The Tsitsikamma Marine Protected Area Hot

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Cape Clawless Otter | African Conservation Photography | © Peter Chadwick

The Tsitsikamma Marine Protected Area is Africa’s oldest Marine Protected Area (MPA), having been proclaimed with immense foresightedness in 1964. This means that 2014 marks the 50th anniversary of this MPA within the heart of the Garden Route National Park. The 61km long MPA protects important rocky coastline, sandy beaches, sub-tidal reefs and critically important fish species.

Today, it is one of the countries best examples of a well-managed MPA that showcases the benefits of biodiversity protection. 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.
  • Protecting specific life stages of commercially important species and in many cases protect the spawning and/or nursery grounds.
  • Providing benefits to ecosystem services in the form of coastal protection, waste assimilation and flood management.

The rugged Tsitsikamma MPA coastline by wildlife and conservation photographer Peter Chadwick

1 of 12: The extremly picturesque yet rugged coastline of the Tsitsikamma Marine Protected Area.

During a recent visit, where I spent several days exploring the MPA, the rugged coastline was the most obvious attraction with massive pounding waves literally shuddering the rocks and sending plumes of spray high into the air. The very aptly named “skietklip” lies close to the day visitor parking area near the restaurant and I quickly become absorbed in waiting and watching for even bigger waves to crash into the shoreline.

Massive pounding waves on the Tsitsikamma coastline by wildlife and conservation photographer Peter Chadwick

2 of 12: Massive waves pound the coastline along the Tsitsikamma coastline

Perhaps though, the most memorable experience from my trip was when I headed down to the campsite where the swimming pool is and then sat quietly watching the coastline. In a half-hour period during late afternoon, I was extremely fortunate to observe numerous Humpback Whales swimming northwards to their breeding grounds and with some energetic whales, tail-splashing, fin-slapping and even breaching clear of the seas surface. Both Humpback and Bottlenose Dolphin pods swam just behind the breaking waves and as dusk approached, amazingly a small family of three Cape Clawless Otters emerged from the dense coastal undergrowth and swam out to hunt and feed in the rocky bay. The otters were relatively relaxed as long as I remained still and they had no problem feeding in amongst the pounding surf zone.  This incredible and privileged experience is just a minor fraction of what this incredibly special place has to offer and clearly shows that marine protected areas are well worth protecting and proclaiming.

Steep gorge of the storms river by wildlife and conservation photographer Peter Chadwick

3 of 12: The Storms River flows through narrow gorges as it enters the sea in the Tsitsikamma MPA.

Sea mist covering the coastal forest by wildlife and conservation photographer Peter Chadwick

4 of 12: Sea mist brings important nutrients that helps feed the coastal forest found along the shores of the MPA

Hikers along the otter trail by wildlife and conservation photographer Peter Chadwick

5 of 12: The world famous Otter Hiking Trail follows the coastline of the MPA.

African Black Oystercatcher at Tsitsikamma by wildlife and conservation photographer Peter Chadwick

6 of 12: A number of seabird species feed and breed along the coastline, including African Black Oystercatchers whose numbers are now climbing due to conservation interventions.

Cape cormorant feeding in the surf zone by wildlife and conservation photographer Peter Chadwick

7 of 12: A Cape Cormorant flies directly into the surf zone to start feeding.

Tail slapping humpbacked whale by wildlife and conservation photographer Peter Chadwick

8 of 12: A Humpbacked Whale tail slaps alongside a second whale. Tsitsikamma is part of the northern migration route of these animals between July and October.

Cape clawless otter emerging from the surf by wildlife and conservation photographer Peter Chadwick

9 of 12: A Cape Clawless Otter emerges from the surf zone where it has been feeding.

Bottlenosed Dolphins riding a wave by wildlife and conservation photographer Peter Chadwick

10 of 12: A Bottlenosed Dolphin pod plays in the breaking waves.

Deep red anenomes by wildlife and conservation photographer Peter Chadwick

11 of 12: Plum-red anemones filter-feed in the shallow rock pools found all along the coastline.

beach detritus by wildlife and conservation photographer Peter Chadwick

12 of 12: Beach detritus shows just some of the diversity of invertebrate species found within the waters of the MPA.

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Peter Chadwick
Author: Peter ChadwickWebsite: http://www.peterchadwick.co.zaEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
About
As a dedicated conservationist, Peter Chadwick has 30 years strategic and operational conservation experience in terrestrial and marine protected area management. He has worked within all of the major biomes in southern Africa as well as having provided expert conservation advice at a global level. His conservation and wildlife photography is a natural extension to his conservation work where he has numerous opportunities to capture photographs that showcase the beauty and complexity of the outdoors. Peter’s photography is internationally recognized, with this work appearing globally in a wide range of print and electronic media.