As a result, the area suffers from widespread ecological degradation and socio-economic decline. Military and commercial hunting decimated wildlife populations during and immediately following Mozambique’s long civil war and current excessive hunting quotas are stalling wildlife recovery. Local communities, denied access to natural resources on hunting concession grounds, resort to illegal wildlife poaching and burn fire-sensitive vegetation communities. Sugar production has expanded into important wetland areas and threatens water quality. Clear-cutting is widespread in the adjacent uplands. At a catchment scale, large upstream dams on the Zambezi River and embankments along the riverway have all but eliminated seasonal flooding in the delta, adversely affecting subsistence agriculture, fisheries, and grazing as well as wildlife and vegetation communities.