South Africa joined the global community in celebrating the annual World Oceans Day on Saturday 8 June – which raised awareness of the role of the oceans and the importance of conserving and protecting the country’s marine environment.
The day in South Africa also coincided with the declaration of a network of 20 new representative Operation Phakisa: Oceans Economy Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) – which is an important step in the protection of the ocean environment.
The network of 20 new MPAs increases the spatial protection of South Africa’s ocean environment from the current 0.4% to 5.4%.
The network of 20 MPAs would also provide a measure of protection to 90% of marine habitat types within the South African Exclusive Economic Zone, said Minister of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries, Barbara Creecy.
They 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 strives to support multiple objectives for biodiversity in alignment with oceans economy goals. 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,” the Minister said.
South Africa, as a maritime nation with a coastline of approximately 2798km, has begun to appreciate that the oceans surrounding it can contribute significantly to its economy.
In financial terms, the total ocean sector is valued at contributing approximately 4.4% to South Africa’s GDP, supporting a great number of jobs and livelihoods. Coastal goods and services are estimated to contribute 35% to GDP.
“Yet, many of the incremental values of the ocean cannot be valued in financial terms: For example, the country’s relatively pristine environment is the foundation for the growing tourism industry. Healthy marine ecosystems provide the fishing industry and many small-scale and coastal fisheries communities with valuable living marine resources,” said Creecy.
The intensification of South Africa’s ocean economy is increasing the urgency to provide the necessary protection to a representative sample of marine ecosystems, Creecy said.
This, she said, will ensure their resilience to human use and impact, and to impacts associated with climate change.
Creecy, who has recently been appointed in this portfolio, said she also plans to look into the problem of plastic pollution which has detrimental effects on the environment, oceans and endangers marine life, as well fragile marine ecosystems.
Plastic takes 500 years to break down. Once it enters our environment, it stays there.
It is estimated that every year about 8 million metric tons of plastic is dumped into the oceans.
This creates a swamp of large and small plastic pieces that are mistaken for food by marine animals.