Sustaining our sealife

2016-05-17 06:00
Local conservation organisations have thrown their weight behind a proposed increase to the number of marine protected areas (MPAs).
BirdLife, Save Our Seas Foundation and other organisations have started an online petition to raise support for the increase in MPAs, following an internal commitment by national government to increase formal ocean protection to 5% of the exclusive economic zone, as part of Operation Phakisa, to 22 new MPAs.
MPAs safeguard ocean habitats to ensure that human activities like fishing, mining, and tourism are sustainable in the long term. 
Despite their critical role, only 0.4% of South Africa’s mainland oceans are currently under formal protection, compared to almost 10% of our terrestrial area. 
With the growing human pressures from marine mining, energy supply, fishing, aquaculture and tourism, our oceans have never been in greater need of protection, the petition says.
BirdLife South Africa, the Centre for Environmental Rights, I Am Water, the Save Our Seas Foundation and WWF-SA have united in their support for this process.
Eleanor Yeld Hutchings, the Save Our Seas Foundation Shark Education Centre manager, says: “We all have a stake in this process. The step is the result of years of excellent research, collating the best available science and investing in sound conservation planning. 
“However, the designation of these MPAs – seeing them through to proclamation – relies on the buy-in and support from not only the scientists and NGOs of this country, but the South African public whose future is invested in this process.”
Human activities, like fishing and mining, are increasingly impacting the functioning of marine ecosystems, Yeld Hutchings explains.
“MPAs are a conservation tool to protect vulnerable ecosystems and endangered species, setting aside ocean habitats where human activities are regulated to allow for refuge and recovery. 
“This ultimately means that human activities are made more sustainable in the long term. Marine protected areas are an investment in the future: for instance, by providing a place for fish to recover their populations by breeding without exploitation, species can come back from the brink of commercial extinction.”
Our oceans underpin major economic sectors in South Africa, such as fisheries, tourism, aquaculture and mining, Yeld Hutchings says.
“We need to protect and sustain ocean biodiversity and habitats if we are to derive the benefits from our rich ecosystems. Our growing human population, with the resultant pressures from human activities and commitments to future development, means that the number of MPAs needs to increase to safeguard enough biodiversity to ensure a sustainable future.”
South Africa has committed to a global agreement called the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), Yeld Hutchings explains. “Signatories to the CBD agree to conserve biodiversity (10% of our oceans by 2020) in order to provide lasting development benefits to the nation. Currently, only 0.4% of South Africa’s oceans are formally protected. Government has also launched Operation Phakisa to develop our ‘Blue Economy’. This hopefully represents a key step towards addressing economic growth and equality for our citizens; however, sustainability should be at the core of any future development, if the benefits from development are to be equitable and lasting. MPAs are a part of this solution.”
The declaration of new MPAs will hopefully lay the groundwork for increasing total protection to 10% in the future, Yeld Hutchings says. “In tangible terms, this presents new opportunities for alternative forms of development, like ecotourism, in these areas. It also sets up a sustainable framework which can support future development opportunities, as we develop our Blue Economy and strengthen other economic sectors. 
“Ranked as the third most biodiverse country in the world, South Africans can rightly be proud of what represents a landmark step towards recognising this, and implementing policies that accept our role as custodians of this country.”

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