Cape Cross has both historic and biological significance and is a popular tourist attraction. The Portuguese navigator, Diego Cão, landed here in 1486 on his second expedition south of the equator and planted a stone cross (padrão) to mark his journey and there is a replica visible here today. Inclusive of a second replica, the area has been listed as a National Heritage Site.
In the late 1800s, thousands of tons of guano (dried excrement of fish-eating birds used as fertiliser) were collected and exported to Europe. South African (Cape) fur seals were also harvested. About 100 workers lived at Cape Cross and a police station, customs and post office were established at the settlement, while a railway – The first in the country – was built to cross the saltpan and transport workers. Many men lost their lives due to the harsh conditions on the Skeleton Coast.
This reserve is a sanctuary for the world’s largest breeding colony of South African fur seals, with up to 210 000 seals present during the breeding season in November and December. Sustainable seal harvesting takes place in the reserve annually under the auspices of the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources, which also sets the quota of animals to be harvested.
Covering an area of 60sq. km, the reserve was proclaimed in 1968 and is dominated by Rocky bay, sandy beaches, salt pan. The vegetation in the reserve is Sparsely vegetated, with dollar (Zygophyllum stapfii) and pencil bushes (Arthraerua leubnitziae) dominating. A variety of lichens.
Notable wildlife in the reserve include Brown hyaena, south African fur seal, black-backed jackal. At the guano platforms, Greater and Lesser Flamingo, Grey Phalarope, Damara Tern, Cape Teal, Caspian Tern, Black-necked Grebe and African Black Oystercatcher can be seen.
To enhance rich wildlife experience in the reserve, walkway for viewing of the seals has been developed, information signs along the walkway, renovated picnic areas, five campsites with fireplaces, and timber-plastic wind shields.