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A network of Marine Protected Areas in South Africa could soon become a reality

23 February 2016 at 8:30 am

On 3 February 2016, the Minister of Environmental Affairs published draft notices and regulations to declare a network of Marine Protected Areas in South Africa. The network proposes 22 new Marine Protected Areas, spanning approximately 70 000 square kilometres.

The Centre for Environmental Rights welcomes this commitment to ocean protection, and the Constitutional right to have the environment protected for the benefit of present and future generations. It will contribute to safeguarding our marine natural heritage, and the ecosystems on which our growing marine economy is dependent.

Currently, less than 0.5% of our exclusive economic zone is formally protected. The Minister’s initiative will ensure that over 5% of our marine environment is properly protected and managed in an ecologically representative system of protected areas.

Agulhas Bank Complex (Photo: Operation Phakisa)

Agulhas Bank Complex (Photo: Operation Phakisa, 2014)

Almost a decade of work went into the design of this network. Through systematic biodiversity planning the network seeks to achieve multiple objectives. It covers a representative set of ecosystem types and species, many of which are found only in South Africa. It will protect threatened ecosystems and species including threatened shark, turtle and seabird species; ensuring they persist. It will safeguard unique habitat types and features including cold water corals, a fossilised yellow wood forest, canyons, reefs, mud habitats, gravel habitats and canyons. It will maintain key spawning, breeding, nursery, feeding and aggregation areas for a rich array of fauna, including commercially valuable fish species. Importantly, these conservation benefits will be achieved with minimal socio-economic impact and overlap with industry, thanks to an optimisation algorithm employed in designing the network.

The proposed Marine Protected Areas will bolster the natural capital that underpins South Africa’s rapidly growing marine economy. They will support sectors that are major economic drivers including fishing and tourism and the jobs and livelihoods that these sectors sustain. Moreover, there are untold opportunities, many undiscovered, that intact marine ecosystems provide in areas such as medicine, food production, cosmetics and waste treatment. These Marine Protected Areas will ensure that these opportunities remain available to future generations. Finally, this network will support the multiple ecosystem services that marine environments provide such as food provision, climate regulation and recreation. The values of these services to humanity are by and large too profound and complex to convert into pure monetary value.

Phakisa MPA Map

Map of proposed Marine Protected Area Network


The proposed network of Marine Protected Areas is an Operation Phakisa initiative. Operation Phakisa seeks to rapidly unlock the economic potential of our oceans through fast tracking the development of industries such as offshore oil and gas, mariculture, marine shipping and manufacture. These could have significant impacts on marine ecosystems and associated ecosystem services. It is thus important that rapid economic development is moderated with proper protection and mechanisms are put in place to ensure our marine ecosystems remain healthy and productive. This network is a step in the right direction in ensuring a sustainable and balanced blue economy.

Our government has committed to a network of Marine Protected Areas in both national policy and international instruments. The National Protected Area Expansion Strategy (2008) sets a 20 year target to formally protect 20% of our exclusive economic zone. This network is a meaningful contribution to meeting this target. If formally established, we will be a quarter of the way to meeting our long-term ocean protection commitments.

The public have been invited to make comments on the proposed declarations and regulations. The comment period runs for 90 days, the deadline being the 3 May 2016. It is vital that individuals and institutions that understand the benefits and value of protecting our marine ecosystems make their voice heard, in support of this commitment. Here is the Government Gazette with notices and regulations for all 22 Marine Protected Areas.

The 22 proposed marine protected areas that form part of the network are: Port Elizabeth Corals, Benguela Bank, Benguela Muds, iSimangaliso, Southwest Indian Seamount, uThukela Banks, Orange Shelf Edge, Agulhas Front, Childs Bank, Browns Bank Corals, Browns Bank Complex, Namaqua Fossil Forest, Namaqua National Park, Protea Banks, Agulhas Bank Complex, Agulhas Muds, Robben Island, Aliwal Shoal, Cape Canyon, Amathole Offshore, Addo Elephant Park and Southeast Atlantic Seamount.

For more information about the CER’s work on marine protected areas, contact Saul Roux on [email protected].