Protecting local waters

2018-10-09 06:01
The proposed Robben Island Marine Protected Area (MPA) is one of 22 proposed sites currently under consideration. PHOTO: Peter Chadwick

The proposed Robben Island Marine Protected Area (MPA) is one of 22 proposed sites currently under consideration. PHOTO: Peter Chadwick

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Just off Cape Town’s coast lies an area that, if approved, could protect some of our local marine biodiversity. The proposed Robben Island Marine Protected Area (MPA) is one of 22 proposed sites currently under consideration.

Currently, less than 0.5% of South Africa’s waters are protected through 19 MPAs. This is in comparison to the around 8% of terrestrial protected areas such as the Kruger National Park and Table Mountain National Park, says Department of Environmental Affairs regional spokesperson, Zolile Nqayi.

“Marine Protected Areas are increasingly being used as a tool for the achievement of biodiversity, fisheries management, tourism and research objectives,” he explains.

In 2014, the South African government endorsed a plan to achieve a viable MPA network. This would see around 10% of South African waters protected by 2020.

“This network would protect the marine biodiversity of South Africa’s oceans, including ecosystems that currently receive no protection; facilitate the sustainable use of the ocean by fisheries and other sectors, and not block key opportunities for the exploitation of minerals and energy in the ocean environment,” Nqayi says.

Two Oceans Aquarium CEO Michael Farquhar adds, in a statement: “Around the world there is a call to increase the number of MPAs as they have shown to be extremely effective in protecting species and ensuring a marine legacy for generations to come. These MPAs will benefit tourism, fisheries and recreation; offer coastal protection (particularly important with regard to the effects of climate change and rising sea levels), and assist in reducing greenhouse gases.”

In February 2016, 22 MPAs were proposed.

These can now be explored by the public through an interactive website, recently launched by the South African National Biodiversity Institute and partners at an event at the Two Oceans Aquarium.

SANBI marine programme manager and principal scientist Kerry Sink, who spoke at the event, says the website was formed under the vision of the late DEA minister Edna Molewa, who championed for the MPAs, as a way to allow the public to engage with the marine areas.

Nqayi says many of these new MPAs are intended to protect offshore ecosystems and species.

“These MPAs will protect vulnerable habitats and secure spawning grounds for various marine species, therefore helping to sustain fisheries and ensure long-term benefits important to food and job security.”

One of the MPAs that can be explored on the website is that of Robben Island.

As well as the cultural and heritage value of the island, the waters around it are home to kelp forests and the coastal nests of seabirds such as the endangered African penguin, endangered bank cormorants and terns. This 580km² proposed MPA ranges from 180m to 500m deep and, along with being a breeding and feeding area for endangered seabirds, also contributes to the recovery of abalone and West Coast rock lobster.

Two Oceans Aquarium curator, Maryke Musson, adds: “Robben Island is an important cultural and historical World Heritage Site and home to incredible sealife. It is in a very busy maritime area being so close to the Cape Town Harbour, and is also a significant tourist destination,” she says.

Marine Protected Areas are key to replenishing biodiversity and nourishing the growing human population, Musson says.

“An MPA is any area of the marine environment that enjoys a higher level of protection for part or all of the natural and cultural resources therein. Marine Protected Areas, if managed properly, can be an effective way of protecting marine ecosystems and their associated cultural and historical heritage for future generations to experience and enjoy. A protected ecosystem tends to be more resistant and resilient to disturbances and serves as an effective insurance policy against overfishing and loss of? biodiversity­.”

However, a date for the implementation of the proposed MPAs is still unclear.

Nqayi says: “The new MPAs are being discussed with all the relevant stakeholders. It needs to be borne in mind that some of the areas identified for these MPAs were being used for other activities, so before they can be declared, the relevant stakeholders need to be consulted. The new network of MPAs can only be declared once the consultation process is concluded.”

Visit www.marineprotectedareas.org.za.


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