South Africa has 12,914 recorded species, representing 15% of the world’s total, although many taxa, particularly those with small body sizes, remain poorly documented. These species are found across several diverse critical marine ecosystems including estuaries, wetlands, lagoons, salt marshes, mangroves and dunes.

119 species of seabird have been recorded in South Africa waters, and the shoreline also supports 133 species of coastal birds from 27 families. Of the 15 species of seabirds that breed in South Africa, 10 are classified as threatened or near threatened, including six of the endemic taxa. Offshore islands are particularly important breeding localities for seabirds, including some 40% of the world population of African penguin in Algoa Bay, and 70% of the global population Cape gannet. Ten of the 22 species of albatross are found in South Africa’s waters, including the wandering albatross which boasts the longest wingspan of any bird.

South Africa has five of the seven marine turtle species (leatherbacks, loggerheads, green, hawksbill and Olive Ridley). 37 species of cetaceans (whales and dolphins), include 32 species of toothed whales, 13 species of baleen whales and 6 species of seals. All species of marine mammals are fully protected. A further 181 cartilaginous fish species (sharks, skates and rays), including the endangered great white shark, occur in South African waters.