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Join South Africa’s ocean advocates and celebrate the continent’s first Marine Protected Areas Day.

 

South Africa (01 July 2021) – Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are critical for offsetting the effects of climate change, and for bolstering ecological and social resilience. South Africa boasts 41 unique MPAs along its vast coastline, as well as some offshore. Each one ensures a healthy marine ecosystem vital to the existence of all life.

To highlight the role MPAs play in the conservation of marine biodiversity, an alliance of South African organisations, passionate about the protection of marine life and people, have established MPA Day as a way to educate and inspire people about these protected spaces and to draw attention to the benefits which they provide.

In the lead-up to celebrating this first-ever MPA Day on Sunday, 1 August 2021, it’s important to note how these networks not only protect ocean biodiversity, but also support surrounding communities through job creation; with a supply of sustainable food sources, and with improved environmental health.

Dr Judy Mann, Conservation Strategist at SAAMBR (South African Association for Marine Biological Research) explains: “MPAs are valuable safe havens that support, not only the marine plants and animals, but also the human populations as well. Some of South Africa’s older MPAs have been shown to benefit local communities in terms of a tourism economy, employment, improved fishing and a much healthier marine biodiversity.”

One of the most significant aspects of MPAs is the protection of spawning and nursery areas that allow for resource recovery to counteract rampant overfishing. They provide safe havens for fish and other marine life to thrive. This ensures food and job security in the fishery sector, as marine life is able to mature into adulthood, enabling bigger, more plentiful catches for anglers at a later stage.

The work of Sinegugu Zukulu, an environmentalist and guide based near Pondoland MPA, affirms this. Zukulu’s commitment to community development has seen him facilitate guided walks of this coastal area since 2010. These have served to educate both tourists and local communities about the area’s biodiversity and the value of a healthy ecosystem.

He acknowledges that while there were initial challenges establishing the MPA, as people didn’t fully realise the potential long-term gains, the effects are now being felt:

“People have come to understand that the MPA is also for our benefit. The laws in place mean there are bigger fish when locals go fishing, and species that were once thought extinct in the area are now readily available. People are finding bigger lobsters and other crustaceans which they can then sell, or use to feed their own families.”

Zukulu’s interaction with coastal residents includes engaging in farmers’ forums to promote eco-tourism in the area:

“We all have a role to play and I act as a facilitator, helping understand the need for conservation and the protection of our natural resources, such as through the MPA. One of our biggest concerns right now is the impact of oil and gas exploration off the coast. This is an unsustainable undertaking that will impact the oceans, including our MPAs.”

Another great ocean advocate is South African author, Fikile Hlatshwayo, who is currently working on her latest book which focuses on ocean pollution and tourism. Having grown up inland with little understanding of the ocean, she has since established a strong connection after having explored iSimangaliso MPA in northern KwaZulu-Natal.

“When I discovered how rich the ocean is and its incredible marine life, I knew that I had to write this book and use it to advocate for more MPAs,” explained Hlatshwayo. “Ocean tourism provides tremendous opportunities for economic growth and job creation. This is evident at iSimangaliso MPA which employs members from local communities throughout the park at all levels, such as monitors, rangers, land care workers, skippers, guides and hospitality staff.”

She adds that community-owned businesses are also able to leverage opportunities in iSimangaliso, further igniting a cycle of job creation and economic growth: “All privately-owned lodges in iSimangaliso have local community-equity, a mandatory requirement set by iSimangaliso. The MPA also offers environmental programmes to educate and empower local communities with knowledge about the ocean and its marine life.”

Jeff Asherwood, a tour operator based at St Lucia Estuary near iSimangaliso MPA, said the devastating impact of Covid-19 has highlighted the need for thriving marine ecosystems.

“The MPAs increase fish stocks, which brings social and competitive anglers to the area, thereby creating jobs,” explained Asherwood. “The town of St Lucia survives on tourism, but with the international tourism trade disappearing, there have been significant job losses. Many have since turned to subsistence fishing to feed their families, and with a healthy marine system, this is a real possibility for locals.”

He encourages ongoing education of people about the existence and need for MPAs, as well as better policing and signage to promote lawful activities.

Here’s how to get involved and celebrate MPA Day on 1 August 2021:

  • Start a conversation about MPAs using the hashtags #MPADay #LetsTalkMPAs #MPA #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.
  • Celebrate MPAs in whatever way you can because, whether you live inland or on the coast, everyone benefits from well-managed protected areas and we all depend on the ocean for survival.
  • Visit one of the country’s incredible MPA areas and discover the wonders for yourself.
  • If you are a fisher, respect the boundaries of MPAs and teach fellow anglers about the importance of MPAs. Anglers can get more information here – For Anglers | SAAMBR
  • Visit MPA Day — Marine Protected Areas South Africa for more information about our MPAs and MPA Day.

Sources:  Press Release 
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