In 2016, the South African government set an ambitious goal: increase the area of protected waters in the country from 0.4% to 5%. The mission’s title, Operation Phakisa, translates to “hurry up” and was implemented in order to uphold the ecological and economic integrity of the country’s marine resources. Just under 3 years later, in October 2018, the South African Cabinet has announced the addition and expansion of 20 marine protected areas. When they are designated in 2019, approximately 50,000 km2 of South Africa’s oceans will be protected and the country will have reached its 5% goal.
The central goal of Operation Phakisa was “blue growth”. Kerry Sink, Marine Program Manager at the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), explains that while this term includes increasing the ocean’s economic productivity, it also encompasses marine regulation and protection. The ways in which humans benefit from the ocean are innumerable. Fishing and tourism create jobs and economic growth, fish and other seafood provide food security, the physical structures protect coastal areas, and many oceans are important for many cultures and communities. Marine protected areas ensure that humans are able to reap these benefits sustainably.
Marine protected areas, or MPAs, are defined by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as “A clearly defined geographical space, recognized, dedicated and managed, through legal or other effective means, to achieve the long-term conservation of nature with associated ecosystem services and cultural values.” In South Africa this definition is further broken down into three different classifications: Restricted, Controlled, and Restricted and Controlled Areas. These categories designate MPAs as “No-Take” areas where no harvesting is allowed, “Open” areas that require permits for harvesting, or some combination of the two. MPAs are critical to the survival of ocean ecosystems because they create undisturbed breeding grounds and habitats for hundreds of marine life species. By protecting certain areas from human pressures, the oceans are able to maintain a level of biodiversity that makes them more resilient to changes in the Earth’s climate and other stressors.
The MPAs in South Africa are particularly unique in that they include 85% of the 136 marine ecosystem types found in the country. Examples of these ecosystem types include shallower beaches and estuaries, deeper shelfs and seamounts, and even abyssal plains that reach 6,000 m in depth. Each of these ecosystems faces unique pressures that have led to the creation of specific management plans in order to meet the MPAs objectives. Jay Coboz of Business Insider SA lists some of the irreplaceable and intriguing animals that will be protected under these MPAs. Among these are ancient creatures like coelacanths and corals, sea slugs that produce cancer-fighting compounds, and corals that cannot be found anywhere else on the planet. To learn more about each of the new MPAs in South Africa visit: https://www.marineprotectedareas.org.za/mpas-overview
Some MPAs allow visitors to enjoy the ocean and its inhabitants so long as they follow local regulations. Have you visited an MPA?
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