70 years of helping people to care for our ocean

Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) for people

By: Dr Judy Mann

What are Marine Protected Areas (MPAs)?

Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are areas of the coast or ocean that are specially protected to help people. They do this by keeping fisheries sustainable, keeping marine ecosystems functional and protecting our natural heritage of plants and animals.

We protect our terrestrial natural heritage through a network of protected areas that are spread throughout the country to protect different ecosystems. These areas, like the Kruger National Park, are national treasures, where we and our children and grandchildren, can explore and experience the wonders of nature. South Africa has a coastline of over 3 000km from Kosi Bay on the East Coast to the Orange River on the West Coast. Along our coast and offshore into the ocean we have many different habitats and ecosystems, each one supporting a different variety of plants and animals. To date we have only been able to protect less than 1% of our coastal and marine heritage.  But, if the South African Department of Environmental Affairs declares the proposed 23 new MPAs, this will increase to 5% and we will be able to proudly say that South Africa is serious about caring for our oceans and our people. Because, caring for the ocean is caring for people. If we are not able to protect this 5% of our Exclusive Economic Zone it will mean that the financial interests of a few have taken precedence over the protection of the heritage of all South Africans.

Our Oceans – Our Heritage

Our MPAs protect our natural heritage including a range of different habitats such as coral reefs, rocky reefs, kelp forests, rocky and sandy shores, deep water muddy bottoms, underwater canyons and many more.

They protect plants and animals that are uniquely South African, species that are found no-where else in the world, such as the iconic fish called a “seventy-four”.

They protect rare or endangered species by protecting their homes – such as the submarine canyons off Maputaland that help to protect our living fossils – the coelacanths.

They also protect the places where marine species breed and grow up. For example our estuaries are critical nursery habitats for many of the prawns and fish that we like to eat. No healthy nurseries for little fish, no big fish to eat.

Our Oceans – for Food

MPAs help provide a safe place for many resident fish species where they are able to increase in number and size. Adult fish that breed in MPAs are able to supply adjacent fished areas with eggs and larvae which grow up and can sustain fisheries. In many ways MPAs work like a bank – if we protect the fish in the MPAs (capital in the bank) we can harvest the spillover (interest) that flows out of the MPAs.

Resident big old fat female fish that are protected in MPAs produce many more eggs than the smaller fish found in fished areas outside of MPAs. Not only do these large females produce more eggs but their eggs and larvae have better survival rates and are genetically fitter than those produced by smaller, younger fish. This helps to maintain healthier populations of these fish species.

Our Oceans – for Education

MPAs are wonderful places for research – they help us to see what nature should look like without human impact, so that we can better understand the impact that we are having outside MPAs.

MPAs are also amazing outdoor classrooms. Students of all ages can explore and enjoy nature in our MPAs.

Our Oceans – for Recreation

MPAs are wonderful places for non-consumptive recreation. They provide amazing opportunities for snorkelling, scuba diving, observing turtle nesting, whale watching and many more.

They help promote the development of tourism and encourage people to come and see and experience these wonderful natural areas.

Our Oceans – Our Spirit

The oceans have long been seen as a place for spiritual upliftment and cleansing. We need healthy oceans to keep our spirits uplifted and one of the best ways to do this is by having a well-designed network of MPAs.



SAAMBR, through our scientists based at the Oceanographic Research Institute have, since the early 1970s, been working towards the protection of special marine and coastal areas on the east coast of South Africa. Many of these places are now proclaimed MPAs. Our ongoing research is proving the fundamental importance and value of these MPAs.



Encourage the Minister of the Department of Environmental Affairs to promulgate the proposed new MPAs for South Africa.

Ask questions when you hear about the proposed mining of our oceans for minerals such as oil, gas and phosphates.

Visit our MPAs and share your knowledge and passion for our oceans with your family and friends.