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Centre for Environmental Rights – Advancing Environmental Rights in South Africa

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Government creates 20 new marine protected areas, giving legal protection to 5% of SA marine environment

24 May 2019 at 2:27 pm

© Photo courtesy of Marine Stewardship Council
© Photo courtesy of Marine Stewardship Council

In an exciting and long-awaited move, the South African government yesterday formally granted legal protection to 5% of our marine environment by creating a network of 20 new marine protected areas.

The final declaration notices and regulations were gazetted on 23 May 2019.

Around 95% of South Africa’s marine environment has been leased for offshore oil and gas. The possibility of bulk marine sediment mining poses a considerable threat to offshore environments. Rights have been granted for a range of other extractive practices, including coastal and offshore mineral sand mining and unconventional gas exploration such as marine fracking.

Against that background, the new marine protected area network will provide some refuge for marine species and ecosystems from the destructive impacts of marine petroleum and mineral extraction. In terms of the Protected Areas Act “no person may conduct commercial prospecting or mining, exploration, production or related activities” in a marine protected area. Thus, from the commencement of the regulations, all mineral and petroleum extraction and related activities, including seismic surveys, will be prohibited within the network.

The new network will provide a multitude of benefits to biodiversity, people, and strengthen South Africa’s climate resilience. The network will protect key spawning, breeding, nursery, feeding, and aggregation areas for a rich array of marine fauna, including threatened shark, turtle and seabird species. It will protect unique and diverse habitat types and features including cold water corals, a fossilised yellow wood forest, canyons, reefs, mangroves, coastal wetlands, mud habitats, gravel habitats and canyons.

Importantly, the network will bolster the natural capital that underpins South Africa’s rapidly growing marine economy, and support jobs and livelihoods in the fishing and eco-tourism industries. Marine protected areas are powerful fisheries management tools that enable recovery of depleted and over-exploited fish stocks.

Protecting these areas will contribute to safeguarding our marine natural heritage for the benefit and well-being of both current and future generations of South Africans.

The Centre for Environmental Rights acknowledges the work of the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), the Department of Environmental Affairs, and the many, many other stakeholders who contributed to this considerable milestone in ocean protection.

This declaration is an important step towards meeting South Africa’s commitment under the Convention on Biological Diversity to protect at least 10% of our coastal and marine environment by 2020.

Read more about the Centre for Environmental Rights’ advocacy for the declaration of this network of marine protected areas, specifically as part of the Safeguarding our Seabed project. The strategic intent of the project was to promote the long-term ecological integrity of South Africa’s offshore marine habitats through pursuing the establishment of a moratorium on bulk marine sediment mining, advocating for a representative network of marine protected areas, and supporting the development of effective marine spatial planning.



Media queries to Saul Roux on [email protected] or 021 447 1647.