The Skeleton Coast is the northern part of the Atlantic Ocean coast of Namibia and south of Angola from the Kunene River south to the Swakop River, although the name is sometimes used to describe the entire Namib Desert coast. The Bushmen of the Namibian interior called the region “The Land God Made in Anger”, while Portuguese sailors once referred to it as “The Gates of Hell”.
The name Skeleton Coast was invented by John Henry Marsh as the title for the book he wrote chronicling the story of the MV Dunedin Star I. Since the book was first published in 1944 it has become so well known that the coast is now generally referred to as Skeleton Coast and is given that as its official name on most maps today.
On the coast the upwelling of the cold Benguela current gives rise to dense ocean fogs (called “cassimbo” by the Angolans) for much of the year. The winds blow from land to sea, rainfall rarely exceeds 10 millimetres (0.39 in) annually and the climate is highly inhospitable. There is a constant, heavy surf on the beaches. In the days of human-powered boats it was possible to get ashore through the surf but impossible to launch from the shore. The only way out was by going through a marsh hundreds of miles long and only accessible via a hot and arid desert.
The coast is largely soft sand occasionally interrupted by rocky outcrops. The southern section consists of gravel plains while north of Terrace Bay the landscape is dominated by high sand dunes. Skeleton Bay is now known as a great location for surfing.
Namibia has declared the 16,000 square kilometres (6,200 sq mi) Skeleton Coast National Park over much of the area, from the Ugab River to the Kunene. The northern half of the park is a designated wilderness area. Notable features are the clay castles of the Hoarisib, the Agate Mountain salt pans and the large seal colony at Cape Fria. The remainder of the coast is the National West Coast Recreation Area.
The coast has been the subject of a number of wildlife documentaries, particularly concerning adaptations to extreme aridity. There is a 1965 National Geographic documentary “Survivors Of The Skeleton Coast” . Many of the plant and insect species of the sand dune systems depend on the thick sea fogs which engulf the coast for their moisture and windblown detritus from the interior as food. The desert bird assemblages have been studied in terms of their thermoregulation, coloration, breeding strategies and nomadism.
The riverbeds further inland are home to baboons, giraffes, lions, black rhinoceros and springbok. The animals get most of their water from wells dug by the baboons or elephants. The black rhinoceros population was the main reason why the CBBC show Serious Desert was filmed in the region.