Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa’s latest additions to South African marine protected areas (MPAs) will bring ocean protection within the country’s exclusive economic zone to over the five percent mark.
The 22 new MPAs will create about seventy thousand square kilometres of protected space and will, according to her department, protect offshore ecosystems and species ranging from deep areas along the Namibia border to a more than tenfold expansion of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park in KwaZulu-Natal.
At present less than half a percent of South Africa’s ocean ecosystems are formally protected compared to the about eight percent of terrestrial areas such as the Kruger National Park and Table Mountain Nation Park.
The new MPAs were identified as part of Operation Phakisa, a presidential project to fast track South Africa’s ocean economy. Launched in October 2014 by President Zuma, Phakisa will see an increase in economic activity on and below the oceans abutting South Africa.
A study undertaken on behalf of government indicates the oceans around South Africa have the potential to contribute about R54 billion to Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
The sectors of the ocean economy are marine transport and manufacturing; offshore oil and gas; aquaculture; marine protection services and ocean governance.
Inshore marine protection in KwaZulu-Natal has, according to a report, already been withdrawn from the local conservation agency and it seems will become the responsibility of the National Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.
Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife was last month informed its contract to monitor and patrol the provincial coastline has been cancelled with no reasons provided.
The SA Navy will acquire three inshore patrol vessels (IPVs) as part of an overall acquisition of six patrol vessels, the other three being offshore platforms with delivery expected in five to six years.
This leaves the current Navy fleet of four frigates, three submarines, three strikecraft converted to OPVs and three mine counter-measures vessels to perform the maritime security function, not only inshore, but offshore and across the South African EEZ as well.
The Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) is the only other operator of vessels in the IPV and OPV classes. They are Lillian Ngoyi, Ruth First and Victoria Mxenge (all IPVs) and the OPV Sarah Baartman.
Military analyst Helmoed Heitman points out the time-honoured adage of not being able to control what one cannot patrol takes on even more importance in the light of Phakisa. The issue is raised again with the cancellation of Ezemvelo’s contract for patrolling the 560 km KZN coastline.
According to a KZN newspaper, marine scientists fear poaching and over-fishing will rise sharply because of the decision to remove the provincial conservation authority as custodian of KZN’s coastline and marine resources.
“The implications are pretty serious. KZN probably has the best coastal monitoring system in the country and if this now goes over to fisheries, I fear we will lose that. Ezemvelo and its predecessors have been looking after our coast for decades and to remove this competency is very sad.
“It seems silly to me to break down something that has worked for decades,” Judy Mann, conservation strategist for the SA Association of Marine and Biological Research, is reported as having said.