SA’s marine protection increases


The gazetting of a network of 20 new representative Operation Phakisa: Oceans Economy Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) has increased South Africa’s marine ecosystem area under protection in the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

The marine ecosystem area increased from the current 0.4% to 5.4%, to provide protection to 90% of habitat types, as well as contribute to global protection in line with South Africa’s international commitments.

The Department of Environmental Affairs said the new network strives to support multiple objectives for biodiversity in alignment with oceans economy goals.

“MPAs provide safe spaces in which fish can breed undisturbed. They are essential to maintain eco-certification of the South African deep-sea trawl fishery.

“This certification process assesses whether habitat and nursery areas for the hake fishery, are adequately protected,” the department said on Tuesday in a statement.

MPAs also contribute to growing South Africa’s marine eco-tourism sector by providing undisturbed natural habitat for whales, sharks, seals, dolphins, turtles and seabirds for international and domestic tourists to experience.

“An adequate network of MPAs will also provide the basis for ongoing resilience to the impact of climate change. Oceans are an essential component of the climate system, absorbing and transferring heat, and regulating the exchange of carbon dioxide (CO2) with the atmosphere.

“With increasing CO2 levels, and rising ocean temperatures, this regulatory capacity is at risk. The network of MPAs will assist in building ecological resilience, and therefore social and economic resilience in the growing ocean economy,” the department said.

The new MPA network is a product of extensive consultation and negotiation with all stakeholders, which sought to ensure that the network is aligned with relevant policies and priorities for fisheries, aquaculture, tourism, as well as marine mining and oil exploration, while also protecting ecologically important areas.

“The new MPAs represent seamounts, submarine canyons, volcanic pinnacles, and a variety of ecosystem types on the shelf, continental margin, and abyss in both the Indian and Atlantic oceans.

“The new network also provides the first protection for several threatened and fragile ecosystem types, including threatened mud, gravel, and shelf edge habitats and sensitive deep water scleractianian, stylasterine, and soft coral-dominated ecosystem types,” the department said.

This new network of 20 MPAs will, among other things, contribute to fisheries sustainability, advance marine ecotourism, and will help maintain resilience in ecosystems that are under stress from climate change.

“Work on the new approved network of MPAs dates back to 2014, when the South African government endorsed a plan to achieve, as part of Operation Phakisa: Ocean Economy, a viable network of MPAs. South Africa’s ocean space, which is one of the most varied in the world, is highly productive with rich biodiversity providing for living and non-living resources that contribute significantly to the country’s economy and to job creation,” the department said.

SANParks said that three new Marine Protected Areas within South African National Parks (SANParks) have been gazetted by the Department of Environmental Affairs. The Addo Elephant National Park MPA, Robben Island MPA (to be managed by Table Mountain National Park) and Namaqua National Park MPA form part of 20 new national MPAs gazetted last week This declaration is the culmination of many years of work by South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI,) SANParks, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife and DEA. These MPAs come into effect on 1 August 2019.

According to SANParks National Marine Co-ordinator, Dr Ané Oosthuizen, this new network of MPAs increase the conservation footprint of South Africa’s oceans from 0.43 to five percent and is a major achievement for conservation. “The new MPAs will contribute to the conservation of our oceans, islands and coastal habitats, protect threatened species such as penguins and rebuild overexploited species such as linefish, abalone and rocklobster. They will help secure ecosystem services, support recreational, tourism and educational activities, as well as subsistence, recreational and commercial fishing. MPAs help keep ecosystems resilient in the face of climate change,” says Oosthuizen.

She says the planning towards some of these MPAs started as far back as in 2006, such as the Addo Elephant National Park MPA, by SANParks and the SANBI Offshore MPA project. Hundreds of planning and stakeholder meetings and negotiations with communities and industries such as oil and gas, mining, fisheries, and aquaculture took place. Planners and lawyers spent five years developing the shape, size and regulations for these MPAs with many compromises on all sides.