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Creating awareness of MPAs

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The biodiversity of MPAs, like De Hoop, not only means that there are lots of species, but that there is a wide range of genetic variations within each species. This makes these species more adaptable to change. PHOTO: Steve Benjamin
The biodiversity of MPAs, like De Hoop, not only means that there are lots of species, but that there is a wide range of genetic variations within each species. This makes these species more adaptable to change. PHOTO: Steve Benjamin

On Sunday, 1 August South Africa will become the first country in the world to celebrate Marine Protected Areas (MPA) Day.

To highlight the important role MPAs play in the conservation of marine biodiversity, a consortium of South African organisations passionate about the protection of marine life and people, have established MPA Day.

The day is aimed at educating people about the proper management of these protected spaces and to draw attention to the benefits that MPAs provide. These spaces limit human activity in order to protect the marine life and allow fisheries to benefit from increased fish populations from MPAs.

Dr Judy Mann, conservation strategist at the South African Association for Marine Biological Research (SAAMBR), says MPAs are like the Kruger National Park of the ocean. “A MPA is an area of coastline or ocean that is specially protected for the benefit of people and nature,” she explains.

Mann says unlike the Kruger National Park and other terrestrial parks, people are not aware that there are protected areas in the ocean. “A couple of years ago we did research and we found that very few people knew what a MPA was. So, we decided it was time to start MPA Day and we thought this is a great way to create awareness to introduce people to MPAs and to hopefully let them learn about the benefit of these areas to people.”

She says after extensive research, they have found that no other country has ever commemorated MPA Day.

According to Mann, South Africa has 42 marine protected areas. “All of which protect crucial habitats for our diverse, unique and commercially important ocean species. On land, South Africa protects 7.8% of our area, whereas in the ocean, it’s only 5% of our territory.”

She says MPAs enable fish stocks to increase in size and abundance and, over time, these spill over into adjacent fished areas to improve catches for fisheries in a sustainable way. Mann adds it also protects a range of marine ecosystems which are home to rare or endangered species, as well as uniquely South African animals and plants that live nowhere else in the world.

She says MPAs also provide climate change protection. “Healthy oceans absorb enormous amounts of carbon dioxide and are home to vegetation that produces oxygen, helping to buffer humans from the effects of climate change. They also protect coastal communities from the devastating effects of rising sea levels.”

Mann says to commemorate the day they will host a virtual tour to four different MPAs around the county. These include the iSimangaliso and Thukela MPAs in KwaZulu Natal, the De Hoop MPA in the Breede River and Table Mountain MPA. “We are going to try and live stream to our teams there and hopefully they will be able to introduce people to some of the animals that live in those MPAs. We have never done it before, it’s a big experiment but it’s a chance to take people to the MPAs.”

A live webinar will take place at 14:00 on Sunday. Mann says people can join in on the day’s celebrations by:

  • Starting a conversation about MPAs using the hashtags: #MPAday, #Conservation, #Marine, #MPA, and #MarineProtectedArea, and share what you know with others.
  • Learn as much as you can and discover the wealth of diverse and beautiful ocean creatures, plants and habitats within our MPAs and how protecting these ecosystems can help people.
  • Take part in the MPA Day Photo Competition and stand chance to win prizes

“It’s just a day to say what is a MPA, and if all we do is introduce more people to the concept of the MPA and we help more people to be interested in it, we will be happy and then we will continue because this is just the beginning. We want it to be an annual thing so we are already plans for what we want to do next year,” concludes Mann.

  • For more information visit https://www.marineprotectedareas.org.za/mpa-day.

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