What are Marine Protected Areas (MPAs)?
  • An MPA is an area of coastline or ocean that is specially protected for the benefit of people and nature.
  • They are places where marine life can thrive, reproduce and grow.
  • In South Africa we protect almost 8% of 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.
  • MPAs are like underwater parks – the Kruger National Parks of the oceans – safe havens for marine creatures and their homes.
  • But, they have an even more important role. MPAs protect marine ecosystems that provide direct economic, environmental and social benefits to people.
  • MPAs are an insurance policy for healthy ocean systems and healthy ocean economies, and are an investment in our own future well-being.
  • The IUCN defines an MPA as “A clearly defined geographical space, recognised, dedicated, and managed, through legal or other effective means, to achieve the long-term conservation of nature with associated ecosystem services and cultural values”
All you ever wanted to know about Marine Protected Areas in general and the new proposed MPAs can be found on our brilliant new website www.marineprotectedareas.org.za 

Download our MPA Fact Sheet

What can people do in Marine Protected Areas?
  • People can dive, walk, swim, play and do a wide range of non-consumptive activities in all of our MPAs.
  • Some MPAs are zoned so that while fishing and invertebrate (e.g. mussels and oysters) collecting is allowed in some areas, other areas are closed to fishing and consumptive resource use.
What are the benefits of Marine Protected Areas?
1. MPAs help to Protect our marine Heritage – our biodiversity
  • Our MPAs help protect our natural heritage including a range of different habitats such as coral reefs, rocky reefs, kelp forests, rocky and sandy shores, estuaries, deep water muddy bottoms, underwater canyons and many more.
  • They also help 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.
  • They help 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”, and many other endemic species.
  • They help 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.
2. MPAs help protect an important source of food
  • MPAs help provide a safe place for many resident fish species where they are able to increase in number and size.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Fishermen fishing next to MPAs catch MORE and BIGGER fish.  Kerwath et al. (2013) Nature Communications 4(2347): 1-6
3. MPAs help to protect our cultural heritage.
  • Our MPAs help to protect our cultural heritage too – for generations people have turned to our ocean for cleansing, worship, inspiration and rejuvenation.
  • Protection of these special places and traditional ways of life help to keep our connections to the past, as we care for our future.

4. MPAs help us to learn.

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

5. MPAs are important 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.
6.  MPAS can nurture 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.
7. MPAs contribute to our understanding of nature.

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.

8. MPAs help to protect our coastlines.
  • Well managed and healthy shorelines provide benefits in the form of coastal protection and flood management. Intact 
  • shorelines protect coastal communities from floods and sea level rise.
9. MPAs promote tourism.

South Africa is a prime destination for ocean and coastal tourism, a growing sector within the world tourism market. Protecting our oceans and coast is an investment in future tourism growth.

10. MPAs help to create sustainable jobs.

MPAs can provide sustainable jobs for many people such as those associated with the marine wildlife economy, such as tour guiding, scuba diving, shark cage diving, turtle, bird and whale watching are all possible close to protected areas. MPAs also create jobs linked directly to the MPA, including field rangers, park managers, gate staff, hospitality staff, maintenance staff and in-house educators.

11. MPAs give us opportunities to find natural products.
  • Animals that cannot move use complex chemicals to defend themselves. Some of these chemical compounds are active against viruses, bacteria and even cancer cells. These compounds, if extracted, may be used to make medicines to help people.
  • Perhaps cures for diseases such as cancer may be found in the creatures in our deep water MPAs.

12. MPAs provide resilience to climate change
  • A healthy and resilient ocean helps to protect humans from some of the negative effects of climate change. Healthy oceans, where abundant plant life is able to convert CO2 into oxygen and where millions of animals store carbon in their shells and bodies, are able to buffer us from some of the effects of climate change.
13. MPAs provide us with economic benefits

MPAs help support economic development. A health ocean economy needs healthy oceans. Without some protection we stand the real risk of destroying the foundation upon which all of our fisheries and much tourism depends. Healthy oceans are necessary for a healthy economy, job creation and healthy people.

