In a swansong as environment minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk Friday gazetted a proposal to create one of the largest Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in the world around the Prince Edward Islands.
The MPA located in the Southern Ocean, will also be South Africa`s first “Offshore MPA”, the now-to-be-disbanded Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism says in a statement.
The gazetting of the proposal followed a five-year process during which a scientific plan and a draft management plan were developed in collaboration with other role-players.
The DEAT says the objectives of the MPA are:
· to contribute to a national and global system of protected areas
· to provide scientific reference points for research
· to contribute to the ecologically sustainable management of marine resources, and
· to reduce ecological impacts of fisheries, particularly on endangered seabirds
The proposal is said to be in line with South Africa`s new “National Protected Area Expansion Strategy” which seeks to structure the way in which protected areas are declared to maximise benefits.
“This strategy drew attention to South Africa`s lack of offshore protected areas-, and put forward the Prince Edward Islands as a priority area,” the statement adds. “Given the enhanced protection status of the area, transgressions by vessels fishing illegally could be dealt with even more firmly than in the past, acting as a strong deterrent for such activities.”
The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) “warmly commended” Van Schalkwyk on the move.
In a statement on their website, the WWF said the islands are “an important global biodiversity hotspot, which was subject to rampant poaching during the late 1990’s.”
Dr Deon Nel, head of the WWF Sanlam Living Waters Partnership, said this “is a historic day in marine conservation in South Africa. All of SA’s current MPAs are located very close inshore. The commitment of the first large offshore MPA moves SA into a new era of marine conservation.”
Speaking from Gland, Switzerland, Jim Leape, Director General of WWF International added his congratulations to the minister, noting that SA “plays a key role with several other countries including Australia, France and New Zealand, in protecting the amazing biodiversity and commercially important fisheries of the sub-Antarctic.”
Comments on the Prince Edward Islands MPA must reach Dr Alan Boyd by email at [email protected] or by fax at 021 402 3009 by July 9.
Pic: Marion Island weather station.