South Africa’s oceans get much needed protection

South Africa’s oceans get much needed protection

The South African government’s approval of an expanded network of 20 Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) has been welcomed as “visionary”, writes FRED KOCKOTT

Work on the new approved network of MPAs dates back to 2014, when government endorsed an Operation Phakisa plan to create a viable network of MPAs.

“This network of 20 MPAs, approved by Cabinet on Wednesday will considerably advance South Africa’s efforts to protect our ocean heritage for future generations,” said the Acting Minister of Environmental Affairs, Mr Derek Hanekom,


Previously the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) under stewardship of the late minister, Edna Molewa, had come under fierce criticism from marine scientists for stalling on plans to increase protection of the oceans.

Many were concerned that the DEA was kow-towing to the petroleum industry which has been granted coastal gas and oil exploration leases covering more than 90% of SA’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

But following the Cabinet’s announcement on Wednesday, which brings the total protection of South Africa’s oceans up to 5 % (from 0.4%), praise has been heaped upon the DEA’s ‘bold action’.


“It is a massive win for marine conservation in African waters,” said Dr Jean Harris of WildOceans, the marine conservation arm of WildTrust. “This will ensure South Africa is on track to meet our international obligation to protect 10% by 2020, and the scientifically recommended 30% by 2030.”

Karen Sack, the managing director of Ocean Unite agreed. “South Africa have now established themselves as an ocean leader in Africa,” said Sack.


CORALS: This deep reef, 69 metres below the surface near Amanzimtoti, lies in the Twilight Zone of the ocean noted for low levels of sunlight and virtual darkness for human eyes. A diverse range of soft corals and sponges thrive in these conditions. This photo was obtained from deep-sea video footage obtained during Ocean Stewards expeditions conducted in support of creating an expanded network of Marine Protected Areas in South African waters


BUTTERFLY FISH: This pair of butterfly fish were found nestling in a fragile black coral tree on the Uthukela Banks. Part of the Chaetontidae family, they feed mostly on coral polyps and sea anemones, and are pelagic spawners; that is, they release many buoyant eggs which float up to the surface, forming the part of the bread basket of the ocean: plankton.

In June this year, a coalition of organisations including WildOceans, Ocean Unite, WWF-SA, the Centre for Environmental Rights and the South African Association for Marine Biological Research (SAAMBR) launched a campaign called “Only This Much”, which upped the ante in pushing for greater of protection of South Africa’s ocean space.

Only This Much

Youth Ambassador for the ‘Only This Much’ campaign, Ruth Mthembu, said the expanded network of MPAs was wonderful news for generations to come – “as this is the ocean they will inherit.”

Giving background to DEA’s decision, Hanekom said MPAs were 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. “They will contribute to fisheries sustainability, advance marine ecotourism, and will help maintain resilience in ecosystems that are under stress from climate change”.


Hanekom said new MPA network was 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.

He described South Africa’s ocean space as one of the most varied in the world with rich biodiversity.

“The expanded network of MPAS will 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,” said Hanekom.

For more information on MPAs visit:

FEATURED IMAGE: During previous Ocean Stewards expeditions featherstars, commonly called sea lilies, were found in abundance on the uThukela Banks They are part of the Crinoid family of marine animals, and live in both shallow waters and at depths of up to 9000 metres. Most are free swimming, but some of have stems to anchor themselves to the sea bed.


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