How much of South Africa’s ocean is protected in MPAS?
  • South Africa has a coastline length of over 3 000km from Kosi Bay on the East Coast to the Orange River on the West Coast. Offshore South Africa is responsible for an enormous area (214 377km2) stretching 200 nautical miles (+- 360km) offshore around the whole coastline. This offshore area is called the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
  • Along our coast and offshore into the ocean we have many different habitats and ecosystems, each one supporting a different variety of marine plants and animals.
  • South Africa has made good progress with the establishment of a network of 23 inshore MPAs around our coastline. These protect nearly all of the coastal ecosystems within different biogeographic provinces along the coast (Fig. 1), but, this only protects 0.4% of South Africa’s marine territory AND none of our offshore marine ecosystems are protected.
Does South Africa need more MPAs?

  • YES – The IUCN Convention on Biological Diversity has set a target of at least 10% of the world’s oceans should be protected by 2020, if we are to continue to enjoy the benefits from the ocean.
  • South Africa has committed to achieving this target but currently only 0.4% of our ocean space is protected.
  • On land, we would never think that protecting just 0.4% of our land surface was enough – it would hardly protect a variety of ecosystems. So too at sea protecting 0.4% is not enough to protect the wide range of ecosystems and habitats.
  • Because we have a very diverse marine environment it is necessary to ensure that there is a network of MPAs that adequately protect the different marine ecosystems and their associated diversity of life, this includes our offshore marine ecosystems, which are currently not protected. 
What is happening now?

  • After over 10 years of careful research a group of dedicated scientists has developed a proposal for the establishment of a network of 22 new MPAs. This network will protect a representative portion of our unique marine ecosystems and contribute toward increasing our MPA network to 5% of our EEZ.
  • In February 2016 the Minister of Environmental Affairs published draft notices for this network of new MPAs (Fig. 2). These proposed MPAs have now been through the required public participation process.
  • The proposed MPAs are ready to be proclaimed.
What does SAAMBR have to do with MPAs?
  • In 1947 the uniqueness of the northern Zululand coast was recognised by the scientists who collaborated to establish SAAMBR.  In the early 1970s, ORI recognised that MPAs were critical ingredients for effective conservation and management of our oceans and ORI scientists Allan Heydorn and Rudy van der Elst were instrumental in helping the then Natal Parks Board (now Ezemvelo KwaZulu-Natal Wildlife) to establish the St Lucia Marine Reserve in northern Zululand (proclaimed in 1979). This was followed by the proclamation of the adjacent Maputaland Marine Reserve in 1986. Since then ORI scientists have undertaken  many long-term research and monitoring projects in these MPAs which now form part of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, South Africa’s first World Heritage Site proclaimed in 1999.

  • Although it took nearly 20 years before the Aliwal Shoal MPA was eventually proclaimed in 2004, ORI scientists including Michael Schleyer piloted the protection of Aliwal, highlighting the importance of this area and chairing many difficult user group meetings.

  • ORI scientists, including Bruce Mann, played a leading role in the establishment in 2004 of the Pondoland MPA, which is currently South Africa’s largest MPA at ~800km2. Since its establishment, ORI has played an important role in monitoring the effectiveness of this large MPA with regard to the recovery of reef fish stocks. 

  • More recently, ORI scientists have been involved in research that has contributed to the selection of a network of new or extended MPAs.   While this conservation process is being led by organisations such as the South African National Biodiversity Institute and the Department of Environmental Affairs, ORI scientists have participated or led numerous projects and play a crucial role in supporting the process. They were integral participants in the Operation Phakisa Lab in Durban and assisted in many of the stakeholder workshops. Hopefully we will see the offshore extension of both the iSimangaliso Wetland Park and the Aliwal Shoal MPAs in the near future as well as the proclamation of two new MPAs off the KZN coast, namely the uThukela Banks and the Protea Banks MPAs.

Marine Protected Areas Updates:
Stay Connected