SA’s ocean ecosystems get 10 times more state protection
The government has declared 20 new Marine Protected Areas to preserve biodiversity
Twenty new Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) have been declared off SA’s coasts, effectively increasing the legal protection of ocean wildlife by 10 times.
It has been a long-awaited move, say environmental activists, because prior to the government’s announcement only 0.5% of SA’s exclusive economic zones were formally protected. That figure has now jumped to 5%.
According to the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER), about 95% of SA’s marine environment has been leased for offshore oil and gas. This, it says, results in possible bulk marine sediment mining and poses a threat to offshore environments.
While rights have been granted for a range of other extraction practices, such as sand mining and marine fracking, the newly declared MPA network will provide refuge for certain ecosystems.
According to the Protected Areas Act, the network will prevent commercial prospecting, mining, exploration production and related activities in any of the newly protected sections.
Among the 20 newly protected areas are sections of Cape Agulhas, Aliwal Shoal Marine, Benguela Muds, the Browns Bank Coral reef, the Namaqua National Park and Uthukela.
“The new network will provide a multitude of benefits to biodiversity, people, and strengthen SA’s climate resilience. The network will protect key spawning, breeding, nursery, feeding, and aggregation areas for a rich array of marine fauna, including threatened shark, turtle and seabird species,” said the CER following the announcement.
“It will protect unique and diverse habitat types and features including coldwater corals, a fossilised yellow wood forest, canyons, reefs, mangroves, coastal wetlands, mud habitats, gravel habitats and canyons.”
The CER credited the SA National Biodiversity Insitute (SANBI) and the department of environmental affairs for the latest development.
SA has already committed to protecting at least 10% of its coastal and marine environment by 2020, a promise made under the United Nations’ 1992 Convention of Biological Diversity.
According to SANBI, the new areas add about 50,000km² to SA’s protected-area estate – larger than Denmark and twice the size of the Kruger National Park.
“These new MPAs contribute to protection of both the Southeast Atlantic and the Southwest Indian Ocean – a uniquely South African contribution to global ocean protection,” SANBI said.
“In just 5% of the ocean area, 87% of SA’s different marine ecosystem types will receive some protection. This includes the first protection for marine habitats in Namaqualand, SA’s seamounts in both oceans, muddy ecosystems on the west, south and east coast, and protection of the marine environment around SA’s iconic Robben Island,” it said.