South Africa is blessed with one of the richest and most diverse coastlines and marine environments on the planet. Our coastline extends for nearly 3000km’s between the Mozambique border and Kosi Bay in the east and the Orange River estuary bordering Namibia in the west.
In addition, the South African Exclusive Economic Zone extends seawards for 200 nautical from the coastline with additional territory extending around the Prince Edward Islands in the southern Oceans. This vast area is particularly rich in marine flora and fauna with over 12000 species having been identified to date and with about 1/3rd of these species being endemic in over a 136 different habitats.
1 of 6: The worlds largest breeding colony of endangered Cape Gannets are protected within the Bird Island MPA in Algoa Bay, South Africa.
Due to the immense diversity of the marine environment it is therefore necessary to ensure that there is a full suite or network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) that adequately protects the representivity of our marine ecosystems and biodiversity. South Africa currently has a network of 21 MPAs within its waters. Despite this network, much work is still needed to ensure that a full representation of coastal habitats and biodiversity is protected.
2 of 6: MPAs are important in providing undisturbed sites for scientific research which allow for long-term monitoring that can help guide the management of the MPAs and provide a benchmark for comparison against exploited areas.
Sadly, MPAs do not have the same public understanding and support as our terrestrial protected areas and most people do not even understand what an MPA is and why it is important. A Marine Protected Area is an area of sea and coastline that is especially dedicated to the protection and maintenance of biodiversity and its natural and cultural resources by being managed in a structured and legal manner.
3 of 6: Humpback Dolphins surface briefly within the De Hoop Marine Protected Area.
Different levels of MPA also exist and vary from complete no-take zones where nothing may be disturbed, caught or removed, such as at the Tsitsikamma MPA through to partial-take MPAs such as the Table Mountain National Park MPA that has a suite of regulations that determines what activities may take place in which zone. By establishing MPAs we can help to restore balance in the use of our oceans, safeguarding fish stocks and protecting marine habitats while providing long-term solutions for communities living adjacent to the sea.
4 of 6: MPAs provide prime locations for marine based eco-tourism such as on the Whale Trail in the De Hoop Marine Protected Area.
If properly designed and managed MPAs play vitally important roles in protecting marine habitats and biodiversity through:
Conserving representative areas of marine biodiversity and ecosystems
Protecting critical sites for the reproduction and growth of species
Allowing sites to recover from the stresses of exploitation and other human-related impacts
Providing settlement and growth areas for marine species so as to provide for spillover of these species into surrounding exploited areas
Providing areas for marine-based environmental education and for raising awareness regarding marine related issues
Providing sites for nature-based tourism which is carried out in a sustainable and environmentally responsible manner
Providing undisturbed sites for scientific research which allow for long-term monitoring that can help guide the management of the MPAs and provide a benchmark for comparison against exploited areas.
5 of 6: MPAs allow the full range of biodiversity to occur in optimal numbers and thus providing for healthy eco-systems.
One of the quickest ways to get attention for our MPAs is through the provision of high quality conservation photography. Through engaging images, we can figuratively bring people to the ocean. These images can then communicate the key values of MPAs, showcasing their benefits and highlighting the need for their protection. Please watch this website for further updates and as we launch a campaign to garner support for our MPAs and marine environment.
6 of 7: African Black Oystercatcher numbers have recovered as a result of focussed conservation initiatives.