The Department of Environmental Affairs is pleased to announce that the Cabinet has approved a network of 20 marine protected areas (MPAs) that are representative of South Africa’s rich coastal and ocean biodiversity. This will increase the ocean protection within the South African exclusive economic zone (EEZ) to 5%.

“This network of 20 MPAs, approved by cabinet on Wednesday, 24 October 2018, will considerably advance South Africa’s efforts to protect our ocean heritage for future generations. They will contribute to fisheries sustainability, advance marine ecotourism, and will help maintain resilience in ecosystems that are under stress from climate change,” said the acting minister of environmental affairs, Derek Hanekom.

Work on the new approved network of MPAs dates back to 2014, when the South African government endorsed a plan to achieve, as part of Operation Phakisa: Ocean economy, a viable network of MPAs.

“South Africa’s ocean space, which is one of the most varied in the world, is highly productive with rich biodiversity providing living and non-living resources that contribute significantly to the country’s economy and to job creation. As we grow and intensify the ocean economy, it is essential to provide the necessary protection to a representative sample of marine ecosystems, thereby ensuring their resilience to human use and impact, and to the impacts associated with climate change,” said Hanekom.

MPAs provide safe spaces in which fish can breed undisturbed. They are essential to maintain eco-certification of the South African deep-sea trawl fishery. This certification process assesses whether habitat and nursery areas for the hake fishery are adequately protected. MPAs also contribute to growing South Africa’s marine eco-tourism sector by providing undisturbed natural habitat for whales, sharks, seals, dolphins, turtles and seabirds for international and domestic tourists to experience.

An adequate network of MPAs will also provide the basis for ongoing resilience to the impact of climate change. Oceans are an essential component of the climate system, absorbing and transferring heat, and regulating the exchange of carbon dioxide (CO2) with the atmosphere. With increasing CO2 levels, and rising ocean temperatures, this regulatory capacity is at risk. The network of MPAs will assist in building ecological resilience, and therefore social and economic resilience in the growing ocean economy.

The new MPA network is the product of extensive consultation and negotiation with all stakeholders, which sought to ensure that the network is aligned with relevant policies and priorities for fisheries, aquaculture, tourism, as well as marine mining and oil exploration, while also protecting ecologically important areas.

South Africa is also mindful of its longer term commitments to the protection of marine biodiversity, including meeting the 2020 global target in the Decadal Plan of the Convention of Biodiversity (CBD), which stands at 10%.

“The efforts to increase the protection of marine ecosystems is within this global and national context. MPAs are important in maintaining ecosystem functioning and structure as well as protecting biological diversity. The approved 20 new MPAs are a significant step towards meeting the global 2020 target,” said Hanekom. – Press release

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