The battle for conservation of our oceans and beaches had a huge win last week when 20 new national Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) were gazetted.
This increased our protected oceans from 0.43% to 5%, and three of the new areas fall under the management of South Africa's National Parks (SANParks) - the Addo Elephant National Park MPA, Robben Island MPA (to be managed by Table Mountain National Park) and Namaqua National Park MPA.
SEE: This campaign is aimed at increasing ocean protection in SA to 10% - how you can contribute
For SANParks' national marine co-ordinator, Dr Ané Oosthuizen, this was a major achievement for conservation - a win that's been in the works since 2006, and planners and lawyers spent five years developing the shape, size and regulations with all the various stakeholders and communities.
“The new MPAs will contribute to the conservation of our oceans, islands and coastal habitats, protect threatened species such as penguins and rebuild overexploited species such as linefish, abalone and rock lobster. They will help secure ecosystem services, support recreational, tourism and educational activities, as well as subsistence, recreational and commercial fishing.
"MPAs help keep ecosystems resilient in the face of climate change,” says Oosthuizen.
WATCH: Why are Africa's fish disappearing?
Here is why these three MPAs are so important.
Addo Elephant National Park MPA
Where: The Algoa Bay section of the Eastern Cape coastline, including peripheries.
Why: Great whites and whales frequent its waters, and the Cape gannet and African penguin has large colonies on Bird Island and St Croix Island which fall within its boundaries.
READ: Travel the forgotten paths of gentle giants across the Baviaanskloof to Addo
Robben Island MPA
Where: The area surrounding Robben Island extending out into the Atlantic Ocean in the Western Cape.
Why: Besides its important historical significance, Robben Island is a safe haven for seabirds and offers recovery to overexploited species like West Coast rock lobster and abalone.
READ: Robben Island dives into marine conservation with new protection status
Namaqua National Park MPA
Where: Adjacent to the national park, the MPA's coastline range from Spoeg River to Island Point in the Northern Cape.
Why: The MPA will protect cultural heritage like archaeological middens, nursery areas where fish populations can recover and its scenic beauty that will help grow tourism in the area.
MAPPED: A visual guide to the Namaqua Coastal Route of the Northern Cape
What is a marine protected area (MPA), and should we care about the ones in South Africa?
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), an MPA is, “a clearly defined geographical space, recognised, dedicated and managed, through legal or other effective means, to achieve the long-term conservation of nature with associated ecosystem services and cultural values.”
MPAs are key tools in an integrated ocean management toolbox required to address the multi-faceted and complex challenges facing our oceans, and to build long-term social, ecological and economic resilience, says Wild Oceans
"They are important means of reducing ocean risk from human impacts and providing long-term insurance against short-term threats. They provide refuges for threatened species, allow damaged ecosystems to recover and help rebuild collapsed fish stocks. They offer direct economic and social benefits to people, as well as climate mitigation services."
South Africa initially only had 19 MPAs, divided into three kinds of zones:
- Restricted: These are 'no-take' areas where any harvesting of marine life is prohibited.
- Controlled: These are certain areas where you are allowed to fish and take from the ocean, but only with a valid permit that has certain restrictions on it.
- Mixed: These areas have both restricted and controlled sections, which normally makes concessions to nearby communities.
READ: Getting fishy: What you should know about SA's original 19 marine protected areas
How to keep protecting our oceans?
- Join the “Only This Much” campaign and spread awareness.
- Make ethical and sustainable seafood choices - follow WWF SASSI to check.
- Stop buying and using plastic products. Reuse old plastic bags when shopping and invest in reusable straws.
- Don't buy items that exploit marine life.
- Get involved in a beach clean-up, and pick up litter whenever you see any along the coast. Read here for more information.
- Visit Aquariums to increase your love and knowledge of marine life.
